Thursday, August 27, 2009

A comment worth a post

Yesterday Mickey Wolfmann made a comment that was so dead on it deserves it's own post.
One thing I have learned from last year is to ignore the wiki, discussion boards, and most profession-oriented blogs (even this one once November hits, and I really do enjoy this blog [SS note: we don't mind if you keep reading us!]). Why? They make the situation worse. I somehow go from thinking about market-oriented stuff every 7 seconds to thinking about it every 2 seconds. In addition, none of the news is good, and some of the information should be re-classified as misinformation. Finally, after obsessing over the market so long and having that obsession exaggerated by watching the wiki, blogs, and discussion boards, it becomes very tempting to think that there is some kind of formula for getting THE job. There is not a formula. Teaching experience? Matters at some places to some people who may or may not be on the search committee. Same goes for publishing. Same goes for journal ranking. Same goes for pedigree. The truth is that applicants simply have to put themselves out there into the void and keep plugging along. There is no magic formula that works for the desirable jobs or for just any job.
A wise person told me last year: you don't just need a good writing sample or good letters, you need everything to be good.. and for the hiring committee to like it.

-- Second Suitor


Tenured Professor said...

Best advice I've seen on this --or any of these job market/profession blogs-- ever.

Anonymous said...

Why is having less information better than more (assuming that the wiki info, etc. is accurate)? That makes little sense.

Sure, it can make you anxious to see how few job openings exist and that they're being offered to candidates more qualified than you, but that doesn't mean it's better not to know. By knowing what you're up against, you can better prepare contingency plans, or strengthen certain areas of your CV (if there's a noticeable gap relative successful candidates), or commisserate with others to help you feel better. This seems much better than being blindsided with rejection letters and few opportunities.

Popkin said...

I've also gotten a lot of useful information from blogs and the like, and so I think it would be a bad idea to ignore such things.

Also, I think there really is something like a formula for maximizing your chances of getting a good job (even if it isn’t a guarantee): come from a top-5 program, write an interesting dissertation, and have famous people write you positive letters.

The problem, as I see it, is that by the time you're going out on the market you're unable to act on all the best advice.

Anonymous said...

I was on a search committee for a tenure-track position this last year (I'm tenured at my institution). I found reading the wikis and blogs very interesting, but also extremely depressing and in some cases disturbing.

In any case, I would have thought that the big take-away lesson was exactly what Mr. Wolfmann says: There is no winning formula. None.

Perhaps my perspective is skewed by my experience on a search committee. But as far as I can tell, this is absolutely true and the single most important bit of information anyone on the job market can have. You cannot second-guess hiring institutions. It is out of your hands. Having a great writing sample and amazing letters (and impressive pedigree) is simply not sufficient (nor necessary in many cases).

Seriously, this is obvious. If you don't agree, you're fooling yourself or blind. I hate to say it, but it's true.

Anonymous said...

I take this post as a straw-man argument: Who does believe there's a winning formula to getting a TT job, and what would it even be?

You just have to do the best you can with what you have, and understand that the hiring committee comprises of people; and because people are what they are, they are unpredictable; therefore, there cannot plausibly be some winning formula.

CTS said...

I don't know that not looking at the wiki or at any blogs is necessary, but I think Dr. Wolfmann has discovered a couple of important truths:
1) You can make yourself crazy by spending too much time on these sites.
As an [old] tenured person who discovered all this just last year, I found much of it very distressing. Not distressing for myself, but because of what seemed to be happening to many job-seekers. If it starts getting to you, stop looking!
2) No, there is nothing remotely like a magic formula. Even the 'great school, boffo references' mantra is of limited use. It really all depends.
I know the last is not reassuring to all, but it could be reassuring given some reflection. YOU are marketing yourself - not your program or your professors or references. As someone else already said: just do what you can with what you have, and remember that what you have is yourself.

CTS said...

P.S. In response to the guessing about this year's hiring post: It is NOT true that all private colleges have already determined what hiring will be done. Many SLACs make these decisions [unnervingly for those of at these schools] after the first Board meeting in September.
In my deparment, we are waiting to hear about 2 searches: one to find a TT person to fill a line that we hired a one-year for last time and a half-time TT position to be shared with another program.
So, this is one, samll, place still not sure about 2 searches.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I completely agree Dr. Wolfmann's post.

There is NO FORMULA folks. None.

It is arbitrary; it is a lottery pick; or if anything else it is mostly subjective fancy.

We all have pubs, great. We all have excellent teaching experience, great. We all fudge our ever broadening AOS and AOC spun just right to fit the bill, great.

The only reason you got that interview is because either you were on the radar (EOE, name brand school, etc) or because the guy who decided to interview you had the runs from eating his bran muffin with coffee that morning and had to make it to the bathroom, so he tossed your info into the "to-be-interviewed" pile on the way out.

Popkin said...

"There is NO FORMULA folks. None.

It is arbitrary; it is a lottery pick; or if anything else it is mostly subjective fancy."

Is this what the Mickey Wolfmann supporters really think? That it's all random, and there's nothing you can do to increase your chances of getting a good job (or at least an interview for one)?

This is sounds like something you tell yourself to make yourself feel better for not getting interviews. Or maybe it's part of a campaign to convince fellow job seekers not to do anything to improve their dossiers. Whatever it is, it's total horseshit.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Popkin 3:52.
Did you READ Marinoff's article?


Anonymous said...

"This is sounds like something you tell yourself to make yourself feel better for not getting interviews. Or maybe it's part of a campaign to convince fellow job seekers not to do anything to improve their dossiers. Whatever it is, it's total horseshit"

Wow. Was that necessary? You need to get over yourself.

Popkin said...

Anon 12:21- I don't see how anyone could read that article and come away thinking that the hiring process is completely random. For instance, it's made pretty clear that pedigree is paramount. That's not a great way to making hiring decisions but it's anything but random.

Anonymous said...

There is NO FORMULA folks. None.

That seems false. Consider: You earned your BA from Yale, PhD from Oxford, published five papers all in top-5 journals, have outstanding letters from the top philosophers in your field, and have a steady flow of project funding from reputable sources that more than pays your annual salary. And you've created new course offerings and consistently receive the highest student evals in your department, and you've won several teaching, research, and service awards. You are a very likeable, nice person who can contribute to the social environment of the department and university as well. And you have political connections at the Congressional level or higher.

THIS is a winning formula. But that's not the point. The point is whether there's a winning formula that's applicable or realistic for the masses. And the answer might be that there are several other formulas, but perhaps no single formula that works for the hoi polloi.

Even if there is not a simple set of sure-fire formulas, that doesn't entail that the process is random. There may still be winning strategies at an ad hoc level, that is, for a particular department.

The wrong conclusion is that it's just bad luck that you didn't get a job. Yes, luck is likely a factor, but much of your candidacy is under your control, albeit from years back when you weren't so concerned about your attractiveness to academic employers or the "pedigree" of your undergraduate institution.