Home > Academic Job Market > The Media Studies Job Market, 2: A Timeline

The Media Studies Job Market, 2: A Timeline

August 27th, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

(the second in a series …)

If you decide to run for President of the United States one day, that process will make the academic job application process seem quick and efficient. For all but presidential candidates, though, the academic job market is disgracefully slow. Remember I said the market was like dating? Well, imagine asking someone on a date and not getting an answer for seven months, and you have the academic job market. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons why this might be so, while also trying to give a sketch of what to expect. When I explain why, this isn’t a defense, it’s simply an explanation, based on the idea that knowing makes things a tiny bit easier. More after the fold …

First, you’ll tend to find three waves of applications. The first begins in summer and carries through to about September. These are the departments that likely had approval to get a hire at the end of last year, or whose senior faculty worked in the summer to approve a job posting’s language. The next wave runs from about late September to January. Here, departments might have received notice that they have a hire in the summer, but need to wait till everyone’s back for a September meeting before they can officially approve the posting’s language, and before the Dean can then sign off on it. If a job is tenure-track, it will nearly always be in one of these two waves, and most of the better schools’ tenure-track hires in particular are in these waves. Why? Because the best schools don’t stay good by picking after everyone else; they like to pick first and make everyone else choose from their leftovers. Some departments may be awarded a hire in, say, February, and consciously decide to wait to post till the next academic year for this reason.

That leaves the third wave, which takes up much of the Spring semester, and can bleed into Summer too. Many of these jobs are non-tenure-track, as the department sits down to work out its short-term staffing issues and decides it needs someone for the next year. You also get some knock-on effects of early hires, with a department scrambling to replace someone hired away from them, either with a tenure-track hire or something more temporary. A lot of these temporary jobs don’t appear till the Spring semester, since most departments are smart enough to know that most candidates would prefer a tenure-track job, whereas once Spring arrives, they can bank on the candidates’ chances slimming down. There are of course exceptions, for all sorts of reasons – some great places hire late, some awful jobs go early, etc. This is just a rough sketch.

Okay, so now you’ve applied (early, as I’ll explain why in a future post), what can you expect, and why? Some universities will acknowledge receipt of your application, but many won’t. Why, you might ask, won’t these evil turds simply let you know they have your application? It only takes a few seconds to send that email, right? Well, don’t get too mad about this, as frustrating as it is. Basically, the faculty usually don’t get involved with the applications as they’re coming in, since they have classes to teach, students to supervise, projects to work on, etc. Instead, the secretarial staff often handle applications initially. And your likelihood of getting a response is largely related to how crazily over-worked the department’s front office staff is. When I was at Fordham, for example, we had two campuses, and the lone office administrator at the Bronx campus had to make photocopies of everything sent to her for the second campus. Her job was already insane, without having to do any of this. Other universities have five or six folk in the admin, and might be able to do more. Don’t read too much into this.

Anyways, following the application deadline, the search committee will start laboring through the pile. Telling you that this is hard work may be like complaining about the time it takes to grade papers, as you’re unlikely to feel empathetic. But search committee work is rarely rewarded, so members will need to slot this in and around their regular responsibilities, some of which may be hefty. It’s also a nightmare to schedule meetings for academics, and thus a large amount of time could be wasted simply because someone’s away at a conference, while two other committee members’ schedules clash, and so forth.

If you’re lucky, the committee members started looking at applications as they came in, in which case the process of winnowing down the stack may have begun early; otherwise, it’ll be at least a week, more likely two or three, before their first meeting. At that meeting, they may cut it down to ten to twenty or so, if they’re on the ball, or they may simply come up with a rationale for future winnowing.

When they create that longlist, if they didn’t ask for a huge amount of materials originally, they’ll likely then pause and wait (another week or two) while they contact everyone on their long list for more materials. If they do so, be ready to supply them, or you might miss the boat’s onward progress. Slowness on your part is often read as lack of enthusiasm or as haughtiness (yes, this is ironic, since the committee is way slower than you are, but hey, welcome to the power differential!). Have a teaching philosophy and evidence of teaching effectiveness on hand. Have a research statement. Have copies of published work, or work in progress. ABDs must have copies of a chapter or two. Have a syllabus ready. And finally, if you didn’t need to send reference letters originally, have your referees primed and ready to go in case they need to send one in midstream.

