Home > Academic Job Market > The Media Studies Job Market, 6: Open Rank Hires

The Media Studies Job Market, 6: Open Rank Hires

September 1st, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

Why should ABDs or assistants even bother to apply?

Last time, we discussed “inside” hires, but the other concern I hear a lot is with regards open rank hires. It’s easy to see why your average ABD may feel that their chances are nil when competing against a senior prof with multiple books, articles, and courses under their belt, and “profile” in the field.

But I once again want to warn you against discounting your chances in such a situation. Granted, this may be an uphill battle, more so than fighting an inside hire; it is, however, by no means an impossible one.

More after the fold …

The best thing that an ABD has going for him or her is potential. I’ve seen committees look at the same file and all extrapolate the person’s career in different ways. If they like you, they’ll all see themselves in you, or at least what they want to see in you. They may also flatter themselves that they can ensure you go in that direction, that with their tutelage and mentorship, you will become the awesome prof they think you could be, not the not-nearly-as-awesome prof that their colleague on the committee thinks s/he can make you into. Versus this, the senior prof is in trouble, since their CV makes it clear who they are. Nobody really “projects” with senior profs, and in a diverse department, there’s bound to be someone who hates their research paradigm, whereas that same person might think the ABD is “cure-able.” You hire senior profs because you know what you’re getting, more or less, not because you see such wonderful potential in them. So as an ABD or recent PhD, your potential is a powerful weapon.

The second best thing that an ABD has going for him or her is hunger. Everyone knows you need a job, and they know you’re going to need to make compromises to get it. A senior prof doesn’t. If s/he doesn’t like the deal, s/he can simply stay wherever s/he is now. Which means a lot of things. First, it means that negotiations with senior profs can drag out, interminably at times. Second, it means that senior profs can afford to push harder for more money, for a spousal hire, for that research lab they want, or for green M&M’s every Tuesday morning served by a dancing monkey in a silver bikini. Senior profs can be a hassle, and sometimes that hassle won’t be judged worth it; at other times, it will be judged worth it, but the hiring attempt will fail, and the committee may need to go to their second or third choice: the hungry, ready ABD.

Third, let’s be honest that some senior profs may not actually want the job. They may simply be applying to get a counter-offer to up their salary. They may be doing so while up for tenure as security against not getting it. Or because their university’s pay structure has stalled out for senior profs, leaving them disgustingly underpaid (a common occurrence). And committees know this. It’s a dangerous game of chicken when you hire a senior prof, since they keep telling you they want to come, but you’re never sure of it. By contrast, everyone believes the ABD when s/he says she wants to come (well, lesser schools may have horrific inferiority complexes, but the good schools certainly believe it). And after the committee has played several rounds of Will S/He, Won’t S/He with the senior prof, they may simply come to resent it, and may find the ABD’s obvious and unmitigated enthusiasm wonderfully refreshing and attractive.

Finally, don’t assume that an open rank search means the committee wants the highest up the ladder they can get, or at least that everyone in the committee wants that. Sometimes, they’re open to seniority, but may realize that they have an age problem in their department, that they need someone who does the cool new thing, or so forth. Your youth may be exactly what’s wanted and needed, and even if they don’t know it when they publish the posting, they might come around.

Or they might hire the senior prof. But the best thing about losing a job to a senior prof is that it’s so easy to move on from it. If I ever lost a job to Charlotte Brunsdon, I’d hardly begrudge the committee, and I’d be able to move on quite easily, actually quite chuffed that I was even in the running with them.

Anyways, if we’re going to talk strategy, think about how to pitch what the average senior prof may not be offering. Tech savvy, abundance of energy, riding the crest of a new and funky wave of scholarship: these must be your weapons of war. And, alas, patience, since you might need to play for second or third, but given the volatility of senior hires, that might become first after fruitless negotiations. Good luck.

Okay, the series may need to take a short break now or after the next one, since school’s starting, and I don’t think UW undergrads are putting themselves into a lifetime of debt to fund me writing this series :-)

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  1. September 2nd, 2010 at 06:01 | #1

    Yeah, they are low-risk, high-reward for younger scholars, I think. I don’t go in expecting much, though I work just as hard. Once, while ABD, I applied to one that I really wanted and found out later they only interviewed Asst. Profs with UP books–and I remember thinking, “yeah, that sounds about right.” Honestly, it was about the best I ever felt while being rejected on the market.

    Good luck with the new semester, and thanks again for doing this.

  2. October 2nd, 2010 at 20:10 | #2

    Uphill battles are good for the soul, as long as you keep moving towards the top a little bit.

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