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The Experience of Interviewing, 2007-08[]

  • For those that do go on interviews, for the benefit of others, please do consider posting your thoughts about the interview process. Please know I am not asking anyone to reveal anything that would hurt their candidacy. Just general observations about the types of questions asked, what the interviewers consider important, etc.

The Experience of Interviewees, 2007-08[]

  • What kind of experience--on the market, in teaching jobs, etc.--do you have? How does this relate to the number of interviews you've received this year? Share your insights, gripes, or whatever else below...
  • OK, I'll get the ball rolling. I have Ph.D. in hand from a "major midwestern research university", have taught as a lecturer for about ten years (while slogging along with the diss), and have published two books (with another under contract). Unfortunately, no interviews so far of any kind. I'm overseas this year, so it may be that my non-Statesidedness (?) is hindering me. Anyone else in a similar boat?
  • Ahem, I'll go next. :-) According to my dissertation adviser, I am at the bottom of the hiring "food chain". She was SO right. I am PhD candidate at a "large southwestern research university" with 5 of 7 chapters done and with a scheduled dissertation defense in spring 2007. These details, included in my cover letter, were intended to communicate to selection committees -- "I am finishing this PhD this year." I've TA'ed for multiple courses, but never taught my own course. I have one published book review and one journal article. I threw snake-eyes. No AHA interviews. Now I'm rolling for some late job postings and postdocs.
  • I've got ivy grad and undergrad degrees with honors, TA-ed and adjuncted elsewhere, published articles, book reviews and encyclopedia articles, and am finishing my revised dissertation book. Last year they said it was because I was overseas and people didn't want to fly me back (even though I said I would be at the AHA). No interviews again this year when back in the US. Problem is now it is too long from dissertation - does happen when you have family obligations.
  • Ah, the dreaded Scylla and Charybdis of "too much/many (publications, teaching experience, years from degree, years to degree)" and "too little/few" (publications etc. etc.). Golden mean, show thyself! Do search committees recognize the cognitive dissonance created by their decision-making processes (or, more accurately, their odd rationalizations of them)?
  • Notice that (as of 12/26) six respondents had a total of 35 interviews; the other eleven had a grand total of nine. Even if we allow for some redundancies in the numbers, this is a huge gap (group one averages nearly six interviews per candidate; group two less than one per candidate). Is the latter group really that lame, or unexperienced, or both? Anecdotal evidence like that provided above (people with Ph.D.s, pubs, loads of teaching experience, and not even a nibble from search committees) makes me doubt it. Therefore, how might this be explained? I'd love to hear your theories, since I've noticed the same "clumping" phenomenon for years and have been at a loss to account for it...
  • I think some of it may have to do with how many people apply for how many jobs. Some candidates apply to many fewer jobs--because of preference, type of degree/sub-field, family considerations, etc. That said, I think that a lot depends on what your specialty/methodology is. Many departments hire only one medievalist, and they tend to want someone who works on a topic that is recognizably medieval (feudalism, the Church, institutional/political/economic history). I think that people who work on, say, Aquinas or other intellectual history topics often aren't as popular at conference-interview time.
  • I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with the increasing prevalence of "medieval and/or early modern" positions. If you work on an emphatically medieval topic--and even more so, if you're an "early" medievalist (i.e., your focus is before 1100)--your appeal for these hybrid positions is likely far lower. This also means that the early medievalists are fighting amongst themselves over a smaller bit of the pie...
  • I would like to point to an elephant in the room, the gender issue. Since I've heard complaints from both sides, I.E. it's still a man's club AND it's all about diversity hiring now, perhaps an unscientific poll of those who got multiple interviews would put the thing to rest.
