Closing Shop Thursday, Feb 2 2012 

Categorize under “news for no one.”

Looking at my site traffic, there just doesn’t appear to me enough of an audience to merit thinking about this blog anymore. I think I’m going to pull the shutters in a few days.

That sound you don’t hear? Disappointed fans.

Mid-Semester Ugh Friday, Oct 28 2011 

That’s where we are.
But I still love it.
I just ugh a lot.

Breathe, But How Thursday, Sep 1 2011 

A strange feature of the academic mind or, um, maybe just mine:

When everyone around you is so nice, so welcoming, it’s stupid hard not to wait for the wrinkle. You know, like, that moment when the apparently functional, adjusted, engaged, friendly new faculty colleagues turn around and say, “gotcha sucker.” Maybe I spent too much time in a mine field department, where ulterior motives abound and dissatisfaction lay in full bloom. Now, the weaker, damaged parts of my academe-hardened psyche are suspicious. Just can’t shake the irrational feeling that I was probably hired —

A) By mistake or-

B) To flame out or-

C) To keep a line open until a more suitable individual could be found.

Just to be clear, I don’t feel this way all or most of the time. There’s just that little nag in the brain, a synapse or two that refuse to accept good fortune or acknowledge that, say, my credentials warranted my hire…that I’m good enough and, darn it, people like me.

Oh Stuart Smalley, where art thou?

IX. Big Candidate On Campus Sunday, Aug 21 2011 

Maybe the greatest thing about a campus visit is the invitation itself: you know this is an exclusive party, limited usually to just three guests. And you’re on the list. You get to duck under the velvet ropes and hang with the in-crowd.

Kind of like getting an invite to google+.

Yet, while the campus invite is obviously the objective of every job candidate out there (this odd article at the Chronicle notwithstanding), it is also (obviously) high stakes. This is where you win the job. Or as my brother informed me, this is where all but one person loses the job. Really, that latter philosophy is probably less pessimistic than it sounds. And probably a bit too close to the truth for comfort.

Let’s put it this way — academics aren’t uniformly lauded for their impeccable social skills, and an on-campus interview is, above all else, dependent on the constant deployment of social skills. On the visit, you are with your desired colleagues all day long. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Social settings and formal settings. They guide you to the bathroom. They’re with you when you’re up, and they’re there when you’re tired and want to just unload. The candidate needs to be “on” in every moment when she or he is not sequestered in her lovely B&B (the job I got) or crappy budget motel next to a junkyard (the chosen boarding locale for the department I recently left).

“On,” however, is a word that needs clear definition. And that’s where I think I’ll make my focus.

First, the platitudes you’ve likely already heard, but bear repetition:

1) If you’re on a campus visit, the search committee has already decided that your credentials are more than good enough to warrant the hire.

1a) In fact, in nearly all cases, credentials are beside the point now. An easy way to appear grad-student-y would be to continually push ones credentials on the department being visited.

1b) That said, people will ask you constantly about your diss, your research, your plans. Good candidates answer these questions quickly, clearly, and with an aura of established professionalism instead of unsure, recently defense-battered doctoral student.

2) A campus visit is mostly about seeing which candidate will be a good colleague (professionally and, to be honest, often socially) for many years. Like — and I saw this point elsewhere, at a location I forget so I can’t cite, but I want to give general credit to someone smarter than me — the people making the hire figure they’ll be stuck with/glad for this colleague until they retire.

3) You’re always being interviewed…in formal situations like a sit down with a dean…and informal situations like driving around town looking at the movie theater and wondering aloud why there’s a Saw I through CM retrospective at the local “arthouse” cinema.

***The first job I ever lost I lost this way: at lunch, I remarked to the search chair that I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue working on the novel that had earned me my degree, that I’d chuck it and start over. Insignificant comment? Naw. That search chair offered me advice, after hiring someone else, boiling down to: don’t tell the search chair that your only significant piece of scholarship is something you personally find worthless. One could argue that in nearly all cases, theses and dissertations ought to be chucked, ought to be considered significant only as culmination pieces of education and not as future pieces of professional scholarship. But one should not argue that with a search chair. Anyway, the job sucked and I was lucky not to get it.***

4) Relax.

And this leads me to the definition of “on.” Or at least to my definition of “on.”

I think the last thing an on-campus candidate needs to do is sell him- or herself. There are no widgets in this transaction. There is only a self, a professional and personal identity that may or may not be joining an already established community. And that established community is infinitely complex and inscrutable. The best “sell” a candidate can present is the “self.” By that I implore authenticity. At the end of the visit, I think authenticity makes or breaks a candidate. There’s a wide, wide range of personalities that can fit into a job. Too many candidates, I think, try to pretend to be something they think the hiring department “wants.” Often, by this point, the department doesn’t exactly know what specific thing it wants. I mean, by now the finalists probably bear little resemblance to the original job ad (and that’s a good thing). Instead, the department has found three or four intriguing academics who seem like they might add something to the mix. Trying to fit into the department would mean taking away from the self, which is the “add” part of the whole deal. Thus, being “on” in a semi-smarmy, vacuum cleaner sales kind of way (I have so much more suction than the other candidates!), is not only offputting and annoying, it eliminates the most important part of the equation.

You.

On campus, that’s who the department wants to see. The real you. The person who will have an office down the hall. Who will sit across the table at meetings. Who will be teaching the students who (one hopes) the hiring faculty care about.

On the visit for the job I’m now in, I met with most of the individuals in the department, the college dean, the college diversity head, and a dozen or more students formal settings. I met many more in casual, informal hallway moments. There really would have been no way to fabricate “on” personas for each of these without become a muddle of vagueness. Thus, I channeled Sinatra and did it my way, which is to say, was “on” as myself. Certainly I tried to stay enthusiastic and energetic, but I didn’t try to sell anything.

Really, I think that likely distinguished myself from the other candidates. Now, in so doing I could have easily revealed myself to be not what this department wanted. That’s the risk. But that’s an important risk. No doubt your mama told you one day, if they don’t like you for who you are, then they aren’t worth worrying about. Same deal for job visits. If a department doesn’t like you and your authentic self, then you probably won’t have a happy career there if you happen to “sell” a persona and “win” an offer.

Indeed, this is your life. This is more than a paycheck. This is who you will work with, probably for many years, perhaps for your career (job hopping ain’t so easy in the humanities). This is the school where you will forge a mature, academic identity. This is the town where you will grow roots and join a community. How awful to gain entry to that future with a version of yourself? Gain it with the fullest self.

Which leads me to one last platitude

5) Remember, you’re interviewing them, too. Which is true enough — the department will be trying to show itself off as a fine place to work. And all of what I’m saying about authenticity applies there, too. If a place trumpets itself as on the cutting edge of technology, and all the faculty have 386s in their office, well you’ve just learned something valuable about the likely day-to-day atmosphere of the institution and not just its tech specs.

5a) But, in the end, you’re the one looking for the job. So try not to imply that they’re on the hot seat. Because, even if your authentic self is an imperious ass, well…that’s a tough sell anywhere.

Too Soon Saturday, May 14 2011 

I suppose if you show up on campus the day after final exams, before commencement, three months before the job starts, it makes sense that HR isn’t ready to have you fill out forms.