Thursday, September 28, 2006
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
I have now had a chance to read through your book ideas.
I am certainly interested in taking a look at your dissertation. I will also need you to complete one of our proposal questionnaires and send me details of how you intend to revise the dissertation into a book.
Regarding your [longitudinal project], I think this could well be suitable for consideration in our new series, [Series Title]. Could you also complete a proposal questionnaire for this project?
And your follow-up work to your dissertation also sounds like an area that would be suitable for us. Again, if you could complete a questionnaire in order for me to consider further, that would be very helpful.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
What is work? What is a career? What is a job?
The Rocket Scientist and I have dealt with those questions a great deal in terms of her professional choices. Before we moved to Paradise the first time, as I have remarked before, she was rather dissatisfied with the direction of her career. Recently, we had occasion to revisit the changes in her career over the past years, how she has gone from that dissatisfaction to the contentedness of today.
For one thing, her job in Paradise initially provided her a significant pay raise from what she was making before. The group was smaller, as were the projects she worked on, so she felt she had a greater impact on them. And she was quite frequently acknowledged for little success, in the form of modest peer awards, bonuses, or gift certificates. Her superiors were quite generous with their praise and thanks. She felt welcomed and appreciated. Those positives, despite the clear negatives, have made all the difference.
Now, let's turn to my career. I had quite a few successes as a graduate student. Then, CRASH BAM BOOM, I graduated. PhD in five years. Then what? [SIGH] I never expected the wall to hit me. I was used to coasting off my energy and drive, my ideas and spirit. I've wanted to become a college professor, to teach, to research, to publish. I want to inspire young minds, and have an impact on the knowledge and understanding in my areas of interest and expertise.
Sure, I've continued to write and present since I graduated. But without those little rewards, the fellowships, the grants, what I'll call the applause, I remain in a dimly lit hall, rehearsing my lines, reworking the delivery, trying out new entrances or gestures. The hall remains silent. The audience is absent. Dust lifts and falls. I heave a sigh. No one hears it.
What do I want now? There's a question. I hold fast to my dreams and hopes, in the goals of my 5-10 year plan. Can I achieve them? I don't really see why not. But how do I get there? And how do we as a family take the journey together, fostering our joint career paths?
I can of course continue on the path I'm on. Perhaps with patience and perseverance I'll land the sort of job I want at a university. Maybe this season, maybe next. But what do I do in the meantime? I've begun to be more selective in where I'll apply. I'm committed to giving each application the needed effort and energy. New Kid on the Hallway's recent comment makes good sense. I'll hold out the hope that fewer may mean more. But what do I do with this year, or perhaps the next two, as I wait for a tenure-track job to start?
Yes, there are other possibilities. There's the chance that a post-doc at Huricane Magnet U. will come through. But I'm not terribly interested in commuting to the opposite coast. If it were possible to get at least a two year, or ideally three year commitment from them, and assuming my wife could find appropriate work there, that could serve. But that still takes us out a year, at least until she's fulfilled her 12-month promise at Rocket Central. I'm not looking to move the family or commute long distance, for anything less than a good multi-year prospect. So, one years are likely out for me. In this my third year on the market, I've got to set down limits.
But what do I do? I mentioned this contact from Big Academic Publisher. I had coffee with her yesterday, for about an hour or so. She was impressed. Today, I got a call from her boss, who seemed interested to take it to the next stage. I'm ambivalent about it. Yet, it is education-related. I would have the freedom to schedule my time. And the pay is likely good, certainly on a par or better than what I might be offered as an assistant professor. If I were to take such a post, I'd dedicate myself to maintaining a minimum (likely 8-10 hours a week) for my work: my research, my writing, academic job applications, conference presentations.
Could I do that in 10 hours a week? Why not. How much time would I have as a professor, between new preps, and teaching classes, and service tasks, and office hours? Some have advised me to take full advantage of my time, while I remain in this post-doc limbo. But then, I'm not so productive these days. I've had a year to prove that to myself. I'm paralyzed by the many options, depressed by the lack of applause, and the uncertainty that any particular effort will get me closer to my goals. It's not that I'm doing nothing, for sure. But I've always been more productive, better at managing my time and meeting deadlines, when I'm busy.
Am I simply justifying this in my own mind? Perhaps. I'm flattered and pleased by the attention and interest. Even if this is not a career I would have sought, even if this is not a career I could see myself having in three or five years, it's a welcome change from the silent disinterest I've gotten from faculty search committees. Who knows, maybe the boost to my self-esteem, and the added income, would be enough to lift me closer to those 5-10 year goals, making it easier to take some risks a few years out.
It's amazing how easy it is to impress non-academics, how seemingly easy it is to get a job. You schmooze for an hour or so, no job talks to prepare, no mock classes on unfamiliar subjects hoisted on you to test your mettle and ability to conduct research on short notice. Of course, I haven't been offered a job, but they're clearly interested. It may take one or two months for them to pull together an offer, which suits me fine, as it gives me time to think and rethink this. It'd also give me time to settle into a new life and routine in Rocket City, which just might afford me the satisfaction I'm really seeking. In any case, I'm open to the possibility.
But I'm not giving up on seeking a faculty post, not yet.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
It's not a career I'd ever really considered. I'm curious though. What would it be like for me to take a job, simply a job, related to academia (though perhaps by some lights parasitically so), while I continue to seek a foothold on my professional life. I'm curious to find out what they make. Do you really have to sell your soul to work in sales for textbooks? I'd far rather be the one reading them, and deciding, on the basis of value and quality, and appropriateness for the course, which text to choose. For the moment, however, that choice is not available to me. Of course, in many cases, the text matters less than the teaching. This particular division probably falls within that category, so I certainly (possibly?) wouldn't be doing any harm (a dilemma which my father dealt with at my age when the advertising agency he worked for assigned the task to him of selling sulfa drugs in advance of their ban by the government).
