It’s been four and a half years since I started my PhD program. Six and a half since I started my MA. Ten and a half since my freshman year of college at ACU. Fourteen and a half since the first day of high school. And I guess something like twenty-two and a half since I began my time in public school at Wylie Elementary. Whichever way you look at it, it’s been a long wait for me to reach a point where beginning my career is actually a reality. But, finally, that moment is here.
I’ve found myself talking a lot over the past month or so about applying for jobs. People ask me, “How’s school going?” and I say, “Well, I’m actually applying for jobs right now.” This usually leads into a two-minute conversation in which I explain how the job system works in higher education. Basically, jobs open up the year before they actually begin. Jobs that start in Fall 2015 (which is when I hope to start) get posted in Fall 2014. When I say posted, I mean that universities publicly announce job openings through a variety of outlets, including (among other places) the MLA Job Information List, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and HigherEdJobs.com. For someone like me–someone searching to a tenure-track position at a university–these sites basically serve as homepages from the months of August-December (and on into the spring, most likely). Every day schools are posting new jobs, from Adjunct Pools to tenure-track professor positions, and each job has its own set of requirements as far as the application goes.
For the most part, each application requires the same basic elements, whether it’s for a community college or a tier-one research university. Each posting requires a cover letter and a CV. Each cover letter consists of the same basic information, but you have to tailor each one for the specific school. What I mean is that while I’m not writing an entire two-page letter from scratch for each letter, I’m making significant changes in the way I’m framing, organizing, and presenting the information based on what the job is looking for. For example, if it’s a job at a smaller liberal arts college, I’m going to accentuate my interest in teaching a wide array of undergraduate courses. But if it’s a job at a larger university that will require a significant amount of research, my letter will focus more on my research interests and publishing experience. The same goes for the CV (curriculum vitae; an academic resume): the information on my CV is the same, but the ordering depends on the specific job. Along with the letter and CV, most jobs will also ask for letters of recommendation. These are written by my committee members (the professors overseeing my dissertation) and are confidential, which means that I have to go through a third-party dossier service in order to get the letters from my references to the schools. This dossier service costs money to join, of course, and there are also individual charges for each document that you have to send. Finally, various schools ask for supplementary materials, including transcripts (which have to be requested from whatever schools you received previous degrees from), a teaching philosophy (1-2 pages), a scholarly writing sample, and sometimes evidence of effective teaching (which might be results from student feedback surveys or observations from a supervisor).
All of this to say that each job application is different, and each one takes certain tweaking and arranging in order to ensure that you’re both fulfilling the application requirements and also making yourself seem like a prime candidate for the position. Although I don’t know this from experience, I’m assuming that this process is quite similar to applying for jobs in most fields, and the idea of making yourself marketable is one that comes second nature to many people. The problem for someone like me is that the idea of self-marketing is simply something that isn’t part of my training or my field, and so the idea of writing a two-page document to sum up my training and experience and also convince them to hire me is something that I’m not used to doing. To say it’s been a learning experience would be an understatement.
It’s a tiring process, but it’s also the process that I’ve been waiting for for about seven years. It doesn’t feel real yet, and there’s still lots to do to finish my current degree before I can actually start thinking about teaching somewhere else in the fall. But I can’t help but be excited at the prospect. For someone like me (single; no children), the job market is a lot bigger than it is for others. I have the luxury of being able to apply for basically all jobs within my field without having to consider whether or not I’ll be able to go. This isn’t to say that I don’t have preferences, because I definitely do. But there are also realities, the biggest one being that I spent all of this time in school so that I could get a tenure-track job at a university. So if that chance comes, even if it’s not in my ideal location, it is going to be a chance that I’m going to have to grasp. So far I’ve applied to more jobs than I thought I would (somewhere in the lower double-digits), and I’ll probably end up applying to a dozen or so more by the time it’s all said and done. I’ve applied all over the map, from northern California to southeastern Canada. I’ve also applied to all types of schools: community colleges; large state universities; small, private, four-year colleges; and top-tier research schools. I didn’t stretch my CV too much; I basically only applied to jobs that fit closely within my own experience and interests, because I feel like I want to be confident in my abilities to interview if given the chance without having to worry about whether or not I fit the school’s description for the position. Sure, there are certain jobs that are more appealing to others out of the ones I’ve applied for, but at the end of the day they all sound great to me because they all would mean that I would be a part of a department somewhere, crafting courses and working with students. In this category, my expectations are quite simple.
You can probably tell from my tone that I’m optimistic about being on the market. In case you aren’t aware of the status of education in our country (of which higher education is no exception), it’s not easy to find optimism in terms of finding employment. As someone that’s been working on graduate degrees in the liberal arts for the past 6+ years, I can attest to this wholeheartedly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “how bad the job market is.” And I am fully aware that I may look back on this blog post in three to four months and think, “Yea, they were right: the job market is a hopeless place.” But for now, the simple fact that I’m even applying for jobs is enough to make me happy, because that means that all of these years of having to tell people “I’m still in school,” or explain exactly what it is I do everyday, or look at the right side of the menu (the prices) instead of the left (the actual menu items) when I go to a restaurant–all of those years are actually coming to a close. It’s a frightening and intimidating time to be applying for jobs in higher education, but for now I’m going to stick with “exciting.”
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I saw Interstellar last week. I was entertained, and there were parts that I was really into. But it’s three hours long. Unless it’s Ben Hur or The Two Towers, movies shouldn’t last as long as a round of golf. Like The Wolf of Wall Street, my personal opinion of the content of Interstellar is diluted by the sheer fact that it just went on for so long. And McConaughey’s depiction of the “everyman” wasn’t anything to write home about, especially in comparison to what he pulled off in Dallas Buyer’s Club and True Detective. Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy turn in Nightcrawler was much better, and I have a hunch that the performances in Foxcatcher are going to be the most memorable ones of the year so far.