Thursday, January 10, 2008

And how were _your_ MLA interviews?

That has been the question of the week back here at my dept. It's the first thing out of the mouth of all the grad students I talk to, it's the first thing I ask anybody who I knew had stuff at MLA, the jobs placement director emailed us urging us to give him any and all updates and to come in and talk to him, and two faculty members accosted me in the mailroom to check on my progress (plus the one who was anxious to know about Potential Future Star's progress rather than mine).

I tell ya, I thought I was "over" this whole first-round job thing. I had forgotten that everyone is on campus a lot more than usual the first week of the term and, what with us bringing out candidates of our own, everyone is keyed up and excited to get some updates. I think also that the relatively phenomenal success of the people who went on the job market two years ago has wound up the faculty into a higher level of expectation and pressure of how our dept. can do, of the prospect that we might be moving up the rankings in other departments' estimation.

(I'll stop and make a snarky side note here to point out that the two-years-ago group who went out was really really large for us, and the vast majority were on second or third job rounds, although our big "coups" were all ABDs out on the market for their first time. The entire department has conveniently forgotten last year's group completely, because we were a smaller group and none of us got any jobs. So conveniently, in fact, that you'll notice that the job placement page on the web site was just never updated and our year's "stats" mentioned (which would bring down our placement rate). Future grad students, assume that your potential departments are "accidentally" and not-so-accidentally lying on their stats pages to look good for you. You'll really have to dig to get an accurate picture of their placement record. Oh yeah, and the two people who got no job offers at all from the two-years-ago group and who have quit academia are counted under "decided not to pursue academia" not "couldn't get an academic job for five years of trying come hell or high water," But I digress.)

So, at least the people who were all at MLA have been very sympathetic and ask me if I've heard anything since and how Round Two is going; others (ok, read younger) have come up to ask me if I have more or less flyouts than other grad so-and-so, and get this pretend sympathetic look with a bit of a curl to their lip when I have to explain that I was out of those races long before the MLA round; it makes me really want to punch them in the face. It will be interesting to see how these brand-new cohorts see the dept and themselves since all they have heard is about the magic and glory of the two-years-ago job group and they haven't been told much about the crappy job market structure. Now I can see why some of the innocent questions I asked my first year here really set some of the long-time grad students off on a rant; I have already ranted to several of the newbies about exactly how glutted their market is going to be. (You've already heard older versions of these rants on my grad school posts.) But really, someone from here thinking they will be able to play offers from Harvard and Yale off each other really needs a smackdown. Especially when it is implied with this "oh, and I so deserve it" tone and expression on their face.

But we have some odd dynamics in that cohort that run way deeper than a bit of attitude and I already knew that. And expected these types of questions. (I told you about how my mom wants me to stay in the area so I should call up Bk and Stanford to slip in my resume, yes? Yeah, I can handle cluelessness about the market.)

No, the encounters I'm currently worrying about from today are with profs. In addition to the three profs who talked to me earlier this week, I saw my advisor, clearly stressed and in a whirlwind of last-minute copying and juggling piles of books and readers. We said hi I and turned to talk with/get something from a staff person, trying to clearly signal that I was not currently stalking her or waiting to grab a bit of her time. (see? we have our ways of communicating.) I was surprised then, that she slowed down enough in what she was doing to let me know that she was about to go teach, but ordinarily would be having office hours at ____ and _____ and that I really really should drop by next week, once things have settled down. Hmm. This is new (usually I have to very overtly seek her out). She likes her space and expects her students to be very self-directed. So, I guess she just wants a post-job-search update? It's kinda weird, especially when I had to really push at her to get one of these meetings last year. Either she's turned over a new leaf, or I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for the first time in about 8 years, or something has come up. Meh.

Almost immediately after that I get pulled aside by Professor Indomitable. (I think I have talked about this prof before under a different name but don't want to go back and check it.) Prof Indomitable is very sweet and tries to be helpful, if somewhat overbearing. This time Prof Indomitable knew about the results of my job search and wanted to know what I was doing to make my materials better. "Have you had an outside person read your letters? Maybe something is wrong with your letters." Prof I. then suggested a bunch of other things I need to do, and closed with, "because, you know, even if you are finished and have publications next time, if there's something you don't know about that's screwing you up it won't make any difference!" Ah, thanks, thanks again for your usual mix of sympathy and bluntness. Heh. This prof says people have my back and are watching out for me, which cheers me up. On the other hand, I was also roasted for my slow publication record, compared unfavorably to a couple stars from the two-years-ago job group, and had my dissertation topic pooh-poohed. You know, that one-hand compliment/one-hand cutting down to size move reminds me of my parents a lot. Which is probably why I am not working with Prof Indomitable on my committee.

But, anyway, venting over and now I guess I'm back to work. (On that front, I am so tired. But I've been better at taking a break and then managing to get back to a second round of writing on the same day. Let's see if that translates to a faster pace.)


Bardiac said...


I sympathize with the misery of the job market. Just reading this makes my stomach go sour, even after a number of years. Ugh.

undine said...

You ought to be tired, after a day like that!

The Mortgage Slayer said...

"Maybe something is wrong with your letters"?

Is Prof I. kidding? I would have responded with, "Do you think there was a problem when I said in my letters that I will only accept a 2/1 teaching load (graduate-level courses only), a salary no less than $70K, and the rank of Associate with tenure?"

Just a thought.

D said...

