In this account, I put two successful cover letters (with both, I advanced past the first round) beside each other. The 2006 letter is for one of the first cover letters I submitted after starting my temporary position at the University of Minnesota. The 2011 letter is for the last academic cover letter I wrote before moving outside (or beside) the academy. It’s interesting to put them together and see how my research and teaching interests have changed.
In the five years between writing these cover letters, I did a lot of intellectual work. I developed my virtue of troublemaking. I experimented with blogs and social media. I taught 20 classes. I learned a lot about feminist pedagogies and queer theory. I published 2 articles and a book chapter. I pushed at the limits of the academic spaces that I inhabited. And I cultivated my own voice and one vision for intellectual engagement.
When I look at these two letters and think about all of the intellectual labor that happened between 2006-2011, I realize that my education didn’t stop when I earned my Ph.D. In fact, I learned a tremendous amount while on the job market and teaching for five and a half years at the University of Minnesota.
Some of what I learned was energizing and inspiring, like theories on feminist and queer pedagogy and the value of curiosity, But, much of it was disquieting, like learning about (through experiencing) the job market and the process of applying for an academic job. Preparing elaborate portfolios with imagined syllabi, writing samples, teaching statements and then sending them out to any and every place with a job opening while hoping for the chance to submit even more materials or do a phone interview or visit the campus for a grueling 2-3 day non-stop interview was tough. Waiting for months and never hearing back again, even if you had had a campus visit and become completely invested in the job and the town where the college was located, was even tougher. And, year after year trying to get a tenure-track job, worrying endlessly about what else you were qualified for after spending so much time in school was toughest yet.
I’m sure the academic job process has always been challenging, but with the recent trend of eliminating departments and replacing tenure track positions with adjuncts (either hired per class or for temporary 1-3 year appointments), it is now cruel, painful and demoralizing. I’m not the first (or the most articulate) to make this point. There are an increasing number of academics writing passionately and critically about these issues. And there’s the adjunct project which is sharing resources and gathering pay and working conditions for adjuncts.
My experiences on the job market weren’t unusual or unusually bad. But they were bad enough. And they enabled me to learn that the academy was a messed up (broken?) system that might not be worth my intellectual energy and time.