Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Hi, I'm in my second semester as a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature. I know some people might think that it's too early for me to start worrying about what to do to get hired, others might be thinking that it's never too early, others might be saying "you're a comparative lit. major, there are no jobs" lol, but please just stick with me a moment. 

I'm looking for advice on how I can become a more competitive applicant when applying for assistant professor jobs (and similar jobs) after I finish my Ph.D. I'm technically first-generation college student (my parents dropped out of college, and my much older sister went to college later through a continuing studies program and received a masters online. However, she doesn't work in academia) so I'm pretty lost here about how all of this works and what's attractive to universities.

I'm trying to figure out what I can do to stand out. I've been told that I should go to conferences, so I applied to two and got accepted. Are conferences helpful or do you feel like it doesn't make much of a difference? Should I try publishing more? Researching (you know, outside of my future dissertation work)? If so, how do I start approaching professors or institutions, in general, to start doing that? After graduation, should I apply to a post-doc program? If so, do you know of any stand out ones that I should aim for or even what people look for when hiring post-docs or do you just feel like post-docs are unnecessary? My fellowship requires me to teach one semester gratis. Should I attempt at teaching more? Older students in my department have suggested getting a masters in another department (i.e. English, French, Anthropology, Theatre, etc.) to further diversify myself and make more valuable connections, but I'm not sure if tagging on another year or two to finish another degree for the sake of networking is that beneficial especially when comparative literature programs require you to take courses outside of your department anyway. Should I start building more experiences outside of academia (In undergrad, I was an EIC of a publication for a year, I've also worked in publishing, tutoring, mentoring, and led a social justice/community service non-profit organization for a year, and I minored and worked in social media for a bit-- should I keep doing more things like that in grad school or is it time to refocus and just build on one or two things?)

If I sound really young, lost, and a little overwhelmed, it's because I am. I graduated from a private university with a degree in English (writing) in three years and was accepted straight-way into this Ph.D. program when I was 20 going on 21 years old. My program requires 48-course credits, after this semester (I entered in Fall 2017 right now I'm in Spring 2018 semester) I would have 24 credits so I'm approaching that halfway mark with my coursework (I probably need to slow down a bit, but I can't hold a job on this fellowship minus departmental related research/internships relevant to my career so I don't have anything really going on at the moment). I'm required to take a minimum 9 credits Fall/Spring each and a minimum 6 credits in the summer so I'll be at 30 credits when the Fall 2018 semester commences. 

I'm not at a prestigious ivy league school; I'm in a very small program at a pretty large public university. I don't feel like me being young with a good fellowship is enough to really stand out. So if anyone knows about ways I can further build my CV and experiences to become a better applicant for future jobs, that info would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

With the caveat that I'm not in comparative literature:

5 hours ago, johnnie said:

I'm trying to figure out what I can do to stand out. I've been told that I should go to conferences, so I applied to two and got accepted. Are conferences helpful or do you feel like it doesn't make much of a difference?

Conferences are useful and important, though not necessarily in the ways we're told they are. We're often told they're good for workshopping papers and getting feedback, but that's pretty much false. Most of the feedback I've gotten at conferences (nearly 40 now) has been garbage. What they are, though, is an opportunity to polish one's presentation skills, to get onto everyone's radar, to learn about stuff (especially outside your specialization), and to meet people. The most important things conferencing does for you are to get your name out there, and to get you plugged into a scholarly network. By the time you're on the job market, you want everyone in your field to know that you're looking for a job, and that you're a go-to person for X. And you do that by meeting people, and seeing them regularly (it's fun going to one-off conferences in cool places, but it's a lot harder to build your network that way. It's a lot easier if you're a staple at the same conferences year after year.

Conferencing regularly got me invitations to review books, editorial opportunities, an external letter of recommendation, and a postdoc supervisor. That said, looking back, I overdid it. Conferences are expensive, and they take time away from research. If I'd only gone to half the conferences I did but got another publication or two out there instead, it would have been worth it. You should have some conferences on your CV, since not having any will make you stick out in a bad way, but having lots won't really help you stick out in a good way, either.

 

5 hours ago, johnnie said:

Should I try publishing more?

Absolutely. Publishing matters a lot, and the earlier you get the hang of it, the better. You want to leave your PhD program with a pub or two under your belt. But publishing takes a lot of time--journals take months to get back to you, revisions take months to finish, journals take more months to get back to you, etc. So you need to start early. When you're writing your term papers, write them with an eye towards publishing them. If, once you've gotten feedback on them, one or two seem viable, then that's a great place to start.

 

5 hours ago, johnnie said:

Researching (you know, outside of my future dissertation work)? If so, how do I start approaching professors or institutions, in general, to start doing that? 

