Thursday, August 31, 2006

Patience and Persistence

The following exchange took place with the editor of the journal that published my most recent article. Martin Chauffeur is an emeritus professor in [Field 1], and an early innovator toward [Real Interdisciplinary Focus]. He was a dean at the time at one of the schools I didn't get accepted to for doctoral work, but was supportive and encouraging then, and on the few occasions we have spoken or corresponded since. He is also a member of [SII] which I've written about here before.
Hi Martin,

On a more personal note than our recent correspondence: The current job search has been among the most frustrating events of my life. I never thought I'd have such difficulty landing a post within the academy. Yet there I am. Recently, I let my [Field 1 College Society] membership lapse, and am struggling with the choices I now face. I recall that you were once an officer of the [F1CS]. Perhaps I should renew, and regain access to the [Field 1 Faculty Posting List], but I just haven't brought myself to do it yet. (I do have other sources for job postings, so I'm not entirely out of the loop). Adding insult to injury, my membership fee to [F1CS] is higher now that I've graduated (though I have no income) than it was when I was a student under fellowship.

I've diligently applied for every seemingly potentially appropriate post in the past couple years, well over 100 in all, perhaps 55 this year alone. I've applied for faculty posts in [Field 1], and a couple each in [Field 2] and [Interdisciplinary Field], one-year sabbatical replacements, post-docs in [Field 3] and brain imaging. The fact that there have only been two or three postings in [Real Interdisciplinary Focus] proper during the past three years, has made it all the more difficult. Perhaps there is more that [SII] could do to support professional development in our field? I've even considered returning to school for yet one more degree (a second Master's or a second PhD). I've gotten very close at times, but each time I've ended up back where I started.

Patience, I hear, is the key. Far easier to intellect than to accept. In any case, any advice or comments you might offer would be most welcome.

Yours in confidence,
Hi Articulate,

I'm sorry to hear about your experience with the job market. This isn't the first time I've heard about the problem from a young colleague, including a few of my own doctoral advisees. In fact one of my earliest doctoral advisees had a terrible time on the job market: no nibbles for two years. I think her experience was similar to yours in several important ways: she was very bright and capable, and had gone through her doctoral program on a multi-year research fellowship--which allowed her to begin building up a pretty decent beginning research and publication record, but which unfortunately also meant that she didn't do any teaching as a TA. This put her into the market without a record of successful college-level teaching, where she was competing with peers who had a record of up to 5 years of teaching college courses. The happy ending to the story is that she received two job offers simultaneously after persisting for that two-year dry spell.

I hope you won't mind if I give you a couple of suggestions, which you're of course free to accept or ignore. The first would be to do whatever you can to begin building a longer record of successful college-level teaching any way you can manage. Your CV makes a strong impression in the area of research, but comes across as comparatively light in the teaching area, particularly at The University of Paradise. Part of this may be in the presentation of the teaching record: there are 6 teaching items in the CV for UoP, but 5 of the 6 state that you were a "guest lecturer." Does that mean that you presented a single guest lecture within a course, or did you teach the entire course with "guest lecturer" the job title? If the former, it's of immense value for you to make it clear that you taught the entire course. Can you draw more attention to your teaching experience at [The Community College I taught at before the PhD]? For example, if you were working as a teaching assistant, I'd mention that; if you had 100% responsibility for lesson planning, grading, etc., I'd certainly mention that.

My $0.02 worth here is that I probably wouldn't consider going after yet another degree UNLESS I could wrangle a teaching assistantship/associateship in the process. The teaching record at your stage of the career is vital. If you can't get the assistantship, is there some way that you could convince an administrator (in [Field 2], in [Field 1], or even in a related area) at UoP to give you the opportunity to teach an overload section on a non-continuing contract?

Incidentally, the CV doesn't specify your bachelor's degree . . . date, where it was obtained, major. I've seen too many bright, promising young colleagues become dispirited when they experience what you've been going through, and I can't emphasize enough that patience and persistence are absolutely critical right now. One of the [Field 1/Subfield 2] TAs I supervised at [Former University] saved the rejection letters he received during the 18 months after he completed his Ph.D. When he finally got his first position he had a cook-out, and burned all of the rejection letters (all 500+ of them!) in the charcoal grill. He's now holding a named professorship. I know it's a cliche, but it's true: the first position is always the toughest one to get.

It is clear that he took the time to carefully read my CV which is encouraging. To answer some of his concerns: The five of six teaching gigs at UoP that note "guest lecturer" were just that, one day of teaching each. The sixth was a course I proposed, designed, and taught entirely on my own. My teaching at the community college was as a fully-entrusted adjunct during the 6 semesters I taught there, responsible for all aspects of the courses I taught, including text selection, and all matters of designing and executing the syllabi. Now, as for my bachelor's degree... hmmm. I graduated (in the seventh year of my undergraduate career) with a general studies degree from a school of continuing studies, at the R1 university I had been attending. While I had been an undergraduate in [Field 1] at that university, at a certain point, with about 50% more units than were necessary for a degree, though they were scattered across numerous disciplines, I decided to simply apply and graduate. Before I finished the last class (whic was taking through distance-learning), I began my Master's program in [Field 1]. I guess I ought to simply list it, no matter.

Meantime, it's patience and persistence for me.

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