Friday, November 30, 2012

Job Search - Advice from the Admin Friend

I was chatting with one of the admin folks today, one who has spent some time lately making happy phone calls inviting search candidates to interviews.  And here's hir advice:

1)  If you don't already have a professional email address, set one up.  Don't use hotsexnowATproviderDOTcom.

2)  If you've been applying for jobs, and you're hoping for phone calls, answer your phone like a professional.  Say, something along the line of "Hello, Mary Smith speaking."  Yes, it feels awkward at first, but it's way better than "Yo yo yo!" or something, at least according to this admin person.

And that's it from the happy admin side.

Other thoughts?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

This Small Stack...

... stands between me and a grading-free weekend for the first time since mid-September.  I'll still have a big committee project to work on, so it won't be totally open, but it will feel pretty wonderful.  (The stack is about 1cm high when compressed.)

Between now and Friday afternoon, though, I have nearly 8+ hours of meetings scheduled.  FML.

On to my stack!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Job Search: What I'd Like Our Candidates to Know

As we're figuring out stuff about our next steps and preparing for those steps, I thought I'd take a moment to tell potential candidates what I really want them to know.

First, when we say "thank you" for talking to us, we mean it.  We all know you're under a lot of stress, busy, and that you've put effort into preparing to interview with us.  Thank you for that.  Our thank you isn't perfunctory or empty.

Second, when we offer to answer questions you have about the job, we really do appreciate your questions.* 

Third, if you could see our notes as we prepare to talk with you, you would know that we take the process seriously, too.  (You'd also realize that we probably don't google your name, because we just don't have time.  It's enough to reread your letter and writing sample, to look again at your letters of recommendation, and to think about what to listen especially for in our interview.)  We know we're working towards a decision that will make a difference in your lives, but we also know the decision will affect our lives.  At least here, when we hire someone, we're committed to helping them succeed, and, if all goes as it should, get tenure.  We're thinking in terms of hiring a colleague for the long term.

Fourth, if we seem to like each other during the interview or visit, it's because we pretty much do.  We may be up in the icy north, but we're a pretty decent, humane bunch.

And finally, whether or not we think you're well qualified for our job or a good fit, or whether we even ask you to talk to us, we pretty much think our pool of candidates is amazing, and every single one of them worthy of having a great job.  We still only get to hire one person.

So, shared wisdom of the internets, what would you like to communicate, either to candidates, or to search committees?

* When I was in the Peace Corps, the local missionaries had a little tale about some potential missionary.  (As a background, you have to know that the town I lived in didn't have any paved streets then.  They were all either cobbled or dirt.  There was basically a single block that was the town center, and that was it, and from there, one road led to a town to the north, one road to a town to the west, and a couple others out some miles to where they simply stopped and became tracks in the rain forest.)  So, the tale went that this potential missionary had written about a position, and asked for something that wouldn't be too far from the subway.  Another version had the missionary wanting to be not too far from the Sears.

Please don't ask about our subway, okay?  Or our Whole Foods.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three-Ring Circus

I was working in a class the other day, and asked students to get out their copy of the assignment handout, which I'd given out several days before.  Most of them opened up a binder of some sort, or a folder thing, and started flipping through loose sheets, trying to find the paper, with varying degrees of success.

And suddenly it struck me, in one of those "holy cow, how can I not have seen this before" ways, that their binders looked pretty much exactly like my junior high binder had looked, with no organization, just piles of loose papers through which I'd flip and try to find whatever it was I'd lost and forgotten about until I was in trouble for not turning in homework.  (Yes, I was that student.)

At some point, though, I switched to an organizational system which basically included a light cardboard folder for each class that had bendable metal pieces to form basically a two ring booklet to which I could add stuff easily (or take it out less easily).  And that system pretty much got me through college.  It wasn't perfect, or at least my use of it wasn't, but I used a hole punch to punch holes in handouts, and dated them, and every few days would put things in order, with handouts, my notes, and so on in the folder.  And at the end of the term, I had a little booklet that included my notes and such for the whole term.

My students, though, even the most prepared students, have no organizational method for handouts beyond just putting them loose in the pockets of a binder or something. 

One of my students was in my office this morning, just a few minutes ago, digging through her binder for her class stuff, and I thought to ask if she would put things in the binder if I gave them to her already punched.  And she thought she would.  And then I asked her why she didn't punch them herself.  And she looked at me like I was a total idiot, and said she didn't have a three hole punch, and didn't have a car to go get one.  Which, of course, I said was a poor excuse, since she could get one cheaply at the campus store, which is between my office and the dorms, and so not something she'd need a car for.  And she looked at me like I am a total idiot.

Now I'm wondering: should I start doing the three hole punch for handouts in hopes that students will actually keep them in some sort of minimally meaningful order in their binders?  Can they really not manage this minimal effort themselves?

Should someone (me?) tell my students that actually keeping notes in some sort of minimally meaningful order might be useful, and give them some hints on how to do so?  Have they never been told this before?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Being a Professor: Surprise!

When I was in grad school, I vaguely knew professors had committee responsibilities.  After all, someone had to decide who to let into the grad program.  But I didn't think much beyond that.  So, I think the part of the job that I was most surprised by and least prepared for was committee work.

In my first job, I'd never taken minutes for a meeting, and suddenly I was taking minutes for a meeting with the dean in the first weeks of the first term.  (I took notes that were WAY too detailed, and had a quick lesson in taking minutes.  I still tend to put in more detail than is absolutely necessary.)

In my current job, we try to give first year TT folks a year without committee or service responsibilities (though we're not always successful).  And then we pretty much expect them to jump in.

I like committee work that actually gets stuff done.  I'm frustrated by committee work that's basically a rubber stamp of administrative decisions, and I'm frustrated by committee work that's just rehashing without progress.

