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Dear Search Committees

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We realize that some search committees are full of sadistic bastards, but many people who make decisions about how to run searches are simply clueless. Some of them haven’t had to job-hunt for forty years. Some just keep doing the same thing over and over again because it’s the way things have been done forever, even though it no longer makes sense. Let’s put together a list of suggestions for the latter group. Maybe send the link to a couple of people you know who serve on search committees. Try to get them to think about alternatives to their usual way of conducting a search. Please, stay respectful and if you’re talking about specific experiences, don’t name names (you can put those on the ‘universities to fear’ page). Make this a useful set of suggestions rather than a critique.

Search Committee Response: Dear Applicants/Finalists

Dear SC:

What the fuck do I have to do to get employed? Medical crises and circumstance have prevented me from engaging in extensive 'career development' such as committee work. In spite of my suboptimal conditions, however, I maintain an publication track and a solid teaching record. What more could I be doing under my conditions? Why must I be punished for getting sick? It's getting ridiculous. Fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you.


Dear SC:

Fuck you.



Dear SC:

You have the mailing addresses of your campus finalists.  You should probably send your rejection letters to those addresses, rather than their parents' addresses.  It's awkward to find out the results of a search from one's father.

Sincerely, 

Campus Finalist

P.S.  (Edited to add): How did you even find my parents' address?  You must have gone to some effort, which I must grudgingly applaud.  That's some nice sleuthing, right there.



Dear SC: You do not need *five* letters of recommendation for a first round of applications. Or a lecturer position. Give me a damn break. It taxes everyone's time and resources.



Dear SC: At the end of a campus visit, please do not tell a candidate that you are almost certainly going to hire her. While I realize that the "almost" was your get-out-of-jail-free card, it did not make the "sorry, thanks but no thanks" any easier to receive. That is cruel, and people who actually work in HR agree with me.


Dear SC: I laughed hysterically when you sent me a form letter telling me know much you enjoyed meeting me and learning more about my work during my recent visit to your campus. Please note: I never visited your campus, nor did I ever engage in an interview with you. Also, had I visited your campus for an interview, I would be extremely angry that all you could muster afterwards was a form rejection email.


Dear SC: At the end of a phone interview, please do not tell a candidate you will be in touch the week after Thanksgiving if you are not going to be in touch. When the candidate inquires about the position two weeks after Thanksgiving, please do not then tell the candidate that your search was delayed until January and that you will be in touch at that time. After January rolls around, you really should then be in touch. After the candidate gives sends one final inquiry about the search in February and then receives no response, he puts your application in his "nondefinitive rejections" folder.



Dear SC:  Please give me the courtesy of an email or call after you have hired someone else, especially after I have interviewed in person or on the phone with you.  It seems highly condesending to not give me that courtesy.  I gave up 3 days of my life to travel and visit you and although I might not have been the perfect candidate, I did sacrafice a lot to come and visit (including valuable work time and time with my young daughter).  


Dear SC: We're all excited to be meeting in person, but please go easy on the "We love you! You are #1!" commentary during the campus visit. Comments like, "This will be your office!" or "This is the building where you will teach." or "I hope to be speaking with you very soon (wink, wink)." make the candidate sort of/kind of think she/he is the leading contender. Then, when you send a terse "Thanks but no thanks" email, it deals a devastating blow. I get it--nothing is for sure until you get it in writing. But please maintain a friendly and respectful distance from getting someone's hopes up during the campus visit. Try comments like, "This will be the new professor's office." Try, "Our new hire will be teaching in this building." Maybe go for, "We will be contacting the finalists within X weeks." Please keep it low-key and don't over-promise. In return, I promise not to get my hopes up.

  • There is a term for this.... it's called love-bombing. Perhaps not surprisingly, a tactic used frequently by sociopaths. Draw your own conclusions.
  • Then maybe it was for the best. Kind of shook my confidence, though, about having any confidence at all. Obviously, I grossly misread the situation. C'est la vie.

Dear SC:

Please do not ask the candidate if he/she has children--even in a conversational sort of way. This is illegal and you can absolutely be sued. In addition, you put the candidate in a no-win situation as either answering in the affirmative or calling out the mistake and refusing to answer will pretty much give you the answer you seek and will make your candidate more uncomfortable than you can imagine (as if that's possible on a campus visit). Keep it up, and you might have to lawyer up.


Dear Search committee admin assistant: 

It is 2014. Please learn to use the 'bcc' function instead of copying your entire list of rejected candidate's emails and names into the 'to' field and hitting send. This is supposed to be a confidential process. 


Dear SC:

Please don't send the candidate an auto rejection only the next day she submitted the application. It gives the candidate the notion that her application was not carefully reviewed or reviewed at all. The candidate will feel that the hiring process is not fair and she is treated with prejudice because of her gender and race. It makes your insitution look really bad.


Dear SC:

It's really important to think of the candidate's basic human needs, which he or she might need to attend to over the course of a day. These might include eating, having to pee, and drinking water. Also, when you say that you have lunch scheduled, it's nice to actually go to that lunch, rather than continue with interviews and put off the eating indefinitely, until the candidate is so desperate he or she brings it up. It's really, really hard to concentrate when it is 3 pm, you started interviewing at 10, and you are starving. (One can only fit so many granola bars in one's bag.)


Dear SC:

You might think that you have power in deciding a hire, but you really have none at all. Even if everything goes "right" for everyone all the way through the finals (no inside candidates, amicable committee, finalists who aren't brain dead), your picks will often be ignored by your chair, dean, provost, and president. Thanks for taking the time to wade through a few hundred applications, though.


Dear SC:

Don't promise to call finalists personally to let them know the result of the search, either way, and then send them your decision via the same basic form letter that every applicant receives, regardless of how far they got in the search process. Also, don't make these promises, then let five or six weeks go by before contacting finalists.

(And whatever you do, don't have an off-hand conversation with a person outside of the university who has nothing to do with your search, about the results of the search, especially if you haven't made to effort to contact finalists yet. You never know when that person might actually know a finalist and pass along what you told him/her. Highly unprofessional.)


Dear Search Chair: Please do not tell me in-person that I have made your interview shortlist, never contact me for an interview, and then send me a form letter telling me I did not make the cut. All of this occuring after spending three days with you the prior year as a campus interview finalist (the search was cancelled due to committee disagreement regarding candidates). At least have the decency to write me a personal note (especially since we have a shared social network). 


Dear SC:

If you don't want ABD's, say so. Don't change your mind after the first round of interviews. State that you want the degree in hand at time of application - that will save you a lot of time in reading applications you don't have any intention of considering in the first plact.

(Also, whoever keeps deleting this? STOP.)


Dear SC, Please make sure your position listing actually matches your intended hire. Please do NOT require publications, extensive research, teaching experience and contributions to the profession if you are going to end up hiring an ABD from an almost-Ivy with no publications, no teaching experience and no contributions to the discipline. Given the state of oversupply, we understand that you may be intimidated at the thought of hiring candidates who may be better qualified than you. But the chaotic state of the job market would be eased if you could at least be honest about your expectations from candidates.

(I'll second this with a slightly different twist. Dear SC, If you consider it vital that your intended hire have secondary experience teaching in a very specific, semi-obscure field, perhaps it'd be nice to mention that information in the position listing instead of springing it during the interview stage)


Dear SC,

We don't ask our students to infer they have failed at something by never contacting them again about something they have both submitted to us and then talked to us about. Why should we do this, then, to our current and future colleagues? Because when I infer that the search has moved on without me after nary a word and I confirm that fact on the jobs wiki, I also infer and confirm something about you, your priorities, and values.

Oh, and if HR is handling the rejections, it is your responsibility as search chair to follow up to ensure rejections have been sent out in a timely fashion.


Dear SC,

Please, STOP directly and indirectly trying to figure out my age, marital, and family status. You think that you are so clever, but please understand that I/we know what you are doing when you ask questions like "would you like to see a local playground?" or "would a three-bedroom house be too big for you?" or "what year did you graduate college" and then proceed to stare at me for 45 seconds. Along these lines, please STOP having people who are "technically" not on the SC (staff members, shuttle drivers, students, random faculty who tag along to meals, etc.) ask the inappropriate questions. My private life is my own, and I don't need to supply it to you for evaluation purposes. Enough.


