The Perils of the Academic Job Wiki
It was truly bewildering to follow our job search on the Academic Job Wiki last year. We advertised a tenure-track position in the long nineteenth century (United States). It generated a lot of discussion, none of which made sense to those of us in the department or on the committee.
The opening comment:
“the circles seem to inform that they want someone that has 20th century AFAM project/interests (9/11/07)”
Another poster asked, sensibly:
That would imply African American related.”
A request for another clarification:
“okay, what’s a “circle”?”
“questions questions, meaning I heard! i am sure we ALL know the academic circles run small and are well connected. Not much more to add.”
At this point, I’m pretty puzzled. Circles? I’m in the department and I can’t think where this might be coming from. I’m actually here and I’m not aware of any circles of any type emphasizing anything in particular. I can certainly categorically state that it would be insane for us to advertise a nineteenth-century position if what we wanted was twentieth-century African-American history.
I must be in a different circle. It’s my understanding that there will be a second position advertised. If you look at the chronology of this search and then observe what conspicuous fields are *not* represented currently on Rice’s faculty (think kepis, funny beards, and hardtack), that should serve as some clue. Then again, maybe both circles are right. It wouldn’t be the first time that a department had two circles, both with stong [sic] opinions for the type of person the department wants.”
Luckily, another reader requested some clarification there:
“When thinking about the fields not represented, what does this mean: “think kepis, funny beards, and hardtack.” I’m just not following”
Good, because I’m not either.
“I’m not the OP [the person who made the original post], but I assume s/he meant Civil War”
So at this point, there are two rumors on the internet about our search: one that we want someone who does African-American history, and another that we want (or possibly don’t want? That wasn’t really clear) a Civil War historian. Neither of these two rumors are correct: we were looking for exactly what the ad said we were looking for: the long nineteenth century, subfield open. I was really bothered by this. It seemed to me that job seekers were on the wiki deliberately starting rumors about our search, possibly to limit the numbers or types of candidates. There was no such thing as the wiki a few short years ago when I was on the market; I used to think information was power, but the “information” being circulated here seems calculated to render competitors powerless.
“I received an email from someone on the search committee asking me to apply for the job before I had sent in my application. My specialty is not African American. They are running a second search for assoc./full professor in southern history”
Which prompts a crazy reply:
This comment could possible [sic] go below [under another topic heading], but I have to object to the practice of sending select invitations to apply. It creates the impression of cherry-picking a candidate under the guise of conducting a national search. That kind of thing smacks of old-boy club and the old guild. Thoughts?”
“I guess it does smack of the OBC [Old Boy Club], but I think there are so many variables in a search that an invite does not mean slam dunk. As a grad student, we had a national search that we all thought was a dog and pony show for one candidate who had a well received book in the field of our specialized PHD program. She didn’t even get an offer because department members didn’t like her next project. Anyway if the dept. is a fossil of the dinosaur era and is full of Good Ole Boys, do you or I really want to work there anyway? Just a though[t].”
Letters to colleagues pointing out the existence of a position are fairly common. Most search committees want to widen their applicant pool, rather than narrow it. If you are a job seeker and you receive one of these letters asking you to apply for a job, pat yourself on the back and send in the application. If you don’t receive a letter, send in your app anyway. I also wondered here: was the poster suggesting that Rice’s history department “is a fossil of the dinosaur era?” Or that it is full of Good Ol’ Boys? Not amusing!
And, don’t overthink the wiki. There’s a lot of emotional angst out there during the job season, which I totally understand, but it doesn’t seem to me that the wiki is really good for the delicate psyches of graduate students. Nor does it seem to provide accurate information beyond the scheduling of AHA interviews, etc. that help clarify the timeline of a particular search.