This week, I have an overwhelming amount of committee work, most of it in meetings, but some of it prep or writing a report.

And I'm wondering, thinking about job search stuff, how grad programs might (should?) prepare students to be ready to take on committee responsibilities?

For those with committee responsibilities, what's the most important thing you think job searchers should know?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Daytime TV

Let the weekend begin!

Yesterday, I was supposed to be grading.  And I was, slowly, with the TV on.  That was a mistake, because I wasn't in the mood to watch football or sappy movies, or even more than one Hitchcock movie.  So I ended up with this show about people who are basically worried about a sort of catastrophe and getting ready so that they'll survive it.  It was like watching a car wreck.

Each of the people profiled worried about a specific sort of catastrophe, and their readiness was specific to their sort of catastrophe.  Except the catastrophe and preparations were, well, not really realistic.  Even the tv show voiceover that judges their readiness acknowledged that whatever sort of catastrophe the person was worried about was pretty unlikely.

So, instead of someone in, say, LA being worried about a major earthquake, and putting together a few days supply of water, some candles, food, and first aid stuff, they showed someone worrying that that earth's magnetic field would reverse and nothing electrical would work.  Instead of having someone here in the northwoods worry about a massive blizzard, and storing up some fuel, food, blankets, and so on, they had someone worried about the total financial collapse of the world, which would result in no one selling (or bartering anything), and so on. 

My favorite, weirdly, was this woman who was worried about a flu pandemic.  That's actually not so unrealistic.  But instead of starting with flu vaccines, she has this absolutely overwhelming supply of medical stuff.  And food.

One of the people, it may have been the flu woman, said they have over $100K of supplies.  My mind boggles.

The worst was that these people imposed their readiness stuff on their families, and you could tell the family members had either gone along and joined the crazy, or hadn't, but were too young or dependent to get out of the situation.  There was a cruel bit where the sister in law (?) of the flu woman came late to a preparedness drill, carrying her toddler looking kid, and the flu woman insisted they be put in a special quarantine area.  The sister in law looked like her patience was tried, but the poor little kid looked so scared.

Or maybe the worst was the level of fear the people seemed to have.  I mean, they seem completely convinced that everyone will be coming to kill them when the disaster hits.  They're all armed to the teeth.

I can't decide if this or the show about hoarding is a worse grading show for me.  At least the hoarding show inspires me to clean out a closet or junk drawer once in a while.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Secret Life of a Professor

I hope all the USians out there had a lovely Thanksgiving!  I hope the Native Americans out there forgive us intruders.

I'm interrupting the discussion of job searching.  If you have ideas for other things to talk about, I'd be glad to hear.  I'm thinking of talking a bit about campus visits, but I have to mull.  I can't bear the thought of talking about MLA, but perhaps it would be helpful to some?

Meanwhile, I'm going to have three more days without classes or committee meetings!  Three days! 

Yesterday was beautiful.  I cleaned the front yard up pretty much.  It needed it!  I took two wheelbarrows full of dead plant stuff and dumped it into the greenspace behind my house.  (It's on my property, and will be mulch once spring hits.)

I also graded two papers.

I have 18 more papers in that stack.

Then I have 20 abstracts and annotated bibliographies.

Then I have assorted small assignments, probably 10, that I need to grade.

And finally, I have a big committee report to work on.

And there we are: the secret life of a professor is...  grading, endless grading and committee work.

And when that's done, I need to work on my SAA paper.  I have the barest beginnings of an idea I like, but I need to flesh it out and do some reading.

And then I need to rework and submit a paper I did for a recent conference.

I'm getting some cat therapy at some point, and need to stop at the local co-op to get some coffee.  I'd like to stop and get some grocery type stuff at the aiming circle store, but I dare not go near.

And for the next month, I will avoid approaching my neighborhood from one direction no matter what.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Job Search - A Disabilities Question

A couple posts ago, I got a great question from Nitewriter.  I don't have any great answer, alas, but I wanted to put up the question and the responses it's already gotten, so more people have a chance to respond.

Here's Nitewriter's question:
I've been asked how one brings up disability issues during the application/interview process. I have invisible disabilities but it doesn't much matter because I work full time online teaching. I don't have to go to campus to teach classes; in fact, none of the colleges where I teach are even in my state! Still, there are applicants who have disabilities and wonder how/when to self-disclose. Any suggestions? 
Here, in order, are the responses (If I miss one, let me know, please.):

from Susan:
I don't think I would bring up disability issues during the interview process unless an accommodation of some sort is required for the convention interview (I'm thinking here in terms of English processes, obviously). The people on the search committee aren't necessarily the people who will actually know anything about accommodating disabilities, and in general I think it best to use the convention interview to focus most closely on the job-related issues that will help you move to the campus visit. I could imagine that you could actually get some very wrong answers from a search committee about disability issues.

I would self-disclose the issues on an as-needed business in terms of what you need to interview successfully (so if you need a chair during a presentation or need interview locations close together because of a mobility impairment, e.g., ask for that). If you get a campus visit, you should get asked if there are any particular people or offices you want to meet with, and perhaps ask then for some time with the registrar or access office or whomever might be a useful resource (although it can be hard to figure that out from afar).

