Wednesday, September 07, 2005

 

Ask the Administrator: The Secret Search

A fellow blogger in a one-year position (that may convert to tenure-track) at a cc asks:

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Here's the thing. I really like teaching at a CC. I like the class sizes, the community, the emphasis on teaching, and the feeling that I'm giving something back. As long as I have summers free, I can continue to do research and write. The college has a study abroad program and a decent amount of ProD money for going to conferences on alternate years (although we can still go at other times if we pay our own way).

But I'm also a bit frightened. How will it look to my colleagues when I say I'm on the market this year, even though I'm going to be doing my best to be the best candidate for their search? And will they believe me that I'd be happy at a CC, if I'm applying to 4-years?

The truth is, I see advantages to both. And I can see that there will be trade-offs. I also don't want to sabotage myself, though, and am scared that actually having a writing agenda -- something I MUST have to get a job at anywhere other than a CC -- might put people off.

Also, are FT fill-ins better for extending the sell-by date?

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First off, if your current position is a one-year, you’d be insane NOT to be on the market. Since your current employer hasn’t pledged its troth to you, you shouldn’t pledge yours either. Oddly, you may increase your chances of converting your current position by showing that it isn’t your only option. (If they think you’re stuck, they may calculate that they could keep you around without shouldering the budgetary burden of salary and benefits.) The calculation changes once you’re on the tenure track; at that point, the big fear is ‘flight risk.’ I say, apply freely until you’re on the tenure track; at that point, unless you’re really miserable, focus on the task at hand.

You aren’t under any obligation that I can see to tell your current colleagues exactly where you’re applying, unless and until offers materialize. No need to raise any anxieties there. Just let them know that you would love to continue where you are, but your commitment is contingent upon theirs.

It’s good that you have a writing agenda, and I certainly wouldn’t advise hiding it. The anxieties that Ph.D.’s can sometimes trigger among cc faculty should be reduced, in your case, by familiarity. It’s harder to fear the unknown when it isn’t unknown. If your current colleagues know you as a good teacher and colleague, the threat of being used as a port in a storm by a young research machine should fade away.

On a personal note, let me say ‘congratulations’ on being able to look past the academic hierarchy to see that it is, in fact, possible to be happy someplace other than a research 1.

On the sell-by date: yes and no. Yes, it helps with teaching institutions; no, it most likely doesn’t with r1’s (and those awful midtier places that style themselves as r1’s in the making, which are much worse). When I’m looking at prospective hires here, I certainly value full-time teaching experience more than adjunct, simply because it suggests that the person has had experience with both a full-time courseload and departmental politics. It also suggests that someone else thought highly enough of the candidate to pick her for a spot. In a research-driven place, though, there’s just no getting around the fact that you’ve had your degree for several years and have yet to break through.

In this job market, I see absolutely no shame in switch-hitting; apply to both the four-year and the two-year schools, if you honestly believe you could be happy at either. Until you’re on the tenure track, failing to apply is a high-risk, low-reward gamble. Just make sure that you’re aware of your audience at each, and you should be fine.

Got a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

Comments:
As someone who has served on searches at my CC, I would re-emphasize that it is really important that you think about your audience as you write your cover letter and craft your vita. Too many people who really want four-year jobs send the same package to two year schools, and those of us at the two years really hate that. We don't want to know first and foremost about your research interests; in fact, we don't care at all. What matters is your teaching and any special things that are teaching related (ie. a presentation at a conference on teaching and learning is much more impressive than an article in a heavily theoretical academic journal). This doesn't mean you can't pursue your writing/research interests, but we don't want to think that is where your heart is.

Picking up some part-time community college experience as an adjunct wouldn't hurt either so that you can talk about the student population with some actual authority.
 
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