  • I agree with many of the points made here. After visiting with other junior Europeanist at other universities, most of them have argued it is vital that you sell your dissertation topic and training in a manner that conveys you can teach the entire field -- not just your small part of the world. When they were interviewed they picked up that hiring committees wanted candidates to demonstrate that breadth of knowledge. Additionally, I am thoroughly unconvinced that diversity/gender hiring is truly an active thought in most committees' minds. (Thanks for raising the issue though! I think it is a very valid point.) Speaking from one experience, I might add that I am at a large southern public research university and served as a graduate student representative on a hiring committee two years ago. I sat in all the committees deliberations and all of our AHA interviews. I think I heard the gender issue raised once, but that was in the context that most of our existing European faculty were women. Ultimately, at the AHA we interviewed only men. But, as it turns out, the best candidates for the job turned out to be women -- three of whom we did not interview at the AHA and instead they were brought straight in for job talks. So, I don't think the gender issue ever really appeared. Personally, as someone that identifies as a Mexican American, I also never heard anyone mention the race issue during our discussions. Perhaps, the committee members were trying to be careful around me -- but I doubt that as I know three of the five members of this hiring committee very well. I was really surprised that it didn't enter into the hiring equation. None of our five interviews at the AHA or the three women were from a minority group. Again, I've been surprised (and a bit disappointed) that gender and race have not seemed to be critical issues in the hiring I've witnessed especially because my state is changing into a "minority" majority population. Lastly, I will mention that I've encountered "stealth" hiring as of late in our department. In the last couple years our department has hired three or four assistant professors (3 of whom were minorities) who were initially brought in for one-year lectureships. After teaching one or two years, our department formed specialized hiring committees just to consider whether or not to hire these individuals. They had no outside competition -- now that is a sweet deal. So to summarize, the only diversity hiring I've seen occurs in these stealth positions.
  • In response to the penultimate posting, I'm white and male, Ph.D. in hand, with publications, and no interviews. Whether there is any corrolation between these various facts, I have no idea. I suspect that there are other criteria at work as well--one's graduate institution, perchance, or the vague intellectual Zeitgeist which seems to inform search committees from year to year ("why don't *we* have someone who studies Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations in the Mediterranean world?"). As to the first point made by the previous contributor, such a "sales" job usually takes place in interviews, doesn't it? It's pretty damn hard to make that sort of pitch in a job letter, without either (a) producing a tome, or (b) engaging in pretty lame (and strained) special pleading. Of course, I know from my own wife's service on a number of search committees (in another field, I should note) that supposedly intelligent academics are surprisingly prone to assume that a candidate's teaching abilities are wholly constrained and defined by their dissertation topics--an asinine assumption, of course, disproven by the committee members' own ability to write about a small number of issues and teach about a much broader range of them.
  • 12/29 - A friendly reply to the last post. Well, your situation is absolutely disappointing. I mean, it sounds like you've done everything you need to do secure some good interviews. I am sure it is going to work out -- hang in there. (FYI, I didn't secure any AHA interviews.) And yes, making a convincing pitch in one's cover letter about one's qualifications is brutally difficult. Your points on special pleading are both helpful and quite hilarious. We are all groveling for these jobs aren't we? It is so medieval. Great point about the committee's assumptions too -- it they had been held to the same standards 10 or 20 years ago -- would they have been hired? In fact, one of our senior professors shared that years ago the hiring process was vastly different. In his case, his dissertation adviser called a "buddy" at another department to secure him his job. No cover letter. No statement of teaching philosophy. Nada. Lastly, there do seem to be gremlins in this system. I was surprised, regarding my own experience on a hiring committee, how multiple "solid" candidates never met the impossible "ideal" candidate that the our committee was in search of -- it was grail quest. A quick request to all: I'd love to hear about others' experiences or "inside" knowledge about the internal mechanics of hiring committees.
  • In response to the penultimate posting, this will come of little consolation: I'm not white and not male; I have a Ph.D. from an R1, strong letters of recommendation, a book contract and publications, and teaching experience. I have not been blessed with an AHA interview in the four years that I've been on the market.
  • Well, that helps to address the flip-side of the the earlier market-success question--i.e., job-market futility seems to be an equal opportunity plague. How about the more fortunate among us?
  • Don't despair, I got a tenure-track job after striking out at the AHA in my second year, there are a lot of search committees who don't get their stuff together till spring. Watch for new postings throughout the spring, probably won't be top-20, but I love my current position at an MA-level dept. You will also find a lot of 1 and 2 year positions that search in Spring.
  • To the last post: Thanks for providing that upbeat message of hope. :-)
  • I'm another historian-in-training that shares the concerns of my colleagues. Having earned a professional degree and worked for eight years in private and public sector consulting, I am disenchanted by the insensitivity of search committees. They are poor at communicating information in a timely manner. Their communications are often cryptic and mechanical, indicating no forethought. Many simply fail to recognize and treat individuals as sentient and feeling beings. In the strategic planning consulting world of state government, non-profit hospitals, and municipal government -- these are the organizational qualities that I was called in to help resolve because they prevented these organizations from progressing and improving themselves. For as smart as "we", academics, are supposed to be -- we sure are horrible and inhumane managers. (Boy, I never thought I'd see the day when I viewed the dysfunctional governments I used to serve as better than...well...any thing else.)
