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Sharing Good/Bad News

The American Studies Association  (ASA) Annual Meeting starts today  in Washington, D.C.; it has been my primary professional society meeting since graduate school.  It’s the meeting where I get to have reunions with my grad school cohort.  When we were still grad students, we would start checking in with each other on Thursday afternoon and night of ASA and we’d gather in one of our hotel rooms to catch up and assemble before going out to eat.  It was so great to be back together.

ASA is not a huge interviewing convention, but there are always some interviews going on.  The third year I was on the job market, I actually started getting convention interviews and so did my grad school buddies.  As we gathered on Thursday afternoon and started catching up—finding out who’d been doing what, who was with whom, where we were teaching or what we were working on—we also started learning who had which interviews.  And…through this exchange of information, we realized which jobs had already eliminated us from consideration, since our friends were interviewing with them at ASA and we were not.

I was shocked the first year this happened.  I had not been prepared for the bad news and while I loved my friends, it was hard to be happy that they’d landed interviews I’d wanted and failed to get.  What were those search committees thinking?  That job had my name on it!  We were all in the same boat. It hadn’t occurred to us that this is how we’d learn where we stood.  It put a damper over the whole convention that year and took some joy out of getting to see each other and reconnect.

The next year, we came prepared.  We gathered on Thursday afternoon, as we always did, and we exchanged information.  But this time, we allowed ourselves a brief moment of disappointment as we learned where we’d been eliminated and then we started to share what information we had about certain schools and jobs, pooling our resources to support each other in whatever interviews we’d managed to land.  This felt much better and more constructive than the previous year’s abrupt reality check and feeling out of sorts all four days.

If, like my cohort, you have moved on from your grad school campus, you’re on the market, and you’re all reconnecting at ASA or another annual meeting, you might want to prepare yourself for the good news/bad news share session.  I think my cohort got it right after that initial exposure to the syndrome.  These days, regular monitoring of the Academic Jobs Wiki may also spare you the pain of learning your status as your friends share their news.

Demystifying the “T” Word – Tenure

I don’t have to tell you what a depressing subject this is–the nature of the market makes the competition ridiculous.  And it’s worth remembering that it’s ridiculous because you need to develop coping mechanisms for dealing with what seem like and are impossibly high standards, especially for entry level jobs.

Requirements for a tenure-track entry level position at a graduate degree granting university include, as a general rule: 

1. Ph.D. in hand (3/4s of dissertation to show by December-Jan.)
2. Book or Book contract (this is not fair)
3. Other publications–placing publications in refereed journals is especially important (one article in a well-thought of academic journal makes a real difference)
4. Teaching experience–something in addition to teaching assistantships.

  • do you have lectures written?
  • can you teach service courses?
  • preference for post-Ph.D. teaching experience
  • can you manage graduate students?
  • can you handle a full load of teaching (2/2 to 4/4)

5. Recognition of your work–honors, awards, grants, fellowships (in these times of tightening budgets for higher education everywhere, a streak of entrepreneurship–the ability to bring in money to support your research or some other academic enterprise–may seem very attractive.)
6. Recognition of your work by scholars in your field outside of your home university (letters of recommendation from outsiders is important)
7. Evidence of connectedness (have you been asked to do the sorts of things that come by networking–write book reviews, serve as commentator on panels, serve as officer in local chapter of your professional organization, organize panels, etc.)
8. Administrative ability (service on program committees, organization of conferences, etc., academic advising, etc. )
9. Collegiality (Questions to ask yourself)

  • What is the evidence that you work well as part of a team?
  • How will you navigate the lunch test? 

10. Firm plans for future research–being able to go to an interview and give a first rate paper on a subject other than your dissertation is especially impressive.  (This is important for a department’s assessment of whether you’re likely to achieve tenure at their institution.)

Note: A good 5-20 people per job may have all or most of these credentials (at least in quantity if not in quality)–that’s what you’re up against.