Dear SC,

If you spend the money to invite me to campus for an in-person interview, please take the time to review my CV and support materials before our first group interview. More specifically, do not start asking me questions about another candidate's background or accomplishments or qualifications.


Dear SC,

When you send me a rejection, please send me a courteous rejection on letterhead. A stained, hand-written rejection on paper that looks like you picked it up from the recycling bin at your campus coffee shop just will not do. After pouring so much effort into my applications (and there were so many, all addressed properly, written courteously and all emailed out or printed on really nice paper), I expect, at the very least, the same professionalism from you. A rejection is always difficult (even if it is your 25th), but even more so when you see the complete thoughtlessness that accompanies it. I never thought I'd say this - but I have a whole new appreciation of standard form rejections sent out by HR.


Dear SC,

If you have no intention of calling me for an interview, please do not contact my references multiple times, asking for basically the same information each time you talk to them, ESPECIALLY if they have already submitted letters of recommendation to you on my behalf. If you do decide to bug my mentors and colleagues (yes, contacting them more than once is bugging them), then have the decency to speak to me at least once. Maybe you don't realize that this makes you look unprepared for this faculty search and that you might be sowing frustration between me and my references by doing so.


Dear SC,

Please don't invite me to campus, then ignore my emails repectfully asking for an itinerary. After three (very nice) emails asking for the abovementioned itinerary (including offering the titles of the research presentation and teaching demo you requested) you send me a ridiculous response with an agenda that looks like a 4 year old slapped it together which consists of a 9am to 2pm day...let's not be shocked if I am not only unenthusiastic about visiting your campus and faculty, but downright reluctant to think about ever teaching for your state university system.

I realize we are all busy, but some professional courtesy is expected.


Dear SC,

When you send me a rejection letter, please do not give me unsolicited advice on "succeeding in future job searches in this difficult market," especially by supplying me with generic platitudes about "persistence as a virtue." You don't know how many jobs I've applied to, or for how many years I have been applying. Trust me, I'm nothing if not persistent. This type of "advice" is patronizing and makes me glad I did not get hired by your institution.

  • __ See, here's where Wikis are both good and useless, because your colleagues below ASK for advice.  This kind of post is opinion, and this is one reason why SCs are all over the place.
  • I don't know, I saw the colleagues below asking for specifics about why they were rejected (although most places probably can't give them). This poster is asking search committees not to respond with "advice" which is really platitudes about trying, trying again - not complaining about specific feedback.

Dear SC,

Please do not confide to a visiting scholar that she is your top choice for a position/has this job "in the bag" (and this is likewise good advice to administrators who do the same) and then not contact her for weeks until after you have hired one of the subsequent visitors to your campus. I am left wondering if the next two or three on campus interviewees were told the same thing.

This is a very important thing to remember, it seems unnecessarily cruel in an already difficult market. this was probably the most devastating behavior I have ever borne witness to during an arduous round of applications/interviews/visits.

Sign me "Appalled".


Dear SC,

Please put the teaching load and number of preps in the job ad.

Thanks! :)


Dear SC,

If you state in an advertisement that you begin to review applications on date X, it is perhaps best not to send an acknowledgment upon receiving an application that review of applications will begin roughly one month after date X. If nothing else, prompt attention to reviewing applications may allow you to make an offer to your dream candidate instead of the good-enough, but desperate candidate to whom you will end up making an offer in July.

Hoping that you are on the ball before spring.


Dear SC,

Please stop using AcademicJobsOnline. PLEASE! The interface and experience is horrible for applicants and their letter writers. *fist shake to the air*

Thank you.


Dear SC,

Please do not invite me to an interview at a conference and not ask me a single question because it is "human resources' policy." I can find out all the information in the pamphlet on my own. The questions you ask tell me as much about you as you get from the answers I give.

Please have some type of idea as to a timeline. When I ask what the next step is from here, I don't want to hear "we aren't real sure but we will hire some one before school begins in August."

Please put people on the search committee that care about who will be hired. Putting a full professor on the committee that is about to retire and could give two s*its about my research trajectory because he is fed up with academia or putting an incompetent non-tenure line faculty member on the committee that only cares about being on the committee so that she can attend the conference does not instill confidence in your program.

If you want to know how many places I have interviewed then just come out and ask. I will tell you. As a matter of fact, just come out and ask whatever it is you are getting at. Questions that are poorly worded because there is an ulterior motive only serve to make me disinterested in your school/position.

Please understand that before I interview with you I will have done my research about you and your program. So if your porgram is having a problem I AM GOING TO ASK YOU ABOUT IT and I want a legitimate answer. Giving me a sugar-coated excuse will only serve to make me less interested in your program.

Thanks a whole bunch


Dear SC,

After phone interviewing me, and no word for 5 months, please do not email me telling me how you phone interviewed 8 candidates, invited 7 of them for on-campus interviews, and finally hired a truly wonderful candidate with qualifications A,B,C,D,E,F....


Dear SC,

Please do not

-- reply to my thank you note after a Skype interview telling me in a follow up e-mail how wonderful and compelling my work is to only ignore me for five weeks

-- respond to my polite and professional inquiry about your timeline after 5 weeks of silence with a note that once again tells me how wonderful I am and makes me feel like I am still in the running when your intention is to have HR send me an auto rejection the next morning.

-- send auto rejections to people you have talked to by phone, at a conference, on Skype. I took the time to spend 30 minutes talking to you, please have the courtesy to take 5 minutes to send me,a personal email telling me thanks but no thanks.

-- have graduate students on the commiittee, especially when they ask questions like, "what is the the one challenge teaching moment that you can recall?" While this might be a good question for someone who has been teaching for only a couple of years it is absurd to ask this of someone who has been teaching for years and is applying for a job at the associate or full level.

-- send the people that you have interviewed at conferences, over the phone, etc. auto rejections...I took the time to talk with you when you requested an interview, please take the time to send me a personal note.

Please do

-- tell me at the end of the Skype interview your time line for inviting people to campus

-- stop the associate prof with the bad case of I-Just-Got-Tenure from hijacking 10 minutes of my interview to talk about her/himself. I get it you have tenure and this is your territory.

-- send me a letter when you have decided on your short list telling me that I am not on it

And, finally, please treat all canidates as if they are human, not your punching bags. And becasue I am feeling particularly snarky, get over the fact that even though I am middle aged, I am NOT a fat, dowdy old hag with old lady glasses and haircut...sorry if hot and middle-aged scares you.


Dear Search Committees,

Some of the job applicants who use this wiki have put together a list of respectful requests. It’s too late for this year, but we are hoping that future committees might be more conscious of the state of the job market as they make decisions about how to run their searches. There are a lot of things you can do to make the job hunt process a lot less painful for your applicants, which should not change the quality or the results of your search.

