Sunday, September 2, 2007

One week...

So, end of my first week as full-time faculty. So far, this doesn't feel a great deal harder than being a grad student; I'm teaching three courses instead of two, and there are more meetings, but on the other hand, I have about the same number of students and I don't have a dissertation to write. Of course, the job market hasn't hit yet, and neither have a lot of other aspects of the job.

I'm liking the drama class a lot, and, thus far, freshman English seems OK apart from the inevitable pacing problems and the challenges of negotiating a new program where People Do Things Differently. On the surface, the freshman comp program here seems a lot less regimented than it did at the University of Basketball, but there are a couple of very rigid requirements that I didn't know about until my syllabus turned out not to meet them. And then, after teaching six sections of the equivalent course at the U. of B., I could more or less do it in my sleep, while there are so many little things that need to be reworked here. But the students themselves seeme like a lively and friendly bunch, and I haven't run into any real attitude problems yet.

The Brit lit class still feels kind of dead, and I have no idea whether they hate Beowulf or hate the way I teach Beowulf. Or possibly they're just naturally quiet and don't hate anything. What worries me is that the last time I taught an early-Brit Lit survey, it sucked (this is not just my own impression -- the course evals said it sucked, too), and I'm starting to feel like this course is jinxed. Which would be a Very Bad Thing, because it's one of the core courses I'll have to teach wherever I end up. And this is precisely the class that shouldn't suck! Why is it that I'm fine in front of a bunch of business majors who don't really want to be in freshman comp, and fine in classes for non-majors that people are only taking to fulfill their distribution requirements, but I choke in front of English majors? Bleah. Oh well, maybe things will be better when we get to Marie de France and Gawain, and ... yikes, Chaucer in two weeks? I am so not ready.

Trying not to think about the fact that the MLA job list will also be out in two weeks. I have a feeling that the strategy for this year, my third year on the market, ought to be different from my last two times out -- probably, fewer applications to fewer different types of schools, more focus and tailoring in the letters. After all, I know more or less what sort of schools will consent to give me an interview; besides, I need to save my time and energy for my new department, which will be running a tenure-track search for my current position. On the other hand, I know the temptation to apply to everything in sight is going to hit as soon as I see the list. (Prior experience suggests that I am really, really good at getting first-round interviews, but spectacularly good at screwing interviews up once I get them, so I feel like I've got to spread a wide enough net to be sure of making it to the second round at all.)

So yeah, no pressure this semester at all.


dance said...

I know more or less what sort of schools will consent to give me an interview

I don't know your past, or even your market, but considering the vagaries and contingencies of the market and search committees, this seems like an unsafe bet to me. I've never talked to anyone whose conference interviews were all from the same type of school. If by "sort" you mean something less categorical than SLAC vs. Research 1, and more like "likes unusual courses" vs. "anti-theory depts"---I'm still not sure it's safe to make such judgments from an ad. It doesn't seem to mesh with your "good at getting first-round interviews", either.

But, good luck any which way you choose.

Sisyphus said...

Ick. And when I say "ick" I mean, "congrats on surviving being new faculty and yay for it not being quite as big a learning curve as you thought!"

But yeah, the return to an immanent job market: ick. My strategy will be (this year will be my second time around) tailor and work up really good versions of applications for the "sort" of schools I seem to get interest from, and _also_ brush off a more general version of what I have to send off to anything that I seem remotely qualified for. I'm hoping that the combination of a wide net and not in-depth prep will work for me.

But mostly I'm hoping that time will just stop before we get to that point.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Dance -- Hmm, I'm not sure why you think those two things don't mesh. It seems to me that a big part of getting interviews in the first place is knowing yourself -- specifically, knowing who is most likely to interview you, putting some time and crafting into your applications to those schools, and not wasting your time on places that won't.

That said, I did apply practically everywhere in my first two years on the market, but that's how you learn what works for you and what doesn't. Besides, as a full-time VAP with a 4-3 teaching load, I simply CAN'T send out ninety-five applications and travel to five campus interviews like I did last year, so I have to do something to narrow the pool.

Sisyphus -- Good luck! And yeah, the thought of stopping time is really tempting right now.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on surviving your first week! It sounds like you're doing a lot better than I did my first week as a SLAC VAP "with the possibility of conversion to tenure track." Like you and Sisyphus, a colleague from that job and I still sign off our e-mails to each other with "Stop the school! I want to get off!" Ah, memories.

As for the market, you have my sympathies and wishes. It's good that you know how to focus your search and moreover that it seems you're in a position to be picky. At the same time, it doesn't take that much more time to send out ninety-five (wow! there are a lot of jobs in your specialties) than a dozen, once you have the boiler plate, which you obviously do. I can't help thinking also that having a ton of interviews, even just at MLA, will make you more desirable to your current department. Just a thought.

Fretful Porpentine said...

wow! there are a lot of jobs in your specialties

Well, I applied to a lot of generalist jobs last time around, and a fair number of jobs where they just wanted someone to teach freshman comp, so they weren't all in my specialty by any means.

Not too sure I'm in a position to be picky, unfortunately -- at this point I've had lots and lots of spectacularly unsuccessful interviews, and my current job was something of a late-season miracle.

dance said...

Ditto re Jane on boilerplate/time and MLA interviews making you look good. Especially the second.

I guess the other thing I am thinking is that while *after* you've gotten interviews, it becomes clear that the schools are all the same "sort", that might not be as easy to tell upfront. Or by "sort", do you mean the field listed in the job ad? You could save a lot of time not developing boilerplate and materials for a tangential specialty, so that type of culling would make sense to me. (An example, even fake, of what you mean by "sort" would really help me here :) )

"Good at getting first-round interviews" suggests to me that you got interviews you didn't expect to get--otherwise, where would your skills come into it? Which to me, contradicts the notion you can predict which interviews you might get.

