Category Archives: Grad School

On the Academic Job Market, Part 2

Well, folks, it has been so long that I don’t know where to begin this post, so I’ll just dive in and begin somewhere, as somewhere is better than nowhere, don’t you think?

This summer has flown by in a flurry of trips, plane rides, sleepless nights with the kids (ages 3 and 6, both of whom are going through extreme night-waking stages right now), fabulous meals, movies, walks to the park, trips to the pool, hikes, and ice cream runs. I graduated with my PhD in May, after four years of undergrad, four years of M.A. work, and seven years of PhD work, at the ripe old age of 34—better late than never, no? My family came from two different states, I took everyone out to lunch, and I received tremendously generous gifts that will allow me to buy my doctoral robes, or built-in bookshelves for my library in my new home…I can’t decide which.

I really wanted to spend as much time with my kids this summer as possible, so I limited my work hours and yet was still able to teach two online classes, go to a couple conferences, and submit two different articles for publication. This fall, I need to submit two more, and apply to a couple conferences next year that I really want to go to, in addition to revamping the two courses I teach online for CU and adding a few more bells and whistles to the already-extant content.

But, this blog post is entitled “On the Job Market,” so let’s cut the preamble.

Where I last left you, I reported I had a job offer, one which materialized into a signed contract with King University, a very small liberal-arts university in Bristol, TN, 21 hours away from where I currently live in CO. Thanks to all the books I read on the job market, I knew that I could ask for a year’s reprieve from the start date of my contract, and the folks at King amazingly, astoundingly agreed to this request, so rather than start this very week, I am instead here in CO for one more year, beginning in Aug. 2015. This gives me a year to say goodbye to CO and the family and friends I have here, a year to pack up the house and get it ready to sell, a year with my kids, a year to “rest” (even though my adviser strongly recommends I use this year to transform my dissertation into a book, buying me From Dissertation to Book for my graduation gift!).

Sign in Bristol, TN, courtesy of Photo Credit: SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent) via Compfight cc

Sign in Bristol, TN, courtesy of Photo Credit: SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent) via Compfight cc

All of the hullaballo you read about contract negotiations didn’t really apply to my situation, and perhaps I didn’t ask for enough, but a few rounds of emails and a couple long phone calls resulted in a decent starting salary, some travel/conference funds every year, a new iPad and laptop upon my arrival, an office (of course), and some funds for moving. Out of the approx. 10 friends I had on the job market in 2013-2014, four have about the same job offers as I do, two have far better, one turned down the offer she got in hopes of something better last year, one accepted a prestigious post-doc, and two didn’t get any job offers at all. All in all, it was a very successful year for most of us.

So what advice do I have for your job market aspirations?

First, be prepared to succeed, but also be prepared to fail. It’s rather like gambling; either one could so easily happen.
Next, know that you will most likely make a LOT more money if you go the alt-ac route, or if you teach at the high school level. Decide now how important the money is. The reality is, most of us will start at 45,000-55,000, which is a tough pill to swallow after 10+ years of study.

Finally, embrace the digital and the pedagogical. I strongly believe that I was so (modestly) successful on the market due to my digital portfolio. I design and teach classes online, I’ve presented on Web 2.0 applications and digital humanities, I’ve even done some DH projects (as I mentioned before). I’ve focused on teaching during my graduate school years, not on research, and I have experience fully designing and teaching six different courses as instructor of record. If you have yet to choose a graduate school, choose one like CU that allows you to teach literature from the get-go.

If you have any specific questions, you know how to get ahold of me! I would be glad to help in any way I can as you, dear reader, navigate the job market this coming year. Good luck!

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On the Academic Job Market, Part 1

So, originally I created this blog to vent about my disastrous run on the job market. For it would be disastrous. I have highly talented—even laughably talented—friends and colleagues in my life, people who are finding no work after graduate school other than the adjunct slog and/or the alt-ac track (not to diminish those rewarding paths, but when one nourishes the lie that they are preparing for an Assistant Professor role for over a decade, there is a bit of a letdown, I think, to end up with something else). And, as I insist, I am not super great. This is not false modesty; I don’t have a long roster of publications, I don’t put together conferences, I don’t speak at five events around the country each year. As the mother of two young children, I simply cannot do these things. So, instead, I try to do the best with the very limited time and opportunities that are given to me. Next week, I will be embarking on my first TEI (text-encoding initiative) project with the fabulous Kirstyn Leuner, the CU Libraries, and the Stainforth manuscript: http://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/specialcollections/collections/wprp/290caption.htm . I have been acting as a curator for Lori Emerson’s Media Archeology Lab at CU: http://mediaarchaeologylab.com/ . I am slowly working on publications while I wrap up my final semester as a graduate student and teach three classes, all while providing full-time care to my two littles.

