(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

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