  1. Please think carefully about what materials you require for your initial application. Do you REALLY need syllabi? Teaching dossiers? (And nobody seems to have a clear idea of what these are--so if you require them, at least tell us what materials you expect.) Think of all of the ABD applicants who have plenty of TAing experience but have taught from established syllabi, or haven’t taught their own classes yet--and who might be fantastic, natural teachers. Think of the others who will be scouring your course pages to tweak their 'dossier' to fit what they think your needs are. In this market maybe you’ll get 150 applications for a single job. In some fields, rumor has it, they are getting closer to 300. But even at the lower estimate, if half of the people applying have to make up syllabi from scratch, and it takes at least 2-3 days to write up a reasonable, well-thought-out syllabus, you have just cost the academic world 150 to 225 work days. And most of the poor souls who have worked so hard on these bits of paper will not even make it to the interview stage. Please, only ask for additional materials from the people who make the first cut. Have mercy on the many people who put so much time into applications for your job but for one reason or another have no chance at getting it.
  2. Try to tell applicants EARLY if you intend to invite them for a conference interview. The longer you make us wait, the more expensive it will be. Many of us do not currently have jobs, i.e., we are paying our own way. So if we get word on December 15 that we need to show up for the MLA or AHA in just a few weeks--right in the middle of holiday travel season--it can get pretty pricey. (And all for a single interview, in many cases. Take a look at the wiki stats from the past few years: the majority of interviewees are invited only for one interview.) Remember, many of us have school loans to pay back, food to buy, children to raise. If you are going to conduct conference interviews, give us a break and tell us early enough to get reasonably priced tickets. Perhaps you should consider listing your job with an August deadline instead of October. You may not be able to make the first cut before the semester starts, but surely you will figure it out by fall break.
  3. Or abolish the conference interview altogether. It is worth considering interviewing by telephone or with a web cam. Think of the numbers. Let’s say you interview 12 applicants. And a flight plus a day or two in a hotel, plus the exorbitant conference fees, can add up to $1000-2000, depending on how far we are flying and how late have to buy tickets. So in effect @ $1500 per people search could be costing applicants, some of whom are the people who can least afford to put an extra lump of debt on our credit cards, around $18000 total. (If you are from one of these insane places that interviews 20 candidates, that’s closer to $30000!!!) And that’s on top of what your school is spending for 3-5 of you to go. You could buy and FedEx every shortlisted candidate a Skype camera for significantly less than it will cost to send just one search committee member to a conference for 3 days. The conference interview just doesn’t make any sense in such a tight job market with so many applicants for every job, and in such a bad economy. It is a huge waste of personal and institutional resources, which nobody can afford these days.
  4. While it would certainly be impossible for you to respond to each application with a thoughtful, personalized letter, consider giving individual applicants (especially those you interviewed at a conference or on the phone...or those from whom you requested additional materials) a line of feedback in their rejection letter. This needn't be too onerous. A sentence explaining "we decided not to consider any ABD candidates this year" or "we did not interview applicants with less than two peer-reviewed articles" or "you do not currently have the teaching experience that we desire in a candidate" or "other candidates submitted stronger writing samples" or ANYTHING would be helpful. Many of us have no clue why we are not seen as competitive candidates, and we get absolutely no feedback from you to suggest what we could do to strengthen our applications in the future.
  5. Be humane (that applies at any number of stages).  But this particularly applies when it comes to telling candidates that they have been rejected for a position.  Be as timely as possible with your notifications, particularly for short-listed candidates.  By seven weeks post-campus visit, we know we probably didn't get the job, but we'd like being told this rather than having to ask a search committee member at the major conference-- a conference that you knew we would be attending.  Also, don't leave a rejection voice mail on our cell phones- that is not classy.  Neither is sending a short listed candidate the generic rejection letter- as stated in comment #4, some type of personalized statement- even if just scribbed at the bottom of the form letter- would really be appreciated. 
  6. Have something good to say in your ad about your school and/or its location.
  7. Be clear about the position for which you are hiring prior to posting the ad. We understand that departments often are limited to one new hire when, in fact, they need might have a need for several new positions. And we know that it can be difficult to come to a consensus about which position to fill. However, you are pretty well guaranteed to get plenty of qualified applicants for any standard posting. If you probably aren't going to hire in a given subfield, including it in your posting only pulls in another 100+ applicants who all put a great deal of time and effort into a job that they never really had a shot at.
  8. Please pull your ad from the departmental website when the position is cancelled or filled.
  9. Please make it clear what you want in the ad. Don't send me an email saying my application is "incomplete" because I didn't send transcripts, or teaching evals, or something else that your ad did not ask for. 
  10. Accept letters of recommendation upfront and directly by mail or email. Do not use an online application system that requires referees to upload their letters personally. Do not use a system in which you ask only for referees' email addresses, so you can contact them and ask for a letter if the candidate is shortlisted. Most job candidates are graduate students, or ex-graduate students, of a university department which has a dossier service, lightening the administrative burden on referees. Remember that a referee may have five or six advisees on the job market, each of whom may end up applying to 50 jobs and postdocs: that means hundreds of recommendations. And the same referee may also have another ten advisees at an earlier stage of their PhD who need recommendations for grant applications. This is potentially a huge burden of work for people who are providing this vital service on top of doing full-time jobs. It is incumbent on search committees to lighten this burden as far as possible. Any search committee which makes it more difficult than it need be, by requiring referees personally to submit their recommendations, is showing a great deal of disrespect to people who are their colleagues.
  11. If, during a telephone interview or conference interview, you tell us that we will hear from you by X date, then please, contact us by X date. We understand that circumstances may change your timeline. However, if you have set a deadline for communication, you should stick to it -- even if it's to let us know that decisions are taking longer than you expected.
  12. Remember, applicants are (already) your colleagues. That is to say, we already know you from publications, conferences, and online forums for exchange. We may be speaking on panels with you next month or next year. In not too long, we may be considering your materials as conference program or search committee members. Ours is a small world, though sometimes academia can seem quite large. That means not only be humane (see above), but also be respectful and collegial. Acknowledge applicants for your position in a timely fashion. Contact MLA interviewees sooner rather than later to let them know where they stand. Be up front and immediate for all finalists for your open positions. Silence—and unnecessarily complex online forms, depersonalized procedures, and etc.—is not golden in this part of our business. In fact, why not post your job ad, as well as search progress, on academicjobs? What a simple way to let applicants know whether you're having trouble finding times to convene to even look at the applications, or if you've already whittled down to a shortlist.


