Sunday, October 14, 2007

Random Notes on Things Past and Present, Written While the Radical Rests

Don't neglect the post below, which contains everything you need to know about the sexiest convention but the MLA (although at ASA you can actually understand what the panelists are saying most of the time, which is a plus). But since I am on fall break, a puzzling, but welcome innovation in American Higher Education, I do have time to jot down a few little things sooner rather than later.

First of all, I have added some new links: take note. One is Margaret Soltan's University Diaries, and what has taken me so long to add this one, I don't know, except that I am lazy about tending the links column. I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere, except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer, and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?

Then there is the just-discovered Scattered and Random. Every time a historian identifies hirself as working for a SLAC, I think, surely I know this person! And yet, no. So if being a historian is not enough to get this one linked, the commentary on department life that I can no longer write about in the same sarcastic and acerbic ways because I am out of the blogging closet is.

Then there is piggybank blues, who is not an academic at all. I know piggybank, who came out to me via some mutual connections, and who told me s/he began the blog as a way of speaking to people who are outside conventional economic systems and need to know more about how money works. Since graduate students qualify right off the bat as being outside the system, and most academics are shockingly naive about money, I think piggybank would belong here even if the blog were not smart and well-written.

A few other notes: My recent post on applying for jobs has been linked to more academic sites as well as blogs than any post I have ever written. As a result, it is also approaching the number of comments received from those maniac jock sniffers I was dealing with a few months ago around the People with Sticks and Balls and their cult leader (a new article about the cult leader and his schlock troops can be accessed here. Hat Tip.) These comments are very much worth reading for content, as opposed to the comments of the sports cult, which were worth reading only to remind yourself that very strange people lurk on the internet, some of whom aren't real people at all -- or rather, are alter egos of the cult leader himself.

But back to my original point -- one curious aspect of the responses to my post on the job letter is that the piece of advice drawing the most attention is the one about using letterhead, which seemed to me self-evident. But no, it isn't: whether it is ethical to use letterhead in applying for jobs, particularly when you already have a job, is a subject of more controversy than I knew. I address this in the comments section of the post itself, but if someone can explain to me why this, of all the advice I gave, was the most contentious, I would be sincerely interested. You can either put your response in a comment here, or use the email link to write to me privately.

I would like to add another piece of advice that someone I encountered at the ASA, who teaches at an R-I, added, which is this: graduate students need to show their letters to people on the faculty and take their advice. What is the most common problem with job letters, my friend (who has, by the way, from a young age been one of the best professionalized people I know) said, is that graduate students use the letters other graduate students have written as models, thus not only recycling strategic errors of self-presentation, but elaborating on them. Here, I would make the analogy to getting the clap, when in fact you only wanted to make love with a nice person who propositioned you. Just because someone got a job doesn't mean they wrote the perfect letter and -- as the comments on my original post suggest -- there is no such thing as the perfect letter, only letters well-tailored to the job and the institution.


Belle said...

Hey, thanks for the kind words. As I live in a very Red State, my sarcasm is often lost in the ether. My students think I'm either the bitch from hell (a very crowded place) or funny and sharp. Guess which I prefer?

Lesboprof said...

Okay, so back to the letterhead... I think it was a big deal because it is one of those issues that reflects personal style, preferences, and very little practical import. Honestly, what you write is so much more important that the letterhead it comes on. I think we worry and argue about the letterhead because it is small and manageable, unlike "How do I write a good cover letter?" and "Am I a strong candidate for this job?"

That said, I applied for 2 jobs and didn't use my school's letterhead. I heard your argument, but I still can't buy it.

To stay in your good graces, though, I will go check out those recommended blogs right now. And I hope fall break is wonderful!

Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Hello again. Funny how much the letterhead issue blew up (and this as someone who posted an earlier comment about it).

The first thing that feeds into this is interpretational. I think part of the response, possibly including my own (I can't quite claim to recall what my frame of mind and logic was when I posted then, though I don't disagree with what I said), was due to mistaking your advice intended for grad students as more generally intended.

But I also think there's just a natural apprehension about the job market and the idea that something so unimportant (in the cosmic sense) as letterhead might possibly be seen as that important. At the grad school I attended, I'm fairly certain that I wouldn't have been given letterhead without having formed some sort of elaborate "Hogan's Heroes" sort of network because all things office supply were rigidly controlled.

Really I think the reaction you're seeing - and you've already keyed into this - is the frustration at just how arbitrary and unfair a market seemingly based on merit really is.

verbranntes kind said...

I think that the issue with letterhead relates to the fact that some applicants have it and others don't and the distribution of those who do have it seems or is arguably arbitrary. (Whereas the other components of the application are more plausibly meritocratic). I.e., it's what the letterhead represents vs the letterhead itself.

I personally am at a phase where it's my CV that gets me the job, not the letterhead, but the letterhead is still a nice affirmation of the CV. It makes me feel more confident in applying (and so maybe those who don't have it feel their confidence less fully?)

verbranntes kind said...

Actually, I have another question. Do you have an opinion about dossier services? I am now in the middle of the 35th identical letter for one job applicant, who has informed me that employers don't respect dossier services. (Never mind that I got every job I have ever had with references sent by my university's dossier service).

Tenured Radical said...

Dear VK,

I certainly don't disrespect dossier services: not only do they make it easier on the graduate students (and more reliable -- in my day the departmental secretaries from your home institutions sent everything out, and that was chaos), but it is much easier on my office staff not to receive things one at a time.


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