Sunday, October 11, 2015

Service Counts! Who Knew?

Flavia commented on this recent Chronicle article about who gets hired where, and when. I have no statistically significant information to impart on this subject; however, I am moved to muddy the waters a bit by introducing some anecdata regarding searches at my new uni, including, especially, the one that resulted in my hiring.

First: I've met a good handful of new faculty at Idyllic State, and none that I know of is right out of grad school; a VAP position seems to be minimal (and there's a contingent of us in the Humanities/Fine Arts who were TT for five years or more prior to moving here). There is one person I've met whom I don't know to have had a previous position, but I don't know that he didn't, either. VAPs and moving from one TT/tenured post to another seems well within the pale, in other words.

Second: It's becoming increasingly clear that, while I'm sure that I wouldn't have been hired if my research hadn't been up to snuff, it's my undergraduate teaching and service experience that clinched my candidacy. Surprise! I genuinely didn't think that my service experience, extensive as it is (and frequently in leadership/chairing positions) would help beyond a certain minimal threshold. As it happens, there is a Service Gap in my new department, and also increasing pressure to grow undergraduate enrollments. My strengths, unexpectedly, were a fit for their needs.

Thus, my teaching award, years of positive evaluations with a 4/4 load, chairing of the curriculum committee and subsequently the division, and directing the Honors Program (which involved recruiting and considerable encouraging of students) made me a particularly attractive candidate. Presumably the fact that I continued to publish during this time helped, of course, but it's been pointed out to me since I got here that I have a lot to offer in terms of undergraduate education and outreach. I honestly didn't think that that would matter so much at what is a decidedly research-oriented university. never know. My research portfolio, on a more junior candidate, might have been much less appealing to the search committee (not that I know that, of course). The things that I emphasized on my CV because, well, why not? happened to respond to needs within my new department that I could not possibly have anticipated.

Good luck to everyone who's on the market. It sucks, truly. And "fit" is a real thing, even if it means a lot of different things; you really can't judge what a committee might be looking for, beyond, of course, what's on the job ad. (And there's always stuff beyond the job ad.) The only (rather lame) bit of advice that I can give is to 1) clearly note on your cover letter how you are the best possible fit for what the committee is asking for; 2) explain yourself if you're moving from a t-t or tenured position; and 3) play up anything (within reason) that may help you stand out.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm applying to several jobs -- whatever seems to make sense -- this year. In my letter, I have a paragraph -- maybe 5 lines long -- about why I'm interested in leaving my position. I showed my letter to another colleague who is also on the job market. (We came in the same year at HU.) She said, "I can't believe you're putting in why you're leaving." (It was not mean to HU. I just said that I wanted to be in a position that gave me a teaching load with which I'd be able to meet my research goals on a more timely fashion.) I told her that I didn't want it to be a mystery or seem like I was leaving because HU wanted to get rid of me. If I were reading a letter of a person already in a TT job, I'd want to know why they wanted to leave. Is the person just trying to negotiate salary? (I know someone trying that method right now.) Or is the person really interested in leaving? (That's me!)

Anyway, I'm heartened by your anecdotal evidence. Honestly, I don't think I'd want to hire someone right out of grad school at this point. But who knows...

heu mihi said...

Having been on search committees, when you're basically trying to rule people out of the pool, I was very suspicious of people applying out of t-t jobs without explanation (especially in year 3 or 4, when I suspected that they had received an unfavorable mid-tenure review). In my letter for this job, I said that I loved my current job, but that I was seeking to spend my career in a position where I could more fully balance research and teaching (or something to that effect). You don't want to bad-mouth your current school, of course (as you didn't!), but showing the *positive* reason for applying to a new position seems, to me, essential.