  • I agree with much of the above, although I know some SCs will give weak excuses about not having the administrative support to send 300 letters or whatever. The searches I like best are the ones that only ask for a letter and cv upfront. Ask for recommendations, writing samples, and syllabi AFTER you've made the first cut. If you need to ask for transcripts, only ask for them once you've reached the interview round. And although it seems cold, I appreciate the SCs who just state bluntly: if you haven't heard from us by X/XX/XX - you are out of the running. At least I know for sure where I stand. And for the love of GOD, put it IN YOUR AD whether you plan to interview at a particular conference. SURELY, SCs must know when they plan the search whether they'll be using a conference or phone interviews. Give the candidates a heads-up, would you?
  • 1/25. For any of you who might be a junior-level finalist for a job in what I'd guess is a MLA field, and who might have just broached the topic of a spousal hire with the SC chair recruiting you, I suggest you take a look at the Chronicle of Higher Ed forums -- this thread in the "Tenure Track" category entitled "argh! spousal surprise" was started by a SC chair or member to vent about such requests. It would be good to know what you're getting into, and what your position is, as she or he is giving attitude and information away. Debate is raging at the moment: http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,66057.0.html
  • 1/24 I wish this page were dated so I would know when the last post was written, but oh well. I'll start here because likely very few will read all of the below and get to my comments, unimportant though they may be. Anyway, I can't believe all the whiners on this page. Every single one of us went into grad school knowing the risks, and if you didn't, you shouldn't have been in grad school. The hard truth is that most of you shouldn't be in grad school. That's the problem.
    As to the above comments about SCs, if only it were that simple. SC wade through hundreds of apps from candidates that, in the main, are all very qualified, so it gets down to what precisely the SC is looking for and who is the right fit. And that isn't easy to decide either, among however many members are on the committee. TT jobs are one in a million, so to speak. If you want one, yeah, you've got to be willing to put out for it, like spending the money to go to the conference interview. You're not entitled to a job just b/c you put in the time and money to get the degree. Frustrating as it may be, you're asking to get a job that is one of the best in the world, and you know that. How many people want that job you covet? Why shouldn't you put out for it? True, there are more PhDs than jobs but that gets back to the risk factor that you knew going in. SC are in a seller's market. They have so many good candidates to choose from that they are going to pick the best of the best. Again, there is no entitlement. You have to be the best of the best--for that school. And that is a crap shoot to be sure. One other thing, having served on several search committees, let me tell you that the reasons one candidate gets picked over another (I mean here after the first cut) can be so varied and so inexplicable that there is no way any of you can ever prepare yourself for any particular job. No way, and I know others out there can verify this. Okay, and one other thing--given the competition out there it floors me that we get apps that have misspellings or are incomplete. Please, people, you're competiting against the best of the best for one of the greatest jobs in the world. Make your apps pristine.
  • One of the best jobs in the world? Are you kidding me? While I do agree that applicants should make sure their applications are pristine, the only reason why there is so much competition and coveting of tt jobs is because the university has embraced the corporate model and the humanities is suffering the most. This means less tt positions and more adjunct positions. While I would love a tt job, I don't think that working 60 + hours a week--that is teaching a 4-4 load in the middle of nowhere with little or no research funds--is "the best job in the world." Yes, other jobs require putting in that much time--like law--but they also pay 3 or more times more than academia. Now, I'm not saying that this should come down to money; we are in this for intellectual satisfaction and the opportunity to work with students--however, it's important to keep in mind what working 60 + a week means. It means little time for family, a social life, sleep--all for 40K a year! Probably one of the most unfortunate developments is that SCs are taking advantage of the fact that this is a sellers market. This typically means that ABDs from Ivies with little or no teaching experience and no publications get the job over candidates from state schools--including excellent RIs--with numerous publications and a great deal of teaching experience. Job scarcity has thus further exacerbated the elitism already evident in the academy. If humanities depts. are really composed of liberals or those who tend to lean to the left and promote equality, then why are they selecting people from Ivies and taking advantage of the fact that the market allows them to do so? Any of you on SCs who are doing this should be ashamed of yourselves. If you want a democratic society then work to actively promote one. And, maybe be a bit more sympathetic to our situation. Those of you who have been teaching for years have never faced a job market this competitive. Many of you would NEVER get jobs in this economy and then what would you do? Please keep this in mind as you select your candidates and as you advise grad students.
  • Do you seriously work 60 hours a week? I honestly find that very hard to believe. I teach a 3:3 load and, probably, including time in the classroom and office hours, work 20 hours a week or so. How long does it take to write a lecture? It's actually an interesting question to ask everyone about. I'd say it takes me about double the time to write than what it takes to teach one. So, assuming a 4:4 load (and, for the sake of argument, 4 individual preps, which is probably not the norm), for me that would be no more than 16 hours per week. Add in class time of three hours per course, and you're at 28 hours. A few office hours gets you to 30. My own work gets maybe 5 hours a week (admittedly it should be much more). But even double that, which is more than enough anyone need per week to be working on an article or book, and you get to 40. Yes, hours worked during weeks where you have to grade might be bumped up a bit, but you also wouldn't be preparing lectures for those weeks, so it evens out. I just can't imagine actually truly working 20 more hours a week than the example I presented above. A 60-hour week denotes that you work (and actually work) 12-hour days, 5 days a week or 9 hours a day every single day. Anyone who works that much would be a remarkably prodigious scholar.
  • I believe people who teach 4 writing classes (comp classes and similar) per semester work at least 60 hours/week, and probably end up sacrificing a great deal of their scholarship to the time required to teach those classes (ie: the whole 60 is spent grading and prepping and meeting with students).
  • I will second the above posters comments. We are in the midst of a search right now for a European historian. One of the candidates that I particularly liked on paper ultimately did not make the cut because he/she had two misspelled words in his/her letter of intent. What a shame.
    • What a truely horrible person you must be. The canidate's accomplishments/letters/and scholarship was a good fit and you tossed it for TWO misspelled words? Are you kidding me? What a dick move. 
    • Yes, that is a shame. And you should be ashamed, not the applicant. But if I were that candidate, I would be breathing a sigh of relief that I didn't get a position in such a myopic department. I would imagine the tenure review process is unnecessarily nightmarish. ("Well, we would have promoted you, but one of your reference documents referred to me as "Mr." instead of "Dr.")
  • 2/27: And now for something completely different: "Dear Search Committee, THANK YOU. I've been on the market before, so I was used to being abused, ignored, mistreated, asked inappropriate questions, and trapped into weird intradepartmental conflicts. I had all but decided that all search committees are loaded with jerkwads, when YOU came along: you only asked for a CV and coverletter right at the start -- THANK YOU for not making me and hundreds of other people produce a 20-page dossier for a stage of the process that is merely winnowing the pool down to a manageable number; when I made that cut and you asked me for more supporting materials you were extremely specific -- THANK YOU, because your specificity meant I could be confident that I was giving you something meaningful -- and when I had questions, you answered them right away, professionally and with courtesy -- THANK YOU for that too; after you interviewed me on the phone you told me you'd contact me by a certain date -- yes that date was far into the future, but you gave me one, THANK YOU -- and then you actually did contact me, and it was before your stated date: THANK YOU for that too. At no point in the process did you ask about my marital status or even HINT that you WANTED to, unlike the shlubs who have interviewed me in the past, nor did you try to sucker me into taking a side in some pre-existing departmental conflict, or put me through some weird litmus test by asking me about a specific theorist unrelated to what I do -- no, you actually focused on my work -- you were all familiar with it! -- and behaved entirely professionally. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. You are the best!! Now, could you PLEASE get together and write a HOW-TO for all the other a-holes running searches out there? Your wisdom is sorely needed!!"
  • While I appreciate where the poster is coming from, I don't know if I can co-sign #4. a) The unexplained rejection is not limited to the academic job market; b) it's not really the SC's responsibility to serve as my job coach; c) there may be specific reasons why they didn't choose, me, but what if there aren't? Would it really be satisfying or illuminating to get a letter saying "you weren't a good fit"? d) you could also get a lot of conflicting feedback this way--one committee says "your writing sample wasn't up to par," another says "we loved your writing sample but we wanted a more experienced instructor".
  • I do not agree with the above objection at all. The aim here is not simply to provide feedback to the candidate, but also to hold search committees accountable for their decisions. If academia is to be a meritocracy, then hiring decisions should be transparent and justifiable.
  • As a member of a SC I recently came to understand why most rejection letters are generic and uninformative. I tried as a courtesy to explain to a candidate who phoned me why we did not choose to interview him. But I couldn't give a complete explanation -- that would have involved discussing the personalities in my department, their various views of our discipline, the specific merits of other candidates ... all of these are legitimate considerations when making hiring decisions, but it would be inappropriate (not to mention cumbersome) to make everything public knowledge. Unfortunately, the partial explanation I could give him only led him to stay up all night writing a long, long e-mail defending himself and explaining why he should be interviewed. So I should have stonewalled and said nothing concrete -- that would actually have been kinder and less frustrating.
  • Sadly, this is a liability issue: a prospective employer can be sued if they list the reasons they did not hire a given candidate. While the vast majority of us would really appreciate honest feedback to help us improve future applications/interviews/campus visits, offering such feedback could potentially open up institutions to lawsuits and it is my impression that this is why so many of us receive the generic rejections.
  • Okay, fair enough. Then make that clear and forgo with the hollow phrases, such as "there were a number of outstanding candidates..." Is that unreasonable?
  • No, it's not unreasonable, and I agree that the hollow, passive-voice construction is extremely annoying.
  • So - how would it help for them to say "Your writing sample could have been stronger" if the real reason was "we feel we already have too many Hispanics in the department and your name was Chavez. Really, we're looking to hire an Asian or two, as that part of our diversity standards is lacking" or "your name sounds like a white male and 80% of our department is already white males. We want to be more diverse." They could get sued for that, so if they tell you some other reason, it will likely be false and may even cause you to make changes you don't need to make.
  • Have to interject with regard to the legal liability issue (have a law degree). There is a liability to disclosing to someone else why an employee was terminated, etc... There is no liability issue for disclosing to a candidate why his or her application was rejected unless, of course, you are admitting to discriminatory hiring practices.
