Monday, August 08, 2005

In Response to Dr. Camicao

In a comment on my entry "On Expanding my Knowledge Base as an Orientalist" Dr. Camicao asked why I did not think I will ever get an academic position. The short answer is that despite having two published academic books and a number of peer reviewed journal articles I have no teaching experience. I have applied to dozens of jobs and have been rejected for all of them in the last year. Among those rejecting me were a number of adjunct positions. So it was not as if I was trying to get anything more than an entry level position. Of the few rejections that have given reasons this has been the one. I have never taught in a formal classroom setting, not even as a TA. Despite what others may claim, academia values teaching much more than they do publications. In fact I do not think American academia puts much weight at all to publications by themselves. They will never hire a person with a strong publishing record and no teaching experience over somebody with teaching experience and a weak publishing record. A person with teaching experience and no publications can always get published. Especially since many publishers use blind peer review and hence judge articles solely on their merit. This is not the case regarding teaching experience. To get a position that involves teaching you have to have had such a position previously. Such job selections are not blind. They know who you are and will use anything they can against you.

I will also repeat what I wrote in a comment to Frank. I could not get into graduate school in the US even with two published academic books. In the UK where publications are important I got into SOAS with no problem. For US academia publications are completely irrelevant. What counts is that you have people on the inside supporting you. I know that a great many people have gotten tenure track jobs without having any books published. Many of these people have then gotten tenure with only one book, almost always a revised version of their Ph.D. dissertation. With all due respect even Dr. Camicao got tenure with only one book published. He obviously originally got the position on the basis of something other than writing books.

I could not even get into an MA program in the US despite having two academic books published. Books that have been well cited and favorably reviewed by academics working in my field. A lot of this work is rather narrow. But, some more popular scholary works have also cited me extensively. If you look in Anne Applebaum's pulitzer winning Gulag: A History you will find me in the index and endnotes. Richard Overy's The Dictators also cites me extensively. So it is not as if I was writing mere hackwork that is long on quantity and short on quality. It is that the real priorities of US academia lay elsewhere.

I do not see any way ever around the catch-22 of having no teaching experience. No matter how many books, journal articles and other academic pieces I publish it will not change this basic fact. It is clear from the hiring record of academia that a TAship is considered a greater asset by selection committees than any number of scholastic books. I initially took up academic writing as a hobby and greatly enjoy it. My real jobs while doing this were stuffing envelopes, making sandwiches and brewing coffee. By technical training I am a barrista. So I will continue to do some academic writing. Mostly, because I enjoy travelling to conferences. My main writing focus in the future, however, I think is going to be for a more popular audience. I have a little over 50 pages written of my first non-academic book and I am finding it more enjoyable to write for real people rather than the Ivory Tower crowd.


Camicao said...

Hi Otto--It's exciting to hear that you are writing a book for a general audience. Are you having trouble shifting registers? I am not sure I could easily shift out of the well-worn conventions of academic writing. For example, I recently wrote a biographical account for the introduction to a translation that I'm editing, and found it difficult to write. I was pulling information from 1) existing biographies and 2) my own readings of the author's autobiographical writings. I had trouble getting used to what to cite and what not to cite from the existing biographies because I'm so used to "being original" and saying something that hasn't been said before. Be this as it may, I dream of writing for a non-academic audience, but I am a little nervous about whether I can really do it.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I have to be a bit conscious about explaining things and trying to avoid technical language. Also I have definitely made an effort to reduce the statistical data. Acronyms and numbers are things that I am going out of my way to minimize.

It is not that difficult. First, because I do not need to put in lots of statistics and transliterated footnotes for them it goes faster. Second, it is pretty easy to find general readers to look at it and give you honest opinions. Unlike many academics they will not deliberately sabatoge you either.

I am basically trying to narrate what happened rather than concentrate on why. I think this is a big difference. I will post a blog entry on it in the near future.

Camicao said...

I look forward to that future post!