Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post a series of solicited guest posts on the job market in medieval philosophy. First up is Ashley Dressel, who received her PhD from the University of California Irvine in 2014 and is now an assistant professor at the College of St Scholastica.
It’s job market season: that most wonderful time of the year! The market is an unforgiving leviathan and this is not a post that claims to explain how to defeat it. Rather, it is a post wherein I reflect on my own experiences (three seasons back). Take from it what you will.
The basics: I applied for eleven positions while ABD. Advised not to do a full search at that stage, I targeted only tenure-track positions squarely in my areas of expertise (AOS Medieval with AOCs I could genuinely claim). I was contacted for four preliminary interviews and almost a fifth. In the latter case, the chair of a search committee asked if I could produce (in a short time span) more strong letters of rec from well-known medievalists – I did my best in the time given but was not equipped to adequately fulfill the request. I then had two phone interviews, one Skype, and one at the Eastern APA. Three led to fly-outs and the first two fly-outs led to job offers, both at small Catholic liberal arts institutions. I turned down the third fly-out (a controversial decision, I know) because it was clear to me that I would not choose that position. In the end, I chose a t-t position with a 3/3 load in Duluth, MN, and am inordinately glad to have done so.
What seemed to work: In addition to the usual things (i.e. obtaining strong letters of rec, crafting a solid writing sample, constructing a massive teaching packet, and seeking robust feedback and advice), because I only applied to eleven jobs, I spent a near masochistic amount of time researching each department and school. This involved reading syllabi, looking at faculty members’ research, trying to determine if the institution was going through changes or challenges, trying to get a sense of each department’s ethos and pedagogy, etc. Wherever I thought I could connect aspects of my experience and interests to those of the hiring department or institution, I did so. I don’t know how much of a role all of this played in the success of the process, but since it was so time consuming, I prefer to believe it made all the difference 🙂 .
All three schools offering fly-outs were teaching-focused (precisely the sorts of institutions I secretly hoped to find myself at), and offered fewer research resources and much less funding than I was used to. Despite this, I did not downplay my interest in continued research in interviews. I just made sure to think ahead about the ways I might be able to do my work at that institution and ways to relate my work to my teaching. Of course, I brought plenty of teaching-related anecdotes as well, including ones about teaching situations I had faced poorly so I could explain what I had learned from the process. Finally, I tried to think ahead about how to talk with an interdisciplinary audience, as smaller institution search committees often include some non-philosophers.
Mistakes were made: Even when one is applying to only a few jobs, the market is time consuming. I expected that first job search to be a flop, and when it was not, I often neglected my dissertation to focus on the search. This is a source of great regret. While I completed in time, the last few months were a desperate, carpel-tunnel inducing, sprint to the finish line. I defected on commitments, weakened bridges I’d built, and created an unfair strain on all involved. I defended on a late July morning, packed that afternoon, and set off driving to Duluth the following day. Yes, I wound up in a job I love, but I still cannot express how strongly I would caution against allowing this to occur.
Aside from that failing, I’ll highlight one more clear mistake I made. My very first first-round interview was high stakes – an unlikely shot at a unique position at a stellar institution. The chair of the committee and I set a time for a pre-interview check-in, our first opportunity at real contact, and I failed to recognize that the time set needed to be adjusted for the time difference between our institutions (three hours). I received the call when I did not expect to and, in my panic, dropped my phone, answering the call with my leg on the way to Target. Add that first impression to very high nerves during the interview itself and, needless to say, I did not make it past the first round.
Concluding thoughts: While support and strategy helped immensely, I do not believe market success follows a pure and predictable formula. After being at my institution for a couple of years, I think I better understand that infuriating, ineffable, unspoken job requirement we hear so much about: “fit”. I fit at my current institution. My personality, academic priorities, the way I think and talk about my students and my work… they fit here in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. Some of these were surely apparent to members of the search committee during the interviews, and I don’t know what to say about this other than that I’m glad I didn’t misrepresent myself in those interactions. I feel very fortunate to have found myself in a place where, at least right now, I feel valued and at home.
Even when things are going uncommonly well, being on the market is awful. It was hard to enjoy even triumphs (‘I got an interview!’) through the dense fog of anxiety, relentless peacocking, and despair. If you are stuck in that fog presently, I hope that it lifts soon, and that when it does, you find yourself in a place and position where you “fit” and feel valued as well.