  • There are perfectly legal contexts to use diversity as a qualifying requirement. What is described above ("we're looking to hire an Asian or two...") IS illegal. The whole point of making searches more transparent (and I think part of the logic behind the Wikia sites) is to hold search committees more accountable and eliminate these type of discriminatory practices. Am I wrong here?
  • No, you ain't wrong. I'm just saying that there's no way they'll ever admit to it if that's their reason. They'll never admit to something discriminatory like that, so they'll come up with some other reason. Greater transparency isn't going to occur by having them include a sentence or two in a rejection letter. They'll just state it was due to a "better fit" or "a weak writing sample" or "we needed someone who did late mediaeval rather than early" when it was "we wanted to hire an Asian because we don't have any on staff, but we can't admit to that because we'd get sued, so we created some other reason." One of dissertation committee said he'd been in way too many searches where this type of illegal hiring practice was openly discussed, but "diversity" was held up as the rationale that justified it. My guess is 90% of search committees would not engage in something like this, but for the few that might, would having them include a reason in the letter help at all?
  • Listen, we all know that sexism/racism is a problem in hiring. I have applied to jobs that were ultimately awarded to less accomplished scholars merely because my race/gender was over represented within the department. Meritacrocy is joke. Just keep gaming. 
  • Personally, I prefer face-to-face interviews over phone interviews (I perform much better for some reason), so I am not quite in agreement with getting rid of conference interviews although I can see where the poster is coming from.
  • Regarding campus visits, please try to make them humane. Reimburse candidates promptly, and double-check where they would like the reimbursements to be mailed. Reimburse candidates for other expenses related to travel, such as airport parking and meals while in transit. During the visit, consider candidates' needs regarding food and downtime. No one wants to be on a 48-hour audition but no one wants to be wandering a random campus for hours either. And please be precise about what you want candidates to prepare for the campus visit. It's also helpful to give a local magazine, newspaper, or real estate listings to the candidate.
  • In response to #1 above, although it is a time consuming activity I had no problem with syllabi and the teaching dossier. As researchers our jobs are to exhaustively search all sources for info on this topic. I have to say that I found assembling the teaching dossier to be a stimulating and helpful excerise. It did help that I have a good amount of teaching experience even though I'm only ABD, which leads to my final point. We all have various strengths and weaknesses. For some of us, teaching experience is a plus and for some of us it's a minus. Some of us have more experience in foreign archives and some less. Well rounded candidates who have taught 5+ of their own courses and conducted 18 months of well funded research(via presitigious awards) are few and far between and I am certainly not one of them. You may think you're an excellent or natural teacher from years of TA experience, and perhaps you are, but experience without the benefit of someone else's syllabus counts. I can confidently state that there is no comparison between TAing and teaching your own course. Personally, I actually find the latter to be easier in most respects but for many it can be more difficult. My point here is that we need to tailor our applications to our strengths while at the same time trying to improve our weaknesses.
  • The point here is that committees should be sensitive about wasting the time of so many people who ultimately have no chance at the job. A good search committee should be able to tell from a CV and letters of reference whether or not they will be interested in a candidate. If they don’t like the CV, ancillary documents like syllabi and teaching dossiers will not change their mind. Whatever document they use to make their first cut, that is the one that they should require. Secondary materials should be requested at later stages. With 300+ applicants it seems doubtful that committees who ask for lots of material even read all what they have required every candidate to compile...maybe that should be the rule of thumb: search committees should feel obliged to read every page of required material that every candidate has sent. (Lots of British searches ask only for a CV at the initial stage. Not even a cover letter or rec letters. IMHO, that seems more humane, and more sensible as well.) Furthermore, the above poster may not mind the time-consuming exercise, but some candidates do not have so much spare time. The bottom line is that a time-consuming application process privileges those people who have a lot of time to work on their applications: 1) ABDs or postdocs who have funding and lots of time on their hands (thus further privileging people from schools that give better funding to their grad students, e.g., the Ivies once again). 2) Anyone who does not need to work (thus further privileging the wealthy). 3) People who don’t have children. But what about the guy who just finished his PhD and is spending the Fall teaching six sections of Western Civ or World History just to pay his student loans? What about the ancient history grad student who has been teaching 20 Century US to pay the rent, and thus does not have appropriate syllabi to send? What about the folks who (sometimes accidentally) had children before getting a tenure-track position? These people might get weeded out just because they were not lucky enough to land their first jobs in their own specialty, and/or do not have copious amounts of available time to put into their applications. By default many searches continue to reward a certain career trajectory, and if your career has veered off for one reason or another, you lose.
  • I think the important question is how specific the material asked for is. It seems perfectly reasonable that a person applying for a job as a teacher and researcher be expected to provide evidence that he or she can both teach and research, and the best evidence is a syllabus and writing sample respectively. Anyone applying for a job that requires a PhD will presumably have a writing sample anyway. If a candidate has not previously taught a course individually, it doesn't seem overly burdensome to spend a day at the beginning of the application season coming up with a sample syllabus. If a candidate is able to spend whatever time they have perfecting a single writing sample and a single syllabus which he or she can then send to all applications, then that seems manageable and justifiable. What is problematic is when search committees require submissions to be individually tailored to their own requirements, as if the candidate is only applying for that job, and not 50 other jobs at the same time. So the search committee shouldn't ask for a syllabus for a particular course: they should be able to infer that if a candidate can come up with a good syllabus on subject X, he or she could also come with a good syllabus for whatever subject the department needs, assuming it is within the candidate's field of expertise. They also shouldn't introduce onerous restrictions on the writing sample. An upper page-limit is probably necessary to avoid candidates sending in their entire dissertations or books if these aren't wanted. But the limit should be in accordance with the average length of an article or chapter - 40-50 pages - as these are the kinds of things that candidates have available. Asking for a sample of only 20 pages, or only 3000 words, means the candidate has either to take an extract from a longer work, which inevitably means a lot of fiddling with introductions, conclusions, extra paragraphs explaining the context, etc. It is this perpetual tailoring that leads to job applications taking up the vast majority of the fall semester for most final-year PhDs. It ultimately means that whoever the department ends up hiring will be less prepared for the job than he or she would have been had he or she not spent so much time preparing applications rather than finishing his or her dissertation.
  • Hm, no, sadly, I've been on 5 search committees and the writing sample is crucial. Do we love your work? Then we figure out how to get you in the door. Do we hate it? No amount of fanciness can overcome that. So we ask for it upfront, always. And I am really sorry about that, and about the costs. It took me years to pay off the $5K I accrued in MLA costs over my years on the market.
  • Re: #9, ads should say if an official transcript is required when the dossier-service copy is not accepted. I have had to spend extra money to send (quickly) official copies of all of my transcripts to be considered for positions. Really, do you need official transcripts from everyone? Can't you just ask for official transcripts from candidates that make the interview stage?
  • For what it's worth:
    I like the cover letter-CV first method (with additional materials requested later on a case-by-case basis), but I don't think it fits how SCs like to work. In my experience, SCs gather all materials and go through a marathon session to identify "no" and "maybe" candidates. Then they revisit the "maybe" pile in more detail. They don't want to wait around for additional material, because the SC members are busy finishing the semester themselves. Literally: this entire process takes place over the span of a few days.
    As for syllabi and teaching portfolios: candidates should have them prepared. If a candidate waits until September to put together a sample syllabus, that is not the SCs fault. Keep a folder of potential courses you'd like to teach, with ideas for assignments and exercises, reading selections, etc. Add to it whenever something comes to mind. If you can't think of interesting course proposals, it is unlikely that ANY university will want to hire you for a teaching position.
    As for personalized rejection letters: I am not aware of many other professions that have adopted a similar practice. If you want feedback on your work, present at conferences and submit to peer-reviewed journals.
    I do agree with the suggestions about letters of recommendation (#10) and the job postings (#6-9). I would suggest that candidates take advantage of their respective professional association's job market resources, along with theChronicle of Higher Ed.
    A more far-reaching concern: PhD programs should admit PhD candidates with an eye towards the future academic job market, and not only to meet the university's TA requirements. Obviously there are more qualified PhDs and ABDs on the market than there are TT/VAP positions this year. Graduate programs bear some responsibility for that, since they have grown their grad programs NOT to keep up with university/market demand for TT positions, but rather to keep up with undergraduate/administrative demand for cheap TA labour.
  • Agree completely with your last point, but I'd like to take it in a different direction. (My comment falls under venting, so if you feel it doesn't belong here, please say so, and I will move it to the venting page.) PhD programs everywhere should prepare PhD candidates to market themselves for both non-academic and academic careers, and to seek out both sets of opportunities. There is a huge world out there, and it's much bigger and often more rewarding than academia. It makes me completely crazy that so many talented, smart, and creative individuals who have a PhD cannot see out of the tiny, often rigid and stifling, box that is the academic career path, because they've never worked outside of academia or have never had anyone model a non-academic career path to them. There's almost a conspiracy of silence in higher education around what to do with a PhD. You can do anything you want with a PhD. There are so many jobs available outside of academia to someone with a PhD. You don't have to limit yourself to scrambling after poor-paying sessional positions, or a life of chasing after one contract or another, moving from place to place (unless you are absolutely dead set on an academic career and are willing to put up with the incredible competition). I watch my talented and bright colleagues, convinced that the only positions they could ever dream of getting are on the very bottom end of the academic totem pole, bang their heads against the wall for some crumb of a position when they could take their talents and degree to business or government and earn a decent salary with sane hours with less of the idiosyncracy, pettiness, and insularity that colors the academic hiring and promotion process. So that's a plea for PhD programs to appropriately professionalize students throughout their graduate training, by teaching them how to identify their transferable skills, write winning cover letters and CVs for any position, interview for any position--and most critically, not sell themselves short by locking their futures (imagined, at least) into an industry that is choked with talent and short on opportunity.
