So the MLA job list is out. Totally not on the market, myself, thank god… just spectating and for-statisical-purposes-only looking. I wouldn’t be happy if I were going out this year – I’d imagine that there are half or a third of the jobs available vs. the year when I first went out, and maybe only one that I’d have been relatively happy to have. Of course there’s still more to come, but what do people think? How’s it look to you?
Just to explain, for people who aren’t in the business: the MLA job list, which contains almost every job that will be available during the coming year in language and literature departments in North America, comes out once a year, today actually. The process is incredibly long, getting an academic job in literature – the listings that arrived today won’t be filled until late January at the very earliest. Gruelling, it is. You spend the summer preparing your stack of job materials (CV, writing sample, dissertation description, teaching statement), send off and wait. Later, you might be asked for another writing sample. If you’re lucky, sometime in November or so will invite you to an interview at the conference (this year, like almost every year it seems, it’s in Philadelphia. I’ve already been to two in that city.) After that, three or four people will be asked to visit the campus, give a talk, meet with students and potential colleagues, and go out for a few awkward dinners. Then, after all of that, you wait for the department to get its act together, schedule a meeting and vote (in most cases – some place do the actual deciding part differently).
So much more complicated and arduous than the process in the UK, where you get a stack of apps, read them, a committee argues out four to bring in, then you interview them serially and make a call within an hour. Doesn’t take much more than a month, listing to filling. But that’s what America gets for being a great big country full of land-grant universities, I guess. And I’ll cop to preferring the campus visit, in the end. It is strange, passing strange, to be offered a job without having met your future colleagues in any scenario other than the gladiatorial contest of the interview. *
Nothing remarkably incisive to say about all of this beyond the capsule rendition of how it works. It is an engine of professionalization, though. American job candidates, almost all of them, spend an entire year focused almost exclusively on this sort of thing – well, save for any teaching they might be doing, and frantic nighttime dissertation finishing. You enter into your first year on the market a kid who likes to read and write; you exit a fully fledged professional academic. Don’t get me wrong – there are good and bad things both about this sort of professionalization. But it is something to note, and perhaps something worth thinking and writing about a bit more, what effect the rhythm of the market has on intellectual life in the academy. Of course it’s always present, informing the decisions that people make about their work etc. But it becomes profoundly present, definitive, in bursts. There the struggle to get into a PhD program, and then relative calm for a few years. Then a frantic burst of market-awareness, then a bit of calm (at least on that front) as you start your job. Then the tenuring process, and after that, if you’ve made it, calm again… until you decide to look for another job… Goes on and on. **
Anyway, here’s Berryman, in a not very successful Dream Song, on the MLA…. Happy hunting to those that are!
* Coetzee actually writes up, quite accurately, the differences between the UK (SA imitating the UK, in this case) and the US style of English department hiring in Summertime, fyi. Wish I had time to type it all in, but not just this minute, as I have my own job to keep.
** Please note: I am fully aware that I am describing only one sort of track through the field, and that there are other tracks. Not everyone, or even most, don’t end up in a straightforward PhD to tenure track to tenure line.