It might be helpful to reframe the issue here not so much as "when should I self-disclose" but "what information do I need to know about this dept/campus?" and work back from there (who has that info, and when do I need it?) . It's not like the search committee needs to know about anyone's disability. But candidates dealing with a disability might need info about the campus--so is that info necessary before accepting a campus visit? is it info necessary while arranging logistics of a campus visit? or it is info that you need while weighing a job offer?
Nitewriter responded:
Susan, I appreciate your thoughts. That all makes a lot of sense. In my case, the disability is mobility-related and, while I can for short periods of time, hide it (i.e. walk normally, stand for certain periods of time, even walk up or down stairs), on a daily basis, working full time would necessitate mobility aids which make the disability quite obvious to all. 
And Susan later responded:
Nitewriter, I have been thinking more about my response to your question. My partner, also an academic, has a mobility impairment that makes it difficult for her to stand for long stretches of time. She did a campus visit once that did not result in a job offer. During her job talk, she ended up sitting down on the table at the front of the room, and some people in the dept thought this was very unprofessional. She later wished that she'd mentioned to someone that she couldn't stand that long and would need a way to sit (although as I type this, I end up thinking "really? you didn't like that someone sat at the front of the room?"). So I guess that sort of thing might be a reason to self-disclose. And also a reason to wish for more generous interpretations of others' behavior. 

 I found Susan's responses really helpful, especially in thinking about reframing the issue.  I'm no expert on disability issues, so I really appreciate hearing from those who know more.

My thought is about me and other not-yet disabled committee members, and adds support to Susan's response.  I think the fear I have, and maybe others have, in hiring a disabled colleague would be the very selfish fear that I'd have to do extra work.  I fear that because I already feel pretty much at the edge of what I can do. 

I know and I'm sure my colleagues know that discriminating based on disability is illegal.  But I think that may mean that we'd hide our fears in the way that racists have long made racist decisions but tried to convince themselves and others that the decisions aren't about race.  I think my critical thinking about race is further along than my critical thinking about disability.  I have work to do.

Meanwhile, I'd say that Susan is on the mark in her suggestion about first waiting to self-disclose until you have the campus visit, and then framing it in terms of having a successful campus visit.  I think I and my colleagues would respond reasonably to a request to sit during a talk, for example, and positively if you framed your sitting as not only a way to deal with mobility, but also as having to do with thinking about classroom strategies and not being the "sage on the stage" type of teacher.

I think my colleagues and I would be reassured if we saw a candidate give a strong talk, and do strong interviews, and that would reassure us about our workload fears.

Finally, I'd like to second Susan's comment that most search committee members will be clueless about disability issues and how our campus can work to be open to everyone (I'm trying to get at being more than just accessible, but more; like the different between tolerating and respecting, I guess?).  I, for example, don't think the restrooms on our floor are accessible, and I'm not sure where the closest accessible restroom is.  But now I'll make sure to look around a bit more carefully.

Now I'd like to ask your help.  First, if you have thoughts to add in regards to Nitewriter's question, please share.  And also, as I go off to figure out where our accessible restrooms are, what else should I look for and think about that I don't usually?

Imagine, for example, that we invite a candidate to campus with a disability, say mobility, or specify some other disability.  What should I know as a matter of course that I probably don't?

Now I'm going to go walk around and find some accessible restrooms.

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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Job Search - Interview Questions

Once again, here's another in the continuing series about the job search from the searchers' point of view.  (And again, the caveat that I'm writing from my necessarily limited experience.)  Folks at community colleges, SLACs, and research schools will likely have different experiences (and I hope will tell us something about those in comments or their own blogs).

Application Advice
Search Meetings

After the focusing meeting, which led our imaginary search committee to focus on 10 candidates the searchers want to interview, things sort of disappear into a black box.

For one thing, the chair of the committee may have to go up the chain of bureaucracy to get approval for the interviews in some way.  (Someone higher up may have to look over the list to approve it, especially if the department has had problems for whatever reason.)  Someone may have to approve the conference interview plans, or the phone interview situation. 

So the candidates aren't hearing yet.  But things are in the works.

Meanwhile, the search committee is busy figuring out questions.  I'm not sure if this happens at other places, but here we prepare a few questions, say 5-8, and every single interview candidate will get those questions in the same order.  We'll also allow for follow-up questions, but the point is for every candidate to get a fair shot, so if a question is really hard for someone, it may be hard for everyone.  Or not.  And the follow ups will go along depending on what the candidate says and how our time looks.

We usually email around our list of potential questions, often starting with the list that was used in a different search a year or two earlier.  Typically, we may start with a question that asks about the introductory course in the field.  Let's imagine in our deepwater basketweaving course we have a GE intro that a lot of students take.  We'll ask the candidates to talk about how they approach teaching Introductory Basketweaving to general education students.

Then we may ask about the intro to the major course, Baksetweaving Fundamentals.  How do they approach that?

We want to signal that we require and support research, so we may ask about their current basketweaving projects and what they see themselves doing in their next project.

We want to hire faculty who are committed to multiculturalism, so we may ask about their experiences in multicultural basketweaving.

We then almost certainly ask if the candidate has questions for us.

What we don't ask, but others might?  The first thing that comes to mind is graduate training.  R1s are way more likely to ask how you think about teaching a grad class in your field, or something similar.

Let's talk about these questions a bit, and I'll try to say what I'm looking for, which may help candidates prepare well.  [Edited to add: there are really helpful comments below, some of which have different opinions, so they're very useful.  Please look.]

How do you approach teaching Introductory Basketweaving?

I'm looking for someone who has ideas about what's important to teach in Intro Basketweaving, and who can be adaptable to our needs as well.  (We don't have lots, but we do have some.)  I want realism in the amount of weaving required, a sense of how to approach general education, and a sense of how to teach.  Talking about the general outline, a specific assignment, perhaps, these all work.