  • I post my story here in the hopes of providing info for an otherwise murky and dismal process. I'm an ABD in the last year...pushing to finish. My educational background is a mix: well-regarded liberal arts undergrad, elite masters, (working world), and well-regarded R1 state univ for doctorate. I have encyclopedia pubs forthcoming and solicited for book chapter though not a done deal(still pending). I've taught one course and TA'd for several. I am an early medievalist with a minor field in Early Modern. At the AHA this year, I received two interviews, and also had a phone interview prior to that. I thought the interviews went pretty well, but with both AHA interviews, I feel as if I butted my head against the "brick wall" of not having my PhD in hand. Both committees probed with questions not only about finishing the PhD but also coping with a full teaching work load. For the committees, I can understand this scenario - a candidate like me is a greater risk than someone who already has their degree. Unfortunately, this means a visiting professorship and/or adjunct teaching become the only means of jumping this hurdle. I think this speaks to the controversial middle ground mentioned previously (not enough experience versus too much experience). I will say that I spent a great deal of time individualizing cover letters to the university's needs and likewise in crafting supporting documents. I believe this is the most frustrating aspect of the process. Securing a job takes so much time and energy yet remains elusive and demoralizing. I have not yet heard call backs for on-campus interviews (1/14) but plan to at the very least to chalk this year up to good experience. On a final note, I wonder if any of you looked at the hiring announcements for last year in the Medieval Academy's newsletter. Many of the positions "won" last year came from faculty already established at other institutions (and those institutions that lost faculty then went about hiring medievalists for this year's cycle). The market is, in this way, rather deceptive with a fair amount of lateral movement (better institutions? better geography? better teaching loads?) and not as many "new" openings.
  • For an ABD you did extremely well! With a similar background and doctorate in hand I've ben told that I didn't get interviews because I "haven't published the book" - or at least haven't been offered a contract.
  • Highly recommend the essay in InsideHigherEd.com today (14 Jan) about the AHA and how their statistics are entirely suspect. No kidding. Good suggestions about what could be done better.
  • Unfortunately, the reasons that committees either give or imply for their hiring decisions, while plausible (and perhaps even sincerely believed), are usually post-facto rationalizations. When in one and the same search you have a candidate rejected for being "too new to the field" (i.e., recent Ph.D), another rejected for being "too advanced for this kind of junior position" (i.e., older Ph.D. with a number of pubs), and another rejected for being "not quite there yet" (i.e., Ph.D. in hand, but the book not yet out), it's pretty clear that any and all reasons for pitching people overboard are considered A-OK, logic and consistency be damned. This doesn't do much to give any of us--the applicants--a sense of what is needed to "make it". The answer, I guess, is what we all suspected--the whole thing is a gigantic crap shoot. So what sense is there in "job market symposia" and "placement roundtables"? Palliatives for history departments, graduate schools, and professional organizations, perhaps? (By the way, the search referred to above isn't a hypothetical--someone quite close to me participated in it (as the junior member)).
  • Lateral movement is certainly more prevalent than the AHA numbers would suggest; in our field, there also is cross-field movement (since any number of people occupy "Medieval Studies" positions, or positions in related fields). The University of Massachusetts, for example, filled its TT medieval history position last year with Notre Dame's TT medieval Latinist (although I think she originally was trained as an historian). The same thing, of course, also could happen in reverse (e.g. Berkeley's search for a medieval Latinist, which very well could end up with an historian taking the position)...
  • Point of clarification: UMass's hire was not moving laterally or cross-field, but up from a VAP position to a TT position and is a medieval historian. No medieval latinists stealing jobs from historians here, I'm afraid! The situations you are describing reflect the strange nature of medieval Latin positions and not who is getting hired in medieval history positions, which will go to a historian 99% of the time.
  • Thanks for the clarification. Still, while UMass's hire was an historian by training (and even came from a history grad department), her last position *was* in a Classics department, which would tend to lie under the radar of organizations like the AHA. More generally, it's not clear to me whether the AHA statistics would include people with degrees that aren't from history departments (even if they're clearly trained as "historians"). The same caveat would apply for other fields in which area studies departments train a substantial number of individuals (i.e. East Asian, South Asian). I would like to know how the AHA addresses such situations (e.g., is it attempting to ascertain professional self-identification, rather than departmental pedigree?)
