Thursday, August 10, 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again (a post about going on the market)

Last night I began working on my cover letter. I dusted off my letter from the last time around, and I set about trying to turn it into something that actually shows who I am now. See, this is the weird thing about academic job searching. As you compile the materials, and as you look at old versions of the materials from searches of yesteryear, you're really looking at a version of your self, and you're attempting to construct a self to send out into the world. I suppose this isn't unique to academic searches, but because the materials required of us are so detailed, because one can be eliminated from consideration for the smallest misstep, it's a rhetorical situation that is incredibly fraught from even the moment of deciding to go on the market.

And perhaps the worst part of it is the cover letter. It inspires you to tell lies (like that one about the "next book project" - not that you won't have a next book but that at least if you're me you haven't really thought about the work you're doing right now in those terms until you were forced to do so by the letter) and to have a big crazy rush of productivity so as to be able to put things in the letter. The CV doesn't inspire the same kind of fretting - does my personality come through in the letter? How can I make this thing shorter? How do I include the most possible information without boring the committee to tears? And at this point, the writing sample doesn't inspire the same kind of fretting, or even the statement of teaching philosophy or of research plans. But the cover letter? Well, sure, I do know how to write one now, but it's still tricky.

I suppose that's the strange thing about embarking on this process right now. It's that I know how to do it because I've done it all before, but at the same time I don't entirely know how to do it in light of who I've become as a scholar in the past three years. I'm not the same person who was finishing up her dissertation in 2002, on the market for the first time. My research has moved beyond the tiny little area on which my dissertation focused; I've taught like 7 different literature courses when then I hadn't taught a one on my own; I've done so much service you'd think that I never say no to anything, even though I do, except for when I'm too flattered to remember about the saying no. In other words, I'm a very different candidate than I was then, even though looking back over the past three years I see how I grew out of that candidate that I was.

I'm not entirely sure how to conclude this post. I suppose suffice it to say that this decision to go on the market has really made me look carefully at how I've developed since getting a tenure track job as a member of this profession, and I think that even if nothing comes of this search, going through the rigamarole of putting together the materials has made me acknowledge what I'm achieving as a professional. That's a good thing. Feeling like a professional - instead of feeling like somebody who's knocking on doors and begging to be allowed to become a professional - at this point in the process is a really good thing.

4 comments:

Mel said...

I agree, every time you have to go through one of these big hoops -- the market, an NEH app, etc-- it can be a really interesting process for self understanding (and not just constructing).

Cats & Dogma said...

That last statement, about being a professional, as opposed to hoping to be allowed to be a professional, might just make all the difference in the world...

cipher22 said...

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE change your background.

timna said...

it's true, not putting together the materials (and this is the second year that I've abstained from the large job search) means more than not framing a given self. for me, at least, I haven't had those spurts of getting an article out if I wasn't claiming to have 2-3 under review. So it's not only the description, but actually the creation of the candidate that is a product of the search process.