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.


  1. Let me speak specifically to the example you give here, Bardiac. A creative PhD would NEVER qualify an applicant to teach a period-specific field, at least at most research universities. A CW PhD engages in some ways with the genre of hir specialization, and could teach some lit-esque classes in 20/21c American/genre, but I'd find it impossible to justify a CW PhD teaching in a field of historical specialization. Creative applicants demonstrate their credentials not by their terminal degree (which can vary--an MFA is a true terminal degree, but CW PhDs were invented to persuade boards of regents) but by their publications. That's why strong CW applicants have good publications. But the PhD IS the credential for lit scholars, and sometimes a diss throws off an article or two but it's the process of researching/ writing the diss that is largely seen as the credentialing activity.

    But back to the main question: if they're hiring CW with interest in another field, that other field is usually genre-based. If they're hiring, say, Renaissance w/ possible CW experience, your post (esp the last 2 paragraphs) sum up the scene pretty well.

    Finally, at every university I've associated with, a scholarly article "equals" three published poems or one published short story, in terms of weight. That seems fair to me--and then you have to judge within those parameters the relative value of publications. SEL is "weightier" than a regional grad journal. the New Yorker is "weightier" than Crab City Review. If all the CW applicant's publications are in small local and online 'zines, they're likely to get out-competed anyway. Because, again, publication is the credential for CW.

  2. Indeed, thanks for your response. My guess, and it's totally a guess, is that they're hoping someone with a strong MFA and a lit PhD in Ren will apply, and voila, all will be happy. I'm betting there are some folks out there who fit that, especially, as you note, in lyric.

  3. The job I'm looking at is Medieval and Renaissance. Related, obviously, but a lot of ground for one person to cover.

  4. Data point: I have a MFA and a Ph.D. in creative writing; my critical area is post-colonial lit., but I also work in contemporary science fiction and fantasy. I have given a variety of critical conference presentations, but haven't written up / submitted any academic papers, and have no publications in that area. The dissertation was a creative work (a book, subsequently published by HarperCollins).

    In addition to creative writing (where I am well-published), at the University of Illinois (research 1) I have been asked to teach:

    - undergraduate post-colonial literature
    - 400 / 500-level popular culture (mostly seniors, but an occasional grad student shows up)

    I have also served on dissertation committees (though not as primary advisor), and was recently made a member of the graduate college (to make that process simpler for the department). I've also taught undergraduate Asian American literature as visiting faculty at Northwestern University.

    I would say in general, my department would prefer to have someone with a lit-focused Ph.D. teaching upper-level and graduate lit classes (which also seems appropriate to me), but are happy to have me pinch hit in my areas of expertise if there's a need, and comfortable with my ability to do so.

    If I saw a job ad like that, I'd assume that they primarily wanted a creative writer, but that they also are understaffed in Renaissance lit, and would like that hole filled. Possibly they have a specific person in mind who already does both, but possibly not.

  5. Sorry, one last note -- I do periodically think about actually writing up an academic article and submitting it to journals; I have a few partially drafted. But when it comes to the crunch, creative publications take priority, and I have two books-in-progress (one memoir, one fiction) that need completing first. I suspect those priorities are similar for most CW Ph.D.'s

  6. Mary Anne, Thanks for your input. You're absolutely right that they could be looking for someone who's primarily a creative writer and secondarily a Ren person. (I blush at my own bias.)

    Fie, For me, Med/Ren is so much closer, and I think a whole lot of Med people can talk about doing Med/Ren, especially at a non-R1 level, and a whole lot of Ren people can talk about also doing Med. It feels way more naturally connected.

  7. I understand most Med/Ren job listings to be asking for a candidate whose research involves one OR the other, but who is willing/able to teach in the other area occasionally. (Sometimes an ad specifically states that they're looking for someone whose work crosses periods and boundaries, but otherwise I think of such jobs as essentially either/or.)

    I read Ren/CW as wishful thinking. If the right candidate shows up (and indeed, there are a number of people who have both credentials!), they would certainly be shortlisted. But I wouldn't discourage someone who was *only* one or the other from taking a flier, as long as they weren't expecting much. As you note, it's impossible to know the backstory, or which of the two is the greater need. In more than a few cases, I think double-barreled ads reflect the profile of the recently retired or deceased former holder of that line (or the candidate who got away last year)! Sure, you should take the description seriously. . . but not every department is doing more than wishing out loud.

  8. With broad chronological stretches like Med/Ren, I would make sure that the cover letter acknowledges the need to teach across the time span. I'd be likely to discount applications from someone with a Ren dissertation whose teaching segment talked only about developing Ren courses, for example.

    The Ren/CW job puzzles me, and I guess I would encourage anyone with qualifications on either side to apply, while making a nod in the direction of the other specialization. When we hired a poet and then a fiction writer in my previous dept, we had tons of candidates who had both lit PhDs and MFAs, and so it is perfectly possible that there are candidates with a Ren PhD and an MFA. But how the dept is planning to balance the workload there is a mystery--the colleagues we hired do teach a bit of lit every now and again but mostly teach CW courses, and if the dept is advertising Ren/CW b/c it has big Ren needs as well as big CW needs....well, that seems hard.