Academic job search tips

Phil Ford

By way of the Chronicle of Higher Education (or, as we in-the-know types like to say, “the Chronicle”) comes a page of tips ‘n’ hints for all y’all on the academic job market. It’s that time of the year when jobs are posted and new Ph.D.s (or, as Jonathan calls them, baby docs) go through the dismal grind of putting together application packages for schools that have wildly differing ideas of what a hiring institution might reasonably ask to see. While we’re giving advice to job-seekers, here’s a quick word of advice for the job-givers. If you are pondering what to demand from applicants, please don’t ask for stupid crap. Each year I was on the job market there was always some school that asked for all the usual stuff plus teaching statement, research statement, grad school transcripts, ten-year plan of publications, table of contents from your dissertation, and a letter from your third-grade teacher. I hated having days of my life wasted by having to fulfill these stupid and arbitrary demands, which always seemed to be made by third-rate schools trying to make a show of academic rigor through the sheer volume of required tasks.

This might be a good time to mention the academic jobs wiki again, and to point out that Ryan of amusicology (which happily is updating again) is going to be talking about it at the AMS annual meeting, in a 5:15 Thursday study session,* given in the program book as being about wikipedia but really about collaborative internet tools more generally. I will also be doing a thing on academic blogging. Ryan just passed his general exams by the way. As Charles at Ionarts would say, chapeau! Or as I would say, cop show! (They sound sort of the same, actually.)

*The Committee on Career-Related Issues session titled “Teaching with Wikipedia: Pros and Cons,” although I don’t think it’s called that any more. Mark Clague will also be doing his thing.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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7 Responses to Academic job search tips

  1. Ass Hat says:

    sir, you just summed up my hellish life for the last nine months. i now have a file of every conceivable type of ‘statement’ in increments of 1 side, 2 sides, 3 sides, 500, 750, 1000, 1500 words – any they still keep oming up with new requirements! great blog by the way – i found it via your biggie post.

  2. Winter says:

    My favorite is the job announcements that ask for teaching videos! Uh, I’m an adjunct, I can’t afford a video camera. Uh, I have a prestigious dissertation fellowship and I need a job, do you want a video of me finishing my dissertation?
    Also, why do some schools want undergraduate transcripts.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Young’uns: Yes, it’s hellish; I spent several years on the job market in various stages of full and partial employment. Yes, it’s utterly dispiriting. Good; we agree. Now:
    Do not allow yourself to be conquered by application fatigue. I’d say tweak whatever boilerplate you have for *each position.* A sullen, tired grad student is not exactly a valuable commodity for those of us Out Here who are looking to hire. Further: can’t get a video camera? Sorry to hear it. Have you tried to borrow one? Oh, well. The people with complete applications will somehow have managed. (I had to do this once, and found one, and video’d myself teaching piano. I got nowhere, but that’s not the point; the point is I wanted to apply for that position.)
    Let me be clear about the prestigious dissertation fellowship: someone with teaching experience is more valuable, not only to the vast middle range of institutions (such as mine) but to high-end ones, including (especially) liberal arts schools and Ivies. Got it? Here’s why: far too many institutions have been lumbered with antisocial, self-important researchers-only for DECADES, hired in the old days and sitting toad-like on tenured positions. These people do not contribute to the daily life of the department or U. beyond demanding resources, expecting the Nunc Dimittis to be sung whenever they publish something, and preventing a real person from being hired in their specialties. Maybe they attract grad students; maybe they don’t. People in non-Ivies need competent-to-excellent teachers who can attract students–esp. to non-major courses–in a variety of areas. The Ivies have begun to hear a good deal about what their brand of education costs and what, therefore, the students should be getting for that money. As far as I’m concerned, that is a morally defensible position.
    “Prestige” can result from truth or falsehood, quality or mere snobbery, prevailing in real competition or…a favor owed to one’s advisor, or a power play, or a fashionable topic, or a dearth of applicants. We’ve all been around long enough to have seen all these scenarios.
    Finally, if I’m a faculty member at Burlington and Northern University, I don’t really know what is considered “prestigious” at Southern Pacific University, nor should I really care, because I don’t even know how such things are awarded there. I want to know what you can do for my department–yes, research, but teaching (in the broadest sense) is a major part of what you will provide anywhere. Having a publishing record, in my opinion, is a requirement–YES, including for people who haven’t quite finished. How will we know, otherwise, that you can do it? For teaching, I want proof. Most schools find it necessary, financially, to hire part-timers, and teaching fellows and so on. Here’s your chance to shine, with experience and trial-and-error and waxing-eloquent teaching evaluations and, yes, a video if requested.
    Remember: Committees don’t care why you can’t. The only care about the ones that can. Prestige + $.25=$.25.
    Best of luck to all on the job market.

  4. Winter says:

    I totally agree about borrowing the video camera. Unfortunately for my friend, she has been teaching for years. Now she isn’t teaching because she won a prestigious… teaching fellowship (a full non-teaching dissertation fellowship). Her adviser got her a guest-lecture spot in his classroom and did the videotaping!
    Still, a totally silly request.

  5. Ryan says:

    Thanks Phil! Cop Show indeed. I’m looking forward to the panel–more amusicology updates soon!

  6. Phil Ford says:

    I don’t care what anyone says, someone makes you videotape yourself teaching for a job application, it’s a drag. Yeah, there’s reasons for it. Still a drag.
    On the topic of job-application mortification, a friend of mine once told me about someone he knew who went on a campus interview and was taken out to lunch by the department chair . . . at Wendy’s. “Get anything you want,” the chair told him.

  7. Who cares? says:

    Requests for a videotape of teaching are SO UNCOMMON in our field that it seems pointless to talk about it. (In general, musicology job postings require fewer materials in the initial phase of application than most other Humanities field – at least according to my friends in English, Art History, and for that matter music composition.) Third-Tier U. will ask you for that teaching video mostly because they want to make sure that only people who are actually willing, even potentially eager, to get stuck at Third-Tier U. will bother to complete the application. Less work for them on the committee. No-one’s making anyone apply for that job or any other, so it’s not a “drag” to save yourself the work. Apply for fewer jobs but do more carefully, and you’ll wind up in a better place at the end.
    Re: Jonathan’s half-right diatribe on “prestige”. Prestige, or a generally held idea of it, get your application on the right pile in the first instance. It doesn’t guarantee you the job, but it does, up to a point, get you to the point where you can prove that you can do the job.

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