Assistant Professor, University of San Francisco (English)
Describe your job market experience.
I went on the job market for the first time in my fifth year – a point at which I had only written the first chapter of my dissertation. I know this might sound absurd, but it was one of the best decisions I could have made. At the time, I applied to only one job, and the experience allowed me the opportunity to begin understanding the demands of each of the genres first-hand: the letter of application, the C.V., the dissertation abstract, and the teaching philosophy statement.
The following year, I did a full job search, which means that I applied to all generalist positions, post-doctoral fellowships, and job openings in my specific field. I did this even though I still had not yet finished my dissertation. With the knowledge that I had gained from the previous year, I updated all my documents meticulously by completing several drafts of each. That year I got two preliminary interviews: one with Yale (at the MLA convention) and the other with the University of Houston (via Video Conferencing). While I did not advance beyond this stage, I was able to practice considerably yet again. Last year, I decided to give the job market one more try. With a completed dissertation that I successfully defended in December, I brought the long journey of my graduate studies to its culmination. I worked on several new drafts, practiced tirelessly for all my interviews, and ended up with a few job offers.
Any general words of advice for the job market?
1. Use your years during coursework wisely. Explore topics near and dear to you as you decide what courses to take but also challenge yourself by taking seminars outside of the department and even outside of NYU.
2. Create networks. Attend local and, if possible, national conferences. Meet all kinds of scholars – introduce yourself. Learn how to start and sustain conversations effectively. It’s important to expand your professional sphere outside of NYU.
3. If possible, develop at least a preliminary sense of your thesis during your course work years. Perhaps seminar papers can serve as foundations for dissertation chapters? When conceiving your project in these early stages, think also about the potential for bringing new critical approaches to your specific subject matter.
4. Don’t delay and don’t let anxiety overcome you. Go on the job market early – even with an unfinished dissertation – to get solid practice. This will allow you to begin acquiring the resilience that you will need to conquer an onerous and possibly long process.
5. Know thyself: if you need improvement in any one area (i.e., with your writing, with your interpersonal /social skills, or with answering questions face to face in an interview setting), the good news is that you can improve any of these with both diligence and determination.
6. Start prepping the first drafts of your documents early in the season (May or June at the latest). This will allow you ample time to revise.
7. Part ways early on with academic jargon and dense language. Create these job documents as if you wanted all your friends and family to understand exactly who you are as a researcher and a teacher.
8. Have *several* people read your materials at all stages – not just your dissertation committee and the placement committee. In order to get a job, it takes a village. Maybe even a town.
How did you structure your time while applying?
I will preface my response by saying that the academic job market is a VERY time-consuming process at all stages. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, creating several drafts of all the job documents, applying for each job online, researching (probably daily) which job openings have been posted, using Interfolio, reviewing the job wiki sites, analyzing each school that has invited you to interview like a text, devoting several hours for preparing for each interview (whether preliminary or campus), anticipating questions and conversations during informal settings, figuring out how to dress, and capturing the best setting and lighting for your Skype interviews. In general, I had to split my time between the demands of the job market process and my research and writing. I wrote best in the mornings, took a break to have lunch and to work out, and then focused on my job documents and applications for the remainder of the day.
Any particular strategies for making your letters (letter, abstract) stand out?
When you start to draft these documents, I would recommend reviewing several letters and abstracts from successful candidates. You will notice that, contrary to popular opinion, there’s no real science to creating / formatting them. Choose whatever format feels right to you and then concentrate on creating exceptional versions of them. Remember that you don’t have to accept all of the feedback that you get from your advisors / readers. You really don’t. You are in control of this process.
What makes a letter and abstract specifically stand out speaks to a greater, and perhaps more daunting, series of questions. Does your research stand out? Have you collaborated with other scholars in some significant way? Do you have an array of teaching experiences? What do you do to make your teaching engaging, enriching, and original?
