Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Judgey Tangent Post About How TAs should dress (to teach and get a job)

I've had three separate conversations the last few weeks, that have all been racing in a circle in my head:
  • one of the grad students said she found this blog, and found it helpful (yeah!)
  • had a conversation about the lack of professional dress of TAs
  • have been attending job seekers workshops
They've circled around and collapsed onto themselves for this-
Now, I'm not a fuddy duddy, but I am 38, and have had a series of "real" jobs that require "real,"  adult clothes. So I know a little about trying to present yourself as a professional. Dressing like an adult. For a job. To be taken seriously by others.

There's a separate argument/post to be made about the nature of slut shaming (or just follow this- don't do it). And this is not that post. What people wear in their free time is completely not my concern. If you think fishnets, and shorts, and platform shoes, or no shirt, torn shorts, and flip flops are a necessary fashion statement, I could care less. And outside of a work environment women should be free to wear whatever they want free from harassment and acts of aggression.
Personally, I wear geek t-shirts and sweatpants and jeans in my free time.
But I don't wear them to work. I don't wear them to teach in. I don't wear them to work functions. Because that's not what grown ups do.

My first year teaching in NYC we were all given the professional dress speech, and a lot rolled their eyes. We had teachers with tattoos, and piercings, so we weren't stuffy by any means. But even we looked down on the guy who wore Hawaiian shirts, jeans, and Birkenstocks to teach every day his first year. One part of the speech I did get was that if you looked particularly young, it was a good idea to make sure you couldn't be mistaken for a student (for a myriad of reasons in a fairly tough Brooklyn high school). For most this was easy- we were all Anglo in a school with three Anglo Polish kids out of 1000+. But I understood the point, which I think goes hand in hand with not trying to be their friends.

Bill Maher has a great little rant about not judging a book by its cover- BUT THAT'S WHAT THE COVER IS FOR.

Now, in my idealistic, raised-by-a-hippie world, people are judged by the content of their character, the strength of their morals, and their kindness towards others. But that is not the world we live in. And this may be why these three encounters stick in my mind, because I keep thinking about the point of all this- which is to be taken seriously enough that someone will offer a job that will end all our troubles (or at least let us eat) and let us discuss literature until the end of our days.

And then I look around me, and wonder how much we're prepared to be accepted in that way.

When I taught in a rural, Southern high school, I had to conform to more traditional  ideas of professional dress for women. I was once told by a senior teacher I wasn't "dressed" appropriately because I didn't wear lipstick.
I hated it. I always felt I was being asked to conform to someone else's standards, I was never comfortable, and knew I was judged by it because I self-confess to having no fashion sense (my idea of shopping is to find something I like the feel of and buy one in three different colors). Once I had tenure I shifted to button down shirts and slacks which was better, and once I became department chair it was suits which was even better.

Now that I am at a university, it's a little different. Mainly because I feel as though as long as I am dressed professionally, I'm not being judged for not necessarily following gender norms.
I dress like this on days I teach:
Do we see the pattern? It's always a button down shirt, with a tie, and jeans or boots, and depending on the weather a vest or sweater. Albuquerque rarely allows for a jacket as well (for like 30 seconds in November) but I wear those when the weather lets me.

For the record- I'm not a gender bender by nature, and I'm not making a statement about my sexuality. There's a short answer reason why I dress this way, and the answer I give most people- girl clothes are stupid. Men's clothes are cheaper, more comfortable, and last longer.

The longer answer is that I find the patriarchal norms by which women are judged for professional dress ridiculous- hair styled, make up, clothes must be in style and fit a trend, high heels. I find these standards, and the time/money women spend living up to them LUDICROUS. Some women claim to like it. And that's fine. I do not judge them for it. But I refuse to participate in a cycle which I think continues to tell women that they are only as valuable as their looks, and what they physically present. And if you want to start an argument about how this isn't true, read this and the fifty gagillion other studies that say the same thing in addition to the anecdotal evidence from female TAs and professors and how they get judged and treated differently based on looks. You'll get no such stories from the men.
On days where I just have office hours, I tend to wear "business casual" which means a blouse/sweater and slacks. I read on one of the higher ed blogs/articles years ago (have looked for two hours for the damn link and can't find it- if you can please post in comments) that he dressed a little more "approachable" on office hours days- a sweater rather than a tie so students would perhaps feel more comfortable talking to him. That's actually a pretty good reason, so I follow it.