I found an old letter sent to my father a decade ago, from my first trip overseas. For one month of that trip, I had been involved in an international workshop related to my old life as a performer:
Back in [city], where we had the [workshop], I had a dinner with a group of people including the founder and organizer of the whole affair, Dr. Werther (Jerry to me). He explained his philosophy on life, and I heard your voice. He said he thought of Goethe, of his spending more than half a lifetime working on "Faust", and of the lesson of Faust as he saw it. He said Faust was a man who did many bad things, many foolish things - but that the reason Goethe has him saved at the end - is that he woke up every day - and tried - tried to learn something new - throughout his whole life, despite a deal with the devil - he sought to accomplish something, through all his foolishness, most of all, he cared whether or not his life had meaning, and whether or not his life had any effect on the world. Jerry explained how to him what was always most important was that he leave the world a little better than he received it. Jerry said it, but I heard your voice saying it to me 20 years ago.I think of the recent news about Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and I wonder about my earlier rejection of the notion that one can make their millions first, then do good works. It would seem that the potential really is there, and the legacy that these men (I hesitate to call them "great men") will leave will likely have a longer lasting effect than what I might muster with my high-minded commitment to research and teaching. I can't say I'm ready to sell out, but these thoughts do give me pause.
The Rocket Scientist has suggested that it might be good for me to get a part-time job (the one above is full-time though). It's not so much that we need the money (though we could surely find ways to spend it or save it), but rather that it might help me feel less isolated and less useless if I'm doing something, and interacting with others.
Let's look at the faculty job search. One approach, which I've pretty much held for the past couple years is apply for every reasonably potentially appropriate post. Another tack, suggested in part by my interactions with Martin Chauffeur, by undine's advice, by the comments to my recent post about reworking a base cover letter, and by some recent remarks by Tasse Plein, is to focus merely on those positions that really speak to me, that seem to be seeking Articulate Dad.
I think of a friend of mine, Tom Hula, with a very similar focus to my own, who spent a year or so working for a tech start-up, then about three years working in administration at a university, before being offered a tenure-track job (which in fact he wound up turning down, because it was 1000 miles away from where his wife had a good career), eventually finagled a visiting faculty post at the institution where his wife was employed (when she was offered an attractive post at another institution), which has since been transformed into a tenure-track post.
First off, committees can't fault one for getting a job, while continuing the search. And, in Tom's case, I can't say that he had really maintained an active profile in the meantime. As far as I know, he didn't attend many conferences, give many presentations, submit articles for publication. He had simply stepped away for a time, working a job. Yet he was able to land himself a good situation, when the opportunity arose.
I've mentioned before that in some ways not needing to work is a double-edged sword. It frees me to work on my things... but that freedom itself can be confusing, overwhelming. What would I do, if I didn't need the money, if I didn't need a job? It's an amazingly, unexpectedly, difficult question to answer. I think of the book Money and the Meaning of Life, by the philosopher Jacob Needleman. At one point in the book, he discusses this question, and how the freedom from financial need has at times had devastating effects on individuals, from those who win the lottery, accept a large inheritance, rapidly achieve great success. It's an odd scenario, but one which is real.
I can't say that we are wealthy. But we are comfortable. Most importantly, we live within our means, which are sufficient to provide for all our needs, and a few of our wants. That could change of course. Rather, our income could change. But we've had many years of experience living within our means, which before recently were far more modest than now. And, I could easily take a job to bring in money if we needed it. But I don't fear that we'd have trouble living off far less. I mean, let's get real, we've both been graduate students.
What path to take? What face to present to the world? What voice to direct toward hiring committees? Which jobs to apply for? What to do?
Friday, September 22, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Over 50 job applications last year. Does that lead one to suspect I didn't care? Sure I did. I rode the roller coaster up and down so many times, getting excited about a prospect, then crashing down when it fell apart. Not all of them inspired such commitment, I admit, but more than one might suspect, each time, hoping, envisioning myself in that place. My wife suggests perhaps it takes too much out of me to cater letters for each school.
Sure, there were a few I sent a "standard" letter to (ironically, two of the four interviews I've gotten in the past two years, were the results of those letters). But most of the applications took hours of researching the schools, carefully reading the job description and departmental website for cues, drafting a letter that specifically addressed that opportunity. I suspect I should be more targeted, more focused, applying to fewer places this year.
On the other hand, Tasse Plein has said, "apply for everything." Others say, "be sure that this opportunity is the one you want," before applying. The odds are so against us as academic job seekers that it would be foolish to focus all efforts on one or two. Then again, all I need is one job. Just how do I know which one? If I were pretty much assured of getting an interview anywhere I applied, I could apply only to the places that seemed ideal from the outset. But that's not the world I live in.
This is exacerbated by the fact that my work falls between fields; it is in some ways invisible to departments. If a post were advertised that truly spoke to my background, training, and interests, I'd have no problem making the case. But what does a job seeker do, when the task is really to convince departments that what one has to offer, while not outrightly sought, is a good complement to and expansion on departmental offerings?
It's a dilemma. Not quite as simple as search committees might wish it to be. If committees were clear on what they wanted, if consensus were formed before the job announcement went out, perhaps many of us would apply for fewer jobs, and the task of weeding through applications would be easier for them. Then again, why should committees limit themselves in advance of the applications? Why should they stick to preconceived notions of the ideal candidate, before they've seen the diversity of ideas and expertise available? Perhaps they don't. But then, it behooves a job seeker to read between the lines of an announcement, finding the best way to make their case, even if it seems a stretch.
And so, I return to an expectation that many more applications lie before me, that each will take a great deal of effort, that applying for jobs will remain a near full-time job, all the while I seek to find satisfaction in doing just what I'm doing, marking my niche, developing my research, submitting publications, presenting at conferences, and hoping to land myself some part-time teaching that will renew my confidence in the classroom, prepare me for job talks, and keep me honest.
It's been a while since we've talked. I'll be moving in the next month with my family. Rocket has taken a job at the Rocket Central in Rocket City. I'm still working on my own, seeking post-docs, faculty posts, grants. I've got a few articles under consideration, a few more in the works, a feeler out to [Publisher] re: a couple book ideas.
It would be great to catch up with you over lunch or coffee sometime before I move, if you can find the time. I hope you are doing well. I'd love to hear about all your latest projects and progress. Please let me know if you can spare the time.
Articulate,So, yesterday we met. I had sent him a draft copy of my new base cover letter. The first paragraph of which read:
I would be happy to meet with you, and to update my letter on our behalf. How about an afternoon coffee this week. Tomorrow at 2, the shop here in [town]?
