Last year, I spend the better part of the summer writing, because I was quite clear that the number one thing I could do to improve my chances on the job market was to increase my publications. I got several articles and a book proposal revision finished. I felt good.
I also decided to revise my letter and vitae format significantly, so I sought advice from several sources. The cv is now 100% better...nice font, nice format, much tighter and more professional.
The letter, however, suffered some growing pains. I took it to a professor who, although I had only very limited experience with her, came highly recommended. The draft of my letter that she wrote (while I sat and watched...I swear, it's great being excluded from writing your own job process) bordered on science fiction...and not the good kind. Apparently, I use my classes as "inversion portals" or something like that. I have no idea exactly what an "inversion portal" is; it sounds like something off of Star Trek, but how that might fit in with my teaching, I have no idea.
So I tried a draft that combined whatever good elements existed in this sci-fi letter with my normal letter and took it to a co-worker. She liked it, so I went with it, and used it on my first 13 jobs. The results? Some trees died. Some woodland creatures had to find somewhere else to live. That's about it. I even bought some of the most expensive deluxe resume paper, hoping that might set me above the crowd, but the $25 per half ream paper also yielded no results.
Finally, I went to my work department office and grabbed a handful of job packets. We were running a search, and I figured out that the best advice I could get would be to see how actual job candidates were doing their stuff...why not, since they were my direct competition?
This was truly enlightening. For one, no one ever told me to use letterhead. Can you believe that? In all the people I asked for advice, this simple bit never came up. Also, research was always the second paragraph and took up 35% of the paper's length. I, after being told that I'd end up with a teaching position instead of a research job, minimized my research.
These are just two of the things that I had been doing wrong and no one had ever told me about. I wonder how many jobs I had lost because of no letterhead and minimal discussion of research.
The job market has been really tough for me, mostly because I've been doing a lot of the work completely on my own. My dissertation chair did a great job getting my diss through committee, but I never got much help on the job process from her...and now, I hardly see her and feel a bit abandoned. My department chair has been wonderful, but he has entirely too much stuff on his plate to really dedicate any consistent amount of attention to me. So everything has been trial and error, and I fear that the errors have cost me on more than one occasion.
I know I can be a great professor and a wonderful colleague. I like teaching, especially when I am allowed to get more involved in the subject and in my student's work than the business writing I currently teach allows. I feel I do good scholarship that will eventually earn a notable place in the academic arena, once I get a job which more greatly allows me to write. And in spite of the limitations of being a full time 5/4 teacher in a field outside my own, I think I've done a great job of everything, even above and beyond.
Making this all the more stressful is that I don't easily fit into an established field. I do the eighties, and this is not a standard academic field...or even area of concentration...or, for that matter, a topic...yet, that is. I have been told by many that the eighties will eventually end up being a hot academic area someday. It should...there's way too much fascinating stuff, and with the intersection of identity politics, postmodernism, and Reaganism, we should be talking about this stuff. As of now, we haven't got there yet. Soon, I hope.
I also do media studies, but there's not a tremendous number of those jobs out there. Many are film studies gigs, and for those, I just can't compete against film studies scholars. Others require production skills, and I don't have them. What's left is a small percentage of jobs where I can apply. I could also do Culture Studies jobs (and it is my preferred area), but there are even less of them. This means that in any given year, there's 15-20 good jobs out there. The odds are stacked against me. And although I applied for 21 this year, I only got a single phone interview.
In spite of this, I am very optimistic. There's a really good university press who's requested a book manuscript, and I have high hopes for that, ideally thinking I can get a contract by next October if all goes well. I have great ideas on how to revise several articles. I have several good articles on the go. One of these is a guaranteed publication. If even 10% of the irons I currently have in the fire work, I will be in great shape for next year's run.
On top of that, this past year has really taught me how to do a good resume and letter, even if that instruction came the hard way. My materials are now dynamite. I feel fully at ease with my application packet.
Get ready, world. 2008-2009 will be my year.