  • If it makes anybody feel better, I was on the market for a T-T job for 4 years, and had actually spent 2 years before that working outside academe. Plus I took forever to finish. When I went on the market, I had good recs, and very strong teaching evals. I did not apply to research campuses, because I had been out of scholarly circles for too long. Instead, I applied to CCs and liberal arts colleges where teaching was a priority. My first year, I got one AHA interview and an interview for a two-year position at the place where I was adjuncting. Got that. Used the visiting position to add new preps and do service work (this isn't always possible, but a good thing to do). The second year, I got a position as an editor for a big listserv. I had no AHA interviews, but a couple of phone interviews and two campus visits. Third year, I published a book review while teaching a 15-hour load, and went to one conference. Had about 7 phone interviews and two campus interviews. Got a one year and was offered a second by a place that had switched from T-T to visiting. The last year, I gave a Kzoo paper and did a panel there, plus published another three reviews. One AHA interview, 10 phone interviews, 4 campus interviews, one T-T offer (took it), then three more offers of phone interviews, one of which was more, "can you do a campus interview?" I cannot explain this, except that: I write a hell of a cover letter -- seriously, I do my homework and do a lot of tailoring of my letter to the campus and the department's needs, and am very up-front about why and how my career stalled, and how I have started to get thing back on track; I only apply for jobs that seemed realistic for me; I know myself and can communicate well (one of the few benefits of being older than most junior applicants); I have a very broad teaching range -- early MA, but really almost Late Antiquity with close to a Classics minor in UG, with 15 grad credits in Early Modern, and 15 undergrad credits in Early Modern, plus one non-Western grad field. The job I have is great in many ways, but I am responsible for teaching everything not US. But it's a job. I can be satisfied in it for a long time, but am also in a better position to find one with a slightly lower teaching load than I have now, because the position I have is allowing me to be somewhat more productive (I teach 12 hours a semester) than when I was at a CC. I only applied for the Wheaton job this year (nicest rejection letter ever!), but will be looking again next year, just in case my T&P case doesn't go well (I got brought in on an accelerated clock -- don't do it unless you have to!). I consider myself very lucky, but I also know that I played to my strengths and really focused not just on what the positions meant to me, but on what I could offer to the institutions. I think it's a mistake to be arrogant, but I think it really helps to remember that you 'have' got through grad school, you 'have' got something to offer, and to remember that rejections aren't necessarily about you.
  • The last poster's experience offers me some hope, however faint. I too took forever to finish (a combination of bad luck with advisors dying/leaving, a spouse whose academic career moved ahead faster than mine, and the need to work and raise kids), and now find myself as an old candidate in a young person's market. While I was still ABD, I interviewed for a few jobs (one at at big state U, one at an elite liberal arts school) and had a few requests for more materials, all the while teaching at a variety of institutions. I also kept an active research agenda, publishing a book and an edited volume before my dissertation was done (and signing a contract for a third book), organizing conferences, and the like. Now that my Ph.D. is done, I feel like a market pariah--not a single interview or call, and no luck whatsoever even on the part-time track. I've had my rec letters looked at by sympathetic third parties, just to make sure that there are no red flags in them, but I'm assured that they're strong; my app letters are well-crafted (at least, I've been told so). I hope that my age (over 40) isn't a problem, but even if it were there'd be no way to prove it--as an earlier poster pointed out, search committees are wonderful at coming up with rationalizations for their (often prejudicial) decision-making. It may be time to figure out what else is out there--I just wish I had more career experience outside of "the academy"...
  • The penultimate poster is a model for us all and suggests a credible and satisfying career path. Unfortunately, I too am surprisingly like the poster just above - an old candidate in a young persons' market and a market pariah. I have lots of experience outside the academy - makes no difference whatsoever - even as departments complain they can't find people with varied, general skills, especially in administration. A number of the jobs for which I applied last year resulted in failed searches and were then redefined. I think search committees are so focused on initially hiring someone with tenure potential that they are in fact losing out on very god people who would prove to be good choices in the long run - as indicated above.

book reviewer?[]

If there is someone who would like to do a paid review of my upcoming book while job seeking, please email scrane0@aol.com. The book focuses on Medieval history with special interest in Jewish, German, Roman and Spanish studies. It takes a look at the ideas that survived the oppression of Imperial Roman rule to emerge as Renaissance. 76.99.25.209 21:59, October 7, 2010 (UTC)

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