There's also the very real concept that as TAs and graduate students, particularly PhD students, we're in a weird limbo land where we are still students, but also transitioning into a world where soon we will ask our professors and faculty to see us as peers. That means getting rid of the mentality that your clothes/hair/make up should scream how different you are. You know what I'm learned in my years on this planet? If you're different, and your ideas are special I'll know after about five minutes of talking to you.
I originally had a different version of this, but after good points made by a Twitter friend, I decided to replace with one that was more the point I was trying to make.

Your spiked hair, overdone make up with white see through top with black lace bra underneath, untucked and/or wrinkled shirt, frayed pants, or pants with holes in them, unbrushed or unkempt hair/beard do not tell me you're different.

They tell me you don't take your job seriously.
They tell me you're slovenly.
They tell me you think you don't have to conform to professional norms.
They tell me you think in some way you're above all this.

And to me, that makes me wonder about work ethic, pulling your own weight on projects, and exactly how seriously you take your own teaching/work.

None of those are good things.

Now, those are all judgey things. And if I saw any of the above on the street, I wouldn't think twice. But in a classroom? A work environment? A meeting? An interview? That's a different ball of wax.
There comes a time where it's time to put aside childish things. Grad school, and the job market seems like that time.

So put aside the band t-shirts and ripped jeans and save them for the weekends. Search the Internet and Goodwill stores for professional dress ideas that won't break your pitiful TA budget. Start dressing for the job that all too soon you'll be competing against (in some cases) anywhere from 100-900 other people for. Your professors will notice. Other faculty will notice. Your students will notice. And in this job market, you shouldn't be doing anything that can take you out of the running when it's such an easy fix.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Prepping for the Job Market Part 3- The Research Statement

This week, our job seeker's workshop focused on the research statement. Our pattern is to post ours, then we get feedback from at least two professors, sometimes more. This week we again had a small group (8 folks).

Yesterday's workshop was the first one I felt completely unprepared for.
Up until this point, I've felt like I had a handle/idea of what the genre was asking for (CV and cover letter) and while I got copious notes on how to improve, knew they were all good notes and my work would be the stronger for it.
That was not the case yesterday. The research statement is an odd duck to begin with, so it started in an odd place.
Some of the general notes we received:
  • First paragraph should be overview, second should be your dissertation, the third should be recent publications, fourth your next big research project, and then conclusion which ties your work together.
  • Have deliverables and a clear timeline for future research.
  • Shorter = better, scannable = best. We were told that some ads will state just 1 page, but usually anything under two pages is good.
  • We were encouraged to take the scholarly publishing class next semester, and one piece of advice was to delay graduation so we could time our dissertation coming out as a book before graduation.
I received a lot of personal advice on my research statement. Some was very helpful, such as rephrasing my work so it's clear I'm not just a Miltonist, but work through medieval and early modern periods. Another was to clarify my folklore approach so that it was accessible and understandable by literary scholars.
Some advice was less helpful. Like the bit about not mentioning my popular culture work because it meant I wasn't a serious scholar, and not literature scholars would take that seriously. I was told to remove the chapter I've worked on on Steve Rogers, "I don't know who this is and no one else will." I was also told that my next research project, an extension of the dissertation, which examines how Milton's mythology becomes what is forwarded in popular culture, should be revised without the popular culture (despite the fact that I'm looking to submit it for a series called religion and popular culture).
I was also told I couldn't prove my dissertation.

I wanted to go cry. This was done at full volume (although I stress not in a mean tone) in a room full of other grad students and professors. Several turned to look at me with pity at several times. I was embarrassed, and felt awful.

But here's the thing- these are not uncommon views. I am lucky to have a great support network of media/culture studies folks. And while some of these ideas are changing, I understand that hiring committees may be weighted with older faculty and it's my job to make my work clear and not to make them work for it. I get that.
This was also a abject lesson in how to be a grown up and behave. Whether or not I agree with the views of this person, they took the time to come to the workshop. They took the time to read my research statement, and give me feedback. They deserve respect for that. Which is why I took notes, some of which I have noted for improving my statement, and when finished, thanked them, shook their hand and was done.

But part of me also feels a lot like this, I mean seriously, who's Steve Rogers? *headdesk*
(gif posted to my timeline on Facebook by a friend)
Being a PhD student is hard. It's like Great American Hero where he has all this STUFF but no idea how to use it because the instruction manual shrunk. Except for PhD students the manual isn't shrunk so much as password protected and hidden by some Skulls-like group.

