Wednesday, June 08, 2011

If I knew then what I know now

Today I read over my old blog posts from when I lived in Arivaca Arizona. At that time I did not think I would ever get an academic job. If I had to do it again I would have done things differently. First, I probably would not have bothered to apply to any jobs in the US. I now know I never had a shot of even getting an interview with any US institution. Having a PhD from the UK and no teaching experience basically eliminated me from the first round of any search. No amount of publications could overcome this second disability. Anybody who tells you that publications are what get you hired as an assistant professor in the US is lying to you. I see this lie repeated a lot on academic blogs and I wish it would stop. Second, I would have sent an application to every history department in English speaking Africa regardless of whether they were advertising openings or not. While having a British degree hurt me a lot in the US job market since my degree is from SOAS not Oxford or Cambridge I believe it would have helped me in the African market. Not surprisingly the School of Oriental and African Studies is known and respected in Africa. This was the second university in Africa I even looked at and I got the job on the basis of my CV and publications without the need for an interview. Finally, I would have done a lot more to project myself as a generalist rather than a specialist. Universities are not looking for people to teach on the subject of their PhD dissertation. They are looking for people who can teach the broad outlines of several centuries of the history of whole continents. I honestly did not fully realize how far removed the daily work of a university lecturer is from the process of getting a PhD when I lived in Arivaca.


Leo Tolstoy said...

Yeah, for a while the academic world here was pushing for "area studies," and so people like you and me focused on a specific area and learned everything about it, but area studies never fully materialized. In my case, no one knew what to do with me: degree in Slavic languages and literatures, and nearly all my publications on the history and politics of the Cauasus.

I guy I met at the genocide conference at Rutgers had an English lit degree but was attached to a genocide studies institute. That's my last bet in this field, now: find some institute devoted to genocide and war crimes and maybe get a position there. Otherwise I'll finish out my career at this unimpressive college, just teaching and doing what I damn well please.

J. Otto Pohl said...


The area studies only works for some areas. Where I teach now the areas of history taught are pretty big. So big in fact that most of the classes I will be teaching are under the heading of world history. Basically we have history of Ghana and then everything goes up to the continental level. There is African history, European history, Latin American history and then world history.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

The problem for British PhDs hob-hunting at many American universities is that the basic structure of both the PhD and a university education is very different in the two places. Some American hiring committees don't even know how the British system works. Others know, but that means they doubt that someone who did a researched PhD in three years, without coursework, would be able to teach graduate-level courses, or undergraduate courses when his undergraduate experience was also much more specialized than American students' experience is. The teaching/publication dichotomy is not so simple as you make it sound; the advice to publish works for American PhD's, who have had American educations and so demonstrably understand what usually happens in both undergraduate and graduate classrooms, regardless of whether they have had experience teaching in those classrooms. Did you have syllabi prepared for courses you would be expected to teach at the American schools where you interviewed? A good syllabus can help you connect with interviewers who are focused on teaching.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I never got any interviews with US institutions during my first round of applications in 2004 to 2007. I got my first phone interview with an American College in 2010. By that time I had three years of teaching experience overseas.

I sent out over 100 applications in 2004-2005 and almost all of those jobs went to people with fewer publications. Many of them went to people with no publications. Some even went to people who were still ABD. So I stand by my claim that the vast majority of US search committees care very little about publications regarding entry level slots such as assistant professor.