My department sometimes sends candidates information about the school.  Otherwise, you might want to check a website and look at how the school does general education.  Is everyone required to take Intro Basketweaving?  Is it only water-based majors that take it?  You don't have to be an expert on the school, but having a sense of how our general education works, and being able to compare that to how things worked at your undergrad/grad institutions may be really helpful.  Be aware that at any given time a school may be in the process of rethinking its GE requirements, so don't be totally wedded to an idea.  And don't talk about how superior your own program is.  If the ad has asked for a secondary asset or specialization, think about balancing that in here.  For example, in our imaginary ad, we talked about multicultural basketweaving.  You'll convince people you are committed to multicultural basketweaving more if you include multicultural basketweaving as a component of the intro course.

How would you approach teaching our intro to the major course, Basketweaving Fundamentals?

You'll find it really helpful to look at the major(s) the department serves in order to answer this.  Does the department's fundamentals course serve the Reef Management majors as well as the UB majors?   How does that change your approach?  What does the course description in the catalog say?  (If it's not on-line, your library may well have a copy in microfilm.)  Again, if we've put multicultural basketweaving in our ad, think about how that belongs in the fundamentals course.  Think about what majors need, and how you can get them started learning it, and then design your imaginary course based on our description, the organization of the major, and your sense of what UB majors need.

Tell us about your next project.

You should have a rough idea for a next project in your mind.  You may be revising a major basket, producing a new series of baskets, revising your dissertation into a book, writing an article, whatever.  For an R1, I suspect the book thing is pretty standard, at least in book fields.  You need to sound like you're going to be a realistic and productive scholar/basketweaver.  If the school you're interviewing with talks about faculty/student collaboration (and a lot do, these days), and you have a project that would work well for students, think about including that, too.

What's your experience with multicultural basketweaving?
I'm going to say right now, if you're a white person (as I am) and you don't have anything to say, you need to go get some experience with multicultural basketweaving.  If you have time, take a multicultural basketweaving course, or request to TA for one.  Take some time and make sure you do some reading (Beverly Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria is a start, as well as Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."  Go at these with an open mind.)  And if you're a person of color, don't depend on just presonal experiences.  Take time to read up a bit, too, and be ready to talk about being a person of color in the classroom, teaching, and as a colleague.

What I'm looking for when we ask this question is a colleague who will contribute positively in our community, both within and without campus.  I don't care if someone's white or a person of color; I do care that they've thought about privilege and teaching, and why it matters that our students need to be taught to think about privilege, racism, sexism.  This isn't just about race, either, or ethnicity.  Think about LGBTQ, second language learning, and so on. 

You may want to look up information about the community, and if the school has any information up about social justice issues, check that out.  Keywords to look for are: Diversity, multicultural, equity, social justice, anti-racism.  (There are probably others, too.)  You want to be aware, for example, if there's a major Somali refuge community in the area, and think about how you're going to work with first generation Somali students.

I can imagine at some schools, this question is sort of pro forma.  At other schools, not.  I'd say, if the school website talks about these issues, then it's important, and you should prepare.  And just, if you're a human being and want to understand social justice issues, you should prepare.  (I'll get off that particular soap box now, but do take it seriously.)

What questions do you have for us?
  You should have a couple questions, at least.  What do you want to know?   I would ask about the students.  What do your potential colleagues think of their students?  (This may be less something to ask of R1s, but I'm not sure.  I think my R1 colleagues think about teaching and students a lot.)   Ask about the school's committment to multiculturalism, perhaps.   Ask about the major or majors.   Ask about the department, local recreation opportunities, the library, research support.   Don't ask if there's a Whole Foods in the neighborhood.  No, really.   What I'm looking for in these questions is a chance to tell our candidates about what's good about our department, campus, and community.  This is where we get to try to sell our candidates on the good things we do have to offer.  And we do, even though there's snow and budget problems (sure, ask about those if you like).   Here's where, if you have a trailing spouse, you can ask about adjuncting opportunities or local employment opportunities.  If you have a kid, you can ask about child care or the local schools.  If you're a person of color, you can ask about how the community is for people of color.   Here's my experience:  I don't think there's anyone in my department who will hold those questions against anyone, nor who will feel they don't want to hire someone with a partner or kids.  In my department, there's no one who would be unwelcoming to a gay or lesbian couple.   I can't say that's for sure true everywhere, but I know it's true here.  We have gay and lesbian folks, married folks, parents, and we value each other.  And we'll be happy to have one of the parents on the committee talk about the local schools or day care, or one of the people of color talk about being a person of color in our community.   We won't ask you questions about your personal/family status, but we're happy to answer yours.     I'd really appreciate hearing about the interview questions other schools ask, and what you're looking for that I've forgotten or don't think to look for.  And also, if you're on the market or preparing to go on the market, please feel free to ask questions.  You can ask by email if you don't want to put it in the comments. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


For three good things.

One, you know how when you have a routine medical screening thing, and then you don't get the little envelop saying everything's fine, you start to worry and worry more?  I finally called today, and no need to worry.  This is a massive relief.

Two, we were talking in my seminar about peer editing, and I asked them if they had a good way to check paper organization, and one talked about "glossing" a paper.  It sounded like a great idea, so I looked it up, and there's lots of stuff on the internet basically explaining the idea.  So I learned something.  Yay for my students!

Three.  Not for sure yet.  But a huge relief so far.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Job Search: Focusing

Recently, I wrote about meeting to discuss job apps here, and also some application advice, here.  Here.I'm going to discuss the next meeting, what I'll call focusing.

As a reminder, our imaginary job ad looks something like this:

Assistant professor of Underwater Basketweaving.
Terminal degree in Underwater Basketweaving or a related field.
Specialization in Deepwater Basketweaving.
Secondary specialization in International Basketweaving or Reed Cultivation.
Ability to teach basic basketweaving.
Strong assets include a commitment to undergraduate teaching, liberal arts, and multicultural basketweaving.

