Monday, November 30, 2009

Dithering all about

Ok, ok, I probably should have gotten my plane ticket to MLA a long time ago? I haven't even looked at ticket prices to the East Coast, and I bet they are now hideously expensive.

Thing is, I'm still waffling back and forth about whether I am going. Do I get the plane ticket now or do I not? Yes or no? Up or Down? Strawberry or Mint? (come on, chocolate vs. vanilla is a no-brainer. Even if you give me vanilla ice cream I'm putting chocolate on top of it.)

I haven't heard any good news for the convention, and I know it is very early to be contacted for interviews, but I don't think it's worth it for me to go if I don't have any. And so I dither, hither and thither. (heh!)

I have received a couple polite responses to my email queries to presses, though, inviting me to let them know my preferred time slots and they will try to fit me in. This is good news, I will grant that. However, in my extremely precarious financial situation I don't think that even appointments with editors would make it worthwhile to go to MLA without any interviews. So what do I tell them? Whaddo I do, whaddo I do?? Arrgh! Somebody tell me what I should do, so that I can rebel against the advice!

Of course I will go to whatever blogger meet-up happens, should I in fact decide to travel there. Unless, of course, I am so swamped with interviews and meetings with editors that I cannot fit you all into my busy schedule. That was humor right there, son. Laugh, will you?

In other news, I didn't do all the postdoc applications over thanksgiving break, leaving me in a bit of a bind yesterday and today when they all came due. (stupid, stupid!) So some of them I applied to, some of them I applied to half-assedly, and some I skipped. Ah well. Triage, and all that. But last year I came in as a finalist for a postdoc and felt that I totally blew the phone interview. Today I happened upon the name and photo of the winner when investigating if it will be offered again this year, and was oddly relieved by what I found. Someone in an underrepresented identity group is always going to stand out over my background, and there's just nothing I can do about that. It's freeing, actually. The job was not mine to lose. That's much better than thinking you choked the interview or can't interview for shit.

The other postdoc that requested a lot of extra materials from me but didn't get as far as this one was cancelled due to the endowment taking a hit mid-year, and isn't being offered this year. This also makes me happy.

Which makes me pretty damn perverse, I'll admit that.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Well, here's the thing... from the west coast to Philly is running about 560 right now because of the holidays. So it's already expensive. If you waited to see if you got interviews and then bought a plane ticket, it might be double that price. Figure in the hotel room and food, and then you're talking about 1500 dollars, probably, if you stay for a couple of days.

Or you can do the bold thing that I'm doing and just tell people if (WHEN) they call you that you can't make it to the convention this year for personal reasons, but would be thrilled to do a phone interview (even during the convention dates would be good) and hope that they'll accommodate you. I know this is a big risk in a way, but these people have to understand that we're in particularly tough times -- what with the economy and all. As for me, I'm just going to be honest and tell them I'm nine months pregnant and can't travel. Any place that would be turned off by such a thing is not a place I'd want to work.

I saw on the wiki that some people asked for phone interviews last year and that they were granted. I don't know if those people got jobs or not, but I think it's worth a try, considering the fact that you don't have money for rent. If I were in your shoes, I'd ask for the phone interview, no doubt.

Sisyphus said...

Mmm. Except that I know of two people from my department who, in years past, wrote "I will not be attending the MLA convention this year" at the bottom of their job letters instead of why yes I will be there and love to meet you, and neither got any interviews. I later heard that people just chucked their letters, "since we have such a huge pool to draw from, why not dip back into the well instead of dealing with someone who potentially is difficult?" or deal with the hassle, or what have you. I understood the process to be, we have so many damn candidates we need to come up with as many ways to disqualify them and whittle down the pile as much as possible.

The following year, one of my colleagues wrote that she would be at MLA and got 3 interviews --- none of them translated into a job. The other one? Well, I always thought she wasn't really going for it anymore anyway, and was actively looking for ways to sabotage herself. She didn't ever go out for an academic job again.

bitternsweet said...

This is a hard one, but I'm inclined to advise you to *not* get a plane ticket until you've got an interview lined up. I completely agree that it is not worth flying to MLA just to meet F2F with publishers -- just not necessary. So, yes, that might mean you end up with an outrageously expensive ticket -- but if you've got an interview, it'll feel great to be buying an overpriced ticket!

(((Cog))) I'm sending you good job/postdoc/fellowship vibes.

medieval woman said...

Could you buy the ticket and then cancel it and use it for another trip later on if you need to? I know this might seem like a bad idea, but I'm just thinking of a way you could get a cheaper ticket, but have it not be wasted if you don't go to MLA this year...

Just another option


Bardiac said...

I have no ticket advice.

But, in my department, we've arranged phone interviews for some candidates who weren't making it to MLA (without asking why they weren't; I think we assume it's financial and we all understand that). I know we're not necessarily representative, but I hope we're a little representative.

TooTin said...

Just a thought, so the "someone in an underrepresented identity group" couldn't have just interviewed better than you or been more qualified? As an "underrepresented identity group" ABD it sucks that people just look at your photo and conclude that "identity" was your ticket to success. Otherwise, great blog! Good luck on the job market. (heads back to lurkdom)

Sisyphus said...

TooTin, if you have a PhD from a top program and some publications, you are totally qualified. That's my point --- that _everyone_ is qualified and a contender at this level and really the search committees are only picking and choosing by fit and whim at this level. I know that at our last search the people on the committee said they would be happy hiring any of the top 50 candidates. They only brought 3 to campus.

The trick is how to stand out from a pool of about 400 other candidates, which is about the size of my searches. Being a minority in a huge pool of white candidates makes you stand out (as does getting a McNair scholarship, which explains a lot about who got jobs from my dept. last year.) Calling the search committee and asking for a phone interview makes you stand out, I'd argue, not in a good way.

