on academic job hunting

I don’t like writing cover letters.  I really don’t.  I sound, by turns, smarmy and cocky and unsure and begging and pandering and, oddly enough, sarcastic.  I’ve never quite struck the right balance between being enthusiastic about a job I really want, without scaring the hell of the unknown people on the other end, and trying to sound enthusiastic about jobs I’m applying for, but know that either I won’t get, or am unsure I’d want even if I did.

That enthusiasm is hard to muster for schools that are, in themselves, pretentious.  Honestly, would it KILL you to give the name of the person who is the chair of the search?  Really?  Why make it hard for your applicants to ask questions?  Don’t you want people you can work with?  When you don’t include a name, it just makes you seem like you can’t be bothered.  And really, let me tell you, when you get high-falutin’ with the job title, that’s another mark against you.  Seriously.

Why are the job titles and lack of names pretentious?  Because I can still go look at your website, and look at who your faculty are, and lo and behold…who is that?  And that?  I’ve never heard of that guy.  Nope, not that one either.  Good lord, do you have any WOMEN on your faculty?  Anyone who isn’t …white?  Is there something you’re not saying?  Or are you just a wannabe school (as in ‘we wanna be Berkeley/Harvard’)?  Because between your lack of openness, your fancy mission statements, and your horribly overcomplicated, or just plain BAD, website (a lack of a complete list of departmental courses, a photo of the faculty as a stand-in for actual information) …guess what?  You ain’t.  Because when Berkeley does a job search, they list the chair of the search (as does Harvard) and they request more than just my CV and transcripts.

And what the hell do my transcripts have to do with anything?  Okay, maybe they prove that I’ve gotten my masters, but really, beyond that?  We all know that grad school grades are inflated…it’s an A, the okay A-, and the ‘what the hell are you doing in grad school’ B+.  Guess what?  I’ve got one of those.  From my first year, in a Marx class.  Guess what?  Doesn’t mean I can’t teach the classes you’re asking me to teach.  Wouldn’t you rather see my class evaluations?  My teaching philosophy?  My evaluations as an instructor?

Come on, people.  YOU hated your job search, you thought the same things I did, and yet you continue to repeat them.  And we wonder why so many people don’t understand academics.  Damn, but we’re a catty lot.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

rather wondering

There are plenty of studies on the positive and negative effects of Facebook, and I’m happy to let others explore the metanarratives of the social networking phenomenon.  Suffice it to say that I’m happy for such sites, because it allows me to re-connect with people with whom I’ve lost touch over the years.  MySpace became too crowded, not with people, but with ads and bands I’d never heard of and too many offers of this, that, or the other thing.  Facebook, despite its flaws — really, guys, there’s a difference between usability and trying too hard to be twitter — has been, at least in my world, a good thing.

But I am struck by — perhaps ‘bemused by’ — the fact that so many of the friends I’ve reconnected with have become quite …faith oriented.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a medieval historian who studies religion for a reason; I am, myself, of a transcendent bent.  But I have long shied away from labeling myself as being of one faith tradition or another, and I refuse to accept that a transcendent god is gendered, driven by human emotions, or all about making us feel bad about our humanness.  Jedi, as cheezy as it sounds, and the ties it has to some really badly written (if stunningly visual) sci fi movies, works.  There is something beyond us, beyond our everyday senses, that is greater than the sum of the parts, and can be accessed by those who know how (through prayer, meditation, or other means).

But I find it interesting how many people in my life — both then and now — praise god for good days, breaking fevers, a new job, or other life events in their FB status.  I’ve never quite understood the thanking of god for things that will inevitably happen anyway, to be honest.  But to do it so publicly, is this a function of the need for Christians, in particular, to witness?  Do they think that because their child’s sickness is better, and they praise god, that means that I’m going to suddenly fall to my knees in a conversion fever of my own?  That others will be impressed with their faith?  Are they showing off?

But no.  I cannot believe that these are their reasons, knowing the people that tend to express their thanks to god in their statuses.  They are good people, people who believe in their faith.  They aren’t trying to convert me, or anyone else.  Nor are they showing off their faith for others.  So why do they do it?  Is it a matter of a profession/belief so deep that god takes the central role of their lives?  They work in places that are connected to a religious tradition, grew up in households that were, if not irreligious, at least areligious, and seem to be much the same people they were in high school and college.  At least, most of them.

And then there is the woman that for many years I called my sister. One of my best friends in childhood, when my parents took her in during our teen years, I became even closer to her, and I always referred to her as my sister.  But apparently, my support of gay marriage, and my dislike of Sarah Palin, led her to ‘unfriend’ me on Facebook.  And my brother-in-law, too.  No explanation, no heads’ up…I just went to post something on her wall one day, and she was no longer there.  No effort to express the reasons why, just …gone.  And that, perhaps, is one of the functions of Facebook.  You learn how tolerant — or intolerant — others are.  If my sister is so intolerant of my religious or political leanings that she cannot be my friend on a social networking site, my goodness.  Do I even have the drive, or the right, to call her my sister any more?  I am leaning towards ‘no’, but then again, should I give her the benefit that she did not give me, an explanation?

These are questions that make me wonder when I have moments of downtime, and I’ve yet to find an answer.

Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 7:46 pm  Leave a Comment