I seek above all a faculty post in a department where interdisciplinarity is prized, at a university where cross-disciplinary collaborations are the norm; where the intellectual climate, provides sufficient training and appropriate respect for the tried and true techniques of our discipline, while endorsing experimentation with novel or unusual methodologies; where students are encouraged and faculty expected to challenge the assumptions of their own education and background, at times even the foundations of their discipline, to follow compelling questions along the avenues, sometimes straightforward, at other times gardenpath, which these questions themselves indicate.The second paragraph proceeds to articulate several of my leading questions, which motivate my research, then to say:
I have taken these questions and continue to present them to audiences as diverse as first-year non-majors at a community college and graduate students at my own doctoral institution, scholars at international [Field 1] and [Interdisciplinary Field] conferences, well-heeled patrons of the [Prominent Public Event], and the general listening public of the [radio network where I was interviewed on my research a couple years ago].The third paragraph discusses my research, dissertation, and background. The fourth begins:
Unabashedly excited by research, I take great pleasure in engaging student's minds with the fires that drive my investigations, ever seeking to emblazon their own questions with these flames; taking [aspects of Field 1] out of the realm of the far distant, and directly into the sometimes familiar, sometimes discomforting, experiences of their own lives.I proceed to articulate a few more specific questions relative to the courses I would likely teach.
Two more paragraphs follow, which outline my specific accomplishments and experience. I plan a paragraph to discuss my current projects which was merely indicated in the draft, followed by a closing paragraph:
If you believe [Your University Here] to be an appropriate venue for my continued efforts, I would be delighted to discuss the possibilities with you. For more information regarding my interests and activiites, I invite you to peruse my website [PRW's URL]. I thank you for your time and interest, and look forward to hearing from you regarding this opportunity.He suggested that my research ought to be moved up to the head paragraph, and that I might wish to tone down the "self-praise" as in:
My student evaluations attest to the energy with which I teach. My CV attests further to the drive and discipline with which I pursue my research.But here, perhaps is the key. His comment in the margin to the opening paragraph, quoted above:
Very aggressive. Too aggressive and puts the reader on the defensive.This I believe is the crucial matter. During our discussion, he contended that one possible tack, and one which he believes to be most successful, is to appear beige (his word, not mine), like the decor of a modest hotel. Fit in. Blend in. Then try to look a bit different.
I smiled, and drew a pie chart, with one slice missing. I pointed to that absent slice: Do you really think I'd get hired in a department that thinks like this?
In my initial consultation with a career coach a couple months ago (I decided to forego the services for now) he described one of my concerns as a dichotomy between marketing and patience. Do I concentrate on marketing myself to appear like what they want, or do I simply have the patience to wait for what I want?
I told Jim that I felt my letters have become ever more beige during the job search, and that it has garnered me less and less attention. My first full year on the market (two seasons ago, when I was in the midst of finishing and filing the dissertation) I received three calls, and one campus interview. This past year, I received one call (no telephone interview, just an invitation to come to campus) and that for a one-term sabbatical replacement post. My hope in scrapping the old basic form and replacing it with a new one is two-fold: 1) to return to it my true voice; and 2) to present myself as a teacher as well as a researcher.
To some extent it's a question of courage. Do I have the courage to put myself out there, aggressively me, knowing full well that it might turn off quite a few committee members, in the hope that what might emerge is an offer to come and serve fully as the scholar I am? The threat of course, is that it will turn off enough people that I won't make it to a single short list.
What makes a stand-out truly remarkable? What is it about some candidates, or some letters, that prompts committee after committee to invite them to campus? What does it take to excite enough committees to receive multiple offers? What shines so brightly that makes them want you? Or is it really the case that I need to appear as just another shade of beige?
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
We had a nice breakfast date together, sitting outside at our favorite bakery, with breakfast burritos and pastries. Tonight we'll go to a Morrocan restaurant for dinner (if we can get reservations).
The wife called from work to say she'd heard some interesting news. Her boss (the one who urged her to reconsider her decision to remain in Paradise) and another senior engineer put in their notice at work. Rumor is this site will be shut down in the next 60 days. Looks like the timing was just right for her to jump ship.
I'm still in touch with the [Field 3] professor at Hurricane Magnet U., who seems genuinely interested in getting me out there for a post-doc likely dealing with [Field 1 & Field 2] studies, assuming his grants comes through. Apparently, funding decisions will be made in about a month or so.
Did you ever get back to me about your time frame for the postdoc?Um... what do I say? The truth I guess. I'm flexible, I'm open... but I have a family, and a wife who's starting a new job in three weeks, which will keep her grounded here on the west coast for at least a year, after which time we'd really like to both find work in the same area. The Hurricane Zone is possible for her (though is that really where we want to settle?). Could I commute? Possibly, but only realistically if we work out a creative schedule. Could it wait until next fall? Who knows? Maybe by then I'll have other possibilities. Keeping my options open.
I'm interested in collaborating with him and his team. There's much I could learn, and much I could contribute. Would it work out? I don't know. Are there alternatives to being a full-time on-the-ground post-doc? Maybe. We'll just have to see.
Meantime, I've been working on a completely new base cover letter, returning to my roots, exhibiting my passions, showing my own voice. Thanks to What Now? for the little nudge to push me back to myself. I may, just may, share some of that cover letter with you my readers, but only for a limited time. I'll have a think about that one.
In any case, the game is afoot. Just had a visit a little while ago from the assessor for the movers, who came to record and calculate our worldly possessions to estimate the time needed for the packers and the space needed and weight allowance for the truck. End of next week he head to Rocket City for a house-hunting trip.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
On that note, overheard last night as the Painter was attempting to complete yet another Rush Hour puzzle: Hey everybody! Don't interstract me!
Some tasks to accomplish today. Got this move looming. The job season is quickly emerging. I've got many questions to answer about what kind of jobs I will apply for, how many, how much energy I will put into my applications, whether I will work hard on one principal template for the cover letters, or pour a great deal of time and energy in working up each one. I need to send off requests for updated file recommendation letters.
I've got some more conference abstracts to work up and submit. Need to start sending off articles again. I've got an invited lecture for a class at a small liberal arts college coming up, for which I need to decide what and when. I have to work up subject recruitment materials for my longitudinal study. And I ought to get back to some of my other projects as well.