I'm not entirely sure what you have in mind, but you should definitely be reading widely and outside your dissertation topic. It'll help unstick you when you're stuck, give you new ideas for papers, and build your knowledge base for teaching. Keep a list of paper ideas, and take some time (when you're not burdened by coursework!) to start writing those papers. When you're dissertating, take some time now and then to work on something different and exciting. It's when you stop being excited that your progress will slow to a crawl, and you'll start feeling like crap.

On the professionalization front, start familiarizing yourself with the different tiers of journals in comparative literature in general, and in your subfield in particular. Get a feel for what kind of work is currently hot, what kinds of papers are published where, etc. What are the good venues for really long pieces? Short pieces? And so on.

 

5 hours ago, johnnie said:

After graduation, should I apply to a post-doc program? If so, do you know of any stand out ones that I should aim for or even what people look for when hiring post-docs or do you just feel like post-docs are unnecessary?

Definitely. When you're on the job market, you should probably apply for anything and everything. There are lots of postdocs out there, and they all tend to look for different things. Look at the CVs of current postdocs in comparative literature, and see what they did prior to getting their postdocs (do the same for assistant professors, obviously!). To get a sense of what postdocs are out there, check out the yearly job listings. I think the MLA has one somewhere, and you'll find more via the Chronicle of Higher Education, University Affairs (for Canada), and jobs.ac.uk (for the UK). It's good and important to start familiarizing yourself with these sorts of professionalization matters. It's hard to do it all at the last minute, but easy to absorb over long periods of time.

Generally speaking, when you apply for a postdoc you'll need to have a research project that you can pitch in three-ish pages. Your project should go beyond your dissertation work, and develop something new. Some postdocs have a theme, which case you'll have to demonstrate how your project fits in with that theme. Always demonstrate how well your project would fit into your target department (cite faculty members there if you can). Committees are looking for interesting projects and candidates who can hit the ground running and start producing solid research. Consequently, you'll want a pub or two to reassure them.

 

5 hours ago, johnnie said:

My fellowship requires me to teach one semester gratis. Should I attempt at teaching more?

You do want to graduate with some solo teaching experience if at all possible. But you don't need tons (2-4 courses is plenty in my field), and time spent on teaching is time not spent publishing or writing your dissertation. Teaching can easily swallow up any and all available free time (so don't let it!).

 

5 hours ago, johnnie said:

Older students in my department have suggested getting a masters in another department (i.e. English, French, Anthropology, Theatre, etc.) to further diversify myself and make more valuable connections, but I'm not sure if tagging on another year or two to finish another degree for the sake of networking is that beneficial especially when comparative literature programs require you to take courses outside of your department anyway.

I dunno. Are the people in your department who do this getting TT jobs when they graduate?

If it were me, I might or I might not do this, depending on how much time it would add to my completion, and what the costs would be. If there's no additional tuition and your department will fund you for the extra year or two it'll take, then it might be worth it. A Master's degree in a subject will suffice to allow you to teach that subject at a community college, so that could help. Just pick your subject carefully. If I were to go back and be offered the chance, I think I'd try for something a little more marketable to non-academics, like math, computer science, economics, public policy, law, or something (not that those would have complemented my PhD at all!). Learning a language isn't a bad idea. I dunno about the kinds of degrees listed above, though. If you do this, I think you should be aiming for versatility.

5 hours ago, johnnie said:

Should I start building more experiences outside of academia (In undergrad, I was an EIC of a publication for a year, I've also worked in publishing, tutoring, mentoring, and led a social justice/community service non-profit organization for a year, and I minored and worked in social media for a bit-- should I keep doing more things like that in grad school or is it time to refocus and just build on one or two things?)

Personally, I'd focus on a thing or two. There's never enough time in grad school, you always feel like there's more you need to be doing, and you don't want to burn yourself out. These kinds of opportunities can be really useful, though, especially if they're paid and would offer you a chance to develop skills marketable outside the academy. Because you really, really don't want to find yourself with no job offers in hand, and no idea what to do next. It's like the Master's degree: look for skills that are transferable and marketable.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's way too many questions in your post for anyone to really help you with here. You really need to be identifying and talking to mentors in your field.

In terms of coursework, be strategic. If you think you want a teaching-focused position, get additional training in pedagogy. If you want to be more research focused, think about beefing up your methodological training (e.g., learn programming if you want to do corpus analysis, take courses in anthropology/sociology if you want to incorporate a cultural studies angle, take historiography to better place the lit you study in its context, etc.). 

Publications never hurt anyone. You don't and shouldn't need to approach institutions or professors. If you're going to be lit faculty, most of your career is going to be solo authored publications. Can you turn conference papers into publications? Final course papers? If your institution offers courses or workshops on how to publish, then you should take them. 

For teaching: Think about teaching both literature in English and courses in a different language (either intro or upper level). That can enhance your value on the market. Don't overdo it though because teaching can be a time suck. 

Finally, one thing you don't mention is grants. Have you ever applied for any? Perhaps you should...

Last but not least, start looking at the market NOW to get a sense of what ads are looking for in terms of experience (teaching, publications, grants, etc.). Same for postdocs. If you can get a sense of what people are looking for, that can help you plan strategically when it comes to your career. But really, you definitely need to find a few quality mentors who can help guide you in your career.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You're a 2nd year PhD student and you're asking these questions on gradcafe? I mean, let's start a conversation about professionalization in the humanities (I need more things to procrastinate on), but I'm not sure how helpful the advice of mostly applicants, mostly not in Comp Lit, is going to be helpful to you. Where is your adviser in all this?

ime - and fyi I haven't touched comp lit since UG - it's an interdisciplinary field, and since it's an interdisciplinary field, you need a mentor that isn't just in Comp Lit (it's agnostic as to whether they should be in Comp Lit), but one who does the sort of work you want to do and can professionalize you in that direction. Someone who is professionalized as a disability scholar will be much different than someone professionalized in late Roman literature. Comp Lit departments are rare, so you'll probably need to be competitive for national literature or -studies jobs (whatever your bend) as well, which is an uphill battle for an interdisciplinary PhD, which is why you need to build strong networks in those fields.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, ExponentialDecay said:

You're a 2nd year PhD student and you're asking these questions on gradcafe? I mean, let's start a conversation about professionalization in the humanities (I need more things to procrastinate on), but I'm not sure how helpful the advice of mostly applicants, mostly not in Comp Lit, is going to be helpful to you. Where is your adviser in all this?

ime - and fyi I haven't touched comp lit since UG - it's an interdisciplinary field, and since it's an interdisciplinary field, you need a mentor that isn't just in Comp Lit (it's agnostic as to whether they should be in Comp Lit), but one who does the sort of work you want to do and can professionalize you in that direction. Someone who is professionalized as a disability scholar will be much different than someone professionalized in late Roman literature. Comp Lit departments are rare, so you'll probably need to be competitive for national literature or -studies jobs (whatever your bend) as well, which is an uphill battle for an interdisciplinary PhD, which is why you need to build strong networks in those fields.

I'm not a second-year Ph.D, I'm in the middle of my second semester as a PhD. I don't currently have an advisor (and I don't know why) so I'm at a loss of who to talk to. The more experienced people in this program are away doing their dissertations and the only other two people still around really, one came the same time as I did and the other a semester before me and they're more lost than I am. My program says that it stresses us having three areas of concentration and working to be competitive in a national literature (english, french, etc) but I'm still feeling very lost. Like I wish I knew who to go to instead of random internet forms. 

 

Thank you though. I appreciate it. I would like to have a convo about professionalization in the humanities though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, rising_star said:

There's way too many questions in your post for anyone to really help you with here. You really need to be identifying and talking to mentors in your field.

In terms of coursework, be strategic. If you think you want a teaching-focused position, get additional training in pedagogy. If you want to be more research focused, think about beefing up your methodological training (e.g., learn programming if you want to do corpus analysis, take courses in anthropology/sociology if you want to incorporate a cultural studies angle, take historiography to better place the lit you study in its context, etc.). 

Publications never hurt anyone. You don't and shouldn't need to approach institutions or professors. If you're going to be lit faculty, most of your career is going to be solo authored publications. Can you turn conference papers into publications? Final course papers? If your institution offers courses or workshops on how to publish, then you should take them. 

For teaching: Think about teaching both literature in English and courses in a different language (either intro or upper level). That can enhance your value on the market. Don't overdo it though because teaching can be a time suck. 

Finally, one thing you don't mention is grants. Have you ever applied for any? Perhaps you should...

Last but not least, start looking at the market NOW to get a sense of what ads are looking for in terms of experience (teaching, publications, grants, etc.). Same for postdocs. If you can get a sense of what people are looking for, that can help you plan strategically when it comes to your career. But really, you definitely need to find a few quality mentors who can help guide you in your career.

Thank you so much for this information. It's a pretty helpful starting point. Do you know of any resources that I can use to start searching for grants, or should I just google it/network to find more. I have a fellowship ($25,000 stipend per year for four years + tuition coverage) and I had scholarships, but my university told me there's a policy stating that I cannot receive over a certain amount of aid so some scholarships were cut (causing me to have to pay student fees and other expenses from my stipend). 

 

Thanks again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
23 minutes ago, johnnie said:

Thank you so much for this information. It's a pretty helpful starting point. Do you know of any resources that I can use to start searching for grants, or should I just google it/network to find more. 

Your university probably has resources for this so I'd start there. They may even have someone in the graduate school whose job is to assist with grant apps. That said, if you don't need external funding to do your research, then don't worry about it. For the record