(Another) Preparing for the academic job market workshop

Below are some of my notes from a workshop on the subject of preparing for the academic job market. Dr. Elizabeth Jameson led the workshop, which took place on February 18th at the Center for Great Plains Studies. This is the second formal workshop I’ve attended on preparing for the academic job market, but I learn something new each time. It’s encouraging to see that conversations about the difficulties of the current job market are becoming more commonplace in academia, and that the newest generation of humanities graduate students are being prepared–from the very beginning of their academic careers–to consider the different trajectories their training can take them. I found the advice related to networking and organizing to be the most useful and inspiring.

Preparing for the academic job market:

  • Dr. Jameson entered the academic job market for the first time in 1975
    • 10 jobs in social history at that time
    • states she was “very, very lucky” to “score” one of the jobs, considered it “miraculous”
    • (Jameson says she did not have her dissertation or degree completed yet when she “scored” her first academic job –> different job market)
  • when Jameson left her first academic job, and lost funding for her second, she freelanced “in the wilderness” for a while (adjuncted for a time, low-pay, tenuous situation)
    • but kept working w/in women’s history & studies –> published two books (but still hadn’t completed her dissertation, into the 80’s)
    • eventually able to re-enter academia: tenure-track, “invited to apply for 3 chairs”
      • very successful, finished her dissertation, recognized for her experience
  • academic job ads now: “want you to teach everything AND do Digital Humanities” (a little tongue-in-cheek about the “walk on water” tone of some job ads today)
    • Dr. Katrina Jagodinsky: read the job ads early in your academic career and figure out how you steer your training to fit within the categories they are looking for
    • recognize that your entry job = “not necessarily where you’ll stay” (in job or intellectually)
      • & there is “a lot out there, beyond academia”
  • advisers and mentors = critical throughout the process (of your entire career, not just for your first job)
    • you will need letters of recommendation even 10 or 20 years on –> constantly cultivate an array of mentors and letter-writers
      • have multiple mentors, some outside your institution of training or employment
    • if you are “stubborn, flexible, and creative” you can make it into a career you like over time
      • be prepared to retool & look for ways to do so
  • networking, publishing:
    • if you have 1 or 2 potential articles, “get them out there”
    • early in your academic training, attend events like the Pacific Coast branch of the AHA – receive friendly feedback on your early work
      • then move into national conferences
      • e-mail folks ahead of conferences you are attending to ask for lunch/coffee dates to talk about your research –> be bold
    • “get involved in the movements that excite you”
    • take long enough on your dissertation that it is “close to publication,” so your adviser can attest to this, so presses can “start cruising you”
  • academic job interviews:
    • prepare 1, 5, and 20-minute descriptions of your dissertation
    • pay attention to the mission statements of the institutions AND departments you are applying to –> be able to articulate how you will contribute to their mission
    • do mock interviews
    • have drafts of your cover letter reviewed
      • find something to make you stand out in your cover letter
    • workshop your job talk AND a sample lecture
    • get on the AHA/OAH program the year you interview and invite your interviewers to your panel
    • ask for copies of teaching recommendations from anyone who has observed your teaching
      • include these in your teaching portfolio (this is in addition to, and separate from, your letters of recommendation)
    • constantly cultivate letter-writers and be sure they are tailoring their letters to the job
      • Jagodinsky: can include more than 3 letters of recommendation, provided: (1) each writer knows who else is writing and what (generally) they will talk about; (2) if are sure the additional letter(s) will be of high quality; (3) it won’t look like “fluff” or padding
  • get something good on your c.v. every year –> show you are “a professional and engaged historian,” even (or especially) if you are freelancing and hoping to return to T-T job market
  • organize: YOU will be the generation that has to defend the professoriate from serious efforts to de-skill, to turn academia into a factory system
    • “don’t settle”
      • “but be strategic” –> when you get “higher,” protect those who are still struggling and vulnerable
        • Jagodinsky: “don’t get caught up” in negativity and high competition among your fellow graduate students –> they will be your colleagues someday, don’t let harsh job market destroy valuable networks & relationships
          • tell close colleagues when you are applying for the same jobs & recognize that “one of you is mustard and the other is chocolate” –> both “make life great, but you don’t know if the search committee is having wine or hot dogs” so you shouldn’t beat yourself up over their decision, don’t lose confidence

The ticket to full steam ahead

image of list of things to remember throughout the dissertation writing processNearly a year ago I attended a workshop on maintaining healthy habits throughout the dissertation writing process. Boy am I glad I did. This fall I’m taking time off from teaching to focus solely on writing my dissertation–oh, annnnnnd applying for jobs. Fun stuff. It’s all writing-based, deadline-oriented and, at times, pretty stressful. So I’ve found myself putting some of the tips from the workshop into practice each day.

I’ve included a high-resolution image of the all-important workshop handout above. (Sorry it’s crinkled. It hangs above my desk and occasionally gets knocked about by a bored cat or two.) I reread the tips often. Among the most important and oft-used tips for me are:

  • Recognizing the dissertation writing process as stress laden. Once I get into the groove of writing I actually find it quite fun and satisfying. But the writing process contains both hills and valleys. Recognizing this as I begin each day is key to sticking to the task at hand without getting discouraged. As long as I work to the best of my ability each day, I know I’ll meet my goals and everything will be “okay.” P90X leader Tony Horton’s mantra ain’t no joke: “Do your best and forget the rest.” Worrying only hinders your work. Let it go as best you can each time you sit down to work.
  • Tips 1-4 are critical. Progress in writing requires an unwavering commitment to a well-defined writing schedule. Before I began writing I devised a very detailed plan of action. I committed to specific hours to be at my desk each day, distraction-free, and I hold myself to that schedule each and every day. My writing hours are my priority and everything else–dentist appointments, household chores, e-mail, extracurricular activities, other academic duties–yields to my writing schedule. Yep, my place gets pretty messy sometimes by week’s end. C’est la vie. I also take time each week to define and assess my daily, weekly, monthly, and semester-long goals. Of course, sometimes I get distracted or a new idea leads to the reorganization of a chapter or section and I need to readjust my goals. But again, hills and valleys. When I encounter setbacks, I remember to…

Tony Horton meme: Do your best and forget the rest!