Give it to me straight, doc... should I just get the fuck out of grad school now? Should I wait until I get my masters and parlay it into a middle management position at an uptown Blockbuster? What's a boy to do?

Good luck. I'm pulling for you.

Belle said...

Oh, the horror, the horror! If you have a placement office, and haven't already done it, do have them look at your letters. Or next time Prof I says something like that, ask her/him to look at them. If s/he agrees, do it. If not, it'll make 'em shut up.

And there's the refrain (true, but hard to take): it's not about you. It's about their department and that job.

Dr. Crazy said...

I thought what the prof was suggesting was that there was a problem with the letters of reference. (Got that impression by the "outside person" comment) If that's the case, have them sent to me and I'll be happy to look at them, Sis.

ms. baby said...

ay sisyphus, i am normally a lurker, but this resonated with me so hard on two counts: my mom chides me for waiting around for a job to pop open up at stanford (although cal would be alright too, as long as i'm near home in sf)--if i make a strong case for myself, they'll open a position for me. oy. but moreso, the questions! i don't know if you have gotten this, but after i responded to their market queries by saying that it had really not been a fabulous success this year, a bunch of people then nodded wisely and proceeded to inform me that it had been impossibly stupid of me to go on the market while i was still abd. grr. the hindsight advice is really not the most helpful.
all my best to you in tuning it out and having productive chats with your advisor.

zombieswan said...

I've probably mentioned this but I have been told I will interview at the school where I currently adjunct for my dream-ish job. But I still haven't gotten an email scheduling it, and I am NOT freaking out till sometime next week after classes start, but I am soo uncomfortable in the hallways. My letters of recommendation writers all said "wow you're very qualified" and "it almost looks like they wrote the post with you in mind" (I wish, but they didn't-- they didn't know I did this particular field, I think).

So it's just an all around weird time of year in any university that is hiring. I imagine last year, the guy whose position I am now trying to fill, who had gone to MLA privately and interviewed when no one else know, must have felt very weird at this time of the year, too. It was just that no one knew it yet.

Most of the stats I've seen have suggested that most jobs are being gotten by people who have been several years out of grad school already. Either having had postdoc work or adjuncted. I think it's very rare to go ABD nowadays. Yes, yes, if you're at a ver big fancy school, maybe. But at my school, I think that's actually a bad thing for anyone applying-- they want someone who is going to stay here in Little Tiny Town at the small branch SLAC. Not someone who sees this as the "First job". They really do not want to interview again in two years, and if an applicant is from Some Big City Prestigious school, I suspect they figure that's what will happen.

Anyway. You're fine. I didn't even THINK about getting a job as an ABD. And people are very weird about it, too. Just keep working. You'll find a position. And the baby boomers have to retire SOMEday. :)

gwoertendyke said...

argh. all i can say is argh.

i want you to tell them all to go stick fingers in sockets, but i know this isn't a reasonable approach.

thinking of you.

Renaissance Girl said...

Seriously, Sis--don't let the market's total suckiness on all fronts discourage you. Yeah, it wouldn't hurt to have an external person review the letters to make sure there aren't any unknown bombs or offhand weirdnesses. But on the topic of the "slow publication record": I hadn't published crap in my field when I went on the market, and it didn't hurt me. Moreover, from the other side of the hiring process: of the folks we MLA interviewed/ asked for flybacks this year, some have no publications, while others w/ lots got passed by. It was more about potential and vision. Don't beat yourself up over publications.

k8 said...

Sigh...this makes me dread the return to school even more (I return next week). My MLA wasn't as spectacular as many of my advisor's students on the market this year and in the past. I don't know about the publications part of the equation - I've seen plenty of people get jobs the first year on the market with 0 publications.

So much of the job market is out of our hands - it isn't entirely about us. But then, it is so easy to obsess about what we think we could do, isn't it?

Sisyphus said...

Thanks for the sympathy everyone; really, writing it all out made me feel better immediately, like lancing a boil and all the yucky pus came out or whatever.

letters: yeah, Prof I has not seen the letters and as far as I know does not have any information on 'em. But I may ask this prof to read them and see if anything's up. (Crazy, if I can figure out a way for the letters to get from you to Prof I this may work.) Really, it's the fact I picked a stupid diss topic in an overly-glutted field that hanging me up, according to Prof. I. But, whatever. I wouldn't want to be here at all if I were working on a "marketable" topic I wasn't interested in.

D, this is it, man ... this is your average day, not even a bad one ... you're at a school with more reputation, I think, but still you should sift through its placement rates ... and think about your field carefully. My "marketability" comment above aside, the job market really _does_ look different depending on what field and what approach you're in.

I don't know that the pubs comments are making me feel any better cause now I'm going, "but people _can_ get jobs ABD with no pubs! Why, then, did I not get any interviews!?!?"

But you know what? Fuck em. I'm going to go eat lunch.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

One of the schools I interviewed with already asked someone for a flyback, but not me (according to the wiki). They did ask for a writing sample, though, which I'm guessing means I'm not totally out of it. But who knows? I think the job market is 90% luck, 9 percent charisma, and 1% your actual ability to teach and/or research. And hey, if you're in the Bay Area, Berkeley recently posted an ad for lecturers to teach comp next fall. Minimum pay is about 43K -- not much for SF bay area, but a hell of a lot better than teaching 4-5 classes for 3K a piece. Plus, it's renewable for 3 years or something along those lines. You might just check it out if you're interested in teaching comp. Deadline is Feb. 6 I think. I'm considering applying though Berkeley is about 45 minutes from my house.