10 ways the academic job app process sucks

It’s kind of a clusterf*ck isn’t it? A crapshoot, a messy affair, a disorganized, archaic, completely in-line with academic processes affair.

First, there’s the fact that the jobs get posted a year in advance, so PhD students are applying for positions by hyping up their dissertations before the dissertations are actually finished. If this goes well, they may give job talks about aspects of their work, which seems slightly bizarre since, again, the dissertations aren’t quite all done, yet, so preparing and writing about them takes away from actually finishing them.

Second, though I say the jobs are all posted a year in advance, it’s actually much more messy than that. Some places post in August, some in October, job postings just keep trickling in. It’s almost February, and I’m still applying to new postings. This causes all sorts of anxiety. What if a place wants to interview me or, worse, wants me to make a decision before I hear back from another place? The reaction I tend to get is, “eh. That’s how it is.” Why are we settling for this?? We live in an age where simple technological tools could be used to streamline and aggregate large chunks of data. There ought to be a better way for jobs to get announced.

Third, some postings are formalities. The search committee already knows who they’re going to hire. What a waste of time for people thinking they have a chance.

Fourth, some postings are canceled a few weeks or months later. Budget cuts suck.

Fifth, not all the apps want the same things. Well, this is fine since I’m tailoring each letter anyway, but sometimes vague terms are used for what the app materials include. What’s the difference between “evidence of teaching effectiveness” and a “teaching statement?”

Sixth, letters of recommendation are bizarre things, too. Two of my letter writers asked me to write the first draft of the letter. Presumably they go in and add their tweaks, etc. but damn.. it is odd writing about yourself pretending to be your prof, made more complicated when the prof has an existing relationship with whomever is on the search committee. Do I write in a formal voice or be slightly less formal than usual since they know each other?

Seventh, oh my god, I pity anyone who is also applying to non-academic jobs. I recently applied to a job at Google and I *think* my apps were okay, but I’m so embedded in academia, it’s hard for me to judge whether the cover letter or resume was appropriate.

Eighth, though I prob should have made this the first thing, there’s no one place where jobs get posted. I basically have five different sources: The Chronicle of Higher Ed, Higher Ed Jobs, and three mailing lists. Hearing about post-doc positions is even worse.

Ninth, not all places let you know your status in the process. I got a rejection letter from one place, a rejection email from another, a rejection by word of mouth rumor from yet another. I was told I was on the short list at one place months ago and nothing since then. It’s all sort of varied. I assume I was rejected by other places and maybe am in the running for others that I just don’t know about.

Lastly, all this obfuscation is made worse when you consider that many places are still influenced heavily by sponsorship and social networks. Who you know and how well you can get in people’s faces matters a hell of a lot.

5 thoughts on “10 ways the academic job app process sucks”

  1. I can’t say I agree with you on points 2, 7, 8, 9 or your conclusion πŸ™‚ That’s what it’s like applying for any job. You seem to think that academia should be some special case where these things don’t happen, but it’s the same for any industry you care to mention. I don’t see why academia should be any different. It’s about who you know, hustling to find the jobs and making sure you’re on top of their application process, pooling deals on the table and using them for leverage if you’re lucky enough to get them.

    I agree with the other points though πŸ™‚

    Just hang in there!

  2. Great experience, and a way to get your frustration off your head! I agree with you for the most part. However, there are reasons for the “messy” process. After all, this is a democratic country!!!
    Best luck and keep on going!

  3. I’m watching my husband and several friends look for tenure-track jobs in math and physics. Yeah, it’s a crapshoot. My husband, for example, has had FIVE interviews this year; of those, three offered the job to someone else, and the other two aren’t communicating at all.

    Just goes to show that high-profile publications (some with popular press mentions, too), an ample publication history in quality journals, great recommendations, and being a co-PI on TWO large grants just isn’t enough to make the grade anymore. Short of a Fields medal, how does one get a math professorship?

  4. Man, that sounds rough!
    I ended up getting a post-doc through my network. All that time spent finding a job basically came up with nothing!

    And it seems I never replied to Chris at the top: Yes, academia should be different! All the major universities are tied together in a massive community network; it seems to me that a drafting process would make a lot of sense. Statistics, for example, already does this; all the applicants apply to all the open positions and the universities decide who goes where. Many other disciplines hold interviews at their major annual conferences. Academics can have agency if they were to just try.

Leave a Reply