Monday, September 26, 2005

Contemplating next week's great job search

Well last week I finished another encyclopedia article. I will type up the last few corrections tommorrow and e-mail it to the editor. Then I only have two left to write. These encyclopedia articles basically write themselves. Maybe I should look for some more after I am done with this batch.

The real task next week is to start sending out job applications again. I still need to finish the cover letter. I feel like I am just fumbling in the dark with regards to academic applications. For years everything I read and heard said what counted for academic hiring was publishing. It turns out that is not true. Evidently, teaching is considered much more important than any amount of research and publishing in the humanities. So far the number of applications is limited so it should not be too difficult to get them out of the way once I get the new cover letter written. Since I can not magically add any teaching experience I doubt it will do me much good. I did, however, recently find another journal article citing me to add to my ever expanding list. Evidently being cited does not count in job searches either. How a stupid TAship can trump two books I don't know. No wonder kids graduate from college in the US without knowing what years the Civil War was fought.

So rather than waste too much more time and effort on trying to get an entry level instructorship I think I am going to look outside of academia. I figure I could live in even a relatively expensive area like DC for $20,000 a year. Unfortunately, this is considerably more than minimum wage which is what most jobs I am qualifed for pay. Maybe Frank and I should go into business together as pimps in Hoboken. I would look good in pimp gear.


Camicao said...

I understand that your experience will lead you to hate U.S. academics and academia as mediocre and unfair. I respect those feelings. As someone who has chaired three search committees, and served on another three, from beginning to end, I'd like to offer a different perspective.

What we look for on our search committees is the following: a voice that promises collegiality and humility; we hire people we want to tenure and do not want to end up with someone difficult in our family.We also want the candidate to have the scholarly skill or achievement to do what is necessary for tenure, and to teach well.

We do not reduce our decisions to all teaching or all research or all personality. It's a balancing act. It all comes into play.

Having more publications than others does not promise good teaching, nor someone we could get along with. Similarly, being the greatest teacher in the world does not mean that a person will ever publish a single thing worth reading. The nicest most collegial person in the world may stink as a teacher. Every combination is possible.

Being a professor is not about research prestige; plenty of intellectuals, in fact some of the very best, and the most prolific, are public intellectuals and freelance writers who write for a living. They are freer and less tied to stupid conventions, which can lead to work that matters alot more and reaches a much broader audience.

Being a professor at most U.S. universities is about balancing responsibilities that include teaching and SERVICE. What this means is that most hiring committees are preoccupied with someone being a "good fit." I will explain.

It does not help me, as department chair at mid-level generic university, that someone like you has more publications than me or anyone in my department. There is little benefit to the day to day functioning of a department and the university that some scholars be extraordinarily prolific or brilliant as scholars. What does help me, and my colleagues, tenured and untenured, is whether someone like you will help us redo the major, socialize with the students to create community, fit in with our curricular program which requires some of us to teach sections of the same course and collaborate, be open to figuring out a way to reach non-traditional students who are the first in their families to attend college, mentor junior faculty upon recieving tenure, be helpful and efficient in resolving grade complaints by yourself without someone else having to come in and stop the student from going to the provost threatening a lawsuit. What helps me is knowing that you will help us hold the fort, regardless of what you do as a researcher.

I have to say this: if I have to vote between someone who has ten publications but little apparent interest, inclination or temperament for service, and someone who has 5 publications but who does, I will definitely vote for the candidate with less publications. Why? Because he or she will make my life easier, not harder, and still probably meet tenure requirements.

It's not all about research. In fact, most of it is not about research, unless you teach at a handful of universities. And often it's not all about teaching either. It's about the whole package.

I believe you deserve alot better, and sincerely wish you the best. It seems to me that you have begun to resign yourself to not getting a job, and to not really wanting one anymore. If I were in your shoes, with your considerable accomplishments as a scholar to my name, I would probably hate North American academics and academia as well for being so unfair.

But the U.S. academia is like any profession in one manner of speaking. It is not special in this regard. It has its protocols, its culture, its networks and its precedents. There are ways in and points of resistance, connections that open doors and connections that close doors. It's not a conspiracy, it's just a highly structured and ritualized and specialized mechanism. You come from a different system; someone at SOAS should have told you what you were up against early on. If they did not, the counsel you received from your advisors was poor. Publication matters less for getting a job than for getting tenure.

You once complained that academic bloggers were a bunch of whiners. I like to whine a lot too, and sometimes I am genuinely unhappy in my job. You know why? Because I can't do what you're doing... being somewhere where I can write every day and lead a life of the mind. Instead, I have to be a bureacrat. I have to deal with a million things that suck and that have nothing to do with a life of the mind and of the spirit. Alot of my job is as miserable as working at the DMV, and what's worse, it keeps me away from being an intellectual.

In sum, I've "made it" in the U.S. academia, but like most of my tenured peers, at the expense of all that you have been able to accomplish in your work as an intellectual. That's an irony worth reflecting on in order to move forward and stay on track, or to come to terms with taking a different path.

Chris O'Byrne said...

This is a great post and rings true with what I have seen. At one point I considered continuing on to grad school in chemical engineering with the thought of becoming a professor. (Despite the huge salary discrepancy.) There was one professor in particular that I admired and I asked him a lot of questions. Much of what he responded coincides with the information camicao has presented.

John Pohl said...


I think your takes on academics are correct. I have taugh in Australia and the US at three institutions. You summed it up with, academics make decisions on what makes their life easy. There is another part to academic life. If I can quote the head of the chemical engineering Department at Melbourne University, Fighting is fierce in academia because there is so little to fight over. I think this is pretty widely used in academica.


I am a chemical engineering by training, I have taught Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Mining and Minerals Engineering. I have also worked as a Civil Engineer. I work in the area of combustion and pollution control mostly in the Power Generation Industry. Mostly with use of coal and residual oil