Then they’re at it again, and may now be aiming to get a list to phone interview. But not all universities do this. No, it’s not necessarily a stitch-up when they don’t phone-interview: they may just be close readers in other areas. Then it’s on to deciding who to bring to campus. Each step of this process can take a couple of weeks. All in all, then, you should be prepared that it may take two months from application deadline to a decision on campus visits.

But wait! Some universities are forced to delay their search, and may take longer. Sometimes a department has more than one hire, and realizes they simply can’t do both at the same time. Or, recently, some university administrations have frozen hires, stopping the committee in its tracks in mid-stream. For various reasons, they may take longer.

A frequent complaint of mine when I was on the market was that a university should really contact you and tell you when you’re out of the running. So one would hope that at every step of the way with shortlisting and so forth, those cut loose would find out soon. Alas, while this would be the nice and civil way to do things, it often runs up against university policy. After all, sometimes the shortlist is found to be wanting, and it’s not unheard of for a committee to go back to the pool late in the game. Many departments simply don’t say anything until a person has been offered the job and put pen to paper. By all means check the wiki, but remember that some people on the wiki lie and post updates to ward others away (I had my ear close to the ground two years ago, and was amazed at the crazy crap I read on the wiki occasionally).

Well, let’s assume you’ve had your campus visit and now want to know how long you might be waiting. Here’s the hard part, since you’re agonizingly close, but you may still have to wait a long time. Realistically, assuming there’s been no freeze put in place (and don’t assume they’ll tell you if there is), if you’re the first choice, you should probably hear in no more than two or three weeks after the last candidate has visited. If holidays intervene, add them to the waiting time. But not all departments schedule visits back-to-back. Once I was candidate #1 (in line, clearly not in preference) for a university that had two hires going on. They then, for some unknown reason, had the three candidates out for the second position, then paused for Spring Break, before returning to my hire. It was about four or five weeks till they’d even seen my competition! And the decision itself takes time. It may take a while till the committee meets. Then the department needs to meet, which might also take time to schedule. Then the Dean or Deans need to get involved, and they might be handling other hires or issues.

If three weeks have passed after the last candidate, not including holidays, sadly I’d bet you weren’t the first choice. But check your ego at the door—being picked first isn’t the point, getting the job is. Especially if this hire was open rank, realize that many negotiation processes are long, protracted, and messy (as I’ll discuss further in the post on applying for open rank hires). In such a situation, I think that a department should let you know where you stand. But some university policies don’t allow this. And some departments won’t want to tell you, since they may have decided that you’re on base, and if they offer the position to you, they wouldn’t want you thinking forever more that you weren’t really their pick.

[An aside: Is it bad to take a job when you weren’t the first pick? Not at all! They’re under no obligation to keep you around just for the heck of it, so if you’re still in the running, they liked you. It may even be a very close call. Besides, do you want the paycheck or not?]

I’ll discuss what happens after getting the offer in a much later post. Next up: Think Like a Search Committee. Till then, anyone care to add specifics about or variations on the timeline?

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  1. August 27th, 2010 at 19:10 | #1

    Great details on the process here – it’s important to note how many variables there are in the process depending on context, as Jonathan highlights, so there’s no “normal.”

    One question I’ve been asked a few times: is it ok to contact a search committee midway through the process to inquire about your status? My own answer: yes, but it’s best if you have a good reason to initiate contact (e.g. “I just wanted to let you know that an article I’d submitted just got accepted” or “I just defended my diss”). The best reason is “I just got offered another position, but your position is still quite appealing to me” – knowing that you’re wanted will make the committee feel good about their own interest in you, and if they’re not interested, they’ll tell you without guilt. Out of the blue contact asking “what’s my status?” doesn’t really do much for the committee, except remind them that you exist – and if you’re still in-the-running, they know that.

