Monday, June 28, 2010


I started to write a post about how I began the process of revising my application materials in anticipation of the fall job market. I started to point out that there's some good news. My CV is better. I can move some stuff in my research statement from "future projects" to "recent projects," and I can add some stuff to "future projects." But I cannot tell you how much I wish I didn't have to keep doing this. This will be my fourth year on the market, and I guess I just didn't feel like writing a blog post about revising my research statement again. And I wasn't sure how much anyone would want to read the blog post when I was done with it. So I gave up on that post, decided to write this one instead.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I've been there -- even longer, in fact -- so I hear you. I'm just leaving this comment to tell you to keep your head up. And do try to get out and have some fun before the academic year begins; there's so much more to life than the academic job market.

Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

And it does not get easier once you secure a TT position...then you have to continue to update your research statement, but it becomes part of a tenure review process, and then you have to write grant proposals and attend meetings where colleagues quibble and sometimes threaten each other for hours on end...then, all you can do is look forward to tenure, when the meetings get longer and the quibbling gets worse...then to retirement, when you suffer from so many stress-induced maladies you cannot even enjoy it...and then to death, aaaaah, finally, to be released from this mortal coil!

Anonymous said...

It's true that you have to keep updating your research statement, and at least where I am you keep doing it after you get tenure, too. And it's annoying. But it doesn't compare with the soul-crushing awfulness of gearing up to go on the market. So although in some sense "it doesn't get easier," it does get much, much less unpleasant when you land a tenure track job.

(I actually like my department meetings -- that's probably because we have few of them.)

Anonymous said...

What's involved in updating your research statement? How far out does it need to project? Do people check to see if you have followed through? Do they care if you change direction, but are still productive? My statement is far more cohesive than my output. I'm not really as focused on my main project as the description suggests. I was hoping that no one would ever notice.

Asstro said...

One thing about updating your research statement that is much easier once you get on a TT line, I think, is that usually it's the case that you actually have an authentic research trajectory to write about. IMHO, it's hard for unemployed grad students to figure out what their research trajectory is or will be. They're generally coming off of an exhausting dissertation run and usually don't have any interest in continuing with their research in their dissertation area. (At least, I didn't.) So they've got to make something up, or try to find something that will really set them apart.

Once you're on a TT line, you have time and space to identify projects that are really exciting, that aren't full book-length gauntlets involving sometimes painful expository sections aimed not to advance one's own research program, but to satisfy one's readers.

No, I'm in agreement with Zero that the market is the worst phase of the whole career path. Make it through this phase, and life doesn't necessarily get easy, but it begins to feel a bit more secure.

zombie said...

On a related topic (i.e. teacher evaluations as a measure of employability), Stanley Fish has an interesting column in the NYT today:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that in addition to being just as horrifyingly barren as last year, the upcoming market also promises to feature a veritable glut of talent from top programs as those able to afford the luxury of caution in 2009 find it priced out of their range in 2010.

Good luck navigating safely through what looks to be a Perfect Shit Storm of a job market.

Anonymous said...

Once I got on the TT, my research statement became more focused. Before I used a shotgun approach, hoping that I'd make a name for myself in one of the multiple areas I worked in. I still work in multiple areas, but to keep expectations low I only announce in my research statement that I work in one. It is a different kind of stress I feel on the TT, not as much self-imposed (as it was when I was a grad student and post-PhD as a traveling VAP), now more externally imposed, verified, checked, measured (by administrators and colleagues). Being on the TT removes the thrill out of being a scholar, now that you're expected to do what you would otherwise do because it's your passion. Of course, being on the job market for 5 plus years with no success can also kill your passion for doing philosophy.

Mr. Zero said...

It's possible that this post conveyed a false sense of how down I am about this. I am obviously not looking forward to going on the market again, but as I've said before, I'm very happy with my career except for this one (huge) thing.

Greg LeMond says of cycling that it never gets any easier; you just go faster. If something like this, with a suitable metaphorical interpretation of going faster, is what anon 8:08 has in mind, then I might be inclined to agree.

But if 8:08 is suggesting that all the annoying things involved with having a tenure-line job are collectively as bad as all the annoying things you must do in order to get a tenure-line job (which in no way guarantee that you will get such a job), then I think that either he has completely lost all perspective, or is stupid.

Anon 6:17,

My research statement goes out as far as I have somewhat carefully thought it through. If they ask me about it, I don't want to have a bunch of wispy, half-baked shit to say. I want to display a concrete, clear understanding of what the problem is and what contribution I want to make. I want to have done some preliminary research, and have constructed at least an outline, if not a rough draft.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect Mr. Zero, it does sound odd coming from someone who has never been on the tenure track to claim that a person would have to be stupid to think that it's worse than struggling on the job market, especially when that person has struggled on the job market, gotten the tenure track job and been on the tenure track says that it is. That person appears to speak with more authority than you. Perhaps once you get on to the tenure track you can speak with the same authority. Perhaps you will realize that it was the process of getting there, not the disappointing outcome, that was the most pleasurable part of the experience.

Xenophon said...

I've been wondering what people were up to now that the hiring cycle is (or so briefly) over, so I appreciated the post.

I'll also say this (probably said it before): the interviews I've gotten have typically been for jobs I didn't think I was a prime candidate for, and the ones I thought I was a shoe-in for I never heard back about. From this I conclude that for the most part whether they like your application has relatively little to do with the things we tend to obsess about when we're writing all the little pieces.