But those are things I can't change or do anything about and I'm ok with that now. I tried doing diversity-based outreach and service (and union activism) and putting it on my cv but it had no effect --- committees have this very set notion that you have to be of the identity group you're mentoring.

And really, that's the way it should be if we want the professoriate to match the demographics of our students --- the UC is terrible at this and we don't even have that diverse of an undergrad population.

squadratomagico said...

I hate to say it but... I'd bite the bullet and buy the ticket. It sucks, but I do think that a F2F interview is easier in many ways, insofar ass your physical presence makes a stronger impression on the committee. This is not to say that a phone interview definitely won't work, just that I think the stakes are higher. You really, really have to ace a phone interview to stick in their minds, whereas in a F2F setting, I think you can connect in lots of other ways besides simply your voice.

I've been on all sides of this process, and I will say that most search committees will genuinely try to be scrupulously fair to telephone interviewees... but the format is just harder. As a SC member, I can recall one telephone interview that was perfect and memorable... but only one.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I didn't say on my letter that I wasn't going to MLA. All I said was "If you'd like to contact me for an interview..." and gave my contact information. I left that part vague. Since you brought up the letter, though, I would say that if you said on your letter that you were going to attend MLA, then you really can't tell the people who call you for interviews that you changed your mind. But if, like me, you didn't commit to being at MLA, then I think it's totally reasonable to ask for a phone interview.

Bardiac - do you remember if you hired any of the people who did phone interviews? Or invited them to campus? (I'm hopeful!)

Earnest English said...


If I were you, I'd just make a decision about attending or not attending. If you want to attend, then go. Otherwise, stay home. If people call you for interviews, just say your plans have changed and an emergency situation came up -- and you have to look after a sick relative between Christmas and New Years. (MLA hasn't changed to the first weeks of Jan yet, has it?) But you'd love to do a phone interview or come out to their campus or what have you. Everyone's poor, including the universities. I wonder how many departments can afford to send search committee member to Philly this year. If the SC changes their minds about your because you're a responsible helpful person, you don't want to work there anyway. Don't worry about your letters. Your plans changed. Plans change. Any that you send out now you should make more vague about your conference attendance.

I'm on a SC right now and we got an astonishing number of apps. We don't interview at MLA anyway, but we wouldn't change our minds about a person if their plans changed. I can tell you that since nearly everyone writes that they're going to MLA and can be interviewed there, the SC is not going to remember what you said in your letter.

My own experience on the market: last year I had four MLA interviews, all of which came to naught. My first year on the market I did get a job that I had interviewed for at MLA, but there was another interview after MLA -- and that was a special situation.

My two cents.

My word verif is lostso. I wonder if that means take my comments with a grain of salt.

Shane in Utah said...

I've never had a phone interview that wasn't a screaming, total disaster. But then I tend to hate the telephone anyway.

And yes: as a white guy postcolonialist, I've lost many a job to candidates from underrepresented minority groups. It's not just that those candidates stand out from the crowd, but also that most departments in the country are white, white, white, and they're consciously looking for any opportunity to diversify--and rightly so. I knew this when I chose my field, and I'm not bitter or disgruntled. Were I on a hiring committee, I would make the same decisions. But that reality of the academic job market did make for some long, depressing winters, back in the day...

Lucky Jane said...

My first year on the market I had no interviews, and of course I didn't know until the last minute. But perhaps I really did know, on some level, since I had bought a refundable ticket. It was stunningly expensive, but it was refundable. IIRC, canceling the hotel reservation and convention registration cost nothing, either.

The worst thing is, of course, the nerve-racking suspense. But, as you know, the whole career is predicated on periodic bursts of nerve-racking suspense.

As for whether or not a department will accommodate a request for a phone interview if it's sending a committee to MLA: it depends, like just about everything else in this excruciating process.

For what it's worth, my university's by-laws require uniform interviews. Just as we are required to ask every question on our questionnaire, even if the interview tanks early, so we are not allowed to interview some candidates by phone and others face-to-face. They must be equal. When we did an off-season search for which there was an internal candidate, we had to interview her by phone. She was in her office three doors down the hall.

You can't know. And I'm so sorry it's like that. Hugs.

pocha23 said...

I'm with the folks who argue against buying a ticket until you get a word from the SC. BUT, there's always this:

Buy the ticket from Virgin Air and pay the extra $60-70 for a 'flex' ticket, which is basically a change of plans convenience fee. I almost did that when I bought our tickets to CA for Christmas. (Was thinking of going on the market).

No need to meet editors F2F. They're not interested face-time. They just want to see your writing.

pocha23 said...

PS: As a woman of color, I feel TooTin's frustration, but I also think Sis's assumption is, sadly, fairly sound. There was an _All in the Family_ episode on TV the year I started my job. All year I felt paranoid that people saw me as a "faux scholar," one whose merits inhere more in her genes than her intellect. Anyway, the episode was all about Mike ("meathead")losing an academic position to a black man. He asked the candidate if it bothered him that he got the job because of race.

The black man replied (to paraphrase): Not at all. It's about time the color of my skin worked in my favor, like yours has for you for hundreds of years.

It's a very sensitive and difficult issue. I hate that when I mention to somebody that I got a tenure-track job, I immediately wonder if they're saying to themselves, "another successful minority recruitment effort."

Even if they're right, it totally sucks. And that's what TooTin is talking about.

waterkant said...

I agree on waiting until you have at least an interview - unless you really really want to go.

Ivy Climber said...

On Southwest, even the non-refundable tickets can be cancelled for credit, which I think you can bank for a year, and there is no additional penalty.