  • Get support. For me this includes not only keeping family appraised of my work schedule so they don’t wig out because they haven’t seen me in a while and think maybe my husband murdered me (he wouldn’t); it also includes seeking out support and advice from others who know what the writing process is all about. Like many Twitterstorians, I am fond of using #writingpact and #TeamPhinisheD. Although, for privacy reasons, I don’t use the hashtags every time I sit down to work, they are wonderful options for maintaining accountability for daily goals and for both getting and giving support during the somewhat lonesome writing process.
  • Tips 16-19. For me, this set of tips is on equal ground with tips 1-4 because tips 1-4 aren’t possible to achieve without holding yourself to tips 16-19. In the current culture of overwork self-care all too often falls to the wayside. While I was completing my master’s thesis, I was simultaneously struggling with a tragic, untimely death in my family, many late-night/early morning phone calls to help family members through the difficult time, and feelings of not being understood/not belonging/not being accepted into academic culture based on my first-generation, low-income background. I had few healthy work habits and came very close to full-on burnout. Since then, self-care has become a high priority as I complete my PhD. I’ve worked hard to develop a wide variety of healthy habits to keep my history mojo flowing sure and steady. A well-defined work schedule IS critical, but it won’t get you anywhere if you’re too weak and stressed out to think. Self-care isn’t a distraction from writing or something only the uncommitted do. Self-care enhances your ability to do your best. Plus, massages, runner-highs, ice cream, and beer are awesome.

See you next time.

Highlights from the 2015 Innovation in Pedagogy & Technology Symposium

Long time no see…regularly. Yes, my blog languished a good bit during the past semester and while I was away on research in Australia. (More on the latter later. But here’s a pic of me photo-bombing ↓ some roos for now to tide you over.)

The author in Australia
Dopey hat required at all times to protect my extremely pale skin from the tropical clime. I also did research while down under, I promise.

I also taught a class, History of the U.S. Present, my second course, in the Spring. I’ll admit I lose focus on blogging while teaching. Potential post topics don’t seem to percolate as easily, and the idea of blogging on what I’m learning about teaching while teaching makes me a little uncomfortable. Perhaps there’s a blog post there somewhere. At any rate I’m back, working on the introduction to my dissertation with the help of #writingpact and weekly writing support meetings with my #TeamPhinisheD teammates. And to begin my return to regular blogging I offer you the below highlights from three sessions I attended at the 2015 Innovation in Pedagogy and Technology Symposium, which was held in May here in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Getting Your Digital Hands Dirty: Creating Interest and Engagement in an Online Course
by Dr. Valerie Jones, College of Journalism and Mass Communications, UNL

This first panel gave me a lot to think about when it comes to utilizing blogs in both online and traditional courses. I’ve used blogs quite successfully in past courses to promote the development and improvement of student writing via iterative, brief (250-word) posts with formal writing standards and citations. Dr. Jones’ guiding principles (below) were especially helpful, and offer additional strategies to increase student engagement with course content and objectives. I especially like her idea of student-produced short videos on an independent reading relevant to the course topics.

Panel notes:

Guiding Principles:

  • start w/ their interests
    • e.g. Jones teaching course on digital/web analytics so had students start a blog on their interests — then students had data on their blogs the class could use
  • make it matter
    • e.g. rewards for students who develop a following, highest return visits
    • some peer pressure to produce good content & get visits (public nature of blog)
  • provide purpose
    • e.g. bring in guest speakers (via free-trial version of Zoom video conferencing) to show students can apply knowledge in class to, for example, real-world jobs
      • zoom video conferencing has the added advantage of allowing you to build a digital library of recordings of these guest speakers
  • give them a promotion
    • e.g. had lots of reading on Blackboard; had students create a presentation/video of “fresh content” of something they’d read that was highly relevant to the class → something they wanted the other students to know
    • helps create a sense of responsibility and community in the class
      • peer feedback = part of this too^
      • e.g. on peer feedback: require 2 peer reviews throughout the semester of other students’ blog + MUST cite an article in support of their critique)
  • closing thoughts: find the insight, be brave, have fun

Technology Tools as Levers for Learning
by Faye Haggar, Technology Training Analyst, UNMC

This panel was the last one I attended at the symposium, but it really got my creative juices going. Ms. Haggar not only introduced a wide variety of digital tools with pedagogical potential; she also offered examples of ways each tool can be used to support established principles of good teaching practice. Many of the tools listed (in my notes below) were new to me, while some were tools or platforms I was familiar with but unaware of certain features. I will definitely be experimenting with a few of these tools in future courses.