In the last meeting, the search committee split the candidate pool into groups, with one group being candidates that aren't qualified for some reason.  There's also a group that people on the committee want to look at further, ask for materials, and think about interviewing.  Then there's at least one group of candidates who are at least minimally qualified, but aren't in the further interest group.  Some of these people will be well qualified, but they didn't stand out in the ways that the candidates in the further interest group did.  Let's imagine that we have between 20 and 40 candidates in this further interest group; we're hoping to interview between 5-15 people, either at the UBA convention or by phone, so we know we have to focus in on the candidates in this pool who seem most likely to be able to really do a great job and fit well and convince our colleagues of both.

Let's note, here, that we're now looking at a group that's all really good.  They're all well-qualified.  They've all already stood out as really interesting candidates.  But half or more won't be asked for interviews.  And of the folks who are, we can only hire one.

In preparation for the focusing meeting, the search committee will spend time with the other materials in the applications.  We tend to start a new grid sheet for just these applications.

In this case, the grid will have the candidates' names and numbers, and also blocks for their writing sample and their letters of recommendation.  If we've asked for teaching materials or a teaching philosophy, we'd have blocks for that, too.  Then there's an empty block for other stuff.

I like to start in the middle of this pool by number, so that I'm not fatigued at the same level as someone else, hopefully.  I figure it takes me about half an hour to read the writing sample and letters of recommendation, and write my notes for any one candidate.   That means this is a substantial time commitment, and tiring.  Even great writing samples don't look so great when you've been reading for three or four hours.  And this reading is on top of teaching, grading, regular committee work, and advising (and it's advising season, here).  So I try to be careful to take breaks every few applications, and to read generously.

I start by reviewing just enough of the candidate's letter to remember them a bit, and then I start on the writing sample and read that.  Since I'm not a deepwater specialist, I have to read as I can.  I read for clarity: does the argument read well?  Does it explain things well enough for a general reader in the field?

But I also read for interest, by which I mean, I think about whether the project seems to be doing something interesting or challenging.  I try to be self-aware during this part of the process especially, and keep in mind that even if I don't like a deepwater analysis of whale hunting, a paper that makes me interested must be especially good.  I'll make notes about the writing sample in my grid box.

Then I move on to the letters of recommendation.  These can be really difficult.  Do I know the letter writer?  How, or in what way?  I have to make sure my knowledge doesn't influence me in a way that's unfair to the candidate or other candidates.   It's also difficult because the letters are sort of in a vacuum, but we read within contexts.  In US contexts, letters can tend to be pretty enthusiastic, and it can be really difficult to tell how to read that enthusiasm.  In UK contexts, letters tend to be a bit more reserved.  (I once had a review for TAing from a British professor and felt like I'd been body slammed.  But another professor reading the letter said that it was a strong letter from the British professor.)  If I don't know that sort of context, I may misread.  Unfortunately, unless I know the letter writer, I may not realize zie is a racist or sexist [bleep] and so my misinterpret the tone of a letter (because most academics are smart enough not to say outrageously racist or sexist stuff in a letter even if they're biased for/against a candidate based on something I find unethical).

My approach tends to be to look for specific information, especially about the things I care about.  Does the letter talk about the candidate as a deepwater basketweaving scholar/creator?  Or does the letter focus on the candidate's reed cultivation experience?  And, of course, it's not just one letter, but several, so I read for balance.

I also read to learn something about the candidate as a teacher and colleague.  Can the letter writer speak about the candidate's teaching in ways that make me think the candidate is, indeed, developing as a teacher?

Finally, I read for the other assets.  If the letter writer talks about the candidate's commitment to liberal arts teaching or to multicultural basketweaving, I'm impressed.

I hate reading teaching philosophies, but if I were on a search that had asked for them, I'd look for someone who has something to say about their individual experience, for someone who seems to understand some of the bigger issues we think about as teachers, but doesn't just toss buzzwords.  But I know some people love the buzzwords and look for those.  If they talk about teaching specific texts, I'd want to know why.

Were I looking at a syllabus at this point, I'd look for a realistic sense that what they're teaching could be taught in the quarter or semester.  Do they think they can do a full survey of deepwater basketweaving in two weeks?  Do they seem to make interesting choices for their syllabus?  I wouldn't look for a syllabus that directly fits our course labels, since I think that disadvantages a student who comes from a differently organized department, but who may be an excellent teacher and able to adapt (or lead us to change our organization).

After I've read all the secondary materials, I go back through my notes, referring when necessary to the applications, and add information about what impressed or worried me into the new grid.  If I really liked the way the candidate talked about multicultural basketweaving in the letter, or there was a cool publication on the CV, I'll make sure that gets in the grid.  What I want is to know why I was impressed by the candidate or why I wasn't.

Finally, I'll start grouping the candidates again.  If I can put them in three or four groups, I will.  What I'm looking for is a small group of people I really want to interview, and a second group of people I think would be good to interview, and then a group that I'm not so interested in interviewing.  But even so, I recognize that everyone starting in this group is well-qualified.

Once the search committee has read the further materials, we meet.  And that's when the discussions start.

We may start by talking about the criteria we used in reading the materials.  That will give us a sense of who cares primarily about letter writers and who cares more about writing samples, and what we're looking for in each.

We may then do a preliminary round of sharing our top groups, and seeing how much overlap there is.  If we've all chosen the same top ten people, then we probably have a good idea of our interview pool.  If we've chosen 7, but disagree about 10, then we need to select some more from the ten.  And so on.

Then we start talking about applications.  What impressed us, what didn't.  What our concerns are.  If there's a specialist deepwater basketweaver on our committee, we'll want that person to orient us to the letter writers if possible, and certainly to the writing sample within the conversations deepwater basketweavers are having these days.  We may group people as we go, but I try to get the group to hold off on that, so that there's no sense that the last person discussed isn't fully considered.

