Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kitty From Kansas Kicks Some Job Misery Our Way.

Boy howdy CM, I am job miserable.

This is my first time at this here rodeo called "The Job Market." My adviser is getting long in the tooth, and tends to forget to mention important things, like using university letterhead for cover letters. Thank goodness I read the random blogs in this part o' the prairie.

I asked for letters of recommendation over a month ago, and I am passing up jobs left and right because my writers are "getting to them soon." I was only in these parts for six years. Y'all only saw me qualify for ABD status nine months ago. Heaven forbid I might want to up and hitch my wagon and get out of these here sticks.

Can't quite use my "templates" I wrote up in August for all the jobs. I spend at least a good two or three hours working on the letters and supplemental materials. Shoot, you fellas seem to want me to write a novel to get in the door. Y'all cost me quite a pretty penny, especially when you ask for more than 20 pages of material. The folks at Interfolio must be laughing all the way to the bank. Some of these jobs don't even ask for paper. It's all electronic. Yet it still costs time and money. Time away from finishing up the dissertation, and money that I have to front and wait months for reimbursement.

I'm already worried about what I'm going to wear to our first date. I mean, y'all ask so many questions about how I would teach everything and the kitchen sink. You want letters of application, CVs, teaching philosophy statements, research statements, a teaching portfolio, transcripts, your HR website's application, letters of recommendation, writing samples ..... I know I'm forgetting something. Maybe you want a picture of a gopher? Or a duck? Reading all these blogs talking about what proper candidates should wear, well, I feel I should have been saving up for the duds you expect me to afford to wear to the giant cesspool snoozefest known as our annual conference. I'd rather go to the conference to learn about my field, but I have a feeling we'll be getting to know each other real well in a hotel room. Or "the pit."

Please let me get to know you? Quit asking me for 100 pages that you'll only glance through. Just call me, baby. I'm real sweet. I know my subject. I'd be a great colleague. You should give me a chance.

In the meantime, I am thoroughly miserable and pouring hours of my life into an electronic void. It's easier to reject someone when you can just click "delete."


  1. You're using using university letterhead for cover letters? Be careful, and be sure to ask permission: the surly department secretary at Penn State accused grad students of stealing, when they did that.

    "You want letters of application, CVs, teaching philosophy statements, research statements, a teaching portfolio, transcripts, your HR website's application, letters of recommendation, writing samples ..... I know I'm forgetting something. Maybe you want a picture of a gopher? Or a duck?"

    No, that would be a promissory note signing over to them the immortal soul of your first-born child. That's to get onto the short list. They'll want more, for an interview. I've been there, it really is miserable.

    1. Hmm. . .now there's something that, at my age, I could safely promise, knowing there won't be any such thing. Of course, in the sorts of stories where such promises are extracted, that's exactly what the protagonist thinks, and the child shows up anyway.

  2. Brava! It's a hiring trend that is out of control.

  3. I can absolutely sympathize with this misery. The job search is awful. But don't worry about not using letterhead. As a grad student I wasn't allowed to have any. I've been on 4 or 5 job search committees since that time. Never once has not having letterhead made any difference. In fact, very few people actually use it, especially with the rise in online applications.

  4. The letterhead thing was de rigueur when I was applying, but seems to be controversial now. I don't quite get the objections to using a grad department's letterhead (at least when one is ABD or very recently graduated; it would be downright weird if I did it now): grad students are, after all, members (or a sort) and (more important) products of that department. But of course they're not faculty members, and that seems to be the dividing line for some people (though I don't think the same people would object to grad students using department letterhead to write a recommendation for one of their own students, or to invite an outside speaker, or something along those lines).

    It's definitely trickier once one is employed, though I'd think it was appropriate for anyone in a non-TT job (which most institutions still *want* to think of as an apprenticeship, though they known darn well it isn't, and are even busy creating non-tenure "tracks" that are really dead ends, so far as any real sign of advancement -- salary, participation in service/governance, more advanced teaching assignments, etc. -- goes). Probably also appropriate for someone who didn't get tenure, though my perspective on that may be skewed by undergrad and grad experiences in departments where people regularly didn't get tenure, and nonetheless went on to tenured careers at equivalent or near-equivalent institutions. Perhaps not appropriate for someone who is tenured, or hoping for tenure, but wants to move? I dunno; that's a judgment call, but I'm not thinking it falls on the same end of the scale as, say, using letterhead to advertise your latest pyramid scheme (or even legitimate commercial activity) or endorse political candidates or propound a crackpot theory in some discipline entirely unrelated to your own.

    Still, if/when I go on the market (from a long-time non-TT job), I don't think I'll be using letterhead, just because the people who seem to feel strongly against it feel very strongly, and I can't believe anybody feels *that* strongly in favor (though they're probably out there, which is part of what makes being on the market so much fun). The angst could be considerably lightened if everyone agreed never to say "if (s)he doesn't even know x, (s)he isn't ready to be a professor," with x being any one ancillary nicety of what the speaker considers proper academic protocol. And then we'd get into a debate over what is ancillary and what is central. Oy.