    I’m curious if others have different opinions on that question.

  2. Jonathan Gray
    August 27th, 2010 at 21:06 | #2

    I too am fine with being contacted, but I also agree that ideally there needs to be a reason/excuse. It’s important to know who you’re contacting, I’d add, since some postings don’t list the head of the search committee. Some will list an administrator, who may have no idea. Some list the dept chair, as a matter of policy, but once more the chair will have no idea. If you don’t know who is running the search, the call/email is probably pointless. With smaller universities, you won’t be able to miss the committee, but for larger programs and departments, they may be “hiding.”

  3. August 28th, 2010 at 09:06 | #3

    Great stuff again, Jonathan. I do have a question, sort of related to something that came up above: you mentioned having your letter writers ready if case a committee contacts you for more materials. For about the last ten months or so, I’ve been using the IU Dossier service at my advisor’s request, which keeps copies of my letters and sends them upon my direction. This way, I do not have to contact them every time I need a letter. The downside, of course, is that those letters are thus never personalized (and may not even address the particular opportunity well at all). Do you feel its a significant disadvantage to use a dossier service on the job market?

  4. August 28th, 2010 at 17:04 | #4

    Jason – I’ll weigh in on your question. I don’t think a dossier service is a problem at all, as senior faculty on search committees have been on the writing end of the recommendation process, and understand the convenience to automate. But (as Jonathan mentions in part 3) if one of your recommenders has a relationship with a faculty member at a particularly desirable job, asking them to send a separate note can be helpful. I got a number of those advocacy notes and it definitely helps you remember somebody’s name outside of the wall of files.

  5. August 28th, 2010 at 19:58 | #5

    Thanks, Jason. I’m sure a separate note would be helpful. I suppose my concern was also whether the “standard” dossier form letter would look, as Jonathan noted in a different context, like one didn’t want that specific job enough. But no doubt this is, like everything, different from opening to opening.

  6. August 28th, 2010 at 20:11 | #6

    Jason, I’m with Jason Mittell here. The interest in the job is expressed by you, not by your referees, anyways. So dossiers are fine. I wish I had them when I finished my PhD: in the UK, letters don’t get written until the very end, so convincing my profs to send 1 letter was hard, let alone 20 :-(

  7. October 2nd, 2010 at 16:08 | #7

    I am so thankful for your blogs on this subject, but oddly enough, defending in February and working on cover letters now, I want to go hide somewhere… :) Working on conquering that though. ;)

  8. Marcella
    October 14th, 2010 at 14:03 | #8

    Hi Jonathan, thank you so much for these posts, they are extremely helpful! I have a question regarding when to enter into the job market. I am currently ABD, but have just returned from a year of fieldwork and am only starting to write the dissertation (no completed chapters yet but I do have a journal publication coming out that is closely related to one of the proposed chapters). I just happened upon what seems to be an ideal job–the description and desired regional focus matches my research perfectly and the location of the university is ideal. Do I apply even though I was not planning on going on the job market until next year and will have no other applications out? I don’t want to feel that I missed out on the perfect opportunity but I also don’t want to look unprepared in front of a search committee should I make it to the interview stage.

  9. October 15th, 2010 at 14:05 | #9

    Marcella, the first and most important person to talk to about this is your supervisor — see what you and s/he think is possible in terms of writing up, your overall development, and whether you’re ready. Most of all, be realistic about what you can do. Without knowing you, your project, or so forth, I’ll admit to being very skeptical about the possibility of you finishing a diss. at this speed and well in one year … but talk to someone who knows you and your work better.

    Be coldly pragmatic, too, in realizing that many search committees may simply think you’re not yet ready. You can apply, but strategically set your expectations low.

  10. Marcella
    October 18th, 2010 at 07:23 | #10

    Thanks so much for your advice! And again, thanks for the job search series. @Jonathan Gray

  1. August 28th, 2010 at 09:23 | #1