Deadlines are coming up – and I missed one: Princeton as usual had some humanities postdoctoral thing up to apply for with a ridiculously short deadline of October 1. Highly desirable position, of course, being that it’s Princeton and they’re paying more than a lot of Associate Professors make just for a 2-year research position with a teaching load of maybe two sections a year. Yeah, like I’d be able to compete for that one. That deadline was up even before I did my first search, so I’m just going to be relieved I didn’t feel like I had to be responsible enough to actually apply.
The application packet for these positions is remarkably standardized. They ask for a letter of application and a CV*, and you send them a letter of application, a CV, and an abstract of the dissertation. They never – or hardly, hardly ever – actually ask for the abstract but apparently just expect you to know to send it. I have two different letters of application drafted up – one for a research university/literature position, and one for a composition heavy/heavy teaching load position. Postdocs require an even different array of qualifications and aspirations in the letter of application (generally known in the culture as the “job letter”), since you have to propose a course of research you’ll engage in that’s working off from the dissertation and into new and unexplored realms, and I don’t have anything drafted up for such a purpose. There are just very few postdocs that come up in the humanities, and it’s rare to see one that I would qualify for or would consider accepting. Except that I see that Harvard has a postdoc up, and the deadline isn’t until December 1. Well. That’s different.
I’m hoping that the relatively few number of jobs that I’ll be applying for this year means that I’ll have some opportunity to revise the job letter to target specific schools. After having done this several times now, my application documents are fairly honed and polished. One of the paradoxes of the process, though, is the less prestigious the institution (and therefore where I’m going to be more competitive a candidate), the more the school likes to see the application material, especially the job letter, reflect that you’re paying careful attention to who, where, and what they are. Part of it is institutional insecurity, but much of it is that they want to know that you’ve read their posting carefully and are honestly considering the possibility of employment there. A lot of people are applying to every single job in sight, but how many people are really going to take the job with the small school and a heavy teaching load in the farthest reaches of South Dakota. The less prestigious schools are indeed more likely to be smaller liberal arts colleges with heavy teaching loads, and so another part of the paradox of the application process is that these schools also require a more complex application packet than the research university’s standard packet of letter, CV, and abstract: they ask for statements of teaching philosophy, statements of multicultural philosophy, projected courses, copies of student evaluations, syllabi and assignments, etc. The less desirable the position, the harder I have to work to produce a competitive application.
We’ll see how much time I’ll end up with to massage the letters and application packets. The only certainty at this point is that I need to go over what documents I have to update them with my activity over the past year. Which was just more teaching. One difference in the way I’ll present myself this year is my CV will now list all of my performance art credits. In the past I’d been advised that in applying for scholarly positions I shouldn’t be presenting them with creative writing credentials. Well, that advice hasn’t exactly been working in my favor, so this year I’m going on the market as a scholar-poet. Yeah, we’ll see. I haven’t had anything new to add to a description of that dimension of my experience in some time, but it might actually help account for the few extra years it took to finish the dissertation. And it is one of the big reasons why it took a few extra years to finish the dissertation.
To finish up the preparatory stage I’ll need to figure out where I’m sending the article, since I’ll list that journal on my CV as someone who is reviewing the article for publication. Given the necessity of publication for an academic career, the enormous job pool of candidates competing for those careers, and the shrinking number of outlets for academic publication, the “under review” item for what should be the list of publications on the CV has become a convenient fiction of the job search that both interviewers and interviewees well understand. The letters of recommendation are freshly updated from last year, except for the letter from my boss, who just needs a gentle remainder to come down from his cloudy mountaintop and submit it, and the letter from my dissertation director, who is so convinced of his own importance and the irrelevance of any person less highly placed in the academic stratosphere that I’ll doubt I’ll ever hear from him again. I’ll just use the letter he wrote last year and put it at the bottom of the pile: I’m not expecting that he was all that glowing in his assessment. I know that others have been – let’s say I’ve been granted some access.
Soon I start tweaking the letters for individual schools and stuffing envelopes. Weekend after next they start going to the post office. There are a few plum teaching-literature positions, at Boston University and Ohio State University, for example, and some Director of Composition or Writing Center Director positions at some desirable colleges coming due at the end of October and the start of November. And then I’ll be into the thick of it. About thirty-two applications will go out at my current count. I’m not expecting much to come out of this search, given my history and the economy, but there’s still a high level of excitement and anticipation as the job market season begins to go into high gear. I find myself thinking, I could end up there, or there, or in that state, or working for that school. Wish me luck.
*CV is shorthand for “curriculum vitae,” the academic version of a resume. Resumes highlight experience and qualifications. CVs detail every single notable professional activity, and run pages in length.