Panel notes:

  • #1: good practice encourages contacts between students and faculty
    • students want to feel a connection → scores go up when this happens
    • try Blackboard collaborate → virtual office hours
    • Remind 101 → send updates, reminders, other important information
      • used a lot in K-12
      • does NOT require you to give out your personal information (phone number) & is one-way communication
      • goes straight to their device
    • Screencastomatic → easy to use for an introductory video @ start of semester, set & articulate your expectations
      • up to 15 minutes
      • gives mp4
      • beta version may require download
  • #2: good practice develops reciprocity
    • document collaboration & sharing: Google docs, Office 365
    • Popplet → collaborative brainstorming (concept mapping)
      • can add links, files, images, videos, audio
      • updated in real time
    • FB class groups – “cringe” + “it’s where our students are”
      • not accessing any of their personal information this way (not friend-ing one another)
  • #3: good practice uses active learning techniques
    • TodaysMeet → “back channeling”
      • works much like Twitter but is PRIVATE
      • log in with a url
      • students can ask questions and/or leave a comment
      • can return to after class (both you AND the students can)
    • audience response: Socrative
      • similar to a clicker device
      • this^ = free and open source (currently, as are most all of the tools being discussed)
      • allows for multiple choice and short answer questions
      • students given a class poll to go to and answer Q’s
      • can do it in real time (so instructor can use during lecture)
      • can also have student-run poll to take at any time
      • Excel-format spreadsheet offered → students can be anonymous or require names (e.g. anonymous if want to show results in class to illustrate where everyone is)
      • can be set up to be taken just once or multiple times
    • Google formsexit tickets
      • can use to ask students questions at the very end of lecture (or provide most important thing they learned today)
      • students will receive a URL (you’ll need to shorten this for them)
      • *good to use to have students pick out important themes for the day (check how well picking these things out)
      • delivered to the instructor in the form of a spreadsheet → students don’t see this
      • you create the fields SO you can make it anonymous if you want
  • #4: good practice gives prompt feedback
    • consider making students use the following tools before submitting a paper (w/o checking the first submission)
    • Soundcloud → record a podcast
      • idea for audio feedback
      • free
      • sound clip can be private → can e-mail link to students or attach to an assignment on Blackboard
      • not sure what the limit is on this…
    • Adobe PDF → you can leave an audio message
      • on Adobe Pro ONLY
        • although students can listen in Adobe Reader
      • 1 minute-long limit
      • can click anywhere on the paper to add a 1-minute chunk message
    • Kaizena → works with Google Docs
      • recording audio
      • requires sign-up but is free
      • right click in Google Docs & say “open with Kaizena”
      • time limit is around 5-minute chunks → again, anywhere in the text
      • you can also type comments
      • students DO need to download Kaizena; need to tell them to do this (no e-mail sent)
      • works with any file in Google Drive
  • #5: good practice emphasizes time on task
    • TedEd → interactive presentation
      • can also create interactive quizzes
      • works with videos on YouTube
        • then insert questions into
        • give students questions to ponder & discuss
        • students can provide questions and/or feedback
        • can provide additional resources for students to look at
    • eduCanon → interactive videos
      • can use any mp4
      • load video, choose places to pause video and insert question to check for understanding, can tell it to “self-score” so students instantly know how they did
      • no limit to questions
      • get spreadsheet @ end w/ student name, score, what answers they offered
      • students cannot download the video (can always screen-capture though)
      • you can leave feedback for the students if they get a wrong answer (a prompt will come up WHEN they answer)
    • Evernote → shared notes
      • can share notebooks
      • different students assigned to take notes on different days → then can grade how students are taking notes
      • can leave feedback
  • #6: good practice communicates high expectations
    • Rubrics → Blackboard
    • (can also just google “rubrics” for some free platforms that students can download and print)
    • Google docs → group work and revision history
      • e.g. when group work is done, instructor can see via the revision history who did what revisions
    • thinglink → consider using to build an interactive syllabus
      • takes some time to build
      • build an infographic (Piktochart or Google “make my own infographic”) THEN, via thinglink, you add pop-outs that open when students click on (or hover over, scroll to ?) content (e.g. hyperlinks)
  • #7: good practice respects diversity and the different ways students learn
    • Random Name Picker → uses these for calling on students at random
      • so that “everyone gets a chance to respond”
    • Post It Plus → Digital Post-it notes
      • gives you a jpeg
      • app will “clean up” the notes
      • can group things together differently (could have the students do this in groups) → costs an extra 99 cents right now
        • has text recognition now
    • paper.li → curate material
      • students collect & build their own content
      • e.g. have students search topics (she does this in groups first) & find content (she assigns content for them to search through)
      • supplement to a class topic/theme

“Teaching Gender and Sexuality” workshop notes

“Teaching Gender and Sexuality” Workshop

with Professors Rose Holz, Margaret Jacobs, and Laura Muñoz

What challenges have you had in teaching these subjects and how have you dealt with these challenges?

Holz: don’t really think of challenges as such – teach matter of fact-ly; no need to tip-toe: just put it in there

  • let them start reading it and find out about it on their own
  • true, there will always be some disgruntled students but no need to be limited by this

Munoz: make it part of the knowing of, history of, intellectual exercise, the more students will grab on to it

  • be aware that you are a transmitter, a model of how you approach these kinds of conversations → without it being heightened, fearful
  • + often uses humor to deflect some of the fear of talking about these things

Jacobs: different if the course is specifically geared toward these topics versus working with these topics in a general course, basic history survey

  • demographics will be different depending on the course
  • being upfront with students about the reasons you are taking a certain approach
  • + students also come to classes with certain narratives already in their head (about what women’s and gender history is, what the story contains, how you will treat it)
  • likes to use humor as well to deflect any student discomfort, defensiveness

Munoz: agrees with telling students about your training and how it will impact the way they will approach the course

  • your training will come out naturally in the way you organize lectures anyway

Questions opened to attendees:

What about large courses and how to counter narratives students bring in with them (and particularly resistance to having these narratives complicated)?

Jacobs: example of Native American women, students often come in thinking Native American women were very oppressed

  • starts with a very general discussion of what students think women’s autonomy is → how are they autonomous? What is freedom? What are women’s roles?
    • Students come to understand the roles and status of Native American women = very different from that of European women at the time
  • Often MUCH easier for students to think about these issues within the context of the past

Munoz: need to tell students that everyone’s opinion matters and counts → over the course of the class move into interrogating students during discussion about how evidence supports their opinion(s)

How to make men feel welcome when teaching a mostly female course?