Now I'm curious about what sort of tailoring you do, or that sisyphus means to do. I changed the materials I sent and edited the last para of my cover letter re the courses I could teach and how they might mesh with the department's strength. Perhaps you mean something more? I do recall skipping an application for a school in Dakota that requested syllabi I had not already written.

I'm also not comfortable (at all) with the notion that knowing yourself correlates to knowing what a school is looking for. Really uncomfortable.

And---one more inconsistency I see in your analysis of the market as it applies to you---how many conference interviews went with 95 apps and 5 on-campus? Because I cannot reconcile getting 5 on-campus visits with being bad at first-round interviews, as you said you were. Even, say 30 conference interviews and a 1 in 6 jobtalk yield strikes me as fairly decent, since schools bring anywhere from 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 of the people they interview at conferences. But you aren't talking like you had 30 MLA interviews (a 1 in 3 yield from apps).

Not that I have any answers....but I'm wondering if you developed these notions about yourself (certain schools like me, I don't interview well), in the throes of market stress last winter, in which case I would consider them suspect.

Sorry for the long comment.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Oh dear, this is going to require a long, long answer. First of all, by "first-round interview" I definitely do NOT mean MLA interview, since lots of small, teaching-heavy schools do not interview at the MLA, and this is precisely the type of school that has shown the most interest in my applications. Anyway, here are my stats:

First year: Applied to 55 jobs, thought I would be lucky to get ANY interviews, given that I had only written only half of the dissertation and had no significant publications. Ended up having four conference interviews, three phone interviews, and no campus visits.

Second year: Applied to 95 jobs, a fair number of them spring postings, many of them visiting positions. Ended up with five conference interviews (none of which yielded campus visits); nine phone interviews (two of which yielded campus visits); and three campus interviews WITHOUT a primary screening interview (all of these were late-season postings, one at a two-year college) plus a request for a fourth, which I turned down because I'd already accepted my current job. So, OK, that's a one-in-five hit rate, which was, again, much better than I'd expected to do, but the fact remains that I have never had a successful conference interview, and I've gotten past the initial round of interviews exactly twice.

Also, with the exception of one campus interview for a one-year position at a fancy SLAC (which was a nice boost to the ego, but I didn't get the job), these were not prestigious jobs by any means -- mostly, I'm getting interviews at regional comprehensives and not-overly-selective small colleges with a 4-3 or 4-4 teaching load. (At the two-year college it was 5-5, and I would have had to think long and hard before taking the job if I had gotten an offer.) So, for the most part, the schools I'm NOT planning to apply to this year and would have applied to in previous years are the ones at the top end of the market, unless I have a very good reason to think they might be interested in me. (If you don't like the phrase "know yourself" in this context, how about "know your qualifications"?)

heu mihi said...

You might get more interest from different types of schools this year because a) you have a job, and b) you have your Ph.D. Those kinds of things make a huge difference with a lot of hiring committees (or so I hear)--moving you from one pile into the far-more-likely-to-interview pile. So the fact that your interviews have been with these particular kinds of schools might be a function of where you were in the profession, which could very well change this year.

This is the kind of stuff I'm banking on this year, at any rate.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Oh, good point. (And I have a shiny new article coming out! Gotta brag about the article!) Damn, it is starting to look like I shouldn't rule anything out of court.

:: thunks head against keyboard :: If these are supposed to be good things, why in the world did that comment just make me want to go AAUGHH!!!?

Sisyphus said...

Ooh, yes! Publications will make you look more attractive too.

One of our long-previously-graduated grads from my dept. (does that make _any_ sense? No? oh well.) is at a Cal State and he said, after being burned too many times on hiring ABDs in their department and then having to let them go because they still hadn't finished the diss at the three-year review, they no longer even _look_ at ABD candidates; you have to have the PhD in hand at the moment you apply. To which I say: aaaaaaaugh, but on the other hand it makes total sense.

So, you have made yourself into a _much_ stronger candidate by being done. Don't rule out anything much.

And yeah, how much extra time will it take to tweak a research boilerplate, a fancy SLAC, a non-fancy SLAC, and a regional comprehensive letter and then mail them all out everywhere?

With that note I will now peruse the chronicle ads, freak out, and eat consolatory ice cream.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Well, I was kind of hoping to do something other than boilerplate this year, but last night I gave in and polished my boilerplate :)

And ice cream is always an excellent plan!

dance said...

"know your qualifications" I like a lot better--and as pointed out, yours have changed. :) Especially with shiny new article--I think proof of research production opens up new worlds. Success at getting first-round interviews, in fact, says "hey, I've got a topic that catches the eye and I present it/myself well" which suggests that with hard data (finished phd and article) to back up potential, you've got a good chance of pulling wider interest. Fourteen first-round interviews yielding two jobtalks last year *is* a significant stat (somewhat)--but were you still unfinished or can you identify certain questions you didn't handle well, or what? I just don't think ascribing it to "good at blowing first-round interviews" is a useful tack. :) (the first year 0 for 7 rate is clearly due to unfinished--no matter how well you speak, they can tell what's not written).

Around 2002, I think the English dept placement at my grad school was telling people to expect three years as a VAP before getting a tenure-track. Insane, but suggests a systemic problem, not a problem with candidates. Not sure if this is still the case, or how true that was even then--but if that is a standard, or even close, you are trimming your sails too early in the process.

But I'm still curious about what you would do to craft an app other than tailored boilerplate. Feel free to save it for another post. :)