Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Using the same writing sample over again

For those of us who will be on the market in the fall, it's time to start thinking about what to use for a writing sample. The paper I used last year is one I'm pretty proud of. I've presented it a couple of times, had nothing but positive feedback on it, I've continued to revise it over the past year, and I've gotten it to a point where I think it's a really good paper. Of course, when I used it last year, I got absolutely nowhere with it. So I wonder if it's good, other things being equal, to use a different writing sample each year you're on the job market. I wonder if it's bad, other things being equal, to use the same one over again. Will I signal that I'm out of ideas or something? What gives?

--Mr. Zero


Asstro said...

It's fine. Just make sure it's a good paper. SCs for 2009 will be somewhat different than SCs for 2008, even if you're applying to the same school, which you probably won't be.

M.A. program faculty member said...

If you like it re-use it.

Anyway how many that you apply to next year do you really think will (i) be the same as places you've applied to, (ii) have the same people on the search committee, (iii) have those people recognize that you're using basically the same writing sample, and(iv) think to themselves, "oh, X must be out of ideas; he's reusing his writing sample"?

Anonymous said...

Well, if you had success with it as a *delivered* paper, and less so as a writing sample, maybe you should have it as your dedicated job talk, since you know it works for you like that, and just for a change of luck pick another piece of writing as a writing sample?

cross the breeze said...

Good topic; I was wondering about reusing writing samples too. I suspect that if you didn't get to the interview stage at a place, no one read, or at least no one will remember, your writing sample. I am just guessing though.

I came up with this convoluted strategy for my writing sample and I'm not sure if it's any good. I send two shorter papers (one published (to remind people I have published), one not (to show that I have ideas aside from my publications)). The papers are on two different topics (to show I can do more than one subject and increase the odds the committee members might want to actually read at least one of them). I also post a couple of longer papers on my website, and say that if for some reason they want to see a longer paper, they are there. I'm probably giving this too much thought though.

Anonymous said...

Definitely don't use it when applying to a school you've already applied to using the same writing sample. But assuming that you are applying to new schools (and that the paper isn't published), why not use it if it's your best work? Afterall, how will they know if that you used it in previous years?

cogitated said...

"when I used it last year, I got absolutely nowhere with it"

It seems that with regard to a writing sample there are a few senses of getting "absolutely nowhere with it." Here's sense one. If you got phone interviews and APA interviews using that sample then that most likely means that people read your sample and thought it was OK. Maybe they didn't think it was stellar, but they thought it (along w/ everything else in your portfolio, CV, et al.) was good enough for an interview on the phone or at the APA.

Another sense of "getting nowhere" might be that you didn't get any calls or APA interviews. In that case, your sample most likely wasn't even read because it didn't make the short list for reasons to do w/ other parts of your porfolio, CV, and so on.

A final sense might be that you got a flyout. In this case the committee probably really liked both your sample and your interview, but in the end something didn't click during your visit--but the sample was good.

So it depends on what sense of "getting nowhere" you fall into. Either way it's probably best to write another sample, but if you fall into sense #2 with a school and end up applying to them again this year it couldn't hurt to send the same one (provided, of course, that you've since improved other aspects of your application such as CV and also provided that it is actually a great paper).

Anonymous said...

When we make our hiring decisions, one consideration that explicitly comes up with repeat applications (when we're at the stage of narrowing down our short list) is whether the person's application is substantially different from their application last year. If it's not, and if we didn't offer him a job last year, then we wont fly him out this year.

So my guess is that it would be a bad idea to send the same paper, unless there are fairly substantial revisions to it *and* fairly substantial revisions to the CV. I could see someone saying "he hasn't sent in a substantially different writing sample, but he's published a couple things in the past year; it might be worth flying him out" but I couldn't see someone saying "well, he's added a new section to his writing sample, let's fly him out!" Come to think of it, it's even hard to imagine people saying the first thing; if you've published other things in the meantime, why aren't you sending them instead of your old paper?

I'm an assistant professor at a 'Leiterrific' department, if it makes a difference. One way in which my advice might not be universal is that we don't make a distinction between ABD and Ph.D.-in-hand, but from what I've read on this blog, some universities do. So some universities might see that as a substantial improvement in one's CV - maybe substantial enough to warrant an interview? - whereas the only things that would really count as substantial improvements for us would be publications; and then, again, why aren't you sending us those instead? (Anyone from a different type of school care to offer their 2 cents?)

first year tt guy said...

Using the same writing sample for multiple years is not bad in itself. Even if you apply broadly in multiple years, you will only apply to a few of the same schools. Even in applications to the same schools, there may be different people on the search committees. Even in applications to the same schools with the same search committee members for multiple years, many of them will not recognize that the writing sample is the same. So, if using the same sample multiple years is a negative, it will only hurt you at a small percentage of the schools you apply to. However, if you switch your writing sample for one that is slightly inferior, that may hurt you in all of your applications.

