The Job Market: An Interview with Amy Foley

This past fall, Amy Foley went on the job market for the first time. She was kind enough to answer some questions about the process and give some advice to those of us who will one day have to go through the same process. Her interview is below.

First of all, congratulations on finishing your PhD in four years! That’s truly impressive. This last fall, you went on the job market for the first time, and, as something many of us are looking forward to and also dreading, thanks for letting us pick your brain!

1. Given the state of higher education and the cuts to permanent positions happening throughout the academy, how did you feel about the number of tenure track/full time jobs that were available in your area? Were there as many as you expected? Fewer? Were you forced to stretch your area to cover certain job calls?

I was surprised that there were as many jobs as there were in the fall of 2016. I have very strong feelings about our use of the phrase “going on the market,” which reminds one of a nineteenth century debutante ball. This phrase is unnecessarily intimidating for many candidates and implies a level of importance in higher education that I think we could all do without.  Yes, our profession requires a level of preparation and a portfolio that some careers do not, but many other professions do require similar preparation or an even more rigorous application process, yet do not use this kind of simultaneously self-aggrandizing and debasing language. I did not feel disappointed about the number of jobs available since my attitude is that you only need one interested party, which is why I think candidates should apply to as many jobs as they can handle in a given time. I suppose that if you do not see the process as a coming out ball, then you will not feel rejected by a scarcity of suitors.
I was looking at primarily twentieth and twentieth first century literature positions. They were all in North America, though I will be expanding my search internationally in the future. I found some that were specific to one of my areas in global modernism. Roughly half of the ten full time positions to which I applied were in modernism. The others were more generalist or focused on specific topics that were of interest to me, such as environmental studies. I did not feel forced to apply to any jobs that were not of interest.
2. How did you prioritize which jobs to apply for?
 Since I was still writing the last two chapters of my dissertation while teaching, working as a research assistant, conferencing, and doing the service work (as we all do), I had limited time for applications this year.  I decided to apply to at least ten full time positions. As it turned out, that number somewhat matched the number of jobs I felt qualified to apply for or positions that seemed like a good fit. I am primarily interested in full time positions that require or allow me to pursue research and writing along with teaching, so I applied to the jobs that clearly facilitated both. All of the jobs to which I applied I discovered through the MLA Jobs List and HigherEdJobs. In the future, I plan to cast a much wider net.
3. What was the most time-consuming part of the process? The most difficult?
The most time-consuming part of the process was composing the first set of cover letters and any extra materials required by an application. I had not actually assembled my teaching portfolio beforehand and only one position required it. This was very time-consuming, and I would recommend putting it together earlier since it is not particularly difficult. It was also time-consuming to revise and edit one chapter of my dissertation as a writing sample since I had written it so recently and had not revised the dissertation yet. I knew it would be tough to write applications while in the middle of the dissertation and working toward a definite deadline, but I felt it was good for my own morale and experience.
4. If there was one thing you wish you’d done before you started applying to make the process easier, what would that be?
I wish I had known when I began teaching in different institutions nine years ago to hold onto student evaluations. I was very far from applying to full time positions then and did not know that those would be valuable later.
At this point, I do wish I would have applied to more postdoctoral positions, but I do not know when I would have done those on top of the work I was able to complete. Now that I am finishing my graduate career, I can focus more on postdoctoral jobs and full time applications. I would advise candidates to complete all materials that are not job-specific in the summer if possible. Teaching statements, writing samples, teaching portfolios, research statements, and dossiers can all be done ahead of time. Have as many faculty in your discipline and area as possible read your materials.
I stayed very organized throughout the process, keeping track of all descriptions and document submissions. I kept a list of jobs, descriptions, and deadlines, which I shared with my recommenders. I also gave them specific instructions for submitting letters for each job, which I think reduced chaos significantly. I wanted to make the process as painless as possible for my recommenders since these are the people supporting me the most.
5. Were you surprised by any part of the process, or was it about what you expected?
I was ABD at the time I applied. I did not receive any calls for interviews, which is exactly what I expected. I am not being self-disparaging. From everything I have read, the job market changes significantly for many candidates after having a doctorate in hand. I still consider it well-spent time, and now I have a greater advantage for my applications in the future.

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