If you don’t know, for instance, the answer to the last question, read several teaching statements to begin getting yourself motivated. The reality is that your research and teaching must stand out somehow, since hundreds of equally smart, competent, and worthy teacher-scholars are vying for such few positions.
It goes without saying that the most recent versions of my letter of application and abstract (produced after two years of unsuccessful job searching) were the best versions of these documents. This is because I finally knew how to express what set me apart as a researcher, instructor, and potential future colleague. While on the job market during my final year, I had a completed dissertation and had also taught an array of courses. I also had not only two years of experience with crafting versions of my cover letter and abstract but also had significant interviewing practice. This combination was essential for my success.
Why did you decide to go on the market when you did?
There was a job posting in NYC that I thought was an ideal fit. My dissertation adviser thought I had lost my mind for applying so early (with only my first chapter completed), but she supported me nevertheless. I think she knew that the experience – despite the clear rejection that she foresaw coming my way – would be invaluable for me. It’s not easy to receive a rejection, of course, but receiving it early on was one of the best things to prepare me for what was ahead.
What attracted you to the position at USF?
It was a tenure-track job in my field at an excellent school and in one of the greatest cities of the world.
What was the most helpful preparation?
1. Revision. Revision. Revision. There’s no other way.
2. Building my “village” of support (see above). In addition to the guidance provided by the placement committee and my dissertation advisors, I had contacts in Great Britain, Columbia, Rutgers, and Florida who read my documents and provided me feedback.
3. To prepare for all my interviews, I practiced incessantly. I wrote out answers to several interview questions that I anticipated ahead of time. I got numerous people to mock-interview me (in addition to the mock interviews arranged by the placement committee). As a result, I received a lot of excellent feedback regarding the quality of my delivery as well as the content and form of my answers. I was able to master the art of responding to interview questions in a pithy yet engaging and appealing way. One more thing: it was very helpful for me to get non-specialists (family and friends) to listen to my answers, which helped me to express myself as clearly as possible to a diversity of peoples.
4. An additional resource that I cannot recommend enough is The Professor is In blog and book by Karen Kelsky. Though she is an anthropologist by training, Kelsky offers solid advice that cuts across several disciplines, and her writing is both insightful and entertaining.
How was the placement committee / NYU process helpful to you?
Each year the placement committee read my materials, arranged a mock interview for me, and gave me a lot of great feedback and encouragement each step of the way. When I finally got several campus interviews during my final year, the committee arranged a mock job talk for me. The faculty members on the committee take their role very seriously and provide you a wonderful service. You must take full advantage of this.
What were some of the most unexpected questions you received during the interview?
“If some scholar’s review were to be cited on the back cover of your first monograph, who would that be and why? And what would that person’s statement be?”
“If you were to invite an artist or scholar to our campus, who would that be and why?”
“Describe a time that a class activity that you organized did not go as planned. What did you learn from that experience?”
“How do you create an inclusive classroom environment?”
Can you say a few words about campus visits?
During the campus visit, remember that you are always “on” (and it’s exhausting), so have appropriate conversation material ready for all the kinds of people that you will meet: from administrative staff and tenured faculty to deans and provosts.
It might seem obvious but do rehearse your answers to potential questions as much as you possibly can.
Look your best. Invest in a suit and shoes that fit properly and look professional.
Feel your best. Do whatever that takes: eat right and get fit during the weeks leading up to the visit, read an inspirational text, or speak often to a loved one.
Remain your best throughout the visit. Brush your teeth or use breath mints. Carry an energy or protein bar in case you get hungry. Hydrate...
How did you decide what to present for the job talk?
I was not asked to give a traditional job talk at any of my on-campus interviews. I was asked instead to give a presentation that offered an overview of my current research and future research goals for my audience. I found the undertaking to be rather enjoyable, and it gave me the chance to display my array of scholarly interests.
What other advice would you give to those on the market?
I will repeat: it takes a village to conquer the arduous academic job market. Find your village. Assemble your army of supporters, be as diligent and determined as possible, and go forth confidently.