How to land an #altac job at a university

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Blog, Main

This past Saturday, I was a panelist at the “Beyond the Professoriate” web conference hosted by Jennifer Polk and Maren Wood. I participated in their higher education panel, where four of us talked about our experiences working in #altac positions still within the university. (Other panels focused on corporate jobs, non-profit or government jobs, and more for PhDs.) My fellow panelists offered some great advice, and there was an active Twitter backchannel throughout the day. If you’re interested in the conversation, you can search for the conference hashtag, #beyondprof, or check out the Storify feed that Jennifer put together after Saturday’s discussion.

I promised to blog about my talk. We only spoke briefly, about 10 minutes total, describing both our current positions and then offering advice from experience. I narrowed my time down to three main points for PhDs or EdDs who are interested in applying to alt-ac jobs within universities or colleges:

1. Work Your Network

Searches for these professional positions work quite differently than tenure track jobs. So, work your network just like you might have to for an industry position — both in order to hear about new postings and in applying and interviewing for them. Search job boards at schools all year round, not just during hiring season. Contact people you know within units to ask them about positions potentially opening up, or to find out more about the job once it has been posted. Ask them to put in a good word for you if you’ve applied, or ask faculty or others you might know at the university to put in a good word for you with the person in charge of the search. The hiring also works on a much shorter timeline than tenure track positions, so do your research early in the process and keep yourself fresh on the job and unit if you are called for an interview.

2. Show Them Your Vision

So, what kind of research should you be doing for these jobs? This is where the leg work for the position comes in. You may know that many alt-ac jobs are relatively new within universities, at least in the long history of higher education. This means that for many of the institutions you would be applying to, a particular position could be brand new, like mine was, or at least have a short history. You want to understand where the position fits into the structure of the unit (a specific college, the Graduate School, extension education, and so on). Who is the supervisor? What are the goals of the job, and how does that fit with the mission of the unit? Who has been in the job previously (f you can find out)? Search that person to find their expertise.

When you know the basics of the unit and the position, you are primed to do the most critical work in applying: show them your vision. In my case, the position of Director and Thesis and Dissertation Support Services was a brand new role. The Deans in the Graduate School knew they wanted to hire an expert in writing across the disciplines and genre theory who could offer writing instruction and support to graduate students across the university. They wrote the position and had it approved by the Provost, touting their vision for improving graduate degree completion for NC State.

However, they had very little insight into exactly how this mission could be executed. This is where I swung for the fences in my application and interview. In my cover letters, I wrote briefly about a vision for this brand new office and how I would use my research from my PhD to develop genre-based services for graduate students. This got my application noticed. For my interviews (I had three total), I assembled a complete package of my vision for Thesis and Dissertation Support Services: I mocked up a one year plan, complete with a list of seminars and workshops, each with their own learning outcomes; I included strategic planning such as meeting with Directors of Graduate Programs and college deans to learn about graduate student needs across the university; I developed a plan for a week-long Dissertation Institute for doctoral candidates (which I will actually be running next week!).

It was risky to spend so much time mocking up what the office would look like, but in the end, this showed the hiring committee that they could have confidence in hiring me because I had a vision for the building an office of graduate student support from scratch — something they didn’t know how to do but knew they needed to hire. I also demonstrated that I would need very little supervision to get the office off of the ground. This is key for many alt-ac positions at universities, as they tend to have very little day-to-day supervision (of course, depending on the unit). But overall you are expected to work independently, make sound decisions, and do work that overall contributes to the success of the unit without relying on approval from others.

The key with showing them your vision is that you make yourself valuable to the institution. Many deans or faculty in charge of hiring alt-ac positions have a hard time visualizing the jobs because they are much more familiar with the tenure track and adjunct faculty models. So, show them you can do the job by showing up with a plan.