That's not to say that the details don't matter, or that it's not worthwhile revising all your individual statements and such, but rather that if one part or the other isn't really perfect, it's liable to make a difference in terms of whether you get an interview. If they like you, they'll overlook imperfections. If they don't, you've got little chance regardless of how great your cover letter or research statement or teaching philosophy or sample syllabi or teaching evaluations or letters of recommendation are.

Word verification: maria

Dr. Killjoy said...

Mr. Zero makes an excellent point. The Research Statement is the last place you want to be making some half-assed, padded, or stretched claims. Getting a search committee all excited about your research plans only to fumble, stumble, or bumble your way through their questions about the specifics of those plans is about the easiest way to sink your candidacy.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 12:35,

I did not claim that the person would have to be stupid to think that having a tenure-line job is worse than struggling on the job market. I explicitly mentioned two possibilities. I ordered them by likelihood.

Also, it's not as though I have no idea what the tenure track is like. Almost all of my close friends are on the tenure track. Almost all of the people I work with day to day are on the tenure track. I know about the meetings. I know about applying for tenure--I know what it involves, how long it takes, and how shitty and stressful it is.

Are you really going to tell me that the faculty meetings are so bad that you'd rather spend the next four Christmases away from your family than go to them? I haven't spent the holidays within a thousand miles of my mom since 2006.

Are you going to tell me that it would be better to spend your own money (keeping in mind that I make $10,000 a year less than your typical AssProf) to fly to Boston in the middle of winter and stay five nights in the Marriott/Westin for a small number of interviews (for the fourth time or so) than to go up for tenure?

Those claims seem unbelievable to me. They seem like the claims of someone who has lost perspective.

(One thing to mention about going up for tenure is that tenure denials are a lot more permanent than job market strikeouts. If you don't get a job this year, you'll try again next year; if you don't get tenure this year, that's pretty much it. That's pretty crazy and would freak me out. But there is also a much stronger relationship between being qualified for tenure and getting it.)

maxwell's demon said...

I'm not going to give details (not out of worries about anonymity but because I don't want to get into a cred war), but I've definitely been-there-done-that on the tenure track and the job market. There is no comparison. Yes, trying to get tenure can be stressful. But the odds are strongly in your favor, and although there may be some arbitrariness in the tenure process it's much, much less than what you put up with in job interviews.
I do think 8:08 doesn't really believe what s/he wrote. It was a joke, or hyperbole, or posturing (can't tell, sorry 8:08, no offense intended).

Oh, and going to meetings is not on the same level. It's a minor annoyance. And apparently some people enjoy it :-)

Anonymous said...

You also have to keep in mind that some of us who secured a tenure line job recently got something that was sub-optimal, not a good fit, in a terrible location, colleagues we don't like, institution that sucks, etc., so we continue to be on the job market (and yes, all you newly minted Ph.D.s have to compete against us). Now, take the stress you feel on the job market and double it, since you also have to do everything that someone on the tenure track does in order to appear as if you're diligently pursuing tenure, even when you actually want to score a tenure track position elsewhere. Let's all agree: the poor job market hurts us all, not just those struggling to prepare their dossiers who have never held a tenure track position.

Anonymous said...

If people like 8:08 or 12:35 have bad jobs (of the type 2:31 describes) and that is why they are so down on "the tenure track", they need to just come out and say that they have bad jobs. If they really think there is something so bad about "the tenure track" itself such that it is, in general, worse than being a job-seeker, they are either A)nuts, B) in bad faith or C) have confused their crap job with tenure track jobs in general.

On another note--what is all this about a "research statement"? Do you mean the part of your cover letter that describes your research? (If so, don't waste too much time--my sense is that search committees don't care that much about cover letters.) Or do you mean some extra thing you put in your dossier that describes your research? I don't mean to be flippant--I really am not sure about this. I was on the market six to eight years ago, and never wrote (or really thought about writing) the second, stand-alone kind of research statement.

Furthermore, I have since been a part of three job searches, and I don't remember seeing such stand-alone statements in most dossiers. If they were there, I probably ignored them, and went straight to the actual research product (i.e. the writing sample). I will say, though, that I have found letter-writers' descriptions of candidates' research to be very helpful.

Anonymous said...

I think Anon 2:31 is dead-on. I had a stressful two years on the job market early 2000's and was ecstatic to land a TT position in a bottom-rate department but in a great city. I am recently tenured but found the TT process more stressful. The job market is full of rejections yes but I was one of hundreds of candidates rejected by departments containing people that I have usually never met and probably never will meet. The stressful thing about the tenure process is being much closer to the decision making. For example faculty meetings, committee work etc can be very difficult to deal with when you have to work with someone who is on a mission to get you fired.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 8:34,

Some places ask for a "statement of plans for future research" or something like that. I send mine only if they ask for it specifically. Probably 1/4 of the time. If you're not getting many of them, it's probably because you're not asking for them.

Anonymous said...

I think it's terribly unwise to compare the two different stress-qualities of the market and the TT. Here's my attempt to paint a still life in apples and oranges:

On the market, I constantly assumed the enterprise would fail. It was literally ulcerous, at least for me.

On the TT, and I hope this anecdote will convey what I experienced, my partner one day commented, about halfway through my TT, "We've lived in this house for three years." And I froze, because, seriously, I could not remember the last three years. I stood there in the kitchen, and I couldn't remember moving there, sleeping there, or how I spent my few weeks between sessions in the house.

I COULD, on the other hand, remember every class, most every student, and every conference and paper.

Amnesia, ulcers. Apples, oranges.