I've never visited the sites in question. I wonder if there isn't some way that the blogosphere can have a positive impact on this whole process. My wife, aghast, continues to muse at just how many positions in my field failed to be filled last year.
This is not only a shame, it is to my mind a crime. In the corporate world, if a position is opened, it remains open until filled. What harm would be done by continuing a search for a faculty member, filling it in the spring rather than the fall? What ridiculous roadblocks are erected in the way of departments and committees to do just that?
Surely, it is a lot of work to sit on a committee. I know. When I was a graduate student, I sat on one search committee for a senior administrative post, that met weekly (except for a few occasions) for over a year! But we kept meeting.
I can assure you faculty members who lament the difficulties of remaining on a committee, that what the unemployed scholars suffer in waiting is far worse! I frankly can't believe or understand that out of 90 or 100 or 186 applicants, it is impossible to find just one who is suitable, who is capable, to fill the position. Perhaps it is not so much a failing of the candidates, as one of the committees, of departmental expectations, of entrenched full professors unwilling to compromise, unable to accept the novelty of new research directions, or the untested interests of junior scholars.
Does it make any sense in the twisted world of academia to risk the loss of so many young, promising scholars, who simply will not or cannot remain on the job market for yet another year? What a waste of genuine talent. There must be a way. It's a matter of courage and commitment on the part of committees, departments, and administrators to find it. That is all.
Monday, September 18, 2006
[SIGH] Much to think about here. Do I need to decode and deconstruct the advice I've been getting lately? I sent the announcement to my wife, when I saw it. She asks, "what are you thinking"? I replied:
[Field 1] Department
The Department of [Field 1] at [Big East Private] University seeks to appoint a scholar of exceptional ability and achievement in original research, publication, and teaching. The position is at the rank of Assistant Professor and the appointment will commence September 1, 2007, pending budgetary and administrative approval. Preference will be given to expertise in [Subfield 3], although a fundamental requirement of the position will be the ability to work across disciplines. ...we are seeking someone dedicated to working with scholars in all these fields. The position involves teaching and advising at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Please send a cover letter, detailed CV, and three letters of recommendation with the application and mail to: [BEP] [Field 1] Search Committee, c/o Tasse Plein, Chair, Department of [Field 1], [Big East Private University]...
What am I thinking?.... hmmm. One thing's for certain: I'd have a tough time NOT applying. That said, I think I'd need to work hard on making my letter stand out as something entirely different! Tasse knows me, and my best guess is he'll recuse himself from any decisions (at least unless there is strong interest in my application). But, he's been giving me a lot of advice lately about how most positions would not permit the sort of research I'm interested in doing, knowing full well, I suspect, that I would come across this posting.
Think also about his advice regarding Turf. See, this would be my third application to BEP in three years. What am I thinking? I don't know, Rocket. I really don't know.
Updated to add:
Is this a new post, or a reopening of the position from last year? Are there specific courses that are being targeted to be taught?
Same job as last year. We didn't fill it. We're looking for members of the intellectual community more than someone to teach specific courses. It's always a long shot, but there's no reason not to send in an application. I'm not on the committee.
A forest fire some distance away had taken to decorating my world. I feel like a flake of ash today, coasting, slowly on the currents, like a jellyfish, casually, occasionally pumping my beautiful bell, not really designed for locomotion, not truly able to influence my path.
I read BrightStar's recent post. I'm feeling oddly serene about this all. We have a move ahead of us. Everything is being arranged. We'll take a house-hunting trip the end of this month. The movers will come ideally sometime in the first or second week of October. I need to find an office, and get set up.
I'm not feeling terribly confident about finding a faculty post this year. But I'm beginning to settle with the idea that, barring that, I can just head off on my own. Dr. Dad, PhD. I've got ideas. Why wallow in the misery induced by faculty search committees without the vision to see what I'm worth? And why allow their lack of vision to muddy my own. I can see clearly. (Hothouse Flowers' song is not yet my own, but I'm getting there). It's just up to me to see the right horizon and head directly for it.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Do you know anyone at Turf? They have an open post in [Field 1] once again. If I apply, this will make my fourth such application to them in three years. I'd very much like to make contact with someone there who can tell me just what they're really seeking. Their job announcement is vague almost to the point of being meaningless. ("Specialization in [vaguely-defined subarea] desirable. We seek a creative scholar with broad interests, exceptional promise, and a strong commitment to teaching historical and cultural studies in an imaginative and compelling manner.") I suspect, despite the vagueness of the announcement, that they really have a sense of what they're seeking, which might help me decide if it would be worth applying once again.
Let me know,
There are two schools of thought, and I'm afraid the best I can do is outline them. The first is that since you've already applied three times and haven't gotten so much as a nibble, nothing is going to change, and it isn't worth applying. The second is that since there is no cost at all to applying, you have absolutely nothing to lose, though probably not much to gain. In the end it is a psychological question: if you can apply without too much expectation and without being done damage by their rejection, there is no reason not to apply and, considering the stakes, it will be worth applying even if there's only a one in a thousand chance of the desired outcome.
As always, I'm glad to write on your behalf.
I'll decide one way or the other in the next couple weeks. Meantime, I'm working on "the notion that you are perfectly happy doing what you are doing, and that while you'd consider their job, you don't need it" as you put it in a letter last month.
We'll be moving in about a month to the Rocket City area, where the Rocket Scientist takes up her new job at Rocket Central October 16. I'm looking to rent myself a small office or studio space to finally get some solitude for working. This year has been working out of the house (with the boys and other distractions to attend to) or working in the [Field 2] department computer lab (with all the graduate student chatter as distraction). Neither terribly conducive to concentrated work.
I'm going to get started on my [Longitudinal Project] once we get settled, I make contacts and recruit volunteers. I need to find [description of subjects]. We'll see how it goes. I've got some feelers out for post-docs as well. Karl-Heinz Schmidt who runs a neuroimaging lab specializing on [area related to my research] at Big Top East has agreed to sponsor me for a [granting agency] individual grant, which I plan to submit in April. There's also some interest in getting me to come down to Hurricane Magnet University to work with Stewart Small and his group (also involved with [Field 1], [Field 2], and brain sciences). My PRW website is attracting a good deal of attention, about 10-20 visitors a day. Every few weeks, I get an email from someone with a question, or to announce another conference of interest.