    1. My impression from being on 3 search committees is that there are some things everyone has (mostly) in common:

      * a rigorous research program
      * enthusiasm and (perhaps faux) collegiality
      * passable teaching skills and ideas

      So by the end, you isolate those that fit in your department and you have, essentially, a 20-way tie.

      The committee's next step is to look at branding and presentation. Who cared enough to spell the university name properly? Who added fine touches like printing on letterhead (and being trusted by the home Uni to represent said Uni via letterhead) and creating an easily-digestable package of teaching and research evals?

      Who has a small list of random conference names, and who spent the time to add the paper title, regional/national/international conference category with spacing and elegance? Alternatively, who wrote an appropriate 3-page CV and who piled on 8 pages of bull shit dressed up like caviar?

      Who included extra syllabi or course suggestions that fill holes in our department? Who fits but clearly sent us the letter intended for Cambridge?

      These "extra-milers" are the ones that tend to get a phone interview, and from there we get a better sense of who really IS enthusiastic, collegial, interesting, etc.

      I strongly recommend the polished CV (go to a pro if you need to) and the letterhead methods.

  5. Kitty, honey, you should spend more time on your dissertation than applying for those high-falutin' academic jobs. If you're in the humanities and ABD, those search committees are most likely gonna throw your application to the trash. This job market's colder than a witch's titty in a brass brassiere. Good luck, though.

    1. Having spent time on the market while ABD, I tend to agree (in fact, I'm not on the market now myself in part because I think I need more publications, and preferably a book, or at least a book contract, before the cost/potential benefit analysis suggests it's worth my time). Of course, one has to weigh that against the danger that some institutions will consider one's Ph.D. stale after a year or three. At the very least, I'd be extremely selective in where I applied, picking only the jobs I'd really, really regret letting pass by without at least applying to, and extremely protective of my time, if I were ABD.

      Kitty, I don't what your personal/financial circumstances are, but remember that, if you're ABD in a field that doesn't require you to be onsite while finishing, or a Ph.D. in a field where sticking around doesn't give you access to necessary resources, you can get the hell out of Dodge without a contract in hand. Moving to an area where you actually want to live (preferably one that offers a variety of career possibilities but isn't horrendously expensive), maybe adjuncting a bit to keep your hand in (and/or for library privileges), and using the rest of your time to explore "plan B" (and, if necessary, C, D, E, and F) career options is a far better use of your time than hanging around Dodge. But if you're close to finishing, check off that box first, then consider yourself free to move about the country, or the world.

  6. I'm not sure I understand this post.

    I too am on the job market. I am applying to 6 t/t jobs and 4 post-docs. I have a standard letter that includes 7 areas that I alter for each job so my brand makes sense to their job advertisement. If their ad doesn't reflect who I am and what I do, I don't apply for that job.

    (Maybe that will change if I am in a bad way 2 or 3 years from now, but right now money is good and I can be picky)

    But how much does your letter, CV, writing sample, teaching eval package, or teaching philosophy really change job-to-job? You spend about 30 hours over the summer making your documents current and then you switch up a few lines for each new application.

    Right? Am I missing something?

    But most of all: you only qualified for ABD NINE MONTHS AGO. How much have you learned in 9 months of unstructured academia?? You are not ready for the job market. Have you designed and executed any courses of your own? Have you gotten a slew of publications or a book contract? What number of international conferences could you have presented at in just nine months? How much time have you spent doing research? It sounds like you are barely out of the gate. Leave the job market for another few years and focus on your research and professional development for now. Remember that getting the PhD is not just about knocking out a passable dissertation. It is an apprenticeship. You should have at least 5 years' teaching and research experience post-MA by the time you are on the job market.

    (Of course, this advice will change depending on your discipline, but it definitely holds for social sciences and humanities)

  7. Kitty sends this reply:

    Everyone goes on the job market in my field/from my school about this time.

    Publications prior to full thesis defense makes those chapters ineligible to form part of the thesis.

    I get a partial job expense reimbursement from my university, but only if I do it before I graduate.

    Every job has different key/optimization words that you have to slightly tweak, like Hamster Fur Weaving in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies versus Modern Hamster Fur Weaving in Arabic Cultures. You have to hit the key words of what are the same fields, but optimizing and showing it's not a form letter.

    Applying to 30 to 60 jobs is not unusual; it is expected of us.

    1. Well, you do have to play by your department's rules, especially when it comes to what is and isn't eligible to form part of the dissertation (maybe it's a field-by-field thing, but that "published chapters are ineligible to be thesis chapters" requirement strikes me as really stupid, or at least counterproductive).

      But it's still your responsibility to weigh whether the job expense reimbursement is really enough to make applying possibly prematurely worth it (especially since if the effort is premature, then you're going to have to do it all over again after defense anyway).

      It sounds like your department might be somewhat out of touch with the realities of the current job market. Mine certainly was, and I wish I'd spent a bit more time heeding the information I gathered from my own observation (what were all those recent Ph.D.s doing hanging around University Town 2 and 3 and 4 years after defending if University graduates were sure to succeed in getting a job somewhere even if they went on the market while still ABD, and could publish their way up from there?), and a bit less time heeding what turned out to be out-of-date and/or wishful advice.

      So I'd say play the game as necessary to stay in your department's good graces, but also use your own judgment about how you spend your time, which is your most precious resource.


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