Thursday, September 23, 2010

Academic Job Search Tips, Part II

These are some more useful things I discovered during my process of looking for a tenure-track position in Humanities:

1. Do the research. When preparing a job talk, it is crucial to find out whether any of the faculty members at the hiring institution have written anything on the subject you will address. Probably, everybody in the world realizes that this needs to be done except me. Once, during a campus visit, my job talk was demolished by a senior faculty member who spent her entire career proving (incorrectly) that what I was saying was not true. The next day, the hiring committee that was very excited about me before started treating me like a leper. Many specializations have theoretical issues that are deemed ideological. You need to find out on what side of the fence members of your hiring committee are located and either say what they want to hear or avoid the subject altogether. In my field of Hispanic Studies, for example, uttering words like "Spanish Enlightenment" or "Spanish Modernism" makes you unemployable at many institutions.

2. "Evidence of active research agenda." These mysterious words that appear on many job announcements are often interpreted incorrectly by many grad students. Working on your dissertation does NOT count as evidence of an active research agenda. You need to have other things going on research-wise. Conferences you attend or organize, articles you submit (hopefully on subjects that differ from the topic of your dissertation) constitute evidence of active research.

3. Teaching and grant-related workshops. I always considered such workshops a complete waste of time, so I never attended them. It came as a complete surprise to me that having a couple of letters stating that you have attended (simply as a listener) this type of workshop boosts one's chance of getting a job tenfold. If you attend a grant proposal writing workshop, that counts as evidence of an active research agenda (see previous item). As weird as that sounds, it's true. A workshop only lasts a couple of hours and can be snoozed through effortlessly. Every workshop you attend sens you a letter confirming your attendance. If you can attach this letter and an explanation of how you implemented what it taught in your teaching or grant applications, that will help you a lot.

4. Tailor your cover letter to the specific institution. It's an incredible drag, I know. The temptation to create just one good letter and send it everywhere is massive. However, taking the extra time to find out what this particular institution needs and addressing it in the letter pays off big time. It is especially useful to address the geographical location of the school where you are applying. Hiring committees are afraid you won't want to live long-term in the often very backwater places where their schools are located. Talk about why and how much you want to live in this particular area. Even if you dread living there.

5. Apply everywhere. Even if a position describes somebody completely different from you, still apply. Hiring works in mysterious ways. I once applied for a position of a specialist in Latin American colonial literature at an Ivy League school. I specialize in contemporary Spanish literature. As you can see, the position advertised and my area of specialization could hardly be more different. The next time I heard from this school was when they sent me a contract to sign.

Some people use this weird strategy of choosing 4 or 5 schools they think will fit them the best and only apply there. In my experience, it is a colossal mistake. Even if your credentials are absolutely fantastic, this is a huge gamble. It is so much smarter to apply absolutely everywhere and have several offers to select from. Any Assistant Professor position is better than to be forced to accept a crappy instructor position where you will work for a pittance and with no benefits teaching a 6:5 course load. Besides, once you get into that track, it is extremely hard to get out of it.

6. Don't get discouraged. Remember: it is probably not your fault. You can craft a perfect letter of intent, gather a brilliant portfolio, finish your outstanding dissertation on time, have a stack of publications to your name, interview beautifully, give the performance of your life at the campus visit, and still not be hired. This is no reason to get discouraged and start doubting yourself (or crying on the phone to your boyfriend for 8 hours about what a screw up you are and how nobody will ever want to hire you if even such a dinky, bakwater place doesn't want you). In all probability, this has nothing to do with you. Only after you work for a few years at a couple of different institutions will you realize how often positions that are advertised are not really available. Hiring committees go through the motions of interviewing people and sitting through their campus visits because that's what the laws require. In reality, they often know already that they want to hire somebody else (a spouse, a friend, an internal candidate, etc.)

Good luck, dear colleague!

Part I of this post is located here.


sarcozona said...

It's been very eye opening to read your posts on getting a job in academia. Even if it doesn't all apply to my field, it gives me a good place to start!

Of course, I need to get into grad school first . . .

Clarissa said...

I'm glad you find this useful, sarcozona. You might also be interested in the following post on how to survive grad school:

Good luck with grad school applications!

Katie said...

For tip number four, did you mean "tailor" your cover letter, rather than "Taylor"? Perhaps editing is also important when seeking an academic position.

Clarissa said...

Ah, now we know why my job search wasn't always successful. :-) Thank you, Katie!

jeeny said...

I have been visiting various blogs for my dissertation writing research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards

Anonymous said...

I would agree on not always following the job advertisement, although as a Latin Americanist I wouldn't apply for a Peninsular position. I was not going to apply for a position the said they "preferred" a specialty in Latino Literature, the position wasn't even on my list, but a friend there said to apply, and I ended up getting a campus visit (still waiting to hear), I would check and see if they already have someone in your area, this place didn't so they were open to someone in my area of specialty..fingers crossed

Judith Sierra-Rivera said...

Thank you for all this advice!