Yet, if your current writing sample is simply flawed in some way, it may be hurting you and if you have another sample that you feel as good about, perhaps you should switch it out just to protect yourself from this risk. By the way, I don't have much confidence in 'conference feedback' as an indicator of writing sample quality unless it is a very selective conference. A better test is whether your advisor, who has read many of your papers, thinks this is your best work.... or if you can get it accepted into a decent journal.

Good luck!

When I was on the market, I used two different writing samples based on which AOS the job was for.

Dr. Killjoy said...

I have to second 2:59's position. Also, if your writing sample wasn't published or forthcoming last year, it should be this year. So you should use something else either way. If you don't have something recent of comparable quality ready to be read at a moment's notice if requested, then you might be in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Just personally... I think your writing sample should be your best paper, period, as long as it is relatively recent and in the AOS of the job you're applying for. I don't see why it should matter whether it is published or not. Your CV will tell of your pubs, and anyone bothering to read your writing sample will keep track of whether and where you've published.

Your job talk should be different from your writing sample and should also be in the AOS being hired for. Within those constraints, it should be your best unpublished work, period.

If you are re-applying to a given school, there had better be improvement in CV and preferably letters, too -- OR a better fit with AOS, if you were stretching a point last time. My hunch is that a different writing sample is helpful only if you made some kind of short list at that school the last time around, and then may or may not help, depending on the details, and on what the SC thinks of your new paper. Re-sending the original in addition to a new one in such cases might be the best route.

zombie said...

Have you submitted the paper for publication? Seems like it would be a good thing to be able to add to your CV that it is under review or in press, which would give that same ol' paper more cred.

Anonymous said...

Dear everyone,

You're missing an obvious answer: Given the volume of candidates and dwindling time of search committee members, the writing samples DO NOT GET READ until after the SC members think the candidate might be on the short list for interviews offered. If you did not interview with the school, it is safe to assume that no one there has read it. So the only person in the "relationship" who knows you're sending the same paper is you. Stop fooling yourself, please. (Answer: Resend it, if you weren't interviewed there.)

Anonymous said...

From a tenured prof at a SLAC: Our thining would be different from those that the tt prof at the Leiterrific place mentions. For us, progressing from ABD to PhD would make a difference, even without publications in the meantime. But: one reason it would most likely make a difference would be that the grantig of the PhD would strengthen the letters. Say someone applies one year and is ABD and her dissertation isn't really done when she starts out on the market. The letters use words like "promising" and "the chapters I've seen...." etc. The following year, however, with the dissertation done and defended, the letters talk of the dissertation as having delivered on their promise, etc. etc. Moral: Make sure your letter writers update their letters. I think that's probably more important at a school like mine than whether you reuse the same writting sample. I disagree a little with Anon 9:28 -- this year for a job in which we received about 200 applications, we made our first cut (down to about 40) based on letters/CV/abstract etc. and then read all 40 writing samples before deciding which 10-12 to interview at the APA. So I read 30 or so writing samples from people I didn't interview.

Dr. Killjoy said...

Here is the ideal situation:

1) CV lists paper A as published.
2) Writing sample is paper B, a highly polished, publishable paper of strength greater or at least equal to A.
3) Job Talk is a presentation linked to paper C, a paper roughly like B though perhaps less polished, but still indicative of your strength and likely direction as a junior prof.

Bad Case Scenario A=B=C

Worse Case Scenario A=B=C & that paper is old (published in 2008=completed in 2007)

Worst Case Scenario There is no A, B=C, and that paper is old.

Your writing sample should be your best RECENT work. If last year's, presumably then unpublished, writing sample still remains a) unpublished and b) far and away your best work, then ceteris paribus, you might be in for a world of hurt on the market.

At this early stage, a year should make a huge difference in your overall quality, so you might need to be less worried about how the resend might play to those reading your application and more worried about how the resend might be indicative of a weak dossier.

Best of Luck!

Anonymous said...

Agree with 9:28. As a SC vet at a Leiter-ranked school, we really don't look at writing samples in the first couple stages of the hiring process. If you get selected to be on our short list, then your sample will be glanced at. If you do well in your interview, then we invest in reading your paper. There's simply not enough time to do it any way else. Sorry.

This is to say that we probably won't notice if you sent in the same paper, if you weren't on our short list before. We also don't have the time to check with files from previous searches to identify reapplicants and any differences in their submissions.

Anonymous said...

I agree. SCs rarely read them until the short list. Sometimes I wonder if they ever read them, at all.

Death to the job market process and its lottery-winner randomness.

I swear I have a better chance of getting on Broadway than I do of landing a tenure-track job. And much thanks to my oh-so-caring graduate placement director. He is too busy fighting imaginary foes to hunker down and actually give us some good advice.

Market time is almost here, folks. Buy your tickets now.

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