Also, working on some book ideas (I made initial contact with [Publisher]), and submitting articles and conference abstracts around. It's disappointing that the faculty job search has been a dead end so far, but I'm an unrepentant [Field 1] & [Field 2] scholar, and damn it, that's what I hope to remain. If I have to strike out on my own, and figure out ways to get published, and funded, then I'm committed to doing that. Meantime, I'll keep plugging away at applications, keeping my expectations and anticipations in check.
Will I see you at SOD in [Location]?
Keeping in mind of course that many, if not most jobs you will get make the kind of engaged, experimental and exciting research all but impossible...Cheers,
Well then, I should work hardest on developing my own research niche, especially publishing and presenting it to as wide an audience as I can, finding as great a degree of satisfaction in that domain as possible. Then apply for jobs in the hope that one day some department will realize that yes, I'd make a great addition to their program. For the time being, Rocket is willing and able to support the family, which is indeed a great relief. Would I like to bring in some income? Of course. But it's good to know I don't need to.It is a question of ego, as you've said before, and one of energy. It's far easier to produce for the applause of an enthusiastic audience than for the silence of expectation, especially when my work could (and does) lead in many directions at once. I fear to tread too far down one avenue, that I might lose sight of the others. But, life is adventure. Getting lost is part of the journey.Your comments, engagement, and encouragement are a great source of comfort to me. Thank you.Yours,
Dear Articulate:Thanks, but I didn't say you shouldn't think about money. You should be framing your ideas so that you can apply for grants, possibly multi-year grants either in the sciences OR the humanities, OR in some initiative that is designed to bring the two together.Keep up the great work,
Friday, September 15, 2006
Dear Articulate Dad,Um... yeah, sure. I would just hope to receive notice in time to get a decent airfare. At least it's positive feedback, if roundabout in a way. But this is what I hear so often: That's fascinating... it's not the right fit for us, but really interesting work. [SIGH]
We regret to inform you that we cannot accept your presentation for the [Field 2 Society] workshop to be held in [Place, Date]. As we received many more papers than we can fit into our schedule, we had to reject those papers that were less close to the core topic of the workshop.
As your topic is really interesting in a general [sub-area] perspective, however, we would like to ask you whether you would be ready to stand in if some other talk will be cancelled. According to our experience, there is a greater than 50% chance that at least one talk will be cancelled before the beginning of the workshop. Please let us know whether you would be interested in replacing one of the other presenters should the situation arise.
With kind regards,
It's alright. Feedback like this I can handle. It means there's an audience out there, if only I can find a way to target them. I think I'll try to submit another article this coming week. And I've got two more conference abstracts to prepare soon as well. Both of them in the UK.
My wife asks why all the interesting conferences are in Europe. Maybe it's a sign, eh? Got to work out the budget, but I think this year calls for going for broke. If mountains don't move for me, maybe I'll just have to move to the mountains. But that's a decision to be made when the time comes.
***Updated to add***
Dear Sven & Colleagues,
Yes that sounds fine to me. I'd be pleased for the opportunity to come to the workshop, even if "through the back door" as an alternate. I'm glad there is interest in my work, even if it strays a bit from the focus of the workshop. Please let me know if the opportunity arises, so I can make travel plans to attend.
Still and all, I want to be both a father and a man. Being a man for me, a person really, a captain of my vessel, means to have meaningful work. I think about the recent discussion on Ianqui's blog re: deserving a tenure-track job. What do any of us deserve? There is a motto I try to live by: strive for excellence in all things that you do. I'd like to live in a world where striving for excellence is enough to achieve a manner of success. But as per that discussion, there are all sorts of ways to "operationalize" success.
I am happy being a father, when I maintain the patience to delight in my boys' charms, when I can truly see the world as they look at it, enjoying time in the moment, experiencing their wonder, as they learn and explore. I take great pleasure in picking tomatoes or peppers, cucumbers, squash, all manner of things from my garden, working the soil, turning the compost in the worm bin. I enjoy cooking. Sailing allows me to live with the wind and the sea. These are joys I can take with me, no matter what else I do.
But success? I am tired of awaiting a committee's stamp of approval. It's not that I no longer want it. But I can no longer consider that stamp to be my measure of success.
Yesterday, I spent some time returning to the blog I keep of my father's poetry and writings, typing up several more from the files I have. I had been neglecting that for a while. I realized in that moment, that that is real work. I will publish his poems, along with some of my own, and letters between us, and reminiscence. It'll be a memoir of sorts, across generations, a dialogue like Natalie Cole's recordings with her posthumous father Nat King Cole.
I have some children's books I wrote a while ago, and ideas for a new one, that I would like to market and publish. There are both scholarly and popular publications which I have in mind, or in various stages of development, which I wish to push ahead with. I have some additional ideas for self-employment, to bring in a little cash, but mostly to get me active again. I'm far more productive when I have several fires burning.
When we move to Rocket City, I plan to get myself a small office or studio space, in which to work without the distractions of home or the constant hum and hubbub of the graduate student computer lab, where I had occasion to hang my hat during this last year.
I'll continue to apply for faculty jobs and post-docs. But already I feel less interest in applying for many of them. My confidence remains at ebbtide. There are no job descriptions that scream out to me, Articulate, this one's for you. Rather, they're vague, densely coded, obscure. They all seek excellence, exceptionality, promise, experience. I thought I had all those qualities a year or two ago, now I'm not so sure. Here's one:
We seek a creative scholar with broad interests, exceptional promise, and a strong commitment to teaching historical and cultural studies in an imaginative and compelling manner.Blah blah... what am I supposed to make of that sort of description? For comparison, here's the verbage from the position the same school advertised in fall 2004:
We seek a creative scholar with broad interests, exceptional promise, and a strong commitment to teaching historical and cultural studies in an imaginative and intellectually stimulating manner.This from their announcement in Spring 2005 for a one-year post:
We seek a creative scholar with broad interests and evidence of strong teaching abilities.Or, see this from their announcement of two positions in Fall 2005:
We seek candidates with broad interests, proven and distinguished excellence in scholarship (or exceptional promise in the case of junior candidates), and a strong commitment to teaching in an imaginative and intellectually stimulating manner.The worst part of being here again, looking over the cliff, ready to jump, wondering if I remembered my parachute, is that I no longer expect to succeed in this search, no longer hold certainty that I even wish to.