After this discussion, we start sorting and figuring out which candidates we really do want to interview.  This argument may get heated, or it may be really easy.  Some candidates may have stood out in the discussion, and I may be convinced by my colleague's opinion that they're really good.  Or I may be convinced that someone isn't as good a fit as I thought.  And the same goes for each of my colleagues.  Whether we do it by consensus or voting, we find our way to a smaller group of people we want to interview.

What's the take away for candidates, then?

Writing Sample

The more applications I read, the more I want a clearly written writing sample.  I know there's temptation to send the most highly specialized piece of writing possible, but I'd urge candidates to make sure their writing sample demonstrates that they can really make and explain an argument, and that the argument is accessible to non-specialists.  Perhaps for R1s, a more specialized sample is more appropriate?  I don't know, since I've never been on a search in Shakespeare or a closely related field.  And I have been on a search for accounting (at my previous job).  (R1 folks, I'd really appreciate some feedback on this from your search experiences.)

Letters of Recommendation

You may feel that you have little control over your letters, but you're sort of wrong.  I would recommend that you make sure that in addition to your primary advisor/director, you get a letter from someone who takes teaching seriously and who has seen you teach.  And make sure you share some teaching materials with this person or talk about your teaching with them.  I have a sense that some candidates feel that they have to choose Super Important Basketweaver in their program even if SIB doesn't know them well or isn't in deepwater basketweaving.  That can mean that SIB's letter isn't as strong or specific as a different letter might be, so there's a tradeoff.

I don't know how strongly other people around academia feel about reading letters from famous folks.  Again, if I were to be reading Shakespeare letters and read one by someone who's work and opinion I greatly respect, I'd be impressed.  But if it were a weakish letter, I'd tend to form a poorer opinion than otherwise.

I guess this issue, for me, is a lot like the big name school issue.  I tend not to look for a school with a famous name, and look for a school with a strong deepwater basket program.  But I know that if someone's applying with one of my schools on their CV, my ears perk up, and I expect that's true all around academia.  But that alone isn't the thing that makes us choose a candidate to interview.

When I have time in the near future, I'll write about how we prepare for interviews on our end.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Search Meetings

I thought (with some encouragement from others) that it would be good to talk a bit about our search meetings.  I want to demystify the process if I can, but with the caveat that my experience is limited, and that other places or departments do things differently.  So I'm also going to request that folks with input about how their departments do things differently help out here.

Earlier, I posted some application advice.  I'll take the job description from there for my hypothetical search.   Here was the ad:

Assistant professor of Underwater Basketweaving.
Terminal degree in Underwater Basketweaving or a related field.
Specialization in Deepwater Basketweaving.
Secondary specialization in International Basketweaving or Reed Cultivation.
Ability to teach basic basketweaving.
Strong assets include a commitment to undergraduate teaching, liberal arts, and multicultural basketweaving.

After we've gone through the process of developing our ad and putting the ad in likely places, we sit back a bit and wait for the applications to pile in.  And pile in they do.  We also meet with the campus legal eagle if we haven't already, to talk about the process and make sure we're doing things legally.

One of the jobs of our search chairs is to handle some of the legal stuff, specifically filling out a form for each candidate who isn't hired setting out whatever it is.  For candidates who are somewhat qualified but whom we don't list for further information or interviews, this can be difficult.  For candidates who are totally unqualified, it's a bit easier.

As the applications roll in, we put together some sort of grid.  For this job, it might have a row across the top setting up columns, and then names down a column, so that each candidate gets a row.  We number our candidates by receipt of their application, too.

The grid for this position will have a box for name, degree, deepwater basketweaving, international basketweaving, reed cultivation, basic basketweaving teaching, undergrad teaching, liberal arts, multicultural basketweaving, and then other.  The other category is where we make notes about something that interested us but that doesn't fit somewhere else.

For each candidate, then, we'll fill in their name and number, and then I put what degree and where they got it.  I'll note a person with a degree in water management, and probably put a "no" next to the degree right then.  IF I know the area pretty well, and know that a school is especially strong in that area, I may make a note about that.  Or underline the school, or something.  I may note the title of the dissertation, or make a short version, something like "Radical DWB," or "Lacan and DWB," something so that I'll get a sense of the area and specialization. 

As I read through the letter and CV, I'll fill in the other boxes.  If the person has some publications in reed cultivation, I'll note that in the appropriate box.  If they talk about teaching Asian Basketweaving, I'll make a note of that, and so on.  I tend to put an asterisk in the name box of people I'm really interested in, and a "no" if someone's categorically out.  For people who've impressed me rather less than more, I'll put something in the other box.  My goal is to have some sense of who I really want to interview, and who I'm not interested in interviewing.

What I don't look at: 
Dates of degrees.  It just doesn't strike me unless something's weird in the CV.  If someone's missing 20 years, then I'll notice.  If they've been adjuncting, then I'll note that in their teaching experience, that sort of thing.
Local love.  I don't much care if people are from around here.  I don't discriminate, but I also don't start a cheering section.  I'd rather see other things in a cover letter, but I think that it may matter to some people.
References.  I'm not there yet.

After our application deadline has passed, our committee will have a first meeting.  We'll decide based on how many apps we have how we're going to handle it.  If we had 15 apps, we'd probably move right then to decide who we wanted to interview.  But I've never been on a search here with only 15 apps.