The job market at times seems to be like the Swamp of Sadness. The place that slowly makes you more and more depressed until you simply cannot go on and DIE!

There are silver linings. 
There are some great people out there who are offering advice (or at least passing the whiskey bottle).  I have friends who are looking at my documents and offering long-distance advice.
There are also more senior scholars out there who blog about these issues, or offer Twitter support.
These two posts are wonderful for people actually on the market this year:
But despite all of the support, advice, or help, this is still a lonely business. Sharing can be seen as personal weakness. You're often told you're not good enough, your work is crap, etc. And I think part of the weaning process is whether or not you do quit or whether you put up with this, shake it off, and go back to being your own personal cheerleader.
I for one will go back to thinking I'm a rock star. Because Stiles thinks so, and Stiles is never wrong.
Next week, the teaching philosophy and teaching portfolio.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Prepping for the Job Market: Part 2 Application/Cover Letter

This week's job seeker's workshop was interesting on a couple of levels.
First, the number of attendees dropped by half. I don't think this is a reflection on the workshop. Half of the attendees the first week were not prepping for this year's market, so maybe they don't see the need to prep. I think they are very wrong. I'm not on the market until next year, but I think it will prove to be incredibly valuable to have vetted templates all ready to go come next fall. I want to be able to personalize these letters and statements and just send them out. I don't want to be creating them.
But that's me.
This past week's focus was on the cover/application letter.
My first draft was crap. The year before I applied to/started my PhD program I applied to a wide range of community college, lecturer positions to see if I could get hired with what I had (masters in education, masters in English literature). The draft I submitted for the workshop was the letter I sent out for a lecturer position at Middle Tennessee State University- a place I'd love to be. After seeing the feedback I got on that letter, I see now why I didn't even make the cut! Draft 2 was a little better. I am especially grateful not only to our professor running the workshop, but also a Twitter connection for taking the time to give me specific notes and suggestions as well.
What I ended up with was this. I think it's a strong template for me to use as a basis next fall, although it's over the two page limit we were advised of, so I've sent it off to my professor for advice/comments.

We also got some basic notes on the letter:
  • Use the preferred qualifications in the ad to see what you need to address in your letter. One professor said search committees scored how well letters addressed these on a numeric scale that determined whether or not they made the cut.
  • We should have two versions of the letter: one that put research/publications first and made that our emphasis and one that put teaching first and emphasized that.
  • We should research the schools we're applying to an mention courses of theirs we could teach as well as make reference to undergrad/grad contact. However, don't mention specific people there you'd like to work with as that can blow up in your face.
  • If they don't ask for a teaching/research statement/philosophy bulk up those sections in your letter.
  • Consider getting a letter of interest/contract for first book so you can say that in your letter.
  • No more than two pages, dump header address if needed for more space
  • Set up interfolio account. It allows you to upload all these documents and helps you track everything. It also has the bonus that your recommenders will only have to upload their letters once (in a secure manner) which makes it easier on them.

This week we're covering the research statement. I'm a little concerned/worried about this. We were told to relate to other disciplines, how my interests would help the university, and I'm a little unclear on how to do this without feeling/presenting as scattershot flake.

Also asked my professor about marketing myself. I'm a medievalist/early modernist. Yet professor said I was more early modernist. So having a medievalist as my chair may be a detriment. He said we'd have to revisit that.
So, that's week 2. Let me know if you have additional advice, or if you have questions for me to ask for this week. I'm off to try and sell my varied research interests in some coherent manner.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Prepping for the Job Market: Part 1 The CV and Ad

Some background: I am in my third semester of my PhD program. I finish my course work this semester, comp in February, will defend my prospectus soon thereafter, am currently writing my dissertation, and am planning on going on the job market in a year, with a dissertation defense date of early spring semester 2016.
I have my committee of studies for comps in place, and just secured my fourth/outside reader for my dissertation last week.

Over the next month my department is offering job seekers workshops on different topics to prep people for the job market. We had our first one this past week. The MLA Job List comes out today. And half the people in the room didn't seem to know a whole lot about the job market or how to prepare. I have to admit- this is worrisome to me. Particularly, this is worrisome because this knowledge is everywhere on the Internet and I worry about people attempting to go into this field who are not aware of the field or aren't being told this by other sources. What was perhaps more worrisome is that the job list comes out today- so why don't these people have their job market materials ready to go? I digress...