I think of Tasse Plein's remark to me in an email last month:
Damn man, when you do get your interview, you want to project the notion that you are perfectly happy doing what you are doing, and that while you'd consider their job, you don't need it.I guess that's the task ahead of me. Frankly, I only really get depressed when I think of this job search. Thinking about the work, the research, the writing, etc. all get me gassed up. If only I can stay on top of my game, without losing the requisite drive to keep applying. It's anybody's guess.
Monday, September 11, 2006
What happened to her, I wonder. My guess is she simply failed to get a tenure-track job, then passed from the field, to be remembered only for her early contributions. Did she lose interest in the field? Was she simply too discouraged? Perhaps I'll never know. There was potential there, great potential, that at least from the vantage I sit on, was wasted. I can't say for sure. Maybe her true passion was culinary art or architecture. Perhaps she's made her own mark in those realms, leaving no trace to the modern internet search savvy. But I wonder if it wasn't something altogether more mundane, something closer to home, something sad.
I don't wish to fade away, to drop off my chosen path, to take up a career in advertising or real estate. Many others have. It's not that I couldn't. It's simply that I don't want to. I'm discouraged, to be sure, frustrated at my so far unrequited efforts to gain a standing in academia that matches my expectations, my hopes, my dreams. I spent a good long time thinking about what drives me, before I returned for the PhD, which showed itself on my shirtsleeves so to speak.
Years ago, after having finished my Master's degree, wondering where it might lead me, what path I should tread, my wife listened patiently to my contemplations, my endless sifting through of possibilities. Perhaps I'll go back to gardening (a sole-proprietor landscaping business paid my way through the undergraduate years), or seek a manager position at a bookstore or a restaurant (both work I had done before).
No, she declared, that's not what keeps you up at nights. That's not what fires your passions, that brings a glint to your eyes. Your heart beats faster, and your face shines and sparkles when you tell me about [Field 1] and [Field 2]. Follow your passions. That's who you are.
She was right. I knew it then, and I believe it still today. I know who I am. I know where I belong. I know what work lies before me. My fear is simply not finding the means to get across this abyss which holds me back. I can't say for sure what lies on the other side. A fog and haze obscures it from me. What I do know is that I will be me, no matter where I land.
Who gains from this discussion? Who is wedded to the idea that racism must be everlasting and pervasive? And from NPR, no less. I'm disappointed. Why is it news to say Shooboobooboo, WHO IS WHITE thinks that.... Marklebarkle, WHO IS BLACK believes that...Election 2006
Maryland Primary Not About Race, Voters Say
All Things Considered, September 10, 2006 · Democrats are torn over the top two choices in the Maryland Senate primary: Congressman Ben Cardin, who is white, and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who is black. Many voters, however, insist that the contest is not about race.
Why can a story like this simply not been covered on the issues, as everyone in the story seems to believe? Call me naive: but when racism is the last thing on people's minds... shouldn't we just leave it there?
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Hi Karl-Heinz,I hadn't posted them here, but we had exchanged a few more emails in August, in which I spoke of some specific ideas, and mentioned my having considered another larger grant proposal down the road. I also indicated my willingness to accept periods of uncertain funding, if there were a chance for me to fill the open post-doc that he had mentioned. He didn't take up my offer to come to his lab in the short term, but wrote:
Thanks for the follow up. Yes, I am a US citizen. I am still very much interested in preparing a [specific grant] proposal, and in working in your lab. I wasn't sure from your last email whether you think my proposed project would be appropriate. If you have other suggestions or ideas, I'm certainly open to your input. Depending on how involved you would like to be in the proposal process, I'm willing to work either directly under your guidance or independently, as you prefer.
My thought at the moment is to plan a brain-imaging study as follow up to my [Longitudinal Study], for which I will begin data gathering in November, and analysis shortly thereafter. For that reason, I think the April deadline for [specific grant] would be more practical, as it would allow me a few months of data as a base for my proposal.
I'm still hoping that I can acquire some hands-on experience in a brain-imaging lab before putting together a proposal. I got the impression that there may not be anything appropriate or available to me in your lab in the short term. Please let me know if that changes. Your work seems to be the closest to my interests, and would therefore be my first choice. In the meantime, I will pursue whatever other opportunities arise.
Let me know if an April submission would work for you. Thanks again for your encouragement and support of my research and training.
Without hurting your feelings, [larger grant] will not work for you right now. You would need to be much more established with a minimum of two publications in peer-reviewed journals in the area that you are applying for.I accepted the rebuke, but his note seemed rather curt and discouraging, since there was no commentary or reaction to my research ideas. I followed up with a conciliatory note, stating:
I meant not to overstep my bounds in suggesting the [larger grant], just to indicate that I'm thinking ahead. I realize if I come to your lab that I would be the apprentice, and I fully appreciate this situation.So, I'm pleased to have received his recent missive. I had thought I had lost the chance. This would be a great opportunity for me, as his lab is focused on areas of research that mesh completely with my own interests. It is also a lab at a top-ranked East Coast school, which certainly wouldn't hurt my experience, my exposure, or my CV. Fortunately, my mother lives an easy commute from that school, and would be happy to give me a place to stay (especially as I might be able to bring the boys with me on occasion). I'm not terribly interested in a commute however, if it can be avoided. But grant cycles can take a year or more, meaning, this could be our next stop.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
I've just so much to say right now, that I'm finding it difficult to get started. I want to start a thread on parenting and careers and expectations. Hopefully I'll be able to tackle at least a beginning on that soon.
Recently, I've come to value even more my wonderful relationship with my wife, the life and family that we have forged together, and the future that we both look forward to sharing. I think of my mother's stormy 21 years with my step father, before he decided to have an affair with his married secretary, then marry her after both divorced their spouses. I want none of that. This marriage, this family, this life, are where I want to be. My life, for the most part, is filled with marvels. I am truly blessed with that.
And yet, there is a part of me that still seeks. There is still a gaping hole in my professional life that was neither expected nor deserved. This has been a rough week for me, a rough several weeks. I said to my mother recently that we've been on a roller coaster the past week or so. She replied, you've been a roller coaster since you graduated! Indeed.
