Don’t Be Yourself

Don’t be yourself–be someone better!

This is actually the standard advice from self-help gurus everywhere, yet, in academia, it is not the standard advice for job seekers.

Karen Kelsky wrote last year “The ‘Be Yourself’ Myth” in which she said that being yourself, the nervous you without a specific agenda, perhaps still very much a fledgling PhD or perhaps (as others of us are) a full-time wife and mother entering or re-entering the field (talking to you, @readywriting! and myself and many others, I am sure), is not a good plan.

Instead the tt job seeker should be someone else–someone prepared, someone confident, someone who has it all together and can wow the search committee.

One specific thing she said rang my bell as if I were inside the church bell tower that tolls every hour two blocks from my house. She said you need to have formulated and ready to spiel:

A clear and specific trajectory of publications. You will map an “arc” of publications that links past, present and future. You will say something like: “As you saw from my C.V., I have two refereed journal articles published on this body of work in the Journal of X and Journal of Y. I have another in revise-and-resubmit stage at the Journal of Z. Beyond that, I am finalizing my book manuscript, and am speaking with editors at Duke and Chicago about a contract. I expect that to be complete in spring of next year, and after that I am planning two more articles based on material that didn’t make it into the book. Those publications will complete the publishing arc of this work, and I will then move on to my second major project.” You will have this answer prepared for all interviews regardless of rank of the institution.

This is something I did not have–and it made a difference at SLACs and CCs.

It made a difference, even when the Search Committee themselves hadn’t published anything in years. It made a difference, even when that was not the focus of the college. It always made a difference.

Why does being a prepared, publishing machine matter?

There are too many PhDs who are available for full-time work.

This is why universities can say (and often get away with hiring) a recently minted PhD with several years left on their expiration date.

It’s why SLACs can require and receive tt applicants with CVs as long as thirty year veterans on their present tt path.

It’s why the final round of interviews at CCs are always folks with publication notches on their belts.

What does your publication spiel sound like when you aren’t a superstar?

It’s along these lines:

After hiring, it is still important.

I am not totally sure I have a publication spiel now, although I can tell you what my most recent work has been. And my most recent work involves two books, so that’s not bad. (It would be better, I am sure, if they were Cambridge UP and/or Routledge, but they will definitely count at my SLAC.)

It is still important because:
1. You don’t have tenure, even though you are on a tt.
2. Downsizing happens, especially in economically problematic times.
3. If things don’t work out, you need to be able to move.

Relevant previous posts related to this topic:
How to Get and Put Publications on Your CV
Find out what Search Committees are thinking about what they see on your CV in Too Far Afield?
How Long Did It Take For Me to Get a Job?
Employment Advice from a Two-University Search Committee Member

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