Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More back and forth

Dear Articulate:
How did your trip to Beautiful Nowhere go? Tell all.
Otherwise, hope all's well.
Hi Tasse,

Nice to hear from you. The trip went well. I was impressed with the degree of camaraderie among the faculty, and the commitment of students (about 30 showed up and stayed through my hour-long teaching demo, on the Thursday of finals week!). It's a small school in the middle of nowhere, but it might be a pleasant place to pass some time. But, they haven't made a decision yet. So, I sits and waits. They say I should hear something by Friday. I'm going to Scotland in a week. There's a conference on _____________ where I'll be presenting a paper. I may not be able to make a decision until I get back. I had thought, if they offer me the job, I might try to negotiate it into a one-year post. They've got quite a few job postings lately, which tells me they've got money which could be shifted around.

But, I had a talk with the Rocket Scientist last night. Sounds like she's unwilling to move for anything less than a tenure-track job, since she fears otherwise she'll be holding a series of one-year jobs. I had hoped (assuming I get an offer for one-year) that she would consider looking for work in some major east coast city, within a four-hour flight of Beautiful Nowhere. But, it looks not. So, I've got some tough decisions ahead of me. Since we currently live near a small regional airport (with a diminished flight schedule) any commute for me, to anything less than a major hub, becomes exceedingly difficult. It took 14 hours to get to Beautiful Nowhere (three legs), which likely means I'd only be making the return trip a couple times a month, unless I can also finagle their M-W-F schedule into a M-W-Th or something. I'm just afraid if I don't get something now, to fill out my CV with a Visiting Assistant post, I may be out for good.

I just simply don't get it, Tasse. I can't fathom what's missing from my applications. I don't know if I told you: I had a long talk with The Leprechaun a couple weeks back. I said: I need your help, my career is going nowhere slowly. So we talked for about 45 minutes! I asked if there was any way he could offer me a class or two to teach next year. He was non-committal. In the end he suggested that he would call some of the places I'm applying to, to nudge them into a second look at my file. He said, from his experience, that often helps.

The most eye-opening part of our talk was when he explained (his view of) the filtering process search committees go through. He said: Let's say there are 100 applications, and 20 of them stand out. So, the chair begins with that pile... "Hey, this looks interesting, [Interesting area]... Mary you know anything about this? No... hmm... what about this, [Outlying area]... Joe, you know anything about that area? No... hmmm... [Interdisciplinary Topic]... hmmm." And so it goes until all 20 of the standouts have been put aside, since no one is familiar with their research. Then they attack the 80 who all look familiar: [Conservative topic] scholars, [Mainstream topic] scholars, [hip trendy topic] ... and that's the end.

I laughed: You mean to tell me, we're ushered through grad school, and taught to raise interesting questions, to find our niche, to stand out, to be unique, novel in our approach... but when it comes down to hiring, we're all supposed to look the same?

Patience. I know. Not even a year into my imaginary 3-year fellowship. I know. Well, for what it's worth, attached are my two most recent cover letters, and my current CV. Perhaps you can find something glaringly out of place in them. I'm also trying to decide about applying to [Medium State University] for a couple Instructorships (a one-year in [subfield 1], and a two-year in [subfield 2]). But, I'd prefer if the rank were Visiting Asst. Prof., and I'm worried about the commute. So, I can't decide.

By the way, I gave the [Host Department] Colloquium talk here last Thursday which focused on the issue raised in my NEH fellowship proposal. Overall it was well-received. Let's hope the NEH committee likes it as much.

Be well,
sorry to trouble you with my troubles,
I hope your family is thriving,

Dear Articulate:

Long ago I had this same "conversation" with [Mentor] (it actually may have been a conversation, since I'm not sure that e-mail was completely in place yet...). First of all, what's "missing" from your applications is...the US economy and the state of academic markets. In other words, if there were twenty jobs open it wouldn't make your work "good," and getting stiffed, doesn't make it "bad." Your "problems" are a result of economic conditions. Period.

With all respect to The Leprechaun's theory, you *did* make it to the very finals of a very good job where your competitor was...another [Your Dissertation Topic] guy. So it's really about luck and pluck. That is, work hard, don't get bitter, keep your nose clean and hope for luck. You're a white male, about which you can do nothing, and you chose to avoid trendy lit crit stuff; but you've got an excellent resume and something will come through.

Now, even with all this, there are always things any of us can do to make ourselves more marketable (but almost nothing that will *guarantee* employment). I've tried to suggest that you keep moving forward, applying for grants, take the "negatives" of your situation (no teaching job) and turn them in to strengths (3-year research fellowship in a gorgeous place). And I've said to you what I say to myself quite a bit: listen more, talk less.

Please feel free to call, or send me a number and a time to call if you want to talk about any of this.




BrightStar said...

I don't really get the listen more, talk less part... And the economic conditions issue... how frustrating. Yet I know that some of my opportunity has been due to the nature of my field being such that there is lots of funding for it, so I understand this point.

ArticulateDad said...

I think Dr. Tasse Plein and I have a similar energetic, center-of-attention type disposition. He's all about asking questions in public forae, which others have simply swept under the rug, often riling the entrenched majority in our field.

I think his point is specific to those like us: talk less because there's no lack of talking... listen more because other people have things to say too (especially worthwhile when those other people have the power to offer me a job!).

One comment that he got back from the hiring committee at the school that almost got me last year, during an hour-long chat with him following my campus interview (yeah, it really was that close--they called at least two of my recommenders for hour-long talks AFTER my campus visit)... one comment he got back from them was that they thought my responses to questions tended to go on about 50% too long. Tasse Plein told them to chalk it up as exuberance, but in the end, they offered the gig to my friend. That's just one committee's take, but the most important committee so far!