  • Yes, there is a "conspiracy of silence" about what happens after your PhD. Most departments like to display track records of their recent graduates or ABDs on their websites to give an impression that everyone landed on a great academic job, while ignoring the other half that didn't. Your professors are more than eager to clone themselves through you, so they will encourage you to follow them blindly...to the dead end, that is. Then you get a PhD, they drop you like a cow dung, and another cycle of new graduate converts begins. The first step towards changing current academic climate is honesty. Just tell people what to expect when they begin a decade long journey into this PhD industry. Do not alienate those who decide to look beyond academia or give people false hope to keep them around for a cheap bargain (adjunct, TAship, etc.).
  • I don't know where you got your PhD, but my colleagues and I put an *enormous* amount of effort into helping place our graduate students into TT jobs (I am tenured at a top-five public R1). Some of our doctoral candidates are responsive to criticism and even -- gasp -- thankful when they beat out 150 others for a tenure-track job with our help and good advice. Others have ridiculous standards (won't take anything out of state, spousal issues prevent moving altogether), refuse to work on job letters and other materials enough to have the desired effect, or are snotty or diffident in interviews. When these students get discouraged (as they often do) after one bad year on the market, you can bet that I don't exactly encourage them as much the second, or the third, time around, and I may even make my letter less gushing if they piss me off enough. I don't expect a box of chocolates every time I take out time to vet job materials, conduct a mock interview, or just talk a candidate down from high anxiety (none of which my own dissertation advisor did for me), but it may be that some of the whiners on this wiki are rude to their advisors or expect more than any dissertation advisor can possibly give them. We can't serve you all up jobs on platters - especially if you refuse to relocate, won't settle for a SLAC, or can't manage to be articulate about your own research with a bunch of strangers.
  • What complete bullshit. Beyond being simply dismissive (referring to the "snotty" and "whiners" of this wiki), the Dearly Devoted Dissertation Director ignores the basic and fundamental realities of the market in order to opine that he/she is under-appreciated and ignored. Should people take reasonable advise to make themselves better candidates? OF COURSE. The DDDD, however, lays the problem of the market NOT on the overabundance of PhDs, the shrinking pool of tenured jobs, the growth of contingent and adjunct faculty or on the completely miserable economy, but instead on inflexible doctoral candidates. Seriously? Could the DDDD be more out of touch and self-referential? Not likely. If advisers consistently produce PhDs that have "ridiculous standards," then that is a reflection on the adviser and the institution more than it is on the individual students. And if the tone of the above message is indicative of the *enormous* efforts I can see why their students are so unreceptive. Furthermore, there are just too many PhDs and not enough jobs.  Someone on this wiki noted that faculty, departments, and universities (i.e., the ones who Marx would describe as owning the modes of production) need to be open and honest about the market at the beginning of the process (as in before the PhD). The market is not driven by candidates (good or bad), but by structural economic realities and pricks like the DDDD.
  • Thanks, above poster. I agree, for the most part. (The DDDD's post is hostile and defensive). Universities and supervisors are not doing their jobs in training their students to be successful once they get that PhD. It's not enough for advisors to encourage their students to go on the academic market, and then when they see they aren't succeeding, to drop their support. Advisors need to make their students aware from the start that the academic market is over-crowded and to encourage them to consider alternative career paths. (That requires training students early on to identify their transferable skills). Then, they need to train them on how to find a job. (Someone does. It's not going to happen on its own). Anyone who's gone straight from undergrad to PhD is handicapped at job-finding skills and short on professionalism. PhD students generally have less practice at landing jobs than most potential employees at their age. If their students have poor interview skills (or can't write a cover letter and don't know how to design a concise two-page CV), supervisors need to train them. Or they need to work with the university career center to set up mandatory training for their students. I've seen many of my PhD colleagues left to sink or swim themselves on these tangible but less visible skills that are critical to finding a job. This training needs to start in year one of the PhD program. But the DDDD also makes a valid point: some students are too immature and too inexperienced to recognize how much they have to work at developing these skills. They're hostile to being trained. They don't have the persistence and commitment. Or they think that jobs should come on a silver platter with the PhD. I think this is an age/maturity problem. (Peevishness and a sense of entitlement are not fun to work with, I know). In addition to supervisors & departments acknowledging their responsiblity to professionalize students, students need to bring more maturity to the PhD in the first place so they are receptive to being professionalized. To me, that translates into raising the bar on PhD candidates by accepting only those students who have had some work experience outside of academia, or older students, or those who can demonstrate they already have developed a degree of professionalism.
  • Interesting, but I don't think age has anything to do with maturity and most of my graduate colleagues seem to be well prepared for an academic job regardless of age. Some faculties are still in their twenties and they are doing fine. I have seen senior faculties acting like kids, throwing tantrums at grad students behind closed doors or badmouthing their colleagues who outperform them. It makes you wonder what they have learned all these years. Age doesn't always speak for a character.
  • No, you're quite right. (And you made me laugh). I only suggested age as one proxy for maturity. I simply would like to see a greater emphasis on professionalization as part of the training of PhD candidates. I'm suggesting it might make a difference if you admit those students who already have some of those skills in place.
  • I'm so happy for you. I meanwhile, have a PhD from a top 15 university in my field, worked closely with my dissertation advisor and our faculty placement committee (which did a very good job helping us with interviews. CVs, and cover letters), was very well-behaved, and have several publications. I'm also open to working to pretty much anywhere - I applied to over 100 positions this year (so far) and just under 100 last year. I'm willing to relocate, willing to take a lectureship or even a 5-5 teaching load. I even have had phone interviews and one campus visit.Yet I have no job. Some of us have done everything "right" and still don't have squat to show for it.
  • To the person above, can I ask what field you're in? Because in History, even applying to every possible job and post-doc it'd be a stretch to go above 50 applications. Just curious. Also, good luck, I hope this year is your year!
  • I hope it's my year too. I have a PhD in English, and I did a dual emphasis in Rhetoric and American Literature, so I'm applying to Rhetoric/Composition, American Literature, American Studies, Generalist, etc. - Lecturer, Visiting Prof, Post Doc, Tenure track - I'm grabbing 'em all - and everywhere I can - small liberal arts places and big R1 universities. I ain't picky and I don't care none if I get a heavy teaching load. I have one interview at MLA to show for it. Of course, that's one more than last year.
  • There are simply too many well-qualified candidates from top universities and not enough jobs. This is a fact that every prospective graduate student (at least in the Humanities) needs to consider before embarking on this "career" path.--ok, but--aside from stating the obvious--isn't it a little late for that? Everybody here already has a degree, and how is this relevant for a "Dear Search Committees" page? -- My point is that the search committees are in a rather difficult position and the process really sucks for them as well. They operate under terrible constraints imposed their institution and their department. Yes, at the end of the day, committee members all have jobs so nobody has his or her future at stake. But as participants in the process they have to endure quite a bit of crap. And I imagine that sifting through 200 fairly similar applications and selecting the "best" 15 can't be fun.
  • Can I ask something? Is there anyone on the market now who was not warned by their dissertation directors, graduate advisors, whatever, that they could do every single thing right and still not end up with a tenure track job when they were done? I am a prof and I keep telling every single person who contacts me that they are probably best served doing something else with their lives; that chances are that they will not have a job after putting in close to a decade of their lives preparing for one, that they will likely be in significant debt at the end of the process, etc, etc. It seems to discourage very few. Maybe of fifteen people I talk to, one will thank me and decide to go to law school. Five will apply and not get into grad school. Nine will apply to get into grad school and five will not get any financial aid. I tell them that it's a very competitive profession, and by not being offered a teaching assistantship or a fellowship, they have already failed to make the first cut, and that they should definitely not borrow money to go to grad school. Hardly anyone listens. Then of the four that do get accepted, with good financial aid, I will tell them that they can do absolutely everything right and I still cannot give them any assurance of getting a job. I have about a 50% placement rate with my students who complete the degree under these optimal conditions. It's better than the national average, but it's not good enough.
  • Re: It's nice that you tell them the truth. That's what real teachers do. Unfortunately, I have been told otherwise. The people I work with would drop names of their more successful students, who landed on jobs at ivies and R1s, and suggested that I'd get the same if I followed their advice. This year I found out that they were just a handful of exceptions. There's no entry, no exit for this lost generation. What a curse. Be a good prof and tell your students to quit before it's too late. We only live once....Thanks, I think. I love the profession and hate to see it dying, and that is exactly what is happening.
  • To the above poster: you are, of course, spot on. I can only relate my personal experience. When starting the MA, I was "warned" by my advisor that the market was "not good," but this was eventually qualified by the assertion that a mass of baby boomers would soon be retiring, improving the odds of finding a job. I was in my early 20s, the GA pay was, if not great, at least steady, and by the time I left that institution (which offered only the MA) to pursue a PhD, I naturally felt like an academic rockstar. That'll happen in those small departments. Anyway, same speech was given at Big PhD University by the DGS. He meant well, but I don't think many heeded his words. I didn't. In my situation, NOT attending was unthinkable (at least it was then). I mean, holy geez, I had received funding. I MUST be special. How could I NOT wind up with a TT job? More important, coming from a blue-collar family, success, to me, was always synonomous with education - the more the better. You know them blue-collar types - they have funny ideas of "success." I guess my point is two-fold: When you're in your early 20s, the frontal lobes of your brain (the parts that deal with forethought and consequences) are not fully formed. To be politcally correct about it, you're essentially a mental invalid when it comes to life decisions until you hit 25 or so. In other words, short of a Marine drill instructor kicking my ass and explaining the realities to me, nothing was going to stop me from going. If graduate programs would catch students early - I'm talking first semester MAs - and be ruthlessly blunt about the situation (and I mean RUTHLESS), it would probably be better than these perfunctory warnings that are usually given out and then promptly ignored. I doubt this will happen, though. Can you imagine professors ranting and screaming at prospective graduate students, telling them to get out while they can? That success and happiness is not dependent upon getting that damn degree? I can't, but I think that's what it would take. But I'm not going to put this entirely on the profession, as if it's some kind of cult bent on enticing the youth of American into its ranks only to discard them later, a pathetic shell of their former selves (though some would argue otherwise). Nah, this was all me, and how I defined "success." I wanted to be called "Dr." So here I sit, 10 years after I started my graduate education, PhD in hand, heavily in debt (funding or no, getting married and having a life will cost ya), no savings or retirement to speak of and no real job in sight. I don't feel like a failure, but I do feel a bit foolish and lost, and I suspect I'm not alone. It's not the end, naturally, but it is a reordering, especially of how I have defined success and happiness over the last decade. It's scary, but also kind of liberating. >>>This is from the Prof, above. I am sorry things haven't worked out for you in academia. You sound like someone who would have made a great colleague.