Holz: often jokes about this, lets them know they have a place in her course; has been told she’s “guy friendly”, not entirely sure what this means

Munoz: teaches at a regional university, had a particular course that was mostly white males

  • saw these students as interested in the lives of their female relatives → moves in to build personal connections to the material in this way, esp. using oral history interviews (as assignments)

Jacobs: interesting question – often only think about it when notice classroom composition “outside the norm”

  • a little discomfort is okay → learning experience to suddenly find yourself a minority in your classes
  • gets point of question re: wanting to make students feel welcome, able to participate

What happens when discussing women and gender and a “bomb gets thrown” during discussion in a large class, with very limit time? Don’t want to seem “un-gentle.”

Holz: when it’s issues of women, gender, sexuality = “way simpler” than dealing with issues of race

  • usually opens the floor to see what the rest of the course thinks, leave a heavy pause

Jacobs: often leaves space in class for correctives – so doesn’t feel so rushed

Munoz: depends on your style

  • tends to be pretty casual in her lectures
  • slows down, stops to have the conversation, since it’s important
    • interrogate the student, while emphasizing that you are open to conversation
    • forces student to “stand up to their own flippancy” when/if it comes out

Holz: admits to liking when students have a “backbone” and will question, debate

What about questions, comments that weren’t meant to be flippant or offensive?

Jacobs: classroom should “be a place of dialogue,” even when people say something offensive

Munoz: need to create a culture in the classroom where the students feel like they can share their ideas with you – even when they aren’t certain how to deal with them

Holz: emphasize to students that we need a space in which we can disagree with one another, yet still like each other

Breakout sessions
“Historicizing the Body” with Dr. Jeannette Jones

  • have students respond to a single question in advance of in-class discussion (online, Blackboard) → helps students deal with their tension, discomfort before class
    • “free-writes” for students → things that come to their mind first when see a particular image
  • Anne Fausto-Sterling, “Gender, Race, and Nation: The Comparative Anatomy of ‘Hottentot’ Women in Europe, 1815-1817” in Deviant Bodies, pp. 19-48; Janell Hobson, “Venus and the Hottentot: The Emergence of an Icon” and “The Hottentot Venus Revisited: The Politics of Reclamation” in Venus in the Dark, 19-86
    • + Punch cartoons
    • discuss values white people of the time ascribed to these “deviant” bodies → bestiality, ignorance, hyper-sexuality
  • + case studies re: deviance in female bodies
    • Jacqueline Urla and Jennifer Terry, “Introduction: Mapping Embodied Deviance,” pp. 1-18 and David G. Horn, “this Norm Which Is Note One: Reading the Female Body in Lombroso’s Anthropology,” pp. 109-128 in Deviant Bodies
    • Janell Hobson, “Re-presenting the Female Black Body” (title?) [makes arguments here about influence of the female body on fashion – e.g. the bustle]
  • using a syllabus for Women and Gender Reading Seminar (taught twice in the past)
  • studies American History, also interested in the history of science
  • “intersexed” – hermaphrodites as way to open discussion with students about biological sex as a construction
    • e.g. readings on intersexed children having gender assigned to them through surgery early in life → ideas about what it means to give the choice to the parents rather than the child + why we have this idea that one must “be one or the other”
    • Jones starts with the biological then moves forward from there into other “murky categories” that have nothing to do with biological (inheritance, voting rights, citizenship…)

How do you bring the body into a very basic, introductory history class?

  • Male and female bodies, free versus un-free bodies within the context of slavery → get students to understand the body as a site for inscribing power
  • coverture
  • Native American + white women’s bodies, differences, similarities
  • the gentleman body versus the workingman’s body → primary sources from the 18th century re: workingmen’s bodies – central to way early American and modern Americans thought about the body

history of medicine and science, “well they just didn’t know then,” couldn’t understand the way we understand the body now, how to get students to think historically about the body

  • bring in the social and cultural history of medicine and science → WHO are the people who are making these statements, who is being excluded
  • science’s understanding of certain topics change over time – “science as situated knowledge”
    • show was knowledge not superstition, was “common knowledge”


“Demystifying the Publication Process” workshop notes

Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean, School of Graduate Research, RMIT University, Australia
Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean, School of Graduate Research, RMIT University, Australia

Below are my rough notes from an excellent workshop I attended last week. The workshop, entitled “Demystifying the Publication Process,” was sponsored by UNL’s Office of Graduate Studies. Dr. Denise Cuthbert, Dean of RMIT University’s School of Graduate Research was the workshop’s leader. Few workshops I attend got me as excited to get started on a project as this workshop. I can still hear Dr. Cuthbert’s charming Australian accent, spurring us on to publish!

