Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The waiting is the hardest part

The once-a-year nature of the academic job search is painful enough, but the pain is compounded by the seemingly interminable waiting period. Did they get my application? Did they ask for my references? Are they going to ask for a phone interview? Did the entire search committee vanish like Brigadoon, taking my CV and writing samples with them? I made it to a campus interview in a highly respected department that had been remarkably transparent and congenial about the process at each stage. Unfortunately, that transparency fell apart after I returned home from the interview - the interview was two years ago and I've yet to receive official notification that I didn't get the job. I still feel a bit wounded - not that I didn't get the job, but that my candidacy was so disposable as to not warrant a letter on official letterhead. I know that stuff is expensive, but come on.

David Perlmutter in today's Chronicle of Higher Education attempts to offer some advice in Asking About the Status of the Search, but ends up with some fairly vague tips about checking the job wikis or social media, but beware: "Blogs, forums, and wikis, however, have several drawbacks as tools for monitoring a particular search. First, the information may be wrong. A rumor posted on the Web is no more or less reliable than one passed on by phone, although the former does allow people with contradictory postings to add their information, too." Wait, the internets can lie? Why didn't somebody tell me this before I sent all my money to that Nigerian prince?

Perlmutter's ultimate point is that SOME committees might welcome your email asking about the status of the search, while others will be irritated with you, and you can't necessarily know which one is which! That is some helpful advice, right? I think it's perfectly reasonable to confirm that your materials have been received - particularly if you have to use a university-wide online application system. Once you get that confirmation, it's probably best to leave the committee alone. And then if you're like me, obsessively check the anthro job wiki.


  1. Oh, I'm so very tempted to tell a horrible "waiting forever" story about job searches, but I guess I'll refrain. I think the anthro job wiki has saved my sanity on a number of occations. This year, I also found their "venting page" sort of fun... or at least a good community for others who were also suffering.

  2. Please don't resist temptation, especially if it will result in a juicy anonymous story.

  3. Okay, I'll tell it (it's too horrifying not to share). I lucked out and got a pretty good job when I was ABD. Feeling fortunate, I signed a contract and got ready to defend. About three weeks later, I received a t-t job offer from a better R1 institution I was totally in love with and was located fifty miles from my boyfriend of seven years. It was sort of a dream offer, but I didn't know what to do, as I had already signed a contract (this blog might have been useful). On the advice of my committee, I tried to be ethical and didn’t break contract (advice from my former advisor: "the infamy will follow you forever"). I asked the chair of the "dream job" committee if I could defer the position for a year, which would allow me to fulfill my obligations with "pretty good job." I'll never forget what he said: "That sounds great! Believe me, we will move heaven and earth to get you here."

    I had a lot of time to mull over those words because I never actually heard from him or his institution again.

    I lucked out big time in that I had some place to go, and I'm not ungrateful. But I'm still a little shocked at the complete disregard an institution can have for candidates... particularly if that candidate is young, inexperienced, ABD. A short response to any one of the four politely pleading e-mails I wrote over the next three months would have done wonders for my sense of closure.

  4. OMFG. That is...well, that is so bad I don't even know what it is. Do you run into this person or other representatives of that school at conferences? It's got to be awkward. Yeah, the infamy will follow *you*?!? I guess search committees can act with impunity, but you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, right? Well, while dropping a job after you've already signed could be a bad career move - a lot of time, money, and energy go into a faculty hire and we are a particularly small field - but there are times when one must break the "be nice" rule.

    I'm so glad you shared this with us. You have a great attitude about it; after all, you did have a pretty good job (or to put it another way, a job) and I assume that's where you are now. But dude, I'd be steamed for a long, long time.

    During my job search(es), this was my lifeline:
    It is not uncommon for this particular thread to discuss the issue of having multiple offers, including signed contracts. People fall into pretty entrenched camps on the issue of reneging on a signed contract. One school of thought is that you could use the offer from Dream School to retroactively negotiate some perk from Pretty Good School, but with a signed contract, that's not always going to fly.