Typically, we'll do something like put applications in stacks.  We may have three or four or five stacks.  Stack one will be for the folks who we all agree we think are our strongest candidates.  Stack five is for the folks who aren't qualified for the job as we've described it.  You may be Stephen Hawking, but if you don't have a degree in Underwater Basketweaving, you're in stack five.  Stack four will be for people who have basic qualifications, but give us a bad vibe.  Maybe their letter didn't talk usefully about necessary things or they really don't have much experience at teaching and don't convince us that doesn't matter.  Stack two is for people we think would do a good job, but we aren't quite as excited to talk to them.  Stack three is for people we think could do the job, but aren't quite there somehow.

Then we'll look at stack one, and if we have enough people, we'll move them all onto the next group.  If we have too few people, we'll look at stack two and move some people to stack one.  Our goal is to get a manageable group to look at references, writing samples, and whatever else we want to ask for or have asked for.

In my experience, if a search committee member is really excited about an application, that one will make stack one even if no one else is really excited.  On some committees, there's a fair bit of agreement about stack one.  On others, there's more discussion.  I'm fortunate in my colleagues that we usually manage to handle this stage well, and tend to get really good candidates into that first stack.

What's the take away message for job applicants here? 

The most important one is that the job letter and CV are our initial cut, so those have to speak to our job in meaningful ways.  We understand that someone might have the wrong school name in an application letter, but if your letter says something really interesting about your multicultural basketweaving experience, and you've got the other qualifications in line, we're going to want you in stack one.

The difficult part is that it's REALLY hard to explain to someone who's writing a letter how to make that letter move from the second stack to the first stack.  It's like explaining to a writing student how to move from an A to a B.  A B paper is going to be fine, good, but there will be something that an A paper does that says "I'm an A paper" while a B paper doesn't.  But how do you explain that?  If I could, I would.

The second take away is that while the job search IS a bit of a crap-shoot, my experience is that decent human beings are doing their best to choose the best candidates based on the evidence in front of them.  I can't guarantee that every single person on every single search committee is ethical and decent, but my colleagues are.  The result is that we hire very few people who aren't good teachers and colleagues and scholars or creative basketweavers compared to the numbers we hire who are.  We certainly aren't just throwing darts at a board or tossing applications down a stairwell.

And this is not to say that everything is always fair and a total meritocracy.  If you went to a crap high school, and could only get into a fourth rate college, then your chances of getting into a really strong grad program are low, and your chances of getting a job are low.  And if you have incredible digital basketweaving experience but we're looking for multicultural experience, then you're unlikely to get our job.  If you haven't got strong support in your program for learning how to write letters and CVs, then your chances of hitting the genre well are lower, too.  If you haven't mastered the art of talking about your work in interesting ways, even if you're totally brilliant, we probably aren't going to put your application in the first stack.  And the fact is, if we have 200 applications, and have 25 in stack one at the end of this meeting, we'll probably never look at the second stack further.  And of those 25 probably excellent applications, we only get to hire one person.  No matter how much we love the second and third candidates, especially, we only get to hire one.

If I could make one thing happen for all job seekers, it would be that a year before they go on the market they get to read at least 20 job letters from a search.  I think that would be a huge education, and I think that's partly why people searching for their second job often sound like great candidates, since they've learned how to make their job letter really stand out.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Computer Suckage

The IT folks here put through some big "upgrade" and it was one of those things where you have to turn off your computer again, even though it was off, and then internet explorer ran like molasses.  I switched over to another browser, which keeps giving me messages that I should upgrade this or that thing that I never use.  Now maybe I should have switched over years ago, but the fact is, I shouldn't be forced to switch because our IT folks make things run like ^*(&(.  It should be because I want to or find it better, or whatever.

And then you have to set up things yet again, which since I do it rarely, always takes me longer than it would if I were an IT person and did it every day.

More job searchy stuff soon, maybe, if folks are interested?

I needed to vent about my computer stuff.  And now, back to work.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Two Specialty Ad

In the comments to the previous post, a jobseeker asked about an academic ad that wants a Renaissance person who's also a creative writer.  Wow, those are different fields. 

I think there are several ways to look at this, none of which is mutually exclusive.

1)  Small departments need to cover a lot of ground with a few people.  If, for example, creative writing is a growing major, then I can imagine they need someone more who can teach creative writing.  And if someone's retiring, it might make sense to combine that field with creative writing.

2)  There's an adjunct they really like, and who will fit their needs in one area, but who also has this rather unique other area, so they're listing both so the adjunct will be very likely to come out on top of a national search.

3)  The department is split on its needs, and trying to cover two disparate areas with one hire because they can't decide which field is more important.

4)  Someone in the department is wedded to one of the fields, and has enough power to get it listed even if other folks in the department aren't really on board.  If that person is on the search committee, then hir chosen field is going to get emphasized.  If not, maybe not.

There are probably other possibilities I haven't thought of.

Here's a thought, though.  People with MFAs or PhDs in creative writing tend to have a fair number of publications.  It's not unusual at all to see someone applying for an assistant professor position with a number (5+) of publications in really fine magazines, and a book or chapbook as well.

But it's pretty uncommon to see someone applying for assistant professor jobs in Renaissance with that many publications or a book already.

I would think that could make the search process complicated.  How do you count a publication in SEL compared to one in Glimmer Train?

Happily, that's someone else's worry!

If I were applying for jobs, I wouldn't apply for that one because I have no experience teaching creative writing and no publications or anything in creative writing.  (Unless you count the blog, in which case, since I'm really a bachelor farmer in Norway, I'm obviously a fine fiction writer!)

But, if I did have a little creative writing in my background, say a minor with a publication or two, a bit of TA experience, I might take a flier.  But I'd be aware that there's very likely to be someone out there with a strong MFA and a PhD in some Renaissance topic, and I wouldn't be in the competition for long.

