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Using the Academic Jobs Wiki

The Academic Jobs Wiki[This is a guest post by Scott Selisker, who is currently completing his first book as an ACLS New Faculty Fellow in the UCSB Department of English. He learned some stuff about the internet while designing features for the UVA Writing Program’s website, RedSchoolhouse.org, in 2009. He is on Twitter at @sselisker.--@jbj]

This is the first of a two-part series on the Academic Jobs Wiki. This post will introduce the wiki and discuss the extent of users’ anonymity on the site, and the next post will discuss advanced features and shortcuts that can help you spend less time finding information on the site.

Many ProfHacker readers will be familiar with the Academic Jobs Wiki already, either through hearsay or from its steady companionship through the long winter months of the academic job search cycle. For those who haven’t heard about it, the job wiki is an information-sharing platform for academic job candidates, and, like Wikipedia or open course wikis (see Profhacker posts: here and here), it can be edited by anybody. Participation varies by discipline—the wiki seems to be catching on in only a few of the hard sciences—but in most fields, job candidates can check the wiki for fairly reliable updates on job searches, and update the site in turn with their own news as they hear it.

Graduate admissions chairs (and graduate school applicants) should be aware that there is a parallel website for prospective graduate students called “Grad Café”, whose technical workings are different, but whose general concept is the same.

Useful as it is, the jobs wiki has always been poised to replicate familiar dynamics from the internet at large: the utopian promise of freely exchanged information, undercut by the wild venting of frustrations in presumed anonymity. (Luckily, the job wiki has a “Venting Page,” a sort of holding pen for negative thoughts. I’ve never gone there.) Before discussing in more depth the extent of the anonymity on the wiki, I’d like to point out a few ways in which the wiki can prove truly useful:

  1. It provides a convenient record of publicly available job and fellowship listings. One shouldn’t rely on it exclusively, of course, but listings on the wiki may include jobs not listed across all sources for job listings. In particular, the previous year’s postdoctoral fellowship listing is one of the best places to find out about annually recurring humanities and social science postdocs, which can be difficult to find otherwise and take place on idiosyncratic timelines.
  2. The updates on the wiki have been, in my experience and that of many colleagues, overwhelmingly accurate, freely shared, and timely.
  3. Graduate students who aren’t yet ready to go on the market can easily browse the wiki in order to find out what job listings for their field and subfields look like, and what qualifications most prospective employers expect to see.
  4. Definitive information about searches can in some cases allow candidates to change conference travel plans, if they know in advance not to expect additional interviews.
  5. The wiki can be helpful for sharing answers to individual queries about a department’s job listing or search timeline. (I can only imagine this kind of information sharing has been a real boon to busy search committee chairs and administrative staff.)

Are there others I’ve missed? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

Anonymity:

Every wiki user has probably wondered at least once: “Just how anonymous am I on this thing?” There are two technical answers and one practical one. The practical one should be fairly obvious: comments and even updates may contain information that identifies you personally or as one of a few people. Acting as though it is easy for someone to find out who you are seems to be a safe bet in most cases. (Candidates should keep in mind that in identifying oneself as a semifinalist or finalist for a position, one’s comments are also a reflection on the institution conducting the search.) It’s important to know, too, that members of search committees know about, check, and sometimes even post directly on, the job wiki. All the more encouragement for jobseekers to keep things positive and professional.

The technical answers about anonymity have to do with how the wiki’s host site, Wikia.com, keeps its records. Unregistered users of the site are identified by an IP Address. This is a unique number for every point of connection to the internet—an office computer has one, a laptop computer hooked up on the campus wi-fi has a different one, and that same laptop on a home connection has yet another one. When you use the wiki as an unregistered user, other users can see your IP address when they look through revisions to the page, and they can use an IP-to-Location website to provide an approximate location for the posting:

IPtoLocation screenshot

This location will be only approximate: the name of your university for a campus connection or the name of your city for a home connection. It is not impossible, then, to be positively identified if you are the only person at your university in New Haven, CT likely to be applying for the “Historian of Mesopotamia” job listings out there this year.

If on the other hand you register a username on Wikia.com, your IP address is hidden, though users can click a link on the “History” page (more about this next time) to see all of your posts together. (NB: Other users will also see the username you choose for the site.)

User contributions screenshot

With this option it is a particularly good idea not to reveal sensitive information on discussion pages on the wiki. In general, registering on the site usually provides more anonymity than the unregistered user’s identification by IP address, but this might depend on your location.

One last, minor disadvantage to the general standard of anonymity on the wiki is that we may never know who’s behind the delightful homage to Lewis Carroll, The Jobberwiki, that appeared on the bottom of the wiki’s front page last year. In my next post [scheduled for tomorrow morning--@jbj], I’ll share some shortcuts that make checking the wiki easier.

All images are screenshots by Scott Selisker.

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