Inside Higher Ed: Flipping the job search

By Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed

December 17, 2012

This is the time of year when new postdoctoral researchers and others on the US job market in the humanities wait anxiously to hear from hiring departments, hoping to line up interviews at the annual meetings of the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association and others. Although the market is a bit better than it was in 2009 and 2010, it remains tight.

Benjamin Vogt and Jaclyn Cruikshank Vogt are among those looking, and are among the many with the dual-career challenge of finding positions for a couple in the same geographic area. Tired of sending out applications that don't seem to go anywhere, the Vogts are trying something different: They have posted an ad asking colleges to apply to them.

"Benjamin and Jaclyn Cruikshank Vogt invite applications from colleges for two tenure-track assistant professor positions: one in creative writing (poetry & nonfiction), Native American literature, and environmental literature; the other in twentieth-century American literature specializing in women's and gender studies, ethnic literature, and with an interest in digital humanities," says the advert.

It goes on to list their qualifications - PhDs (his earned, and hers close to being completed), publications, extensive teaching experience as graduate students and adjuncts (40 courses for Benjamin and 16 for Jaclyn). And just as colleges don't hesitate to specify qualities they want, the Vogts provide their list as well.

"Successful colleges will be in the upper Midwest, rural or semi urban, diverse, flexible, creative, and academically rigorous while encouraging multiple perspectives, thinking outside the box, and offering interdisciplinary courses. Preferred qualifications include an integrated study abroad program, collegial faculty, an innovative benefits package, and an ecologically-progressive campus," the advert says.

Colleges that want to apply are asked to send a letter "with department philosophy and mission statement".

The advert was posted on Benjamin Vogt's blog a week ago. It has received some web attention and a write-up by the Education Writers Association, but thus far no colleges have applied.

If enough do apply, Dr Vogt said, the couple might have to rent a hotel room at the MLA and interview the departments there.

If there isn't a response, the Vogts probably won't be at the MLA. He said they have stayed away because "the cost really is astronomical on a part-time employee budget, even if you cut all the corners". He added that he knows "too many people going in debt over conference attendance".

Dr Vogt has been on the job market for two years and has tried the traditional methods while Ms Vogt is on her first search. They continue to apply the regular way but thought it was time to try something new, and they insist that this a legitimate approach. They both have experience teaching at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, their doctoral institution, and nearby colleges.

Dr Vogt stressed that the advert shouldn't be viewed as just a statement, but as a real (if not yet accepted) way to get a job.

"It's serious," he said. "If something comes from it, that would be great, but if not, that's OK, too." Given how "cut-throat" the job-seeking process is, "why not try something different and take advantage of social media? Maybe we can be the academic Honey Boo Boo or Gangnam Style?" he added.

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