Too Far Afield?

One complaint that an interviewer discussed with me during my job search was that my work was “all over the place” and not focused. Since my interests are all over the place, I wasn’t too thrilled with that complaint. However, reading the “A Plea From the Search Committee” thread on the Chronicles of Higher Ed website, has had me reconsidering a bit.

DvF said:

1. Enough already with the conference talks. In our field conference talks are not in the same ballpark as papers as evidence of research activity. The twenty conference talks/visits you’ve made in your two years out translate to a couple of months of real time that would have been better spent writing stuff up. The bigshots you were schmoozing with during that period aren’t going to hire you any more than we are with your measly output.

(2) Refusing to submit your papers out of some sense of perfectionism is stupid. All your letter writers, who otherwise think you are brilliant, agree. If we hire you it will be positive reinforcement for this behavior, which if it continues will prevent tenure.

Tenured Feminist said:

I hear you about the conference papers. I don’t mind it as much if the papers are a way of drafting dissertation chapters, but it seems like more and more grad students are just going to conferences and presenting random sh!t to get the line on their CVs. I think that, as a rough rule of thumb for social sciences/humanities, absolutely no more than 20% of the presentations/papers/pubs on a grad student’s CV should be non-dissertation work if the dissertation is unfinished. If it’s more, it’s a red flag either indicating being on the market too early or indicating that the person does not have her/his priorities straight.

Helpful, on the other hand, did mention some times when it would be okay:

All conference presentations should be done to lead to publications based on these presentations. Or the presentations should be done to develop your ideas for your dissertation and can even be developed into a dissertation chapter. Committees should be flexible enough to allow non-standard dissertations (ie not using the standard 5 chapter dissertation format). I also know of some phd programs where the dissertation is 3 published articles.

Senior Scholar hit where it hurts, tenure review, with this:

Just recently I wrote an outside tenure review for a person with perhaps 25 conference presentations and two journal publications. This is in a humanities field. Given the department’s tenure rules (as sent to me) this was a long way from the tenure bar, and I could only write something on the order “candidate clearly shows scholarly activity, but it has not led to an adequate publication record.” An ABD or new PHD with a dozen conference presentations and one article in a grad-student journal is heading down the same path, and not likely to appeal to a search committee. Note: every seminar paper does not deserve being presented at a low-competition regional conference, even if Professor Famous is giving the keynote.

Below the Radar wrote:

If they are reasonably related I’ll buy it but I recall one c.v. that had an extraordinary number of conferences and no publications but…someone pointed out, Mr. 20th C Diplomatic History had some unusual ones that clearly matched the courses listed on his transcript. This guy was giving papers on 17th century sports/games, 19th century suffrage campaigns, 19th century Indian policy and early Modern France. He was taking all his coursework and turning them into conference papers. Maybe this genius will publish across that many specialties but it very unusual. We weren’t going to bet on that with a tenure line. An odd (esp local) conference where you give a paper on something far out of time but related to your theoretical or thematic specialty? That’s a nice stretch—-but, priorities do matter. In this market, someone who is all over the place in time and space giving what we all know are 20 minute papers? The time could be better spent building a c.v. that both gets a job and shows he knows how to focus enough to earn tenure.

Okay, those areas of concern make sense.

This last two years I’ve had ten articles published. Seven of them are from conferences. Three of them are from teaching. In that same time I’ve had 26 conference papers. Now most of my publications came out of two conferences, but even so, that means I’ve published from 14 of the 26 presentations. I do have two sets of two (Judith and spec fic silence) that I hope to get published, but I don’t know what venue to send them to. That is an issue. I’ve sent related articles out and had trouble finding the right fit. So I’m still struggling with those. However, that still means I have eight conferences where I have not tried or succeeded in publishing. I really need to make a push to get all those papers out.

Several of my presentations are in a specialized field and I haven’t really looked at journals to publish for those. I should.

I guess I would say that, yes, I can see why this is an issue. Hopefully this realization will help me to get in gear this winter break and get some papers sent out. (I will confess that I am somewhat reluctant to send them out because I tend to write in a much less formal register and translating them into stilted academic prose is a challenge for me. But it’s also because I am unconvinced of the efficacy of my arguments and that is really ridiculous.)

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