Thursday, September 21, 2006

Plans vs. reality

Hearing the remarks from Jim Lodz, reading over the comments to my last posting, and reading over undine's recent post, brings me a step back from the brink. Thinking about another job season is depressing. But I've got to forge ahead in a manner that may prove successful.

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.


New Kid on the Hallway said...

The quantity/quality debate in applications is a tough one. There are a lot of advocates of the "apply for everything" school, but I don't think it increases one's chances as much as one expects it will. This is purely anecdotal/based on personal experience, of course, so make of it what you will. But no matter how widely I've applied, I've found that I've generated interest only in one identifiable subset of schools. For instance, the first year I was successful on the market, I applied to probably 30-40 positions, and ended up with about 8 preliminary interviews. The second time round, I applied to 4 schools, and had 4 preliminary interviews. So I think that a targeted search is much easier on one's psyche, and also much more successful.

Of course, the difficult part is figuring out which subset of positions one's application will be appealing to, and does this match where you want to apply, and so on...

In any case, best of luck to you.

undine said...

Would it be too contradictory to say "apply widely, but selectively"? Part of what I was addressing in the post (thanks for the link) was the frustration of seeing applications where the advertised area of a search was by any objective measure only a minor blip on the candidate's list of qualifications. New Kid has some good advice, and I'd like to echo her "best of luck to you."

ArticulateDad said...

Thanks, both. It's good to at least remember that these trials have not be reserved simply for me, and that there is hope (even if it must be tinged with luck).

Kevin said...

As a high school teacher it is very difficult to empathize with your situation given that I do not operate in a college environment. That said, I recently posted about this issue and thought you might be interested. You can find the post at:

Good luck with your job search.