“You’re such a productive academic mama! I didn’t do anything the first 4 months after my kid was born.”
Reading this recently in my inbox was unsettling. It was in reference to the fact that I was writing and replying to emails, with an infant at home. What the sender didn’t, doesn’t, understand is that I don’t feel like I have much of a choice. As an early career academic trying to figure out The Next Steps (AKA someone hire / fund me please!), there are a round of grant + fellowship deadlines this fall that won’t come up again for at least another year. And by then I won’t be eligible for at least one of them. In other words, external forces just don’t care what else I have going on. Their deadlines are not negotiable.
To some extent, I get it. I really do. I’ve ended up backing out of or turning down several things this fall that understandably are time-sensitive and involve large groups of other people- conferences, workshops. Deadlines and set time-frames help organize these groups and keep everyone on task. And these opportunities are important, but I just couldn’t make them work this fall.* One workshop required that I teach a module to peers on a pre-determined schedule, which I couldn’t commit to [with an infant nursing on demand who isn’t taking a bottle]. One conference was willing to let me present remotely/electronically, but said I had to commit to being available to answer questions live [again, I didn’t think that was a realistic option personally].
But I truly do not believe that this kind of inflexibility needs to be true for all academic opportunities. I feel especially strong about this when it comes to grant deadlines. Continue reading
Job openings are both a blessing and a curse. They can infuse both search committees and applicants with a sense of hope for the opportunities to come, but at the same time the search process is stressful for everyone involved. Search committees and departments spend their time and energy reading through applications, selecting candidates, and making choices. Are they making the right decisions? Are they selecting the ideal candidate for the job? But, no matter the stress the current faculty are under, the applicants are under more. Each of us applicants are applying for dozens of jobs, possibly year after year. What’s a minor annoyance in one application, such as a system that keeps crashing, or having to ask for yet another letter of recommendation that may never be read, can become a heavy burden when you multiply those annoyances by 10, 20, or 30. The same goes for interviews, both on the phone or in person.
I’ve submitted close to 40 applications over multiple years, and I have seen the worst the application and interview process has to offer. I’ve also had some really great experiences that have helped me feel more comfortable, that I think would be great if other search committees adopted. So what can search committees do at each stage of the process to make the search better for future searchers so the emotional toll can be reduced? Continue reading
Now that it’s job application season, it’s a good time to talk about references. References are an important part of any job packet, although searches may vary regarding when and how they will ask for your reference information. Unfortunately, even if you are the best candidate for the job, a bad or less-than-great reference can reduce your chances of making it to the next stage of the interview. Search committees notice letters that are too ‘honest’… it’s true that by and large letters of recommendation in the US are filled with glowing praise, so any negative comments really stand out (even though we all know none of us are perfect). Similarly, reference letters that are exceptionally short are a black mark. Does that letter writer not have enough to say? Do they not know a candidate that well?
In contrast, an excellent reference can solidify a positive impression the search committee has about a potential candidate, and can sometimes clear up any lingering concerns. For example, in a couple of the searches I have been on we expected candidates to have certain skills. Sometimes (not always – don’t get me started on that!) the candidate would address the required skills in their application. Even when they did, and particularly when they didn’t, we often wanted an outside evaluation of those skills. Phone conversations with references were very useful for asking for clarification and evidence. So how do you choose a ‘good’ referrer, and get the type of reference you want? Continue reading