Of course, if the job has previously existed, your research and visioning will look a little different. You may want to be a bit more conservative in your planning, as you’ll have an existing structure to work into. Learn as much as you can about the program or office; if you can’t answer basic questions about it in the interview, you’ve blown your changes. Know what you like about the job or programming, and know what might be some things you could advocate to do differently or add as new. Overall, your goal is to show you understand the role, fit into it, and can help them grow and be successful. Which brings me to my third point:

3. Understand the University

If you land an interview, and as well if you are offered the job, you have to understand what role your position plays in the larger university picture. You also have to understand how to manage the daily operations of your job. This requires research and a good bit of knowledge with certain processes within the university (some that you won’t discover until you start). For your interview, you should absolutely know the strategic plan and mission of the university, as this guides the work the units do on campus. How does your work contribute to that? Be able to speak to this in your interview. Don’t brag about your knowledge, but know for instance that your university is focusing on internationalization, so part of your job as Career Center Director might be increasing the university’s international internships (and put that in your visioning documents!).

You’ll also need to know things like where funding comes from and how it can be spend. For example, in North Carolina, state-funded institutions like NC State cannot spend state monies on food or beverages. In my case, the likelihood of my office getting a budget AT ALL was slim to none (and indeed, my budget this year was $0), so I talked about how I could build services that could help graduate more students while using no funds at all.

Don’t fret though: This is where your time spent doing a doctorate comes in. You’ve probably served on committees, attended functions across campus, and had other experiences where you’ve gleaned insight into the university. Especially if you are applying where you got your degree, put this information to good use! And if you’re still early in the process, know that taking on some of the opportunities that come your way are an important element of professional development if you are interested in pursuing alt-ac jobs.

Of course, these are just the three key points I focused on this past Saturday. There are plenty of great sites with alt-ac advice out there — perhaps that’s a good idea for a future aggregated links post! What other advice do you have for folks pursuing alt-ac opportunities in higher education? Please feel free to share in the comments.

A day in the life, summer edition

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Blog, Main

Now that the semester is over, all of my friends and family outside of academia say to me, “Wow, you must be so glad the semester is over, now you get vacation again until August!” (Or some other refrain along those lines.) And again I am reminded of how fundamentally misunderstood my job as an academic, and everyone else’s job who is an academic, is. People think that as a PhD student, I take a few classes, maybe teach one if I’m lucky – and that’s it. We need to do a better job of telling people all that our jobs entail! A lot of folks participated in the #DayofHigherEd last month (and I did too, writing a blog post for it). Hence this second version: “A day in the life – summer edition.”

Here’s what I did yesterday, Tuesday, May 15:

7:30am: Up, coffee, checking emails – nearly all work related. One related to my HOA board that I serve as secretary for that needed to be addressed ASAP.

8:00am: Read How we became posthuman by Katherine Hayles, a book on my digital media theory reading list.

10:00am: Break from reading to look at web project I’m working on with others and presenting at the upcoming Genre 2012 conference. I work on a collaborative project management doc and sending necessary emails and files to various members.

11:00am: Back to reading How we became posthuman.

12:00pm: Lunch, put in a load of laundry, feed the dog, and do the dishes.

1:00pm: Review plan for workshop presentation that I’m giving for the Computers and Writing conference this Thursday. Put finishing touches on our Prezi and make sure that I have all of my parts in order.

2:00pm: Take notes on book I read this weekend for my reading list, Where wizards stay up late: The origins of the internet.

3:00pm: Put together list of goals for the summertime and sketch out approximate deadlines for each item. Things on my list include:

  • Follow strict reading schedule to finish all exam reading by Sept. 1. (This is my number 1 priority.)
  • Give workshop at Computers and Writing on Thursday afternoon. 
  • Finish joint manuscript currently working on by June 8. Need to prep for writing meeting we have this Friday. 
  • Prep questions for Summer I class that I’ll be studying with partner in scholarly crime.
  • Finish hybrid composition course technology study – get all data in one place and backed up; set writing schedule with collaborator; identify target journal for manuscript. 
  • Continue to work on web project that our research team is presenting at Genre 2012 at the end of June. I’ve been assigned the role of task management along with my research duties for the site. 
  • Continue to think about dissertation prospectus and chip away at taking notes for that while I read and formulate a more thorough research description. 
  • Work as RA for Campus Writing and Speaking Program research project throughout summer. Major task at the moment is data analysis from the courses we studied this spring, along with a grant report. Also have to prepare for two other conferences after Computers and Writing and then, hopefully, get a manuscript written. 
  • Compile Enculturation special issue from Computers and Writing conference. This will be an ongoing project with Enculturation editors and reviewers until the issue is published in October.
  • Prep for a new class that I’ll be teaching next year.
    (As you can see, this is a huge list of ongoing projects. To complicate matters, every single joint project is undertaken with a different set of collaborators – that’s a lot of people to keep up with and coordinate schedules with.)