Part of the ups and downs this particular week (since our final decision to move) is the result of my full-time parenting at the moment. It is a great joy and a tiring burden. Those who have never served as stay-at-home parents may simply never understand. I wonder at those parents who choose this life, embrace it, revel in it, thrive even. I respect them and admire them, but I fail to fully understand them. I wonder at my mother, who divorced my father (not without cause) and headed "back home" some 200 miles away, with three boys, aged 8, 6, and 4, returned to teaching and to college, where she earned two master degrees, while moving into school administration. A "stay-at-home" was not my model.
It is not that I don't delight in being a father. But it is that my hands at times feel tied, my life completely overwhelmed by duty, one which keeps me from other things I might wish to be doing. This would likely be otherwise, if I felt that modicum of satisfaction in my professional accomplishments. I recall all too well the many times I have heard from colleagues who are so fortunate to hold tenure-track positions, or tenure, that they know many colleagues, smarter, better teachers, more capable, whatever, who have failed to secure employment in their fields. All those times I heard those words, I suspected it was a bit of hyperbole on their parts, that there must be some reason they have a job and the others did not, that there was some logic to it all.
The logic escapes me now. I never thought I might be the subject of such a comment. But here I am, so far unable to land myself a post in my field. It is frustrating. The choice is mine, I know. It has always been mine. I could walk away. I won't be so rash. But I can't say what 6 months or a year will bring. I am determined to hold onto who I am, to follow my paths, to pursue my interests, to contribute to society, to my fields of research, in the ways that I can best do so. At the moment, I still hope that will be as part of an institution of higher learning, but I give up trying to predict.
In the meantime, I am tired. Parenting is exhausting: perhaps less so for those better equipped for its rigors, or better adjusted to its demands. And seeking, always seeking, reading job postings, sending out feelers, applying for jobs is exhausting as well. For me, perhaps, it is the waiting that most saps my energies, and while I am a full-time dad (the au pair returns the middle of next week), just about all I can do is wait, since I haven't the time or energy to do much else.
As I have said and thought many times in my life: this too shall pass. The move will be in its own way exhilirating. I thrive on novelty, especially when I have felt stagnant, when circumstances leave me in an endless eddy, ever circling back and around again. Sometimes you just have to pick up the kayak, and head to another stream. Hold on: the rollercoaster promises to return again.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
I am going through some old e-mails and wanted to make sure if you are serious about a December submission. The [specific grant] requires citizenship if I remember correctly. Are you a US citizen?
[Uh... yeah, nice to hear from you. I guess I had given up on that prospect since you had fallen silent following my discussion of the sort of project I'd like to work on.]
Not going to write that back to him, I promise. I'll get back to him in the next day or two. Yes, I think I would like to prepare a grant proposal to work with him. Still a bit concerned about writing a fundable project proposal without any experience in brain imaging. But, I'll work on that. Still have that contact Patrick at the university in Rocket City who has remained upbeat and supportive. Perhaps there's room for at least an informal association there, which would give me more confidence and experience in that regard. We'll see. One step at a time.
MESSAGE FOR ARTICULATE DAD* No idea who this is, likely someone who found my PRW, or attended my panel in Belgium back when.
Thomas Porter* has given me your name, and suggested I contact you regarding a conference I am planning for [Date next spring]. The conference is called [same as a conference panel I organized in Belgium a few years back], and will be hosted by the [Name of Institute] at [UK University], in conjunction with [further details]. [Physical Sciences Big Name] and [Social Sciences Big Name] will be giving the keynotes for that event.
The conference is intended to explore the topic from both scientific and historical standpoints.
I would be grateful for any help your can provide - a paper please! - and the names of any people in the field you suggest I contact. I have already established a basic working group, including [Big Names in Field 1].
Many thanks for your help, in advance, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Dr Bidar Aharon
Reader in [Field 1]
Director, Postgraduate Studies in [Field 1]
Director, Centre for [Field 1 subfield]
General Editor, [Field 1 subfield journal] [Publisher**]
General Editor, [Field 1 other subfield journal] [Same Publisher]
** Just so happens to be the same publisher as the one whose acquisitions editor I wrote to recently.
So, all told, I suppose my efforts to mark my niche and make a name for myself are beginning to pay off. Of course, a paper please! and we'll gladly cover your expenses are too quite different expressions, as I well know. But, yeah, sure, why not.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
HR @ RC: Everyone okayed it. The salary is the same as original, but I can offer you a signing bonus of [4.5% of salary].Done deal! Got to love corporate America. Finally, the rollercoaster is taking a break. Tentative start date at Rocket Central is mid-October. Need to get confirmation, and the signed, sealed offer on paper delivered (FedEx, hopefully arriving tomorrow). Then I can call our landlord and give our notice. Meantime, the purging and cleaning continues. Next it's finding a place to live in Rocket City, and possibly an office or studio space for me to rent outside the house, for working in earnest.
Rocket Scientist: Uh... sure, okay, we'll take it.
This life is a genuine adventure. Don't blink or you might miss something great.
Hmmm. Well, the offer is off the table. We'd have to get approval from all the managers to reopen it. If I get approval, would you be willing to take the original offer.I received notice in today's email that the position at the University of Southern Orchards which remained unfilled last year, has officially been reopened. The job description was modified however, to specify scholars with a research interest in [not my area] particularly encouraged to apply. I called last year's search committee chair (whose letter read in part "We would greatly appreciate having another opportunity to give you full consideration") to feel out the situation.
Well, if it's [dollar figure, 3.5% above the original offer] I could take it today, otherwise, I'd have to do some thinking.
The offer I was authorized for wasn't that. Meantime, I suggest you do some thinking. I'll look into reopening it. Hope to be back to you with word today.
He's not on this year's committee, but he confirmed that that specialization is what they seem to really need, though they avoided specifying it last year. Okay, now I know: they're out.
Meantime, I'm still Dr. Dad, and enjoying the time with my boys. The au pair called from Europe today to say that she got her new visa, so we'll see her in about a week without complications. I'm ready to start a new year, focusing on building my niche, rather than obsessing about the job search.
I don't know if we'll be in Rocket City, or if we'll be looking back in our old haunts, if we'll just stick it out here in Paradise, and wait to see if a transfer is in the offing a few months down the road, or start a broader search. I'll be keeping an eye on faculty job listings, but I'm not going to apply anywhere the Rocket Scientist couldn't also reasonable find work, unless the job is just too good to pass up.
