Sunday, September 17, 2006

A different PSA about the MLA Job List

Flavia posted a PSA the other day announcing that the MLA Job Information List is now online. Like Flavia, I kept up a sporting interest in looking at the list even after I had a job (and tenure), but that changed after serving on (and on occasion chairing) search committees.

I have a PSA of my own; it's basically a few pleas for job seekers based on experiences past and current. (BTW, this post is a snark-free zone, unlike some others I've posted.)

  • Please do think about whether you're really interested in the institution and the general area of the country before you apply. If you're not really interested, don't apply. For example, if you get an interview and end up asking questions that basically ask how often/how much you can stay away from the institution/the area, we know that we've pretty much wasted our time and interview money on someone who doesn't want to be there.

  • Ditto if you tell us that your advisor thinks this would be a good "first job."

  • If the ad specifies a specialist in Subject Y, and you taught one course in Subject Y back in grad school but your major area and dissertation are in another field, please think twice before applying and trying to spin this into a major area for you. We'll figure this out in any case when we read your materials.

  • Proofread your cover letters carefully. Concluding with some variation of "and that's why I'm a perfect candidate for [Not Your Institution]" doesn't inspire much confidence.

  • If your research is exciting to you, and teaching is exciting to you, make sure that that comes across. You don't have to jump on a couch, but if you want to spend your life doing these two things (teaching and research), the search committee, and later the interviewers from the committee, ought to be able to figure out why it's exciting, what the possible research implications might be for the field, and so on.

  • This gets said over and over again, but try to personalize your letter for the institution to which you're applying. Printing out a boilerplate letter is faster than tailoring one to the job, but reading the same phrases in densely printed boilerplate about dissertation, teaching philosophy, and so on, especially in the increasingly long letters that we get, is a MEGO moment (my eyes glaze over).

  • technorati tag:


    Professor Zero said...


    Bardiac said...

    Spot on! Great suggestions!

    undine said...

    Just hoping that it helps with the applicant pool :).

    Professor Zero said...

    Yeah. I keep thinking I should write suggestions for search committees, on how to be realistic, and objective, and successful. I've been on many which spent too much time fighting amongst themselves and then going after hotly contested stars. Meanwhile, they neglect the good enough and the plenty good enough candidates for too long, and these people get other offers. Then the committee ends up choosing among everyone's least favorites.

    Cats & Dogma said...

    These are (mostly) spot-on, espcially the "first job" crap, which annoys the hell out of me...I mean, think about audience, i.e. the people for whom the job is not only the first job, but THE job....

    I will add a caveat about the "specialist-in-X vs. able-to-teach-y" request, since that's precisely how I got this job...job descriptions can be notoriously opaque texts, full of insinuations, things not said, things argued about and never decided, things under consideration, and things not realized until the application pool is complete. And as someone in a field defined by a genre (and not a sexy one, like digital studies)and not a nation, for example, following this piece of advice would've meant that I didn't apply for a department that seems happy to have me.

    George H. Williams said...

    ""and that's why I'm a perfect candidate for [Not Your Institution]"

    Uh...yeah, I did that once. Not a shining moment for me.

    They went ahead and interviewed me anyway.

    They didn't hire me.

    Turns out they didn't hire anyone.

    undine said...

    Professor Zero, that's absolutely right, and among the reasons for hating that part of the process is that it's, well, wasteful.

    Cats & Dogma, I'd agree about the sometimes vague and sometimes unstated expectations of the ad, and certain kinds of fields can't easily be defined. I guess I was thinking of the situation in which a medievalist/Chaucerian had taught a Shakespeare class once upon a time and applied for a Renaissance position.

    I wouldn't rule out an application that makes the mistake George mentions (and I'm glad they didn't rule yours out).