When I returned, I got right to the point and said "I need your help. My career is going nowhere slow, and I'm hoping you can give me some feedback, direction, advice." I guess that wasn't what he expected. It was a curious time, since we were both talking around things. He, not wishing to say directly what he thinks of my work, and me trying not to directly challenge him for things like letting my fellowship application to the department die without any consideration.
But, he gave me a clearer sense of what a typical search committee might be looking at than I had previously. At least, he stated somethings that I had only suspected. Here's the sense he gave:
Okay, so the committee has a stack of about 100 applications. 80 of them look pretty much alike. Then they pull out 20 over here. "Hmmm," says one, "[uncommon methodology subdiscipline], that's interesting. Hey, Joe, you know anything about [uncommon methodology]? No. Mary? Hmmm. Okay, well let's just put this one aside." And so it goes, until they put all those 20 aside, and decide to concentrate on the 80 that look alike, the mainstream candidates."Wow," I said. "I mean, this is a bit funny. We're all shepherded through grad school, taught to be unusual, to stand out, to ask interesting questions, to be unique. And yet, you're telling me that when it comes to hiring, they want us all to look the same."
Well, that was eye-opening. For both of us. For me, because it puts perspective on some of the comments I've gotten in the past, intimating that while my research looks interesting, I need to find a way to convince committees I'm ready, willing, and able to teach Introduction to... courses. Of course I can teach those. I've been studying [Field1] at the university level for, god what is it, 16 years now? I know this stuff. That's not a problem.
The Leprechaun seemed to imply that no matter what, if there's a large stack of look-alikes, it's that stack that's attended to first, rather than the standouts. How backwards. And yet, I guess the trick is to look enough alike, but still stand out from that crowd, like wearing a bright orange shirt with purple stripes at Disneyland, but donning a MickeyMouse hat like everyone else. [SIGH].
It was eye-opening for him as well, since in the midst of explaining the process to me, he remarked on several other (more senior) scholars in [Field 1] who are nonetheless asking questions outside the mainstream. For some, he had barbed criticism, but for others he seemed truly pleased that someone, some department, had given them the chance. I think that was the crucial point at which he began to see me in a different light, not as the maverick former student, but possibly as someone who in ten or twenty years will be seen as a pioneer of the sorts of questions that come from my niche interdisciplinary subdiscipline.
Besides, if he helps me get a job, he may be finally done of me. I'm sure he'll be glad to see me walk out his door for good. For now, I've got this interview next week at TPU in Beautiful Nowhere.