An Open Letter to ABD Job Seekers

Dear ABD Job Seekers,

Since I'm on the sidelines this year as far as the job market is concerned, I feel comfortable dispensing some advice based on my experience in the job search and that of my friends.

First, here's one thing you have to do for your sanity. You must keep your two goals -- finishing the dissertation and getting a job -- completely separate in your mind. The "I have to do well in the job search so that I'll be motivated to finish my dissertation" line of thinking is a pure, poisonous recipe for anxiety and depression. In the fall 2005-spring 2006 job search season, things didn't go the way I'd hoped, and I figured I wouldn't be starting a tenure-track job the following year. I then focused my efforts completely on finishing my dissertation and made peace with the fact that the job search hadn't gone my way, and that made the writing go a lot better. Well, part of it too was that I wanted to stick it to anyone on any search committees who interviewed me and thought, "she won't be finished in time." Then I got a great job offer in June. It's probably good to think of your ABD turn on the job market as a practice run, even in rhetoric and composition or technical communication -- it's not that easy to get a job.

Next, background matters. This piece of advice may be hard to take, but I believe it's true. In my experience and that of most of my friends, search committees tend to glean as much as they can about your background and make decisions based on that. The most revealing bit of information about your background is probably where you got your undergraduate degree -- there's that old "most students go to college within 100 miles of home" statistic, which I don't know the origin of but which is cited here and here, and other Google-able places.

I went to the University of North Alabama for my B.A. It's a regional comprehensive, four-year university with a teaching mission and about 6000 students. It has a ten-year-old master's program. All faculty there teach composition and literature courses, and I have to say that it was great taking every single course with a very experienced tenure-track or tenured faculty member. Anyway, the places that showed the most interest in me were similar to UNA. They assumed, rightly, that I would have special knowledge of their typical student profile: underprepared, first-generation college, from rural areas, deeply religious, politically conservative.

So, for example, if you went to a small liberal arts college, religious college, military college, or what have you, you'll probably get a lot of interest from those kinds of places. Regional background matters a lot too. I don't mind revealing that I've never been a finalist for a job anywhere outside the South.

Okay. And if you have a train-wreck phone or MLA interview, an interview like a snake pit, you must know that they're likely treating all the interviewees that way, and it's no big deal. Believe me, those interviews don't end up being nearly as painful as the ones that go wonderfully, and the people were so nice, just perfect, but you wait and wait by the phone, and they never call to invite you to campus.

This last bit should be comforting. You may not have been told this before, but big-name senior scholars -- not even "advanced assistants", but associate and full professors -- apply for entry-level jobs. Admittedly, I'm guessing this mostly happens when research universities do searches. But it's definitely true; I could name specific instances. No ABD anywhere can possibly compete with these people. These are heavy hitters with award-winning books, editor positions at journals (journals they are bringing with them to the new department), big grant-funded projects, and other academic and fund-generating delicacies.

On a related note, when the ad says "Assistant or Associate Professor," they probably want the latter. Same with "open rank." Don't get too disappointed if you don't hear from those places.

Also, for those jobs you really wanted and never heard anything about, look at those departments' web sites come fall (you'll do that anyway). It'll give you some closure. You may find that they ended up hiring someone completely different from you in terms of research interest, or that they negotiated with one of those big name applicants and converted the position into a full professorship. Or you may find that they had a failed search, so you can apply next year.

Finally, sheesh! Update that wiki! Your colleagues will appreciate it.

Best of luck,


Dropped the (yarn) ball

I haven't knitted anything in ages, and that's too bad. I'd really like to get into it again, but I'm not sure what I could knit that I could wear here. Hats and scarves are out, as are gloves and mittens. I might have to break down and attempt socks. I'll also need to see what the options are for really lightweight, cheesecloth-y cotton yarn.

My hometown is awesome

Read all about Florence, Alabama in the NYT today. It really is a wonderful place, and I can't wait to go there for Thanksgiving soon.

