Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

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.


  1. I'm suspect of any scholar who cannot condense an agenda into a page, not including the dissertation, which should be highlighted in the letter of application as a foundational project. Too much overlap in these materials looks, to me at least, like fluff. As someone from a discipline with a robust job market, I look at these from lit scholars as being "trying too hard" and ultimately "insecure and probably has a lot of issues I don't want my department to subscribe to."

    Mostly, it's a crap shoot of right people on committee, right people showing up to different parts of the interview, and good days for you ...

    Ultimately, the vast majority of folks who are part of hiring you don't know enough about your work to know if it's right; the question is more methodological (does this person do research that looks like the sort of research we value) ... ultimately, you'll apply research lenses to so many different things. Not going out as a Miltonist is a good thing, I think, because those sorts of narrow jobs are very rare and getting more so. Contextualizing your work with Milton either theoretically or historically (taking a period approach) might make more sense for some schools.

    Ultimately, though, you need at least 4 research statements, 4 teaching statements, 4 CVs, and 4 types of letters ... and those then get further specialized to go to each school.

    I'll read anything you want to send me and offer feedback from a non-specialist in your field, but someone who would likely also be a member of the search committee and the department you might want to work in. :-)

  2. It's helpful to have the perspective of someone outside (field and school) as to what a hiring committee will look for.
    Thank you for the advice!
    And always, for the support!