Thus far, at least within my field, the job market seems to be about the same as the past two years. By now I feel like an experienced hand, each year being more systematic and thorough. This year I’ve decided to use Interfolio, primarily to save myself the hassle and worry of deluging my recommenders with a ton of different requests, but also to cut out the physical assembly of the application packets — a process that I find weirdly stressful. (And don’t even talk to me about getting together all the transcript requests.)
I’ve scoured the internet for relevant postdocs and made a spreadsheet. I’ve gone through two drafts of a model research proposal for said postdocs, which I find to be the most beneficial aspect of the application process as it forces me to think concretely about the direction I want to take my research — in fact, this year I feel that I’ve done the best job of laying out a course that grows naturally out of my dissertation and opens onto a broader program that could get me all the way to full professor, were I to be so fortunate.
I’ve drafted a model cover letter that reflects a full year of teaching experience and that demonstrates the mutual reinforcement I see between my teaching and research trajectories. I have multiple syllabi, including one for a new “up-and-coming” topic in the field (Global Christianity) and an innovative interdisciplinary seminar (Images of the Devil). I have a full year of teaching evaluations to draw on (though I’ve been told that volunteering them as “evidence of teaching effectiveness” is unwise) and a letter from someone who has observed my teaching and gone over all those evaluations with me.
I hope to get through all the applications I currently have within the next two weeks, i.e., before the quarter begins, so that I don’t have to worry as much about the process during the quarter — although hopefully more listings will be posted, as the flood of listings that (based on past experience) I was expecting around August 31 did not materialize. If more listings do come up, I will have worked up enough material that I can adapt without making everything a Big Production.
In summary, I think that I am as “together” as it is possible to be in this regard, not just process-wise, but substance-wise — I have teaching experience at a great school, a clear pedagogical vision, a clear research agenda, and a proven publication record. Everything on my side of the ledger seems to be in place.
And still I feel like my applications are all going to fall into a black hole and I’ll be lucky if I get a form letter in April saying that unfortunately I was not among those selected for an interview. I don’t feel that this is particularly unjust — by which I mean that the situation as a whole is obviously unjust, but it’s not unjust to me in specific.
My principle all along has been that the outcome is far from guaranteed, and so as much as possible, I need to do what I want to do at every stage so that I would be able to look back on the experience as inherently “worth it” rather than as a sacrifice that didn’t deliver the promised results. Applications have always been the most difficult part of that for me, but perhaps if I manage to make it relatively painless and systematic, if I manage to cut out most of the stress and worry and disorganization and uncertainty, it will have been worth it to think in a concentrated way about the direction I want to take in my teaching and research — a not entirely voluntary but still valuable way of accounting for what I’ve been doing these past several years and what might grow out of that in favorable circumstances.
If Jameson can dialectically reclaim Walmart for utopian thought, perhaps one can do that for job applications as well. The miserable and demoralizing side of the process is very real — and in the above, I’m not trying to minimize the reality of that aspect so much as describe my strategies for coping with it and minimizing its impact on my life — and yet there’s something about putting together the application materials for that “dream job” that you can’t let yourself concretely hope you’ll get that might be detachable and transferable.
Most of our training induces us to think of the research and teaching as means to the end of the PhD, the entry-level job, and the all-important achievement of tenure, but I don’t think the more idealistic impulse is ever fully extinguished. After all, for most of us academics the “dream job” isn’t a matter of directly holding a certain title and drawing a paycheck from a certain school — it’s a matter of what the job will enable us to do, the time for research it will allow us, the institutional imprimatur it will provide us to give us the best chance to be heard, the kinds of students it will confront us with and the impact we will be able to have on and through them.
If job applications draw us to think about what we want to do, perhaps the hopelessness of the process, its de facto non-teleological nature, can be dialectically reversed so that they spur us to think about other circumstances in which those desires, which can perhaps be summarized as thinking seriously and inducing others to do the same, can be actualized — and then ways that those desires can even be more fully actualized outside of institutional restraints. This all may sound very unrealistic, but I don’t know how else to think of things when the “realistic” path of institutional advancement seems to be the most “unrealistic” thing of all.