My husband and I want to pursue The Simple Life. What does that mean to you? What does that mean to us? Can one be an academic in the 21st century and still march under the banner of Simple? (Here I make a clear reference to both Game of Thrones and C.S. Lewis, my binge-worthy pursuits of late).

Is it okay to pursue something because you love it at the core, because it speaks to your heart, and because you think it is God’s vocation upon your life, even if it takes precious time away from your family?

Is it okay to pursue something if it is a poor financial decision?

Can the Simple Life be one that is crazy-busy (for I don’t know an academic who is NOT crazy-busy most times of the year)? Will summers “off” (that old lie) be enough to counteract the insanity of the academic year?

And: I am pinching myself that I even get to ask these questions of myself and of my life at all. For, to return to the job market: I have a job offer on the table. In light of all my fancy friends, in light of my fundamental inadequacy and simplicity, I am one of the lucky ones. The doors of academia have opened just a crack for me, and they are threatening to swing wide open.

But this is where things get tricky. In dealing with real people, real universities, and real job offers (or lack thereof), I have considered making this blog anonymous, because how honest can you be when your comments are directly linked back to your name?

Another thought: this is not a diary. This is a public, and professional, record of my academic life.

But, what is the point of blogging if I have to filter?

But, don’t we have to filter everything?

As you can see, my head space is one of a cacophony of competing questions and resounding “Buts…!” these days. Resounding buts. Heh, heh. My daughter would appreciate that. (Speaking of, now someone has plopped a hamster on my lap. I’m not even joking.)

Hamster

Photo Credit: inrsoul via Compfight cc

The journey to this one solitary little job offer, one of the most profound moments of my life, took eight months, thousands of hours, over fifty job applications, over 300 dollars, and countless long conversations with myself, my husband, my friends and family. Conversations wherein I tried to talk myself down from the cliff of mania, the cliff of suspicions that I just wasn’t “good enough,” the cliff of anticipating failure so that it wouldn’t hit so hard in the end.

And then? Then I started to get nibbles on my line. (Fishing, as Virginia Woolf knew, is the aptest metaphor there is.)

I got a phone interview for a large state university, University of X, for which they had had over 400 applications.

I got a phone call from a small liberal arts university, Y University, expressing interest.

I got several requests for more materials from several different schools.

The fish, they were a’biting. In the end (now that I can safely say this is all at an end), I got five initial interviews, four extended interview rounds, three campus visits, and one job offer. While it is borderline unthinkable that anyone after meeting me would not want to hire me (joking here, but in the words of my adviser: “Who wouldn’t want you after meeting you?!?!?”), this is the reality of the job market. I got so many “it’s not you, it’s me” responses that they became laughable. In many ways, the job market is much like The Bachelor combined with Survivor: everyone madly jockeying for a partner before all the good ones have been taken, everyone making overtures of love while retaining a sinister and downright diabolical plan for World Domination, etc. I was told by one school that this decision was one of the hardest they had made in over 40 years. I was told by another that the final decision is only “splitting hairs” and has virtually nothing to do with me. Throughout, the elusive specter of “fit” (enumerated upon so nicely by Melanie Mock here:http://www.crlt.umich.edu/sites/default/files/resource_files/Making%20Yourself%20Fit.pdf ) continued to raise its shaggy head. And what if I didn’t “fit” anywhere?

To be continued…

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No, My Blog Is Not Dead, Thanks Very Much.

Okay, well, once again, I have found that I have over-committed. This semester was (and is) like a roller coaster that has whisked me on down the track. If I want 30 minutes with my husband on the couch in the evenings, if I want to be able to see my children in any capacity beyond providing for their immediate basic bodily needs, then I have had to jettison “extras” like this blog, like submitting an article for publication, like writing new abstracts for CFPs. I am well aware that academia does not see these activities as “extras” at all and instead finds them integral to a well-rounded candidate. I guess a well-rounded candidate I am not. I have tried, and tried, and I am now reaching the end of my rope. Here’s why.

  • I’m teaching three classes right now: one online, and two face-to-face. The grading, prep, commute, lecture, and communication time with my almost 100 students is, quite simply, astronomical.
  • I’m serving as a Curator for Lori Emerson’s fabulous Media Archeology Lab: http://mediaarchaeologylab.com/. In this capacity, as often as possible, I need to sort through and properly label museum artifacts. I’m working on computer monitors and TVs now.
  • I’m finishing up my dissertation. I have three chapters of revisions waiting on my desk to finish, and I’m awaiting revisions (two rounds of them) on a fourth chapter. I need to draft (and submit for revisions) my Introduction and Coda ASAP.
  • I’m on the job market – ha ha! Yes, I thought I’d just add to the chaos and try to find a job amidst all this bustle. I’m extremely ambivalent about the entire process, from application to job and the hours all of this will entail. I hope that I’m not alone, that every job candidate feels this ambivalence. While I’m applying for jobs all around the country and even in Canada, I’m becoming more and more unsure about uprooting the family for a job that will probably be far from any pre-conceived “dream job” of mine. I’m extremely interested in online adjunct work, but the major downside to that is the adjunct part. I’ll be trading in my PhD for a lifetime of low wages and no benefits. The upside to this is a more flexible schedule, being home with my kids for the long-term, and not uprooting the family from the state and community that we love. Anyway, every single weekend is spent searching and applying for jobs.
  • I’m scheduled to deliver not one but TWO presentations at the upcoming MLA convention in January. I haven’t even completely read the book that one proposal is based on. I have to completely draft, edit, create visually-appealing presentations, and be ready to roll by January 8th. I was going to do this over Christmas break, but now it appears…
  • I may be teaching two separate sections of upper-division online literature classes in the spring, which means I will need to completely design and upload both classes over Christmas break.

