When I apply for nonacademic jobs, I get excited about the possibility of setting off in a new direction, of meeting new challenges and learning new skills. I convince myself that dammit, I can run a museum's education department, for example, even though my experience in such a field is limited to part-time work and to much reading into museum theory. And although I only have about a year of university development (fund-raising) experience, I believe I could serve successfully as the associate director of an alumni giving program or even a major capital campaign.
Faculty jobs are another story altogether. Tonight I've been writing and printing off this year's first round of academic job applications. Both the desired fields of concentration and the application documents make me feel underprepared, even though I know I could walk into a classroom and teach undergraduates just about anything in the humanities (except foreign languages--not so good with those). Of course, I'd fare better in some disciplines than in others, but I'm confident my interdisciplinary background and specific teaching experiences would help me to assemble meaningful courses in, for example, American studies, women's history, U.S. history, cultural studies, creative writing, museum studies, public history, bioethics, science and society, literature, technoculture studies, and composition. (Yes, I have taught many of those subjects in one manifestation or another, or my dissertation fell within them.)
However, the subfields tend to be narrowly defined or the job ads include what seems to me to be an improbable combination of subjects. Middle Eastern studies and environmental literature? (OK, I made that one up. But you get the idea.) When they allow for a broad applicant pool--for example, "any concentration in any geographical area of North America since 1500"--I worry that my dissertation topic isn't sexy enough.
For those of you who haven't applied for jobs in the humanities before, just the first step can be pretty grueling. Depending on whether the position is a postdoctoral fellowship or a faculty position, the search committee might ask for any of these documents:
- cover letter
- three letters of recommendation
- dissertation abstract
- dissertation chapter
- published article
- teaching evaluation summaries
- graduate transcripts
- application form
- sample syllabi or course proposals
- teaching philosophy statement
Usually programs ask for 3-4 of these things. In my case, I'm confident about how I'm represented in approximately half of these documents.
What makes the process especially daunting for me is the fact that I'm applying for positions in so many different departments and programs. There's very little I can pull from one letter to another, so each letter takes me a lot of time. I feel I need to reinvent myself every time. In one letter I'm an environmental historian. In another I'm a scholar of U.S. women's history. In yet another I'm a specialist in material culture. Each repackaging and rebranding of myself is true to varying degrees.
More anxieties: Which conferences should I attend? All of the disciplines to which I'm applying interview at different conferences, and only one of them is local this year. And my budget is very, very tight because hey, I'm an adjunct.
During application season last year, I got stuck behind a guy at the automated postal machine. From his mailing labels, I could tell he was applying for jobs in economics. He had about 50-60 envelopes, and all of them were the exact same thickness, suggesting he could just stick the same cover letter and documents into each envelope, affix postage, and be on his merry way. I was jealous.
And then there's the matter of to where I should apply. I know I like Iowa, but what do I think of North Dakota? Would I be happy in the South? Would Mr. Trillwing? Are the public schools decent there? Would Lucas have to listen to some crap about intelligent design? Could I live with the humidity? Do I put myself in the running for what seems to be a perfect job in a city I consider to be the armpit of the nation? Do I want to even bother applying for a position that advertises a 4/4 teaching load? Can I imagine designing as many as eight new courses in a year? Would grading 3-4 papers from each of 150+ students sans TAs drive me insane? Would I have any work-life balance at all? What about the upper Midwest or Canada? Do I really want to go back to the hassle of shoveling snow and winterizing the house and car? And how do I feel about relocating Lucas two or three thousand miles away from his grandparents and other family members? (Currently we're about 400 miles away from extended family.) Do I want to move closer to that family even though it means we'll never be able to afford to buy a house and my commute will likely be long?
My parents are retired high school teachers. I saw my mom wade miserably through stacks of papers for decades, and I started helping her grade those papers when I was 11 or 12 years old. I also was paid under the table by a couple of my high school teachers to grade their papers. That means I've already been grading papers for 19 years. I've been teaching my own courses since 1999. I love designing courses, crafting class activities, and interacting with students, but do I want to grade papers every 2-3 weeks for the next 35-40 years? I'm not so sure.
In the midst of all this angst, I'm grateful Mr. Trillwing is not an academic. He's really the ideal "trailing spouse" because he telecommutes and because it's pretty easy for him to find freelance work if necessary.
In summary: Aaaaaaaaauuuuggghhh!
It's enough to make a person apply for nonacademic jobs, even though they're open right now and accepting one of them would mean ditching my teaching commitments for the rest of the year. And oh, look--how convenient! I happen to have six or seven such job ads sitting on my desk right now. But do I want an 8-to-5 job? What to do? What to do?