My job search has reached a milestone. Today, 11 March 2008, I signed a letter to accept a tenure-track position in Textual Editing and American Literature at Kent State University. This was what I hoped for when I abandoned my 8-year career as a technical writer and began pursuing the English Ph.D. in 2002. This academic year 2007-2008 was my third run through the spin cycle that is the job hunt, and now I can concentrate on the next cycle that is the tenure process. But today I pause for a brief moment of reflection.
Aside from the CLIR fellowship, which I applied for and received in 2006, the job hunt has been a period of frustration and agonizing doubt. In three years I’ve sent application letters for approximately 100 tenure-track positions and received a handful of requests for additional materials, one interview at the annual Modern Language Association conference, one on-campus interview, and one tenure-track job offer. That is no misprint: one MLA interview, and one job. For over two years I’ve ruefully responded to my dissertation adviser’s nugget of wisdom–“You only need one job”–with a silent retort: “Yea, but I do need one.” He seems as wise now as I always hoped he would be.
But this third year on the market–a term that I despise–had a difference. Kent is the first department to include “textual editing” in the title of a position, which makes it close to an ideal position for my scholarship. I am also a scholar of American literature, but with textual editing as my secondary emphasis–in application letters for positions in American literature–no department saw how to fit my candidacy into its sense of how the discipline needs to be represented. Would-be textualists have reason to worry that the discipline of American literary and cultural study is imagining your work out of existence. I’m sure that more recent work (and revised wording) has changed how my applications were read, but I have evidence only that one committee could be brought to imagine a future for the scholarly work that I do within its department.
I have kept working on the aspect of literary scholarship that thrills me: the exploration of textual difference, the modes of representation for that difference in editorial and digital scholarship, and the consequences for a larger enterprise of cultural study. But my patience with this job application process was nearing its end, and I’m glad for this hiatus, which I intend to make a long one. Of course, I have a grant application to write and an article to revise. So work that is oddly similar to job market–position yourself in the discipline, explain why your work is crucial–continues apace. If you have had two frustrating years on the job market, may my post inspire you to regroup, to hope, and to dedicate yourself to taking the third run. After all, you only need one job.