This might sound like a typical workload for graduate school, and indeed it is, but don’t forget that I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom to a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Yes, my husband helps out a lot, but I have no nanny, no housekeeper. There is currently a hamster on the loose in my house, and piles of laundry in the basement. I need to get the kids’ Halloween costumes, and go buy candy. My ten year wedding anniversary is coming up next weekend, so no working that weekend.

Suffice it to say that if you want to have a “balanced” life between academia and your family, perhaps see your friends every once in awhile (this I have not been able to do) and go to church (I’m hanging on to God until the bitter end), it all results in a puzzle that is impossible to solve. Impossible.

Just now, my daughter ran into my room and started jabbering at me. I said, “Sylvia!,” sternly, and she responded, “Skedaddle!” and ran out. Yes, my daughter instantly knows to leave me alone. Oh, the parental guilt.

(And yes, I know I need to add a picture to make this blog visually appealing. I just don’t have the time.)

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On Over-Committing

This year, 2013, my last full year as a graduate student, hopefully for all of eternity, I deemed “The Year of Showing Up.” In an effort to—I don’t know, make myself miserable? Destroy my family and my marriage? Increase my output of tears?, I decided to do it all, apply for it all, BE IT ALL this year. Again, why? Will all of this get me a better job? (I doubt). Does all of this make me significantly more happy? (This is debatable). So: why?

Many blogs and articles frequently discuss the difficulty of finding balance in graduate school, especially when you have a family and outside commitments:

http://www.gradhacker.org/2013/01/30/a-personal-experiment-in-happiness/ – I especially love this quote: “I realized I didn’t want to keep living like this, spending all of my energy working and thinking that it was ok because someday I’d be able to enjoy myself. I realized that I wanted to enjoy life now.” Amen, Katy!

http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/mama-phd – this blog, one of my favorites, even posts as its byline “Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.”

http://www.gradhacker.org/2012/03/26/grad-school-guilt/ – favorite quote here: “It’s not a particularly healthy way to go through life, and it places a great deal of stress on every moment of the day, since even when I’m trying to relax, I know I could be working.” This is my life, in a nutshell.

One blog post even argues that the whole point of graduate school is a long journey to teach you how to say no:

http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/the-point-of-grad-school-is-to-learn-to-say-no/49385

And for added effect:

 http://www.gradhacker.org/2013/05/08/saying-no/

The short version for me is, it’s summertime. I have always bragged that I am the kind of academic who truly takes summer off. I know this practice isn’t always feasible, and this is a special year: one isn’t always finishing up a six-year PhD program. But yes, back to that short version: I need to slow down a bit, say “no” to a few more things, guard my time more jealously, be a bit more wise (read: sparing) with my commitments.

I may put this blog on hiatus all summer, and make it more of an academic school-year thing, much like the brilliant folks at GradHacker do: http://www.gradhacker.org/2013/06/18/gradhacker-summer-hiatus/.

I may slow down and post once a month, or only when I have something very important to say.

I will most likely post when my course for Le Cordon Bleu is up and running (it begins July 8th) and I find myself teaching a combined three online courses for two different institutions at the same time, for the first time.

I will definitely post when I attend COLTT, the Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology conference, held every year in Boulder: https://www.cusys.edu/coltt/2013/index.html. I’m presenting for the second time this year, a workshop called “The Digital Dossier: Combining Effective Digital Pedagogy and Scholarship,” that I need to put together from scratch next month. I’m looking forward to tweeting from this conference for the first time.

I am very interested in the animal that is the academic blog, and I am not giving up. I am just stepping back a little. Not even that; I am just taking a much needed breath. The crunch of writing that last dissertation chapter, revising previous chapters and preparing them for publication, anticipating three conference presentations at two upcoming conferences, teaching a combined three courses online (one of them brand new to me: new platform, new institution, new rules, new pedagogy, new everything), and trying to show up in my own life and be a good mother, wife, sister, member of my church and community, etc., has all proved to be more than even I can handle. Can you see how shredded the syntax of this blog post is? As shredded as my mind, my friend; as frayed as my wee shuddering brain cells.

Pray for me. And, God bless you, GradHacker.

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