Meanwhile, I continue to get hits on my PRW from someone at Hurricane Magnet U. Still no word, but at least I know they're interested. The thing is, it's time for us to stop waiting for something to happen, and simply make our decisions as a family, based on what we know at the moment. First thing, we have to hear back from Rocket Central. We don't need it. If the offer is there, we've got new news which will help us decide. If tomorrow brings something else, we'll look at everything with fresh eyes. There's really no other way to handle it right now.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Hey... um, Rocket, uh... okay, first off, you didn't hear this from me... this conversation didn't take place, but... what I told you the other day, that your job here is secure for at least the next two years... well, I've gotten some new news that indicates that... well, your future with the company is in [different city]... and uh... well, I mean, in a matter of months.
Hmmm... well, that does change things now, doesn't it? See, a large factor in the Rocket Scientist's choice to stay over going was the uncertainty of our short-term future, and the thought that it might be too much upheaval for us to move now, and possibly again in a year or so.
She's relatively happy with her work (though obviously management could use a face-lift!) She'd be happy at Rocket Central as well, though we can't say how long we'd stay. The thing I've taken from all this is a stronger sense that we are a team, that it doesn't really matter who's driving, we're taking the trip together, and we might as well take the car with the full tank of gas. As she pointed out, I did bring us to Europe for a year, and that was an experience to remember. It's not that I don't contribute to our well-being and life-plans, it's simply perhaps my turn to take the passenger's seat.
Ironically, the best thing I ever did for her career was come to graduate school in Paradise. Her career has rocketed up from then, and shows few signs of hitting ground anytime soon. To some extent, it was sheer luck that she was looking for work in her field at that time in this place. She was miserable in her previous job, and had considered leaving the field. In the end, she decided to stick with it, really enjoyed the work and co-workers, learned a lot, and found a niche that has come to be much in demand. Coming back, though it took some negotiating, and a flat rejection of their initial offer, she took a promotion, and a handsome raise. Thus we packed up our lives, left the house where my father died, and came back to Paradise. If now we leave, we'll find our own paradise.
The task for both us, then, is to make the best of the opportunities that are before us. We can't control what presents itself, but we can steer to avoid obstacles. Now, we're back again to square one. Tuesday, the Rocket Scientist will call back HR at Rocket Central once again to say:
hey, you know what, I've been thinking about Rocket Central all weekend, and well, what do you have to offer me? Maybe we can work something out after all.
Always an adventure; never a dull moment!
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Pardon my slowness to respond. Yesterday was a busy one for me.
We have not spoken in a while, not since you were in the office and I began making inquiries for you at schools where you had applied or anticipated applying. I'm distressed to hear that none of those opportunities panned out for you. Many times, short-term positions go to known, local people, though not necessarily the best candidates, for reasons of expediency. That's no comfort I know -- and it doesn't pay the bills -- but it removes the lack of success from you personally.
I'm sorry to say that I don't have any teaching opportunities at the moment. As you probably know, we just hired someone in a ladder-rank [subfield 2/subfield1] post advertised last year. Money for lecturers has been cut back so that, for example, the [subfield 3] lecturer taking the place of [lecturer recently tenure-track hired elsewhere] (and ultimately the "place-holder" for the ladder-faculty post vacated by [Member of my Dissertation Committee who left]) had to be reduced by 25%, and [another] lectureship was eliminated all together from our budget request. We are barely making due (and less).
I am truly sorry not to be able to help you, but the budget simply won't bear any adjunct faculty beyond the bare minimum we have.
Let me know about applications you make so that I can make calls again.
Wishing you good luck for the coming job-search season,
Thanks for the note, and your comments. I'm sorry to hear there are no teaching opportunities at the moment. Please do keep me in mind if anything opens up. I'm also happy to cover a stray lecture here or there, as needed, so let people know.
Meantime, I'm staying active with writing and submitting articles, preparing conference abstracts, and getting going on some new research. If there's a chance to give an [colloquium] or [lecture series] talk this year, let me know. I'm eager for all opportunities to get my ideas out there, and get feedback from scholars and students.
The job season is nearly upon us. So, perhaps this year will prove more fruitful in my quest.
Friday, September 01, 2006
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At least I know people are reading me, and more and more. While this week and next will be difficult for me to accomplish much of substance (since I'm watching the boys full-time from about 8:00-6:00, it should be a good opportunity for me to think about things, which is always good.
Reading over WhatNow?'s recent commentary about writing, I get to thinking about who I am as a scholar. In many ways, her scrap-writing approach appeals to me. I am in essence a synthesist; I'm most productive, most energetic, and most excited, when drawing disparate realms of thought together, finding links, and making new. As much as I hate to admit it (especially now as a new job season is upon us, and my greatest need at the moment is to market myself), I'm not the best fitter-in.
Perhaps this comes in part from my life-long self-identity as a member of a minority group, and one defined not by my outward appearance as much as by my inner beliefs and thoughts. I am not a fully-integrated part of this greater society. I'm not like most others. As I was growing up, my theme-song was Edgar Allan Poe's poem Alone:
From childhood's hours,A bit romantic for a teenager, a bit self-indulgent these days perhaps. But those were the thoughts that formed me. Where it leads me today is a self-awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. I wish to work in ways that exploit those strengths, yet diminish the weaknesses.
I have not been as others were,
I have not seen as others saw...
The Rocket Scientist and I, and the boys, are staying here in Paradise for now, at least until we have a compelling reason to leave, which most likely means an opportunity for both of us to work meaningfully in our chosen fields, within an hour's drive of each other.
The greatest difficulty for me now (and perhaps a persistent one in my life) is that I tend to lurch in many directions. As you can imagine, a step here, two steps there, turn around, step somewhere else, is not exactly the best tack for getting anywhere. Just as my wife with this recent career choice, I've been waiting for a sign of sorts that one direction, one particular path is the one I should take. There are no signs (other than the one I posted here a few months ago).
Goal for this coming season: Tread more firmly. Take more steps to test the direction. Fear not. Time is long. I've got ideas. I simply must trust them... and force myself to promulgate them. That means follow-through!