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Random Notes on Things Past and Present, Written While the Radical Rests

October 14, 2007, 1:52 pm

Don’t neglect the post below, which contains everything you need to know about the sexiest convention but the MLA (although at ASA you can actually understand what the panelists are saying most of the time, which is a plus). But since I am on fall break, a puzzling, but welcome innovation in American Higher Education, I do have time to jot down a few little things sooner rather than later.

First of all, I have added some new links: take note. One is Margaret Soltan’s University Diaries, and what has taken me so long to add this one, I don’t know, except that I am lazy about tending the links column. I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere, except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer, and Soltan isn’t. For the life of me, I can’t figure out her politics, but she’s pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?

Then there is the just-discovered Scattered and Random. Every time a historian identifies hirself as working for a SLAC, I think, surely I know this person! And yet, no. So if being a historian is not enough to get this one linked, the commentary on department life that I can no longer write about in the same sarcastic and acerbic ways because I am out of the blogging closet is.

Then there is piggybank blues, who is not an academic at all. I know piggybank, who came out to me via some mutual connections, and who told me s/he began the blog as a way of speaking to people who are outside conventional economic systems and need to know more about how money works. Since graduate students qualify right off the bat as being outside the system, and most academics are shockingly naive about money, I think piggybank would belong here even if the blog were not smart and well-written.

A few other notes: My recent post on applying for jobs has been linked to more academic sites as well as blogs than any post I have ever written. As a result, it is also approaching the number of comments received from those maniac jock sniffers I was dealing with a few months ago around the People with Sticks and Balls and their cult leader (a new article about the cult leader and his schlock troops can be accessed here. Hat Tip.) These comments are very much worth reading for content, as opposed to the comments of the sports cult, which were worth reading only to remind yourself that very strange people lurk on the internet, some of whom aren’t real people at all — or rather, are alter egos of the cult leader himself.

But back to my original point — one curious aspect of the responses to my post on the job letter is that the piece of advice drawing the most attention is the one about using letterhead, which seemed to me self-evident. But no, it isn’t: whether it is ethical to use letterhead in applying for jobs, particularly when you already have a job, is a subject of more controversy than I knew. I address this in the comments section of the post itself, but if someone can explain to me why this, of all the advice I gave, was the most contentious, I would be sincerely interested. You can either put your response in a comment here, or use the email link to write to me privately.

I would like to add another piece of advice that someone I encountered at the ASA, who teaches at an R-I, added, which is this: graduate students need to show their letters to people on the faculty and take their advice. What is the most common problem with job letters, my friend (who has, by the way, from a young age been one of the best professionalized people I know) said, is that graduate students use the letters other graduate students have written as models, thus not only recycling strategic errors of self-presentation, but elaborating on them. Here, I would make the analogy to getting the clap, when in fact you only wanted to make love with a nice person who propositioned you. Just because someone got a job doesn’t mean they wrote the perfect letter and — as the comments on my original post suggest — there is no such thing as the perfect letter, only letters well-tailored to the job and the institution.

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