April 18, 2013, 1:38 pm
Do you have a mentor? Not an academic adviser, but a true mentor—someone who has an interest in helping you develop your career path, combined with the seniority and perspective to be helpful. In my opinion, every college student and every professional needs one, and it’s preferable if you don’t report directly to your mentor. A mentor can explain the subtleties of your chosen career path to you, and can help you navigate rough spots along the way.
I called my undergraduate mentor when, in my second year of graduate school, I suddenly didn’t have Ph.D. candidacy, even though I had jumped through every hoop successfully. “Sounds like an adviser problem,” my mentor said. “You need to ask your adviser specifically why you didn’t get candidacy, and then you need to ask at least two other professors in the department to be honest with you.”
I followed his advice and found that my…
February 27, 2013, 12:29 pm
This afternoon a friend of mine will be giving a job talk as part of an on-campus interview. She has done this several times before, but since she’s tackling a new topic, she gathered a group of colleagues last week for a trial run. My friend is an exceptionally talented scholar—that was abundantly clear in her talk—but, as specialists in criticism, our little focus group came up with a number of notes to improve her already compelling presentation. Several of those “advanced” job-talk ideas were fresh to me, and I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting pointers here.
1. Prepare off-the-cuff remarks to warm up the audience. Some of the most important aspects of the presentation are outside the scholarship itself. Instead of diving immediately into your notes, take a moment to speak directly to your audience in a more candid way.
This can begin with a simple thanks…
January 2, 2013, 1:02 pm
Not long ago, a friend of mine contacted me for advice. He is an administrator who leads a very active academic unit, but he has decided that the time is right to look for a job at the next level. He’s happy and productive in his current job, but it is clear that he’s ready to move up.
He asked me how he should balance working 60 hours a week and trying to be on the market at the same time. It’s hard, after all, to prepare letters of application, manage requests for references, and, if the search moves to that level, make time for phone interviews and on-campus interviews while trying to perform effectively in his important job.
I am not sure that I had much of an answer. The surest way to lose one’s job is to be thought of as lacking in long-term commitment, and trying to execute a search while juggling significant duties is a recipe for disaster.
Despite the risk, people do it…
December 18, 2012, 1:41 pm
A few weeks back I wrote about the experience of knowing someone in a department that was hiring in my field. I was interested in thinking through how one might make ethical use of inside information, but in the comments section the conversation widened to include all sorts of hiring conspiracies: token candidates, sham searches, etc.
Even though my own experience contradicts some of those theories (that phone interviews are never serious, for one), I can’t help but shiver at the sheer volume of corruption anecdotes I hear. After all, when you are on the job market, it is easy to feel that everything plots against you.
This is especially true when the person advancing the conspiracy theory is not a fellow job seeker (who may be tempted to use it as an excuse) but a senior professor or administrator, men and women on the other side of the ads, presumably those in the know.
December 13, 2012, 3:30 pm
When I was in kindergarten, my parents were called to the local school offices because the district speech pathologist had diagnosed me as having a speech impediment: my Southern drawl. We had moved to a small town near Buffalo, N.Y., from southern Mississippi. Both of my parents had very strong accents, and the cultural stereotypes against us came out very quickly, even affecting my mother’s ability to secure a part-time job. The speech discrimination drove my mother the craziest, especially once it affected my school life. I can still remember sitting in the pathologist’s office repeating “r” sounds ad nauseum. I suppose they were successful because when I moved back to the Deep South as an adult, most natives expressed surprise that I also was a native since “I didn’t sound like one.”
I mention this because of an interesting study that recently came out on perceptions of regional a…
November 12, 2012, 9:27 am
Since I am just a few months into a two-year postdoc, this fall I’m pursuing only a couple of dream jobs. As it turns out, a good friend of mine was recently hired at one of the institutions that has caught my eye, so I called him up before sending off my application.
Mainly I just wanted to ask if he thought I would stand a chance. Since the position is open rank, I know senior scholars will be attracted as well. After all, the school enjoys a wonderful reputation in the field, is located in a particularly desirable part of the country, and attracts exceptional students.
Not everything my friend told me was comforting. For instance, he let it slip that one of my recommenders is also applying. Still, he encouraged me to give it a shot, and he let me know that he would tell his friends on the search committee to keep an eye out for my dossier. Perhaps more importantly, he was able…
October 4, 2012, 2:33 pm
Rob Jenkins’s recent warnings about the tendency of politicians to reduce community colleges to “job-training centers” strike me as particularly apt in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s presidential debate. Despite their “passion for education,” neither candidate seemed willing to imagine higher education as anything more than a means to a credential.
When President Obama spoke of community colleges’ preparing their students for “the jobs of today,” it was clear he meant simply a trade and a paycheck. Jenkins points out the flaws in that limiting vision in his most recent post to this blog, and I won’t rehash them here.
I would like, however, to expand and complicate a point made by one commenter—that a diminished sense of higher education’s purpose is a problem facing all liberal-arts institutions and that it’s the customer who will ultimately determine whether the future of…
August 2, 2012, 2:57 pm
Search committees often place a great deal of importance on cover letters when they’re reviewing candidates, but I’ve yet to meet a job seeker who has received much training or mentoring on how to write one. So what differentiates good cover letters from weak ones? I’m sure readers of The Chronicle have a lot of wisdom to share on this topic, but here are a few suggestions to get things started.
1. Be specific. Generic cover letters are a no-no. Tailoring your letters to particular positions sounds daunting when you’re frantically applying to a lot of jobs, but it is worth taking extra time to address the desired qualifications listed in each job advertisement. Talk about how your experience matches the specific courses or areas of research listed in the ad; describe what fund-raising (or faculty-development or curriculum-planning) work you have done, if the job requires that kind of …
July 24, 2012, 11:36 am
Last weekend, my local public-radio station ran a 2009 interview with Don Sobol, author of the Encyclopedia Brown series. Sobol talked about his 10-year-old mystery-solving main character and said that one of his most important tasks was making a really smart kid likeable to his readers. That caught my attention because I am constantly on the prowl for strategies to help really smart grownups be likeable.
Those of us who work in higher education have the opportunity to interact with a fair number of people who seem to think that being smart always trumps being congenial. For the most part, they do not mean to be unlikeable; it just doesn’t occur to them to make an effort to be pleasant. Their often standoffish or surly behavior prompts others to avoid them, which creates a nasty and perpetual cycle. “They are rude to me, so I have no choice but to rude to them.” I find this sad, but I…
July 19, 2012, 2:55 pm
Since reading Allison Vaillancourt’s posts on mentoring earlier this summer, I have been thinking a lot about my own mentors, those that advised me only for a while and those that continue to challenge and encourage me. I’ve have been blessed to work with some particularly wise and accomplished scholars. I doubt I’ll ever truly repay their generosity, but, that said, I think those relationships have rewarded both sides. Among the incentives for mentoring, Vaillancourt mentions exposure to new ideas and the joys of friendship in what can sometimes be a rather lonely profession. We might also add that, long term, mentors are developing their future colleagues and perhaps their closest professional contacts among younger academics. In healthy relationships mentors feed off their mentee’s energy and excitement for the field, just as we do as teachers in our most engaged classrooms….