Job Search with English Ph.D.: Milestone Reached

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.

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5 Responses to Job Search with English Ph.D.: Milestone Reached

  1. lms4w says:

    Hooray, Wesley! I’m not only very happy for you, but heartened that Kent State recognizes the value of textual editing. Best of luck with “the next cycle.”

  2. jobs says:

    Very optimistic and supporive article. It inspires.

    • wraabe says:

      Thank you for the kind word, but your comment elicits a pang of guilt. I wish that I had the same amount of optimism. An already difficult situation has been made more difficult by the economic downturn, which is causing universities to cut expenses and cancel searches, including planned searches at Kent State. So if one’s life situation demands it, don’t hesitate to explore options other than another year, another search. CLIR’s library fellowship allowed me (and my family) to hold on until the third academic job search had a better result.

  3. Joy says:

    What if you are on a fourth year search, after 400 applications???

    • wraabe says:

      My heart aches for you. If you have not already done so, it is time for a sit-down meeting with dissertation adviser and a job coach (if one is available to you). Make sure nothing is sabotaging your chances: letter, vita, writing sample, recommendations. If you still have heart and financial wherewithal for it, write, present, publish, and try again. If your time is up for this madness, pursue another path in life, especially if debt threatens and you do not have wherewithal to pay it off. Go abroad to teach? Remember that I’m just one person, one who has done no research on the process and can only relay my experience. But I’d think after 4 years it would be time to seriously consider doing something else. I was on the verge of giving up during my third search–but I’ve stopped looking back.

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