  • Many advisors DO NOT adequately warn their students about how awful the market truly is. My PhD department has a "job board" that lists the names of those students who get jobs in a given year, and it is fundamentally misleading. At the fall reception welcoming new students, the chair of the department (during my years at the institution) always made the same speech: "I glanced at the job board on my way down here, and I noticed that the number of grads who got academic jobs is approximately the same as the number of students in the new cohort. SO YOU DID THE RIGHT THING BY NOT GOING TO LAW SCHOOL." Of course, he never mentions that many of those students had been on the market for several years; that many of the positions are not tenure track; that quite a few of the new cohort will ultimately drop out, but not before blowing a fortune. It's utterly irresponsible of these departments, especially those that do not offer multi-year funding packages to all (or even most of their admitted students). All prospective grad students should watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNwWrdZkiTU
  • The profoundly brutal meaninglessness of white-collar professional work in the United States has driven and will continue to drive many normal sensitive human beings toward the ivory tower as a refuge and solution. That negative desire (the desire NOT to do meaningless work) is strong enough to overcome all practical considerations, and to plug the ears of some of us who will later claim we weren't told how tough the market is, when we were in fact told that over and over. (Some of us, probably, are genuinely not told. But we can figure it out on our own: all it takes is to pick up that copy of the Chronicle of Higher Education sitting in the department office once in a while and read it, instead of frittering away two hours gossiping about one's professors!) Over on the venting page, there is a thread started by someone sniffling about how all he or she wanted was to avoid a "lousy corporate job," and how sad it is to have that dream crushed. Yes, but if your only motive for graduate education is to avoid something else unpleasant, and you never substitute a positive goal for that antipathy, you're not going to get anywhere either inside or outside academe. You're stuck in a reaction formation, and so in a kind of passivity and inability to articulate real purpose for what you're doing, WHATEVER it is. That hurts your chances on the academic job market, even in anti-practical disciplines like the humanities, as much as on any other job market. Law school is not a solution, either, if all you are focused on is what does and does not make you happy, as an atomized private individual and consumer, and you still cannot articulate some imagination of an alternate civic order of collective public life. Academe is not a charity for sheltering sensitive plants who can't hack it in the corporate world. It's a fully formed parallel world in itself, and the sad fact is that a lot of us don't really deserve to join it, because we've never made that transition from the negative, running away from the corporate job, to the positive project of re-thinking the organization of our society as a whole.
  • To the above poster: I don't think that most graduate students in the humanities who complete their program are (solely) driven by a disdain for the corporate world. To put yourself through 6-8 years of seminars, comprehensives, research, writing, and teaching without being attracted to any of it is unlikely. Most grad students would have quit long before then. I do agree, however, that many PhDs probably stick it out in terrible positions - as adjuncts, at community colleges, as substitute high school teachers - rather than abandoning academia because of a lack of a desire to do anything else. But most newly minted PhDs in the humanities who attempt to get an academic position do so because they WANT one.
  • To the prof who posted the question: I came in with my eyes wide open, with work experience in non-profit, social services, and corporate sectors. (I loved the business world, to my surprise, and I entered it with a humanities MA.) I never intended to get an academic position with a PhD, though I haven't written it off entirely, because I love to teach and I work best structuring my own time. But there are many ways to teach and mentor, and I've done some of them in other settings (e.g. vocational training). I saw the PhD solely as a credentialing process that would open doors, give me more authority in whatever field I moved into, and command a better salary. The goal of getting a PhD was simply to give myself more options. What's important to me is to do work that's a good fit for my personality, that draws on my strongest skills, and is consistent with my values (helping people, being of service, making a difference). That's what's rewarding for me. I can do that in many fields. I am on the academic job market, but right now I have a great job (non-academic). If the academic job search doesn't pan out in my field, I'll stay where I am. Life outside of academia is very rich--full of unexpected opportunity and rewards, and talented & interesting people.
  • I think one of the main problems is the way these academic searches are conducted - having to attend a convention like the AHA, spending a fortune for what is often one lousy interview, and not knowing if you will get any interviews until the last minute. Then waiting around for news for weeks, often never hearing from the search committee again. Were it not for the Wiki I would still think I'm in the running at the moment for quite a few jobs. The whole process is financially and psychologically unfair. Even if we all knew the job market sucked before embarking upon this "career," I don't think many of us realized how painful this time period could be. the whole process of hiring academics needs to be changed.
  • "Perhaps you should consider listing your job with an August deadline instead of October." This is the most ridiculous statement I've seen on this wiki. Do you really want to have your apps ready in Aug.? What about the people who are ABD and don't have a dissertation chapter ready in Aug. let alone the rest of the app. components? There is no way for sc's to even get an announcment out by this time. This is just bad advice for both sides. There is no reason to have a deadline that is ONE YEAR before the job starts! Please delete this absurd suggestion from what is otherwise a collection of (mostly) sane advice.
  • The issue of rejecting a candidate because they are supposedly "not a good fit" is pure BS. Those on search committees read (or at least should have read) applications properly. Can't you figure out the "fit" quotient then? Why raise cadidates' hopes by inviting them to a conference interview and then reject because of "ill-fit." Use your interpretive skills and brains and decide what you want and invite only those who actually "fit" your needs. You folks have employment, hog on the University's money and then make poor grad students pay through our noses to attend the conference interviews.
  • I cannot speak for all committees, but I've been on five SCs in the past seven years, and I can say this: "not a good fit" is not BS; it's more like code, and it has nothing to do with your fields. It's you.  What we're saying is: the personality is not a fit--at least, that's what my institution is saying.  We glean a lot from the pieces of paper, and invited you based on them, but when we spent a day or two with you, we decided you were not the person we wanted to spend six--or hopefully 20 years with.  For us, that's "fit"; working in a history department isn't just teaching your class, writing your books, and knowing your field.  It's chatting with people in the hallways, working with them on committees, discussing their ideas and projects, maybe even -- hopefully even -- socializing with them, to some degree.  That's fit.  It doesn't mean you're a bad person, or even an unlikeable one; it means that you were not the person with whom the SC or the department felt most comfortable.  You may think that's BS, or not a legitimate reason for hiring or not hiring, but that's the way it is, in academia and in business: there are lots of candidates, all well-qualified on paper, and most of them nice, decent, hard-working folks.  But we can only hire one, and it's hard to get permission to even do that, so we want to make as sure as we can that we get it right, and can live with it.
  • Apprising candidates of their status is customary and you should do so. I don't need details about why I was rejected. But a surprising number of committees have failed to so much as acknowledge my application, leaving me to wonder if it was incomplete? Or lost in the mail? An acknowledgmenet of receipt of materials followed by a timeline--to which you should hold yourself--would be greatly appreciated. I would also love to know if you've moved on to a short list, whether or not that means I should count myself out entirely. And by all means, whatever else you do, send me a rejection when you've hired. Never corresponding with me again is both rude and unprofessional. A surprising number of you do this!! Please stop at once. I recognize that you're busy. It's not that I don't understand this. It's that I don't care. If I take the time to put together an application, you owe me a letter informing me of your decision.
  • As someone who has been on many search committees (and on the market a number of times as well), please remember that search committees are not hiring committees. Their role is to recommend candidates. In most cases, after preliminary interviews any short-list has to be forwarded to a department chair, and in some cases to a dean, before any further action can happen. This sometimes causes long periods of time when nothing happens. In 99% of cases, SCs can't invite candidates to campus (or imply an invitation is forthcoming) without approval from above. Giving the time of many preliminary interviews (near the holiday break), additional delays can unfortunately ensue. Additionally, search committees don't necessarily get to decide what materials candidates send in initial applications. A lot of times that is controlled by institutional mandates and/or Human Resources. Believe me, as a search committee member, I really have no desire to sort through letters of recomendation, transcripts, and writing samples up front. Letter and vita are adequate; however, institutions, for whatever unknow reasons, sometimes require too much upfront material for all their searches. Please don't assume that just because the people on an SC are those you see and have contact with that they are somehow in complete control of your destiny. They're not. On that same note, SCs don't acknowledge applications. That is taken care of by staff, many of which are not even in the same department (or even same building) where members of the search committee reside. Obviously problems with that happen all the time. But it's not necessarily the search committee's fault. Even when you send hard copies of application materials, search committees still see them in electronic format. Someone else has first handled them and uploaded them to a secure site where only SC members can see them. Finally, regarding a post above about candidates being a good "fit" or not. SCs begin by screeing candidates who meet minimum and preferred qualifications. If you received an interview--skype, MLA, phone--you meet those qualifications pretty well. You do fit. Those who are invited to campus and receive offers are simply a "better fit." They meet more of the preferred qualifications. Being on a search committee, quite honestly, is a ridiculous amount of work, especially since so much of it takes place at the end of the semester and over the holidays. I can assure that SCs are not purposely trying to waste your time or money. Doing this would simply waste our time as well. I don't want to sit through a 45-minute interview with someone who has no chance of making it to the next round. With that said, having been on both sides of the table, I know how frustrating the process can be for candidates, and I've held that frustration and anger too (especially when not receiving any word after completing a campus visit). But, it's important to recognize that SCs have far less control over these processes than candidates might imagine.

