Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A New View from the Tenure Track Side

I'm on my second search committee since I started my tenure track job in 2012. The part of me that is still tired from seven years of adjuncting (three institutions, five locations, six to seven courses a term - that's a large part of me that is still tired) wants to cry, Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled adjuncts yearning to breathe free (or just to breathe, for that matter) - we have jobs for all!

We don't, of course. And even if we did, we wouldn't hire all applicants.

We're mid-search, so I don't want to say too much. I don't want to discourage those who have already applied, or scare off those who may still intend to apply.

But as of now, we have around 100 applications. 100. For one job with a four-four teaching load in a very rural location that has natural beauty among its charm. (I love it here, but I'm the first to admit it's not for everyone.)

When the search is finished, I'll talk about how the applicants could do a better job of presenting themselves. I know I could have done a much better job - and when I see excellent, professionally presented applications, I learn how I might do better in the future.

But for now, I'd like to address the graduate programs that are sending newly minted PhDs out into the world like lambs to the slaughter.

Please. Offer help to your lambs. Let them toughen into mutton before you let them out into the fragrant meadow that is not the academic job market.

When I see several applications from a prestigious PhD program, either shiny and new or a few years old, and the CVs are so poorly formatted as to be illegible, the cover letters are written to confuse even the most expert of experts in the candidate's specialty, and the font would be charming in a children's picture book, I blame not the candidates so much as the program. And when I see applications that have no relevance to the job description, I blame not the candidates so much as the job market that creates the kind of desperation that causes a zombie-like scatter shot approach to the application process.

Granted, it's not the university's job to spoon feed this information to their graduates, but is a seminar or a writing center workshop too much to ask? We all know the university system is churning out too many PhDs who have little hope of getting good jobs, but couldn't we at least help them? What good is a degree from a top-notch university if they send you out in your sweats and sneakers to seek professional employment?

And, while I'm on the subject, please be thoughtful about the wording of your recommendation letters. Very thoughtful. I read one during the last search in which the committee chair said condescending and sexist things in recommending a female graduate - in total oblivion, I'm sure. Since it was submitted though a confidential portfolio service, the poor woman had no idea she was spreading about a cutesified description of her work and her pedagogy. Our mothers taught us the first rule of writing references - if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

So, Dear Academy, I understand it's a tough world, and there's no reason to believe it's going to get easier in the near future. But please don't add to my disillusionment - help your graduates present the image that your high ratings suggest.

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