Demystifying the Publication Process, September 4, 2014

  • Your publishing plans:
    • need to consider what your article is about in tandem with where you plan to publish it (and why)
    • should have a mindmap of the key journals in your field
      • which are prestigious, which will reach local/national/regional audience, which are more theoretical, etc.
      • go to the editorial page and/or website of journals to help map out your field
        • particular approaches, research will be good for one journal and not another
    • too late to begin thinking about all of the above after your paper is finished
  • Workshop goals:
    • learn more about the academic publishing system & how to target the right journals
      • big reason articles get rejected
    • talk about a range of writing techniques to help you refine your abstract (important writing tool) and get your paper to draft form
    • how to handle the submission and peer review process
  • publication = “the ultimate destination of all of your work” “It’s really not research until it’s published.”
    • “Research seeks to advance the stock of human knowledge and academic publishing is the key way in which knowledge is disseminated and shared amongst researchers. This occurs primarily through peer refereed scholarly journals, books and conferences.”
    • key feature of academic articles:
      • contain original research/findings or reviews
      • are blind peer-reviewed or validated
    • Cuthbert believes reach of journals = better than edited volumes, book chapters due to the digital reach of journals, potential and ability for “generating citations” of your work
  • Why publish during the doctorate?
    • Major change over time, within the last 30 years – changes in the purpose of the doctorate
      • leave grad school only with completed dissertation = no longer enough
      • 2-3 published papers whether published or “in the pipeline”
  • Academic publishing – Why is it so hard?
    • Kamler and Thomson (2006):
      • writing is a social practice → solitary nature of writing = deceptive. “We write ourselves, but we write for others.”
        • goes back to point of WHO are we writing for?
  • have an outlook that emphasizes writing for publication
    • to publish, you need to have something to say, but how will you know?
    • Discuss with your supervisor how to position your research
  • What makes a good paper? LESS is MORE
    • don’t make it more than it should be → keep it small, contained, focused, targeted
      • can briefly describe the larger project, but make clear which one to two major ideas/theses you’ll be focusing on
    • one great idea/significant finding/compelling argument = one good paper
      • see journals in your field, will see these examples
    • don’t make the mistake of attempting to put too much in a paper
    • a publication plan for a given paper should slice of ‘bits’ of the research and craft them into publishable papers
    • you cannot fit a whole thesis into a paper
  • “Fit the article to the journal, not the other way around.”
  • “Plan your publications before you start your research and experiments.”
  • Be prepared to go through many drafts as you exercise the “less is more” principle.
  • Making abstracts concrete:
    • through the writing process, the abstract is a living document
      • a very disciplined form of writing
    • concise “road map” of paper you intend to write/are writing – but modifiable as the writing process shows a better way through
    • a good abstract can keep you “honest” as a writer
    • on completion of paper, abstract needs to be revised and finalized to accurately reflect the paper now completed
    • good abstracts do not undersell or oversell the paper they describe
    • good abstracts will invite appropriate audience(s) to read paper
  • Responding to readers’ reports:
    • stay calm! → “blind review process = a brutally honest process”
      • also need to understand the “economy” of the reviewer process → reviewers not paid for their work – taking papers on a volunteer basis, on top of all their other work and duties
    • Accept – rarely happens that a paper is accepted outright (only twice in Cuthbert’s personal experience)
      • minor revisions
      • major revisions
    • reject (for that particular journal = the end, move on to another journal)
    • highlight main criticisms (major vs. minor)
    • criticisms versus suggestions for improvement
    • scope of journal, IF etc.
    • re-read the next day (not the same day you get the paper back)
    • send to co-authors (assign tasks with deadline)
    • track changes
    • usually several weeks to revise – thinking time!
  • building your C.V.
    • aim for both breadth and depth
      • get some runs on the board – not all need to be high-ranking
      • don’t ignore quality though
      • conferences
      • book chapters – can open a wider range of publication options (but often less accessible for citation purposes)
      • look for opportunities to publish different kinds of articles – i.e. review, methodological, results, etc.
    • consider time to publication (often longer than journals estimate; usually about a year)
    • cast a wide net
  • Finding the right journal
    • about 25,000+ peer reviewed English-language academic journals
    • different categories:
      • peer reviewed/non peer reviewed
      • subscription/open access
      • disciplinary/cross disciplinary audiences
      • special issues/standard issues
      • influential/not so influential
    • What are the journals that you’re currently reading, that you keep coming back to?
    • What are the key journals in your field?
      • Impact factor
      • average number of citations to articles per journal
      • journal rankings
    • particularly when you start out, consider not aiming too high and risking disappointment → take advice
  • look at the journal for:
    • aims
    • scope
    • nature of contribution sought
    • intended readership
    • editorial board members
  • also ask your supervisor(s) where they publish and why
  • Write early, write often:
    • from day one
    • “identify do-able chunks of writing that could form the basis of an article, say 700, 1000, 1500 and up to 3000 words on a specific topic or theme”
    • build up a body of writing by accretion – i.e. small bits at a time, one article after another
    • “Treat writing as research planning and development: Don’t turn what should be molehills into mountains.”
      • treat writing as exploratory, contingent, provisional → should always be able/open to revising, re-packaging for another process
      • every article is just another idea – not the whole thesis
    • get over perfectionism and masterpiece syndrome
      • good writing = heavily vetted writing
      • “there’s no such thing as perfect”
      • this is an attempt to give an account – the very best attempt one can give at a particular time, but an attempt nonetheless
  • Thinking things through:
    • many criticisms have merit, ask: Did the reviewer make a good point? Did you write clearly?
      • Sometimes reviewers miss the point, don’t appear to have read the paper carefully → if you really disagree with a criticism of the paper, you can argue your case—politely and respectfully—to the managing editor (be judicious, be polite)
    • keep a detailed list of all the revisions made, which reader (A, B, C) recommended → use when sending paper back to managing editor to explain what you’ve done
    • consider more experiments, major rewrite versus submitting paper elsewhere
    • bear in mind, overwhelming majority of the papers submitted through the peer review process are improved as a result of the process
  • What makes a good abstract?
    • “abstracts” key, salient features of the paper: it does not retell the paper in miniature
      • the what, why, how and so what statement of the research paper
    • What is the paper about? From what larger project does this paper arise?
    • Why is the research reported here necessary and important? So what? Why the paper addresses a significant gap in knowledge.
    • How was the research reported in the paper conducted?
    • Generally this statement is between 150-250 words
    • every word counts
    • consider vocabulary of abstract and keywords: accuracy and web searchability are key considerations (in BOTH abstract and the title of the paper)
      • you want people to find your paper
      • Cuthbert in favor of “non-poetic” paper titles – keywords, searchability over poeticism
  • examined abstracts submitted by workshop participants

“Preparing for the [Academic] Job Market” workshop notes

Dr. James Coltrain, UNL
Dr. James Coltrain, UNL

Below are my rough notes from a whirlwind workshop on the subject of preparing for the academic job market. Dr. James Coltrain led the workshop, which took place on August 21st at the 2014 History Department Graduate Student Retreat.