4:00pm: Get ready to leave for meeting at with Computers and Writing workshop team.

4:30-5:30pm: Happy hour meeting with C&W workshop team. Final discussion of plans for Thursday and a bit of fun chat, too.

5:30pm: Leave for tennis lessons across the other side of the city.

6:00pm: Tennis lesson.

7:00pm: Pick up sushi for dinner on my way home. No time for food prep tonight. Walk the dog before eating.

8:30pm: Respond to emails for a variety of things – workshop on Thursday, HOA, research grant, Computers and Writing conference, etc.

9:00pm: Unwind with husband (finally!).

10:30pm: Squeeze in a bit more reading of How we became posthuman. I find this book quite dense, and it’s taking me a while to get through it.

11:00pm: Bed. Coach Sunday kicked my butt at tennis tonight, and I have a full day planned for tomorrow!

So, friends and family, there you have it – sure it’s “summer” (aka. I’m not taking classes), but every day, I have a full plate of reading for exams, conducting research, writing manuscripts, and dealing with other tasks related to my job – conferences, workshops, etc. etc.

What does your summer schedule look like? Share it! I think it’s really important to make our work more visible so that people better understand the work that academics do – we might be fighting for our jobs, our funding, etc. in the future if we aren’t better prepared to talk about the value that our work brings.

Live blog: Managing your online identity professional development workshop

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Blog, Main

I’m live-blogging the second professional development workshop of the fall semester for CRDM, “Maintaining Your Online Identity.” Special thanks to CRDM faculty member David Rieder and CRDM-affiliated faculty member Brad Mehlenbacher for sharing their insights and websites with us today.
David starts by indicating he has a static website for a reason: that maintaining a dynamic site requiring constant updating can be quite time consuming. Message: use your time wisely.
Brad features a new page he created his website about online identity management for academics. He offers that the website has come to serve as his vita and/or portfolio. It’s a fairly comprehensive record of his work as an academic.
Dave shows his website and offers several ideas: 1) He maintains a simple, static site to keep it manageable; 2) He used an open-source template; 3) He codes by hand (hey, another old schooler like me!). He emphasizes that for those in the humanities, “flashy” isn’t a standard, and that sites should be usable on a variety of platforms and possibly printable. He also recommends using a hit tracker to identify your audience (he has used Reinvigorate; Brad, ClustrMap) and to better tailor your materials based on where your hits are and the heat map information that is generated.
Brad emphasizes not having a personal section on a website when you’re on the job market – and Dave heartily agrees – to avoid inviting unwanted biases about you as a candidate. Post-job market, Dave offers that the amount of personal information you include on a website depends on how comfortable you are with doing so, but that it’s certainly not necessary.
Brad also uses his site as a resource for teaching, giving talks, etc. He aggregates information as he comes across it and can easily use for his own preparation or to give to students.
Dave remarks that our websites should be a key marketing tool for us on the job market, and we should see it as an opportunity to self-market and become more visible. Search committee members may not all be on Twitter or Academia.edu, but they will certainly Google you – so control the material that appears when they find your site.
Wendi asks a question: “To what extent should your website replicate your CV?” Dave warns: the more information you put out there, the more you offer yourself to be critiqued on, so select the information you put online carefully. Put out enough to support the ethos you present for yourself in your job applications.
Dave and Brad both recommend including brief descriptions of the teaching experience you’ve had: titles of courses, semester taught, and a brief blurb (potentially the catalog description, if it’s not too clunky).
We end with a discussion of really putting yourself out there vs. displaying limited information about yourself, such as only your most recent work. Some academics have earned great recognition based on their open web presence (Cheryl Ball, for instance) and that this is something that each of us will have to negotiate individually as we decide what kinds of jobs we’ll be applying for.
Of course, the workshop was further reaching and with more of the nitty-gritty details than I’ve offered here. We had a great time with lively discussion – if you’re in CRDM, be sure to come to the next workshops in the spring to be a part of the conversation!