Even More Annals of the Great Depression: A Job Market Carnival

November 27, 2011, 11:29 am

It’s the last day of Thanksgiving break, which means the job season (for what it is worth) is about to go into high gear. Longtime Readers of the Radical will recall that one of my early posting categories was the job market (tag lines also include “the job fairy,” “the job fairy is not smiling” and “the job fairy is smiling.”) When I began this blog, it is quite possible that I had served on and/or chaired more searches than almost anyone my age. Beginning with “These Things I Know:  Applying for Tenure Track Jobs,” (October 3 2007) I joined a blogging community that tried to both acknowledge how peculiar and oppressive academic job hunting is and also give job seekers advice based on what we had seen and done.  “Dream A Little Dream Of Me: Six Easy Steps to Writing a Great Job Letter,” (August 12 2008) addressed that first impression; and “Receiving the Call:  What To Do When Scheduling a Conference Interview” (December 7 2008) helped the applicant think about a brief, but crucial, exchange with someone she has never met who may have no social skills and/or experience making such a call.  “A Chorus Line:  Preparing for the Preliminary Interview,” (December 6 2007) was a post intended to help candidates get ready for the hotel room (see also “Grand Hotel: the AHA Conference Interview Redux,” December 30 2008.)

Now that is the world as it was before the collapse of the boom economy. “More Annals of the Great Depression: Whither the Conference Interview?” (July 27 2009) suggests that one feature of university budget cutting might be eliminating the $10K or so that it costs to send between 3 and 5 committee members to a conference to interview folks. Robert B. Townsend, of the AHA, posted a vigorous rebuttal and defense of the conference interview here. In “The Job Market Is A Lot Like The PBS NewsHour, And Other Advice For Skype Interviews,” (November 28 2010) I address the ways in which technology has allowed the interview process to become cheaper and more fluid for universities during a “temporary” recession that may actually be a reset.  Oh sure, people did telephone interviews prior to Skype, but they tended to be awkward and uncomfortable for committee members and candidates alike.  Practically every job candidate I know has been interviewed by Skype this year, allowing several schools to bring in finalists to campus prior to the AHA Annual Meeting in January, which until recently had been the canonical time to see semi-finalists. How does this change in practice work for the candidates?  By now many people have never done it any other way, and reports from some of the young people I talk to suggest that Skyping can be just as pleasant, or untogether, as the old system of meeting in person and perching on a hotel bed.  We are not surprised to hear that there are senior faculty, many of whom still think that computers are animated typewriters, have not thought seriously about how virtual interviewing might produce new difficulties as well as advantages. That said, the mix of technology and meat world interviews means that a candidate on the market may still have to decide whether to undertake the expense of traveling to the AHA for a single meeting with a search committee.

So some things are still exactly the same as they have always been.  A timeless how-to, from my perspective, is “Tell Us About Your Dissertation: And Other Commonly Fumbled Interview Questions” (December 27 2010.) Search committees, many of which are made up of faculty who have never been on one — or have done it perhaps once before — got some attention in “Eenie, Meenie, Miny, Moe:  Or How To Evaluate the Candidate Pool” (September 13 2008) and “Ask the Radical: Search Committee Smackdown, Part Eleventy” (March 21 2011.)  “Sticky Wiki” (February 17 2008) introduced my skepticism about the Academic Job Wiki, for which I was given an earful by both job seekers and a few politically radical colleagues who see the wiki as an arena for agency and resistance. The notion that leaving a few wildly rude and anonymous paragraphs on line are the seeds of a labor revolution still causes my eyes to roll wildly in my head and have uncharacteristic empathy for New York intellectuals who walked away from socialism in the 1970s because they were so sick of being lectured about ideology as the city crumbled around them. If you click the link above, you will see that the wiki is a lot tamer than it used to be.  I have been told by several job seekers that they now view the wiki as a source for (sometimes deliberate) disinformation and angst-y arguments that do not necessarily promote good coping strategies.

I would highly recommend, however, that anyone bringing candidates to campus this year (or anyone who likes to watch traffic accidents) read the page of “Universities to Fear” (one extended set of postings, I am sorry to say, is about Zenith.)  Here’s a taste, chosen from a number of other posts:

  • “At the dinner, this same SC member rudely took jabs at me for being from the midwest, and kept trying to get me to admit that I thought ___ was a boring and undesirable place to be, which was awkward.”
  • “The campus has suffered from two outbreaks of dengue fever.”
  • “On day 2, Friday, the dean made it clear (via email) that salary was non-negotiable. But when I asked (again via email because she wanted an answer immediately but was tied up in meetings and could not speak on the phone) about other considerations to offset what would have been a 10% paycut from my present salary, the dean rescinded the offer.”
  • “The first sign of real trouble was when faculty members began reading magazines during my job talk.”
  • “Entire department seemed pleasantly nutso, in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way.”

And there is so much more.

Those looking ahead to next year, or to those senior jobs that are just being authorized now, may wish to read “Another Year, Another Job Market: When Not Perfecting Your Tan This Summer, How Can You Prepare?” (June 21 2009); “Jumping the Tracks: Applying for a Job When You Already Have One” (September 5 2008); and “Tenured Folk: Is It Safe to Go Back on the Job Market?” (July 29 2011).

I’ve stopped writing job market posts in part because I am not sure I have anything new to add.  However, if there is something you want to know, feel free to write tenuredDOTRadicalATgmailDOTcom, and put “Ask the Radical” in the subject line. And of course, your comments are always welcome.

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