Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Sometimes, I'll be in a meeting or something, and someone will say something and I'll just get a whole new insight into that person's point of view. It happened yesterday.

We were discussing a past practical underwater basketweaving search, and one of my colleagues asked about people who have both Masters in Arts in Practical Basketweaving (a terminal degree itself) and PhDs in Basketweaving. It seems reasonable to me, right? Why wouldn't we prefer someone with additional skills and knowledge, able to help out in the history and culture of basketweaving classes as well as the practical classes?

But the practical basketweaver there said that when they read the application letters from MAPB/PhDs, they always started by talking extensively about their thesis, and didn't focus on their practical basketweaving work. But what s/he and the other practical basketweavers were looking for was someone who really focused on practical basketweaving primarily. So the dissertation stuff wasn't important, and in fact took away from what the practical folks wanted to hear.

To me, at first, this sounded backwards because most people finish the PhD after the MAPB, and so it's their more recent work and it's a bigger deal on some level (my bias shows here, doesn't it!), so of course that would be what they focus on. But then I realized that this practical basketweaver really didn't care about the PhD work, but really cared about the practical basketweaving work.

So, I don't know. Maybe my colleague the practical basketweaver is wrong about how these application letters are written, or has read a skewed sample, or was just justifying her bias against Phds. But maybe she's saying something that might be helpful to MAPB/PhD folks who are applying for practical basketweaving jobs?

So instead of two or three types of letters of application (R1s, teaching, community college), these folks need at least one more, focused tightly on practical basketweaving, and mentioning the PhD in the second or third place?

What's your experience, oh wise internet folks?


  1. I can kind of see the position of the practical basketweaver.

    I suppose the question is whether or not a person can get a Ph.D. in practical basketweaving? If not, then having the PB M.A. is good, and a Ph.D. in something else is an additionall good.

    If I were a member of the practical faculty, I'd be worried that the applicant really wants to do the theoretical stuff in their Ph.D. and wouldn't be happy doing practical stuff all the time.

    If I were giving advice to the practical folks, I'd suggest rearranging the CV to emphasize practical activities. I'd write a cover letter explaining their love for practical activities and I'd have two of three letters from the practical side -- and one from the Ph.D. side.

  2. As someone with the dual degree (practical basketweaving and the PhD) I always tried to aim my letter at what the JVN was asking for: if the JVN asked for someone with a PhD, I emphasized my doctorate and the work I had done for that; if it asked for the MFA work, I talked more about that.

    Almost no JVNs did ask for someone with an MFA, however. They were, and are, all about the PhD, these days. So if you're really wanting to hear about the work people are doing with with their art (and most of us who got the MFA are still doing the art; most of us only got the PhD so we'd have an outside shot at landing a job and eating occasionally) I'd revise the JVN to reflect that more clearly.

  3. With any job, it seems important to highlight, first and foremost, how one is a strong candidate for the job. Which usually means practical over theoretical. Unless the position is theoretical. Because the readers want to see, instantly, how said candidate is an appropriate fit or not, right? Especially when plodding through PILES of applications...whether as a search committee member or as a nonacademic "filterer" (I once had a job in marketing where we were hiring someone, and the boss said Just Bring Me Five People. He didn't even want to look at them!).

  4. Oh, wait, I forgot to say the other thing. Boss had only one criterion: if applicant has a PhD, reject. This was a nonacademic job, but I still remember that bothering me SO much.

    I'm on the side of if someone has an MFA *and* a PhD, then more power to them and I'd see them as even more qualified.

  5. I think I have the kind of CV you're talking about, but I don't apply for MFA jobs, and my critical work is not in the same period, or genre, as my creative work.

    However, if I applied for an MFA job, I would absolutely write a different set of job materials, putting the art credentials up front and subtly de-emphasizing the scholarship. The things that qualify you for the posted job get the emphasis; the bonus skills get treated as secondary things.