Preparing for the [academic] job market:

  • every aspect of getting a job will be a grind”
  • being a good job candidate = not same as being a good grad student
  • To be a good job candidate:
    • for an elite position, at a Research I university have:
      • publications (ideally 2-3 peer-reviewed article in your field; any other kinds of publications = a good idea; chapter in edited edition; anything shows through an editorial process)
      • major conference presentations (as many as you can – esp. the big ones like the AHA, OAH; you need people in your field who can advocate for you)
      • a fellowship or two (money to go to a library = very good; apply early – in the Fall; EVEN if it’s only a week’s stay at a library it will help your C.V.)
      • teaching experience (do everything you can to teach your own class + develop the major courses you know you’ll be expected to teach)
      • for digital jobs: do something with strong disciplinary purpose (significant historical questions) AND be knowledgeable about a particular kind of technology (esp. good if its innovative)
      • show impact on your field: If you nail your dissertation, what would the textbook companies be OBLIGATED to change (a chapter, even a sentence)?
  • Where should you look for job listings?
    • Hnet.org
    • academic jobs wiki (google this, disciplinary areas divided by subfield)
    • AHA – “last generation”
    • Chronicle of Higher Education
    • follow a bunch of people on Twitter, institutes – see what pops up
  • Your cover letter – no more than 2 pages; single-spaced
    • must be PERFECT → okay if you spend a month on it
    • VERY direct intro – you, what you’re applying for, your research
    • how your research changes your field, your major field → explain in way that non-experts can understand
    • methodology, which archives you used, travel you’ve done, previous discourse you’re engaging with
    • your WIDER research, how you fit into a school, a mode of analysis, pitch your NEXT project → your next book, connected in some way to your current book (not committed to this, so BE BOLD)
    • brag → don’t just repeat your c.v. – substantive things that don’t come across in your c.v. (communicate its importance); remember: people evaluating you are NOT in your area
    • everything else, especially TEACHING and SERVICE (up to two paragraphs); good place for school specific arguments (particular center you’d be excited to work in; you have a relationship to the place – but don’t go overboard)
    • change this cover letter for different DISCIPLINES you are applying for & for different LEVELS of universities (research, community colleges)
      • work influenced by debates in other fields, taught classes in other areas, etc.
      • cover letter for teaching institution versus R-1 institution → ALWAYS start with your dissertation, adapt your paragraphs after that (emphasize teaching experience and philosophy)
  • Your C.V. – every important thing you’ve done in different categories
    • emphasize professional-level stuff over grad-level stuff (prioritize/list them in this order)
    • 3-4 sentence abstract of your dissertation on your C.V. = good sometimes
    • 2-3 pages of GREAT stuff is better than padding it
  • 3 letters of recommendation
    • 1st person = your advisor → CUSTOMIZED letter; CRITICAL (hopefully “says it all”)
    • 2nd person = could be a committee member, someone who knows your RESEARCH very well 
    • 3rd person = lots of options: someone you taught for that knows you very well, someone at another school IF you know them WELL; want someone with a NATIONAL profile whenever possible
    • NO LAST MINUTE stuff on requests for letters → send a spreadsheet with deadlines, start as early as possible
      • about a month’s notice = the “sweet spot”
    • Interfolio = good; generic letter of recommendation that YOU write for the advisor to give them an idea of what you think you need
      • don’t be afraid to GET ON your letter writers if they’re not keeping up with deadlines – “it’s part of their job” to write letters for you
  • Some things often (but not always) asked for in job applications:
    • writing sample
      • dissertation chapter OR peer-reviewed published article → whichever is BETTER
      • stay within the page limit
    • teaching evaluations → pick the best, most informative ones
    • teaching portfolio – including syllabi (classes taught, planned), evaluations, teaching philosophy
      • come back to those books from your comps for the basic courses you know you will be asked to teach (show your historiography)
      • what you do, why you do it, assignments given (avoid buzzwords without examples)
    • research statement – same as you would do in your cover letter
      • your dissertation, methods
      • final 3rd = future project
    • diversity statement: have someone who actually IS from a diverse background read it
      • how you approach your subject with diversity in mind (pedagogy, research, community)
        • e.g. content of what you teach; can mention your background (but don’t assume that has significance)
  • do as much as you can during the SUMMER
    • different applications will ask for different things, so you’ll constantly be tweaking your application materials
  • significant, polished segment of your dissertation ready to go (in the summer if applying for fall jobs)
    • don’t be shy → go for it if you’re interested
  • Stages of the interview:
    • job posting come out June – January
      • most to Dec. 15th
    • get 70-100 applicants – few cuts may happen early on
      • e.g. send more writing samples (as much of your dissertation as you have)
      • e.g. Skype interviews – look at the CAMERA, wear what you wear to teach in, be in a quiet, well-lit space
      • e.g. phone interview – dress up for your phone interview (state of mind for your interview), have the internet/notes up
      • e.g. conference interview – not all have a conference interview (cuts made to 15-20 or 7-8) → it’s an accomplishment to get there, take it as a good sign
        • be prepared to be at the AHA → think about your finances (ask the department, the center you’re involved in to support your need to be there)
        • make sure you have enough turn-around time (1 hour or so) between interviews
        • ask for names of committee members → do research on them
        • be relaxed for the interview
          • as nice as you can look without being too formal (NOT about style here, about professionalism)
        • get to hotel early, get to the room 5 minutes early
        • bring a clipboard with paper to write on
          • small amount of notes = okay
    • 1st question is ALWAYS – tell me about your research (3 minutes, just like your cover letter – research, methods)
      • theory, method that influenced your research, how it fits within your field
      • the next project
      • teaching experiences, philosophy
