What's SUp

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I haven't exactly kept to my promise to blog my job search this year as openly as I thought I'd be able to. Frankly, the prospect of figuring out with each entry how much I could say and how much I should hold back made me tired just thinking about it. And as a result, I haven't been particularly forthcoming.

But a couple of emails today reminded me that, given that my search this year is over, I can and should probably provide some info. If you're given to reading between the lines, you will have noticed that my "How" piece from a couple of days ago included a link to an Amazon list for a course at Syracuse this fall, implying pretty strongly that I will indeed be at Syracuse this fall. Let me make that implication explicit: without getting into details about who, what, or where of my search, I've decided to stay at Syracuse for the time being. I'm happy to speak privately about the details of that decision, but I'm not of a mind to blog about it, because it involves other people and institutions, obviously.

One thing I thought I might mention, though, is that I was a little surprised this year by the number of folk who were themselves surprised that I was on the market. If I had my way, this is something that every graduate student in the field would be taught. I went up for tenure this year, and while my department has been incredibly supportive, perhaps the single most important fact about tenure, for the candidate at least, is the following:

They can say no.

Having gone through a period of my life where I did not know if I would have a job as soon as six months in the future, I am not anxious to experience that particular abyss again. Tenure is indeed a delightful form of job security, but it is also a referendum on whether or not you will retain your job; it's quite the all-or-nothing proposition. If the institution does indeed say no, you have one year to find another job, your lame duck year, if you will. However, you must spend that year on the market, and more importantly, you must spend it as a junior-cum-senior candidate who was denied tenure by your present institution. Anyone who honestly believes that this fact doesn't color a search committee's impressions of you, please raise your hand. (Now, if your hand is in the air, please smack yourself in the head with it.) Now I know people who have overcome this particular vote of no confidence, and I know places where that vote was less than warranted. Neither of these things changes the fact that you have effectively been fired, and that you will have to explain yourself to everyone who gives you a second glance.

The alternative is going on the market while you are going up for tenure. If you are qualified for tenure, that means that you have spent several years making yourself look as good as possible; furthermore, you have gathered together all the same materials that you would for the job market, your colleagues have written letters on your behalf already, and all of the criteria by which you will be deemed tenurable are the same that other institutions will use to deem you employable.

It takes a great deal of time and energy to search for positions, but much of that same time and energy is expended on things like 3rd year reviews and tenure reviews. So it makes sense to put that work to the dual use of a search during your review. But more importantly perhaps, it makes sense to protect yourself against the possibility that you will not receive tenure.

And maybe even more crucially, it's important to understand that, in the final analysis, you have almost no control or power over your colleagues' review of your record. You are not present when they discuss your case, you don't see your outside letters (at SU, at least), nor do you really have access to the process itself, beyond preparing your materials. From a psychological perspective, testing the job market waters gives you some measure of control over your future, and that's a pretty welcome thing in the face of a tenure review. It makes sense to put yourself in a position to be able to make some of your own decisions about your future, at a time when a bunch of folk that you don't know are also making decisions about it for you.

I suppose that it's fair to ask whether it was worth all the extra hullabaloo, just to end up back in the same place I was when I started, but I think so. I got to spend time with friends, meet a lot of new people, and if nothing else, I gave two job talks and one at MLA without reading from scripts. I was more confident and relaxed about myself professionally than I've ever been. And I couldn't say any of those things if I'd spent the last four months fretting about tenure. Or just fretting about tenure, I should say.

That's all.


collin - i've got a meeting to attend and anyways i need some time to digest a post like this but i did want to say i admire your ability to blog about this.

As a grad student, I find information like this about your experience invaluable. With all the time we spend running around (at least, I always feel like I'm running) for our studies, teaching, and other professional activities, learning about what occurs behind the curtain is low on my list of important things to do--if I could only find my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring . . .

Thanks for writing about your experience.

Grats! I'm happy for you that you've been able to make the decision with such confidence and support from your friends and community. I'm glad too that you'll remain close to Boston! :)

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on March 7, 2007 8:13 PM.

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