This week we focused on our CV and how to break down/respond to job ads. I had a member of my committee look at my CV last year, and we made corrections, but based on the feedback I got for the workshop, I still had a lot to do. This was what my committee member and I came up with. This is what I ended up with.

The professors running the workshop (two of whom were on the job market the last couple of years) stressed how dire the market was, although the stat they gave was 150 for every application, and from what I've read, that number is more likely 400 or 500 depending on your field.

We all got feedback on our CVs, so I'm feeling pretty good about how it looks now, and thanks to     all who were wonderful about sharing their CVs and pointing me towards Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Academic CV for some extra help. We spent the majority of the workshop (2 hours) asking questions and looking at a sample job ad.

So, here's a list of the good information/tips we got about the CV:
  • Make sure your CV is streamlined, use the white space, make it easy for the committee to read. Don't make them work for it.
  • It should be 2-3 pages right out of grad school
  • It's a toss up on whether to put your dissertation title and abstract. Most seemed to think that the paragraph about it in the cover letter was enough.
  • List committee members as references. Side note: make sure that your faculty stress in their letters that you'll be DONE if going on market ABD. Also, along these lines, even if you just put dissertation title on your CV, ALWAYS put defense date.
Other advice that was a little more general:
  • A lot of ads are starting to say medieval literature (or whatever field) + digital humanities. We were encouraged to take the DH courses offered here, or publish with an emphasis to qualify.
  • I also noticed that there's been a lack the last couple of years of ads mentioning sub categories (feminist, Marxist, etc.).
  • Start saving now so you had a slush fund to go to MLA to interview if asked.
  •  Number of publications wasn't important, as long as you were working, could show you submitted something. Also, feel free to put on CV that you've submitted to a journal (even if you haven't heard anything back from them). I STRONGLY disagree with this. I think in this job market one of the few ways you can prove you're a rock star/solid bet who can produce is to publish. I think you need at least one publication for every year you've been in grad school. I also think that you should not put submitted, as anyone could do that- accepted, yes. Asked to revise and submit- maybe.

We're covering the application/cover letter next week (here's my draft), but we did cover some tips this past week:
  • Don't mention previous (read high school, for-profit) teaching experience in cover letter. Mention only in interview if you get there and it's relevant.
  • Cover letter should follow this format: publications, dissertation, teaching. The paragraph on your dissertation should be a really good one. Also, write dissertation title to include tags of what your research covers so it's clear what areas you work in. I used this template for my letter.
  • Create a template, then tailor each letter for each job. Research the school, and be sure to specifically refer to their programs/faculty.
On a more personal note- 
I am fully aware that the job market is dire. Next fall I will not only be competing with newly/almost minted PhDs from schools that have better reputations than mine, but also this year's PhDs that didn't get jobs, and last year's, and the year before that, and so on and so on. I can't control that. I can't make my school higher ranked, or ivy league. I can't lessen the numbers of the competition. The way I see it, I can only control myself. 
It's a short list, but this is what I'm going with:
  • I have three current publications- two articles and one chapter in an edited collection. In the next year I should have two more chapters in edited collections, one on fairy tales, the other on comics and the working class. I have two journal articles submitted, but have heard nothing back yet. I plan on aiming for a medieval publication this year and an early modern one next year.
  • I was always told that conferences were only valuable if your CV also showed that these became publications. That seems like sound advice to me. I've lessened the conferences I'm attending one, because I'm writing my diss at this point, and two, I'm focusing WHERE I'm going more.
  • Teaching is important. It's no longer, for most jobs, unnecessary, or a barely there requirement. That being said- even SLACs are going to require research, so a page of local teaching awards with no publications and few conferences is not the right mix. I can tell you that I'm not even applying for these awards because they are a lot of work, and I don't think they will move my CV the way a publication or conference would.
  • Get on social media. Start a scholarly blog- share your work. Be on Twitter. Connect with people in your field- share your work. Get your name out there and engage with people.
Last year when I looked at the MLA Joblist there were 23 jobs that I qualified for. I'm marketing myself as a medieval/early modernist. These fields have collapsed the last few years, so I feel comfortable with this positioning. 
This year there are 17 jobs that I would qualify for. 
That's a shrinking pool of an already miserable job market.
But I'm not giving up. Is it possible I may end up flipping burgers after grad school? Absolutely. But I'm not thinking like that. I'm focusing on everything I can do to make myself the best possible candidate. That's all any of us can do.
Next week- my reactions to the application letter and more on the job list ads.