The Job Search: Some Pre-AWP Navel-Gazing

Posted: January 16, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I was asked yesterday, via Facebook message, if I had set up any job interviews during the upcoming AWP conference in Chicago.  I wrote back, “No, I mean I’m only just at the very beginning of the PhD program at OU.  Isn’t it a little early for job interviews?”  No, said the reply, and referenced this article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I’m more than a little daunted by the idea that I should already be looking for a job when I’ve only just started the four to five year journey toward earning my degree.  (And I don’t actually think the article is suggesting that I should be interviewing for one yet, only that I should be “networking”–an ambiguous phrase that smacks of falsity and opportunism–and taking care to tend my future desirability as a tenure track faculty member.)  Here is a scary number from the article: only four tenure track positions in creative writing were added to MLA’s job list last year.  And here is another scary number: only twenty  new positions were added to that list last year.  But maybe the scariest number of all?  I will be fifty when I complete the program.  Fifty.  Is it even possible to compete for tenure track jobs at that age?  I don’t know. But I do know that means I don’t have the time to, as one person in the article did, wait twelve years for the right job to come along.

So, really, this blog post is an open question: How should I be using my time at AWP to limit the risk that I’ll be stuck permanently adjuncting?  What should I be certain that I don’t do?  (Besides the obvious. I have a friend–in a different field–who killed off several promising job leads by getting really drunk and expounding loudly on his theory that the hard work was behind him because tenure track faculty get published by listing themselves as first author on work that’s really all been done by their graduate assistants. One of the good things about being old is that I’ve already learned certain lessons.  Too often, the hard way.)  For those of you who have already successfully found tenure track positions, what if any place did these conferences have in your landing such a job?  For those of you who, like me, aren’t yet looking, what are your strategies? (Even the word “strategy” here seems a little icky to me… a little lawyer-hanging-out-at-an-accident-scene-looking-to-hand-out-my-card… but I understand that is a squeamishness I probably need to overcome.)

Last year, I treated AWP primarily as an opportunity to meet editors I’d known only by email and other writers whose work I admired, and was much more focused on the writing community than on the academic community.  But this year, when some of the doom and gloom about the academic employment landscape has finally made an impression on me, I’m wondering if that should change?

Your thoughts, friends and colleagues, would be gratefully appreciated.

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Comments
  1. chase says:

    Hey Sarah! Have a great time at the conference. In my humble opinion, I think you’re thinking of networking all wrong. You’re a sensitive artistic person who needs a professional role that isn’t going to energetically cramp you. Does this sound accurate? If so, then you must look at networking as an opportunity to just connect and learn more about the people who are professionally in your academic field. That’s all that is. I think instead of drawing attention to a ‘negative’ ie any statement that has a ‘don’t’ in it… I think you need to rewrite your list as ‘positive actions’ to take. You know… Things you want to do or will do, people you want to meet or will meet, experiences you’d like to have and share / will have and share. You have so much to offer… I think you have to both consider how you’d like to offer your extensive gifts as well as be open. Ok. Thems my 2 cents. Good luck and trust you will end up somewhere fabulous!

  2. mjf says:

    Truth is: you seem to be a fine networker (in a non-smarmy way). Effective “networking” isn’t about working the room. It’s about meeting people, being yourself, making you some kind of known quantity. As for me, I secured a tenure track position without doing much (if any) networking at all. The first time I made it to AWP, it was because I had interviews … and the only networking was running into the chair of a committee with whom I’d already had a campus visit. My two cents: you get prelim interviews based largely on the apparent fit of the cv to the job. I know many would call this a naive p.o.v., but it’s my experience. The only job to which I applied for which I had “networked” (I knew people on the search committee because, in fact, I worked in the $#^%& department as a full-time contract faculty member), I failed to win even a preliminary interview. Thus, I think networking is kind of over-rated, since search committees will almost always include a bunch of people who you’ll never have a chance to network with (i.e. non- creative writers who don’t ever attend AWP).

    So: don’t think about applications and interviews until you are at least ABD, and even then assume that interviews are largely for practice. Use your Ph.D. years to continue to build your publication list, continue to increase your teaching experience, and continue to become the sort of person who, at the ultimate interviews that WILL happen, blows committees away.

    So: use AWP as a fun, creativity-induing writing fest. Don’t sweat the future.

    Two plus sides:
    1) You’ll be coming out right about at the time of my tenure decision, so you know there will be at least one nonfiction TT job open!
    2) See you at AWP.

    • sarahemc2 says:

      MJF… I’m pretty sure you’re a shoe-in for tenure. Smartest guy in the room, even when the room was pretty full of smart guys. (Guy here should be understood as gender neutral. Wow, did I just say that? I’m such a nerd.)

  3. Mom says:

    I think that lots of schools will see you as the brilliant, creative, kind, and generous, person that you are, and that you will have many offers.

    Love, Mom

  4. sarahemc2 says:

    Now, if I can just figure out how to get my mother on all the selection committees of the English departments at which I would like to work…

  5. Kristi says:

    Networking doesn’t have to be false or icky. The first conference I went to, I brought a list of questions about work problems and things I was interested in learning more about. I was following lots of people at the conference on Twitter already, so I could ask them about something they’d tweeted, or at least feel halfway comfortable standing near them. Actually I was so excited to be there, I just introduced myself to just about everyone who got near me, found out what they did, and sometimes asked them about things on my list.

    I think I’ve gotten moodier or pickier or something since then. I go to a lot of events, but the presentation has to interest me, and a lot of the night consists of me parking by butt somewhere and chatting with the people next to me. This almost always turns into a job lead. If I have at least one job lead, I give myself permission to leave immediately after the presentation is over, if I’m feeling shy.

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