SO tired

Another week starts tomorrow. Will I survive?

Classes end November 30...not much longer now...

Administrative work is HARD. That is all.

What should be on a site about a FYC program?

As one of my writing program administration (WPA) initiatives, I plan to create an information page for the first-year writing program which will be part of the department's web page, linked from the about part.

What kind of information do you think would be good for that kind of site? I'm thinking I may divide it into information for instructors and information for students/parents/alumni/professors from other departments. Obviously I'll want to have information about the curriculum and about placement -- eligibility requirements for the regular first-year writing sequence and for the honors course. East Carolina University has a good instructor resource site. The University of Minnesota also has a pretty good information site. I'd like to get as many ideas as possible regarding the kinds of information different audiences might like to see on such a site.

Blog reading and other thoughts

Inside Higher Ed features two point/counterpoint articles about academic blogging, one by Adam Kotsko (the skeptic) and the other by Scott Eric Kaufman (the enthusiast). It should be said that Kotsko has extensive experience blogging, so his skeptic's take carries more weight than the likes of Ivan Tribble's.

Kotsko brings up some very good points, particularly that attempts to centralize (as in form a group blog) and, as he puts it, "quasi-institutionalize" blogging tend to silence discussion (perhaps for example, as much as I hate to say it, MediaCommons) or polarize it. As evidence for the latter, Kotsko provides the best analysis of the Long Sunday v. The Valve rivalry I've seen.

I think the best group blogs are those that seem more accepting of not Having Discussions and are more like collaborative commonplace books with notes and clippings, such as The Long Eighteenth, 3 Quarks Daily, and (okay, I'm biased) Kairosnews. These blogs are kind of like the Ron Livingston character in Office Space -- as in, okay, I'm going to post a link to this article and some of my thoughts about it because I think it's neat. I'm not going to try to throw in some provocative bait for discussion; if you want to leave a comment, great; if not, that's cool too.

There's good stuff in Kaufman's article as well. He makes a strong case for the benefits of academic blogging, especially the ways blogging can help an academic join a community and write for an audience. Two quotations:

I’m talking about a regular engagement with each other’s intellectual concerns — everything from the pains of preparing for the job market to the theoretical implications of an interpretive move you’re not sure you should’ve made — all communicated in a medium able to accommodate everything from idle chatter to earnest manifesto.
[. . .]
There’s no reason our community needs to consist solely of people we knew in grad school. Why not write for people who don’t already how you think about everything? Why not force yourself to articulate your points in such a way that strangers could come to know your thought as intimately as your friends from grad school do?

Okay, shifting gears here a little: I haven't talked about this much on here, but my blog reading habits have changed quite a bit in the past few months. I don't know if it's Google Reader or what. I still read many of the same blogs I always did, but now I read a lot more lifehackery blogs and frugality blogs, like the sites affiliated with LifeRemix. One nugget from these I'd like to share is Unclutterer's Unitasker Wednesday. If you like product snark (I have Collin and a few others in mind here), you'll love Unitasker Wednesday. Even if it is a little sad -- to my mind, anyway -- sometimes.

A final random note. I've decided that the best clothing fabric for the climate in southwest Louisiana is really thin cotton linen, as close to draping yourself in a few strips of cheesecloth as you can get:


So I think I'm going to try my hand at this post every day during the month of November thing. We'll see how it goes.

Today is November 1, and I wore a sleeveless shirt, skirt, and sandals. Gah.

I am so tired, I think I really could just sleep until Monday morning.

I am Stuart

I don't read the Bechdel comic so I don't know what this really means, but I thought those of you who do might find my result entertaining:

Which Dyke to Watch Out For Are You?
created with
You scored as Stuart

You are Stuart, partner and co-parent with bi-dyke Sparrow. You believe that values need to be backed up with action, which can make you a bit impulsive at times. Make sure to budget time and money in order to afford the winter-length utili-kilts and Air America Radio shirts you've had your eyes on.















Via Nels.

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