Dear SCs,

Please double check things with the administrative/HR side of things to know your own university/college's position on hiring international applicants and the issuance of visas. More pointedly, if your school will not sponsor visas, this needs to be included somewhere (ANYWHERE) on your institution's website, preferably in a place where potential job applicants will see this and won't go through the trouble of applying for a particular position. To not do this and to cancel an on-campus interview less than a week before it was supposed to go down is unbelievably unprofessional and says very little that is positive about your department and the institution at large. This is particularly the case if I, as the interviewee, have been asked to pay for the travel costs up front and wait to be reimbursed by an instiution that has determined way too late in the game that for whatever reason, they will not sponsor visas for international scholars. [Sorry, this one still burns me up!]


Dear SCs,

Please do take the time to respond to very simple queries about your advertisements, especially when they require only factual, single-sentence responses. Such communication may help both parties by resulting in fewer inappropriate/incomplete applications.


Dear SCs,

Please impress on your members that it is not appropriate to discuss a current, in-progress search in a public forum such as Facebook. Even if the discussion does not venture into terrority that is illegal or against HR policies, this leaves a bad feeling amongst potential candidates, especially if you are criticizing candidates for being overly broad in their letters (when the job announcement itself was broad) or failing to abide by some set of unwritten rules regarding which addresses should appear where in the cover letter. As well, please do not use what you consider to be a broad example ("We asked for someone in Underwater Basketweaving for Dogs, not Underwater Basketweaving for Cats!") because we will likely know the three people who specialize in Underwater Basketweaving for Cats that applied to your position. While this may be an ethical grey area at the moment, I would urge you to err on the side of caution and not discuss anything regarding in-progress searches at all on Facebook and other public forums until a candidate is hired. Remember: even if your have "protected" your Facebook account from being publicly viewable, candidates have friends of friends who are likely friends of you, meaning that we will discover what you're writing about us.



Dear SC's,

I do not live in North America. You know this. My family lives very far from my current location, which you can infer from my CV; this too is not North America. This puts a certain amount of stress on me to make intercontinental travel arrangements for the holiday season.

It would be super if you could update candidates about the status of their applications before mid-December. In my case, it would be helpful to know whether my visit home will conclude with yet another intercontinental journey to attend a convention interview.

On wiki the entries for several jobs I have applied for have no updates since confirmation of received applications: no requests for further materials, nor rejections, nor interview arrangements. Part of me says, 'I have not been selected for interview.' Another part, '...But no-one else has heard either!' I have now cancelled my hotel & registration for MLA. It's possible that one or more of you will want to interview me after all. But would I want to work for a faculty that is demonstrably so inconsiderate?


Dear SCs:

If you are going to interview at the annual meeting of the AHA (or MLA, etc.), please be sure to notify applicants if you will be interviewing them or not before the deadline for refunding said meeting's early registration fee.


Dear SCs:

I understand that professionalism comes in all shapes and forms. Like many before me (see above), I would like to offer additional tips on this subject.

First, I understand some departments do not have much money to dine prospective faculty members. However, if you (the search chair) decide to order an appetizer for the group to share for dinner and yet you consume the majority of it, it is not professional to put the charge on my (the interviewee's) tab and 'then' ask if it is okay for me to get it reimbursed. By the way, if you are going to ask for my permission, please do it 'before' the restaurant staff runs off to process the credit cards.

Secondly, if you or your faculty members are driving the prospective faculty to their hotel or where ever it may be, it is not okay to run personal errands (e.g., returning Redbox dvds) because it is on the way.

Thirdly, please inform your faculty that the topic of urinary tract infection (yes, it actually happened) is not an appropriate conversation to have in front of a prospective faculty, especially at breakfast. This is a topic reserved for your doctor, partner, and bestie. Take note that I just met you and that I do not belong in any of those categories. Pop goes the professional bubble.

May these tips be of use to future SCs.


Dear SCs:

Through no fault of their own, some people live outside North America and have even studied at universities outside North America. Certain of these universities are even reputable, and even produce employable graduates.

Please be aware that a) non-American candidates may be far better qualified for positions than American ones; b) your "job market" is full of bizarre rituals and argots which many non-American candidates, through no fault of their own, have no means of understanding; and c) your obvious prejudice towards elite American universities (as if one's doctoral institution guaranteed anything about a person, anyway!) is even more distasteful when you choose to ignore the universities available to the other 96% of the world.

(Your current writer, who has been working in the US for a while, was employed in what the equivalent of a tenure-track assistant professorship in their home country (a large, industrialised, well-known country) after a 25-minute phone interview. The application materials required were a cover letter, a CV, and a two-page response to some selection criteria. No referee letters were required, and referees were not spoken to until after the job was informally offered. Admittedly this seems a little less stringent than the ridiculously over-the-top American process, but at least it takes up much less of everyone's time.)


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