The difficult thing for applicants, of course, is that you can't retrospectively prepare for that sort of position.  But that's true of a lot of choices we make.  You can't retrospectively prepare to talk a lot about how committed you are to social justice if you've never done diddly squat in that direction.  You can't suddenly claim to be able to teach Old English if you've never taken a course.  The best you can do is try to make reasonable choices and then represent yourself in your letters really well.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Application Advice

Since there were a couple questions, and different folks also have different advice, I thought I'd start a thread about some common application issues.  I guess what I'm trying to do is help applicants see what I do when I read.  Other people will do other things, and hopefully, they'll chime in.

We read a LOT of materials.  And that means that on a first run through, I skim.  I look to see if the applicant meets our basic job requirements. 

Let's imagine, for a minute, that our job description looks something like this.

Assistant professor of Underwater Basketweaving.
Terminal degree in Underwater Basketweaving or a related field.
Specialization in Deepwater Basketweaving.
Secondary specialization in International Basketweaving or Reed Cultivation.
Ability to teach basic basketweaving.
Strong assets include a commitment to undergraduate teaching, liberal arts, and multicultural basketweaving.

When I look at an application, I'm first looking for evidence of a terminal degree and appropriate specialization.  If someone's a specialist in Reed Cultivation, and not Deepwater Basketweaving, they're out.  There are two reasons for that.  1)  We REALLY need a deepwater specialist, and there are plenty of applicants who are.  2)  Legally, we can't hire someone who doesn't actually meet the requirements of the job description over someone who does.

Pro Tip:  Even though you're desperate, don't apply to a job if you can't make an argument that you actually fit the job description.  Focus your time on applications for which you're well-qualified.

Then I'll look for people who do have deepwater specialization, and have one of the secondary qualities. 

Pro Tip:  Here's where some applications really stand out.  If you can talk meaningfully in your letter about your work in reed cultivation or international basketweaving, do.  If you've taught basic basketweaving, say so in your letter, and sound enthusiastic about it.  If you have multicultural experience, foreground it, along with your commitment to liberal arts.  If you see a "commitment to undergraduate teaching," you probably don't want to talk lots about how much you look forward to directing dissertations.

People who foreground the things we're looking for get a star next to their name on my list.  People who do that and whose dissertations sound really interesting get an extra star.

Then I look at schools and publications.  Depending on my familiarity with the field, I'm looking for publications in decent journals, and a strong school.  I don't care if it's Ivy or Big State, so long as it's a strong school in that field.

People who've foregrounded the things we're looking for, and come from a strong school rise to the top of my list.  A publication or more (depending on the field) helps a little in addition. 

Pro Tip:  Here's where a well organized CV is a real boon.  I want to know where you went, what you've done.  I don't want to know that you worked at the local hardware store, but I do want to know if you did tutoring in reed cultivation.  If you're applying for our deepwater position, foreground deepwater stuff to the extent you can.

By the end of my intial read through, I have a list of applicants, with "no" next to some names, stars next others, all on a grid with information about their schools, publications, and which of our secondary qualities they have.

If all has gone well, my colleagues on the search committee have a similar list.  That's when we meet and take away the applicants who aren't qualified, and start to work out the group of people we'll ask for more information from or whose references and writing samples we'll read.

Pro Tip:  If you're downloading your materials onto a computer system, make sure to label your files in some way that will help the readers.  For example, I might label my CV something like "BardiacCV2012.pdf" and my cover letter "BardiacCover2012.pdf."  And so on. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Another Application Thing

A striking number of application letters change fonts or font sizes for publications or journal titles.  If you're writing in, say, Times New Roman, don't switch to some HUGE sans serif font for a journal title.  It looks strange.  And don't drop from a 12 point to a 10 point for a title in the middle of the sentence.

What it looks like is a cut and past thing, a cut and paste thing that a high school student should have figured out.

/rubs sore eyes


I think we just realized that the computer system we're using does weird things to fonts.  Or a LOT of people all over the country are making the same weird font choices.  I'm guessing our computer system just sucks in yet one more way.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Reading Applications

I've been reading applications.  And reading some more.

And I have some advice.

1)  Follow directions.  Really.

2)  When you write a business letter, it's customary to put two headers on the letter.  (And make no mistake, a letter of application is a business letter.)  The top one, on the right if you prefer, should give your name and address.  Yes, even if there's letterhead, unless it's got your name, put your name.*

Here's how:

Bardiac Blogger
209 Blogspot St
Blogosphere, State, Zip

Then the second header gets the name and address of the person you're supposed to address the letter of application to.

This, this you should have learned in high school.  It's the genre of the business letter, and if you choose not to do it, choose knowing that your letter will stand out, and not necessarily in a good way.

3)  Address your letter in some way: Dear Search Committee, Dear Department Chair's Name, To Whom it May Concern, whatever.  But address it in some way.  Again, this is a genre thing, and if you choose not to do it, choose knowing that your letter will stnad out, and not necessarily in a good way.

And yes, you should have learned this in high school.

4)  Start off with some sort of introductory phrase.  "I'm writing to apply to your position in deep-water basketweaving" will do, if that's what you're applying for.  Don't just start out saying that "I rock soxors as a basketweaver!"

Again, this is a social custom thing.  You can choose not to do it, but if you do, you should make that choice knowing that your letter will stand out, and not necessarily in a good way.

All these things stand out more because my department colleagues and I don't teach basketweaving.  We do pretty much all teach composition and writing, and if you haven't learned the basic generic skills of writing a letter, we're going to think that you won't be able to teach writing well, or write appropriate letters of recommendation, or write appropriate letters for other purposes.  And you might be surprised to learn that we'll expect our new colleagues to do all of those things.

Edited to add:
* I've been corrected, and told that you don't need the header identifying yourself if you've got letterhead.  Thanks, folks.