      • classes willing, able to teach (make sure you aren’t taking anyone else’s classes at the institution you’re applying for)
      • they’ll tell you about the department, position → you’d BETTER HAVE QUESTIONS FOR THEM
        • read everything on the department website, “stalk” your committee members
        • make YOU and THEM look good with your questions
        • don’t go off on tangents (stick to the basics – emphasizing your research/teaching in your questions)
  • 3-4 folks in the interview on campus
    • everything else in your life is on hold” → don’t be a problem for them, put everything else aside
    • will be stressful, lengthy → give recovery time to yourself between these
    • research every single person you’ll be meeting with on your campus visit
      • try to memorize some names & faces
    • get an itinerary
    • pack a carry-on if you can in case your bags get lost
      • layers, options
    • TONS of meetings – be as friendly as possible, have good posture, emphasize positive things (topics of convo reflect well on them)
    • if you have a weak spot in your candidacy – find a strength to focus on
    • lots of meals – dinners, lunches; “you are on the clock” (do not get drunk); if anyone else gets water you get water
      • do not gossip but be human → bring conversation back to you and the job if it drifts TOO far off
      • order neat, fairly moist food (you’ll be talking the most out of everyone; something easy to eat, not messy)
      • you’re always on; you’re never off”
    • the job talk → 35 minutes to 1 hour
      • questions can be very long sometimes so NEVER go over
      • practice!
      • Have great visuals BUT be prepared to have NO powerpoint
        • have handouts as your backup
      • always have a hard copy or two of your presentation
        • usb drive
        • adaptors
        • e-mail your presentations
      • probably a chapter, or a combo of 2 chapters → but hit on every important aspect of your dissertation
        • mention ALL the important work you’ve done
        • have as many people review this in advance as possible
        • bring water with you
        • clear, direct loud voice – speak slowly and DO NOT READ, make eye contact
        • speak to the person on “your team” as much as you can
        • build natural speech into your talk
        • Q & A: set up possible questions in your talk
          • end your answers with seeding another question
          • anticipate things you’ve been asked to emphasized in your application process
        • stand up for your project → defend your work
        • do the best that you can with “the jerk(s)”
          • there will be people who are aggressive → handle it as respectfully as you can and explain your perspective
        • most of the people in the audience don’t know who’s right”
          • can say something along the lines of “historians continue to debate this point…”
        • think about talking to the aggressive person right afterward → “My committee and I have talked about and debated this too…”
  • adopt a “dating” attitude toward this
    • don’t smother them, don’t creep them out
    • the thank you e-mail after your interview, to the chair of the committee, = a MUST (right after you leave) → show them you don’t take them for granted
      • exercise restraint in impulse to check in on progress
    • don’t be a problem → your personal preferences don’t matter
      • go with the flow
      • only exception = ask for a minimum of half an hour before your job talk, alone, preferably in the room you’ll be speaking in
      • don’t say a negative thing about a person, place, thing, entity the ENTIRE time you are there → you never know who you’ll be making angry (connections of connections)
    • you are nice to everyone the entire time you are there
    • If they had you, they wouldn’t need you.”
    • may not even be the committee that makes the final decision → could be a total faculty vote, higher up considerations
      • keep your distance from any personal connections you may already have at the institution
    • salary, disability, information about the town → DON’T ask until AFTER the offer
      • be light on personal information
      • don’t engage in controversies
      • job offer: be clear about expectations
        • only time you get in touch = if you’re considering another offer (to give them a timeline so you can make a decision)
        • make an effort to negotiate a salary, but realize there is not a lot of wiggle room
  • teaching colleges may ask you to do a guest lecture → they may even dictate which course you’ll lecture
    • so don’t OVER-REACH or over-sell yourself in your application on what you can teach
    • especially true at small liberal arts colleges
    • do a “super-lecture” → rich with sources, images
      • and be a politician with the “students” (who may or may not actually be teaching the course) → get to know them a tad
  • you cannot get down on yourself about rejection
    • & you cannot try to analyze the cause of that rejection
      • it’s such a HUGE combination of circumstances that inform the final decision
    • the pool is too large, the sample size is too small
    • don’t read gossip about jobs (e.g. on the job wiki listed above)
    • also DON’T complain about why you think you didn’t get a particular job
      • don’t check this more than once per week
      • don’t post on this wiki
      • don’t count yourself out → might be a failed job search, other people might have taken other jobs → be patient (this process can literally take a very long time)
  • What if I can’t get a job?
    • Major use of time and effort to get on the market
    • be realistic in both a positive and negative way
    • if your diss is done, don’t get a single conference interview → you may have learned something useful and can try again
    • there are no guarantees because it’s so competitive
    • diversify your skills while you’re here
      • e.g. alt-ac, digital → but don’t over-romanticize the opportunities here (these are still very competitive)
      • think about what else you can do and get started on it (volunteering, internship)
    • post-docs = NOT a “fallback,” still very competitive
      • know yourself” – what this does at best is to extend your shelf-life a while longer
    • know the geography of your job search and weigh your options against the post-doc (compare the resources, connections you have where you are against where you are going – what if you don’t get a job after your post-doc?)
      • consider work a post-doc requires of you too
    • you are probably qualified, but that might not be the way things shake down
      • (American Idol comparison)
    • discourages ANYONE from taking adjunct position in hopes that anyone will turn it into a permanent position
      • okay” for just a year
      • it’s a dead-end” → better investment to focus on writing, researching, speaking (not being a 2nd class citizen basically – no health insurance, pitiful pay, no security, etc.)

