Sunday, November 18, 2012


During the last few weeks of, and shortly after the election, I saw a number of stories coming out of Ohio expressing a bit of frustration about how "no one" outside of Ohio bothered to think about or visit Ohio until it was a key state in the electoral college numbers, and then suddenly, a bunch of people spent a whole lot of time thinking about and visiting Ohio.  But there was an emptiness to the approach of those people, these articles implied, as they argued that Ohio is worth more than a thought or visit every four years.

My impression of these articles is that they're pretty defensive; and often, they take very seriously comments from outsiders that don't seem all that serious to me.  But then, I get comments from my family members about my small town airport, our downtown, camoflauge, and so forth.  I also get comments from local people about where I'm from, and they aren't uniformly pleasant comments, either.  And I don't take either all that seriously, because I know our town is small, and I suspect the people who comment most know the area their criticizing the least.

But as I've been working through the job search stuff, and really thinking about it, I've noticed that though our search pool is large, it's not as regionally diverse as I'd expect.  Given the population densities on the coasts, and the fine graduate programs there, I'd expect more applicaitons from coastal folks than from midwesterners.  But my casual observation is that we have a good many more midwestern applications than coastal applications.  (We have a plentiful supply of strong, well-qualified applications, so that's not a problem.)

And being me, I wonder why.

Is it regional, with people thinking that it's just too cold, too midwestern, too flyover to want to apply?

Is it state, with people thinking that the state's a mess, and they don't want to come here?

Is it our school, a regional comprehensive with a high teaching load?

Is it our town, too small and seemingly uninteresting?

(I will admit here that I didn't apply to religious schools in the deep south, or religious schools anywhere that seemed too religious to me.)

Underwater basketweaving is a competitive field, with far more people earning terminal degrees than there are TT jobs.  Yet there seems to be a population of potential applicants that has chosen not to apply here.

Help me understand why, please.  And also, if there are things we can realistically do to change false perceptions, that would be great to hear, too.


  1. Jobseeker3:41 PM

    It's interesting that you've noticed regional tendencies among your applicants. As someone applying to jobs now, I'm not being selective based on location at all. In fact, quite the opposite: I have a spreadsheet that contains basically every posting in my particular subspecies of basketweaving and am applying to all of them. My thought process is the following: the odds of my being offered any of these jobs are vanishingly slim. Even the odds of getting to the campus interview stage are infinitesimal. Therefore, I might as well apply to every available position, and then in the unlikely event that I actually am offered a basketweaving position in a small town 1000 miles from where I currently live, that's the point to decide whether I'd really want to live there, whether my partner could find employment in his field (which is not in academia), etc. The only jobs I am not applying to are the ones that are obviously meant for well-known, established scholars, or the ones at religious schools that require their professors to be believers.

    I feel like I can't speak for the motivations of my colleagues, but that's my personal take on matters. To be honest, if faced with a real choice of accepting a job far away from where I currently live, I can't predict what I'd ultimately decide or what variables would factor into that choice.

  2. I can't imagine taking location into consideration unless there's spouse and/or family involved. I would consider taking a job up to 4-5 hours away from where we are now and commuting from Mon to Fri. DH did that for a number of years way back when. He left Mon morning and came back home Friday evening. At one point, he flew out halfway across the country and back on a weekly basis. The other job was just a two hour drive but too dang far to commute with the horrible traffic (the job was in DC and you do NOT commute in and out of DC). Other than that, I can't imagine why anyone would avoid any specific place.

  3. I honestly think that it's because the state has been in the news a lot lately with the budget issues and Scott Walker. If I were on the job hunt, I would not apply to a state school in WI. I would also not apply to a state school in California. I was tempted at one point to apply to UC Santa Cruz, but then I realized how scary it would be to work for the state of California. They are always in a budget crisis. Plus, I thought of how nice it is to not be under the financial pressure we were under in CA. Obviously, I opted not to apply. (Besides -- who wants to move cross country twice in two years?)

    Anyway - with the national attention that Scott Walker gave your state, I think people are wary about taking state-school jobs there.

  4. My guess would be that it's a combination: location PLUS teaching load/institutional type. It's hard for me to imagine that too many job candidates have an intractable opposition to a particular state (or to a small town vs. a big city location)--but people from the midwest are likelier to (a) know or be able to imagine the local culture and the people in a positive way, and (b) be open to a heavier teaching load there because they know and like the region and/or it doesn't involve too much distance from family and friends.

    I applied pretty widely my first year on the market: I only applied to Renaissance jobs (not for generalist positions), but I included those up to a 4/4 load and in every region of the country and in every size community. There were a handful of schools I ruled out, but not many; I applied to at least 35 jobs. My second year out, when I was holding a renewable lectureship that paid well and was close to my partner and my friends, I applied to only about 25, prioritizing those that were personally regionally desirable OR that had teaching loads of 3/3 or under. I was still willing to take a 4/3 or 4/4 job--but it had to be at an institution that felt like a really good fit personally and/or professionally.

  5. I love the midwest and am from the midwest... but I don't like snow.

  6. EngLitProf2:41 PM

    Bardiac, were you and your colleagues active in e-mailing friends who teach in Ph.D.-granting departments to tell them about the job?

    When I first saw the title of your post I assumed that your topic would be was local bias on the part of hiring departments! When the job market is so bad, most job-seekers have had to suppress all but the strongest regional considerations. I suspect that a contributing factor in the case of your school is proximity bias rather than regional bias per se (here I agree with Flavia).

  7. Was it a standard Nov. 1 due date? I know that for newbie job seekers coming from the West Coast, where most everybody is on a quarter system and doesn't come back to school until the end of September, getting letters and getting on top of the early deadline ads can be really tough. My committee assumes that *everyone* does a Nov 1 date and thus doesn't bother to update letters until right before then, much to my anxiety. (women's studies ads are due very early and it can be tough to have materials for them too.)

    But I know that my grad-school colleagues are being told to apply *everywhere* and are freaked out and applying to anything that moves ... so if people are choosing not to throw their hat in the ring after multiple warnings, that is good. You don't want people doing campus visits or taking jobs in places that they have *really* thought about and decided they won't do it.

    On the flip side, if they *did* throw in an application, give them the benefit of the doubt that they will come and bloom where they are planted. Or snowed under. Or something.

  8. About ten years ago our institution advertised a position in the same broad area as a university in the more-populated south. Teaching load was one course per term easier there and their applicant numbers outstripped ours by four to one.

    Location, location, location. I've seen too many people up and leave our university because their spouse "can't see himself/herself here". I'd rather those people honestly self-selected out of the search from the get-go rather than consider our place some sort of horrible purgatory!