I’m back, folks! And I’m a little irritated. Here’s the deal:
Last September, I was embarking on a year off from teaching, as I’d received a special fellowship to focus on my research. I also was newly separated and trying to envision a new life for myself. I had a problem, though. I love my current job, campus and colleagues; it’s not the world’s most perfect workplace, but it’s perfect for me. However, I truly couldn’t bear the thought of having to return after my year off to a city that I had only experienced with my ex-husband. In fact, he’d been born and raised in the city where I work, and I dreaded the possibility of always running into him at what had previously been our favorite restaurants, cafes and things to do with our leisure time.
So I slyly began casting about for a new job. But the academic job process is particularly unusual and tortuous. Here’s typically what happens (in the Humanities, at least):
- Universities begin announcing what kind of professors they’re looking to hire starting in September. You have to wade through all the listings in your discipline to identify the ones that (a) actually apply to your area of specialization, and (b) are in locations that you would want to live in. The result of the search could be zero…and so you’re out of luck until next year. If you’re lucky, there are two or three jobs you’re excited about.
- You amass all the materials required to apply. It could be as simple as your cover letter, CV (academic resume), a writing sample, and three letters of rec. However, the university may also want teaching evaluations, a statement of your teaching and/or research philosophy, etc. The application deadlines are usually in late November to early December.
- You compete against hundreds of people. Really, like 400 people might apply for 1 position. The search committee whittles down the pile to the most attractive candidates–maybe 10 people–and can ask for follow-up materials (more writing sample or sample syllabi). They may also conduct brief in-person interviews at your field’s premier annual conference.
- If you make it past these cuts, then you are one of three or four candidates invited for a campus visit. This usually takes place sometime from January through mid-March. You spend at least one full day, maybe two, on campus in nonstop meetings (with the department chair, faculty, the deans, other administrators) and have to give a major research presentation and/or teaching demonstration.
- Then you wait for a decision. If you’re lucky, you hear something during the month of April.
But lots of times, you don’t hear anything at all. Or the job opening gets cancelled due to budget cuts. Or there was an inside candidate they wanted all along. In some cases, the faculty couldn’t agree on whom to hire, so they decide to post the job again the following year. You just never know how it’s going to go, and you have to learn to not take it personally (although it feels incredibly personal). A friend once likened it to being a contestant on The Bachelor: you’re just anxious, trying to be memorable and look pretty, and just waiting to go up and accept your measly rose.
So…I had the fortune of finding a great job opportunity in my field. I made it through the campus visit phase and from what I could tell, it went well. The school was way ahead of schedule: they’d already wrapped up the interviews in early December and told me they wanted to have a decision before Christmas. “Great!” I thought. “They’re really on top of things.”
Well, the holidays came and went, as did January. In mid-February, I contacted the folks in charge of the search to inquire where they were in the process. “Hang in there!” they cheerfully noted. “We hope to have a decision very soon.” But March passed, then April…and here were are at the end of May.
By now, I kinda figured by now that I didn’t get the job…and I was okay with that outcome. (A big caveat: having a tenure-track job in the first place sure made all this an easier pill to swallow.) I do believe that everything works out as it’s meant to. In my case, I am madly in love with someone who can move back home with me because the area is a magnet for people in his line of work. I was holding out for a possible job offer, though, mainly because I wanted to be in a position to negotiate a better salary at my home institution, since there is a high cost of living there.
Well yesterday I was scrolling on facebook and saw a picture of some colleagues–one of whom I knew had also applied for the same job as I had. And lo and behold, what did I see? The department chair at this other school had commented something to the effect of, “Awesome!! My future colleague!!!”
So there it was. Thanks to facebook, I finally got the confirmation I needed: I didn’t get the job. That’s fine. The reason why I’m irritated is because I had to find out through facebook rather than a professional email or phone call from the department. Very classy on their part, eh?
This happens all the time. Search committees are sometimes permanently incommunicado. It’s just not right; in fact, it’s beyond rude. It’s a part of academic culture that we can do away with. Yes, the faculty on the search committee have multiple demands on their time, as we all do. But how much effort does it take to send a friggin email? Argh.