Surviving the long research trip

I’m spending much of my day today preparing and packing for a two and a half week long dissertation research trip to California. I’ll visit both the Huntington Library in San Marino and California State University at Fresno’s Henry Madden Library to view collections related to Albert Kimsey Owen’s Topolobampo Cooperative Colony. Along the way I’ll work on organizing my research for writing, perform some website work on evenings and weekends for my summer income, visit a few friends in the Pasadena area, and hopefully do a bit of exploring around town. In short, I’ll employ all the strategies I’ve developed over my graduate career to make the most of my research time and money. So until my next opportunity to write a post arrives, I’ve re-posted my popular “Surviving the long research trip” piece below for all of you making the most of the last bit of summer research time. Safe travels and productive work!

Surviving the long research trip

Emerging from a long research trip with your sanity intact can be tricky. Anyone who’s traveled knows not only how quickly expenses add up, but also how quickly time flies when you’d desperately like more of it. Other factors associated with travel – like a disrupted personal routine, the potential digestional hazards of “road food,” the high correlation between an affordable hotel and a bad hotel, and delayed access to good coffee – can make the long research trip seem like something to first dread, then endure, and finally recover from.

Research trips are a critical part of grad school, at least if you hope to graduate anytime soon, and an extended research trip can be the best way to get the most bang for that buck you may or may not be getting reimbursed for, but lengthy research trips can be fun too. In fact, having fun is one of the simplest ways to put difficult tasks in perspective, reduce stress, and prevent burnout. Contrary to popular (academic) belief the long research trip need not be a grueling ordeal that you soldier through macho style. Over the years I’ve developed some basic strategies that help me not only survive the long research trip, but live the days in a way that enables me to make the best possible use of precious research time.

Plan ahead. This seems like a no-brainer. Of course you must plan ahead to book your airfare, rental car, hotel, and so on but did you cover all your bases?  Most grad students know better than to show up to an archive without having at least searched the online catalog and communicated their research needs to an archivist or two well in advance. (For more on this see my post A good archivist goes a long way.) But you should also develop the habit of nosing around for potential sources whenever you travel in a professional capacity. I’m not advocating you disrupt a vacation by taking a research detour, rather that you should never go to a conference, attend a seminar, or give a guest lecture without checking for relevant holdings in libraries and archives nearby. Failing to do your homework in advance means missing out on easy opportunities to maximize your research time, stretch those travel dollars, justify your expenses, and reduce your overall stress about the research process.

Give yourself over to the idea and get organized. Yes, you’ll have to work really hard for long hours with on-the-go food, grossly abbreviated lunch breaks, limited sleep, and many demands on your attention but it will only be for a certain amount of time. Mentally frame the experience as an exception to your usual schedule, one that you will make the best of, benefit a great deal from, and thank yourself for later. Then work out a detailed daily schedule that incorporates the ways your travel itinerary and library/archive hours of operation will dictate your routine as well as the ways this schedule may need to flex to adjust to unanticipated events. Try to leave some maneuvering room for unexpected archival discoveries, delays from getting lost in an unfamiliar city, opportunities to network, morning/evening organization of photocopies/digital notes, and so forth. A well-planned schedule is key to effective time management, and recognizing in advance that you’ll need to make room for adjustments will help you set reasonable boundaries when you encounter new demands on your time.

Know thyself. Know your personal habits and preferences and don’t be afraid to assert them when you know it’s in your best interest. (This goes for grad school in general too.) You know what you need to perform at your best. Long research trips will stretch you to your max, mentally and sometimes physically as well. Acknowledge this and think about what tactics you’ll need to use to keep yourself in peak research mode. If it’s a quiet, calm evening at the end of an exhausting, busy day so be it. Occasional exceptions must be made, of course, when you recognize a unique opportunity to extend your professional network or examine an uncatalogued collection, for example, but be sure any exception is exceptional and not just a cave to someone else’s idea of a great post-research evening. Know when to put your needs first, and carefully communicate your decisions to any invitation-extenders, travel companions, or roommates.

Consider the wonders of a microwave and mini-fridge. Again, you have to know yourself here to decide if this is for you. I am personally in the habit of eating a good bit of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains every day. I feel “off” when I can’t. Same for exercise. Although my research trips usually end in me not being able to maintain anything close to my normal workout routine a microwave and mini-fridge go a long way toward helping me eat more of what I’m used to, which makes me feel good and in turn reduces some of the stress of travel. It also cuts down on expenses associated with eating out. Yes, you’ll spend on average an extra ten bucks per night to get a hotel room equipped with these wonder appliances, but you’ll save at least that much each day in restaurant tabs.

Do something new. Going somewhere new or doing something new is one of the primary ways I like to treat myself and take a breather while on a long research trip. Sundays are a good day for this since most research libraries and archives are closed on Sundays. If you’re on an extended research trip, chances are you’ll be out of town at least one Sunday and a brief excursion is generally a far better use of your time than just sleeping in or watching t.v. in your hotel room all day. Sometimes I plan something extra to do in advance; other times I wait until I’m in the area to find out what the locals recommend. I rarely miss an opportunity to integrate some personal travel and fun into my research trips, and I always emerge refreshed, refocused, and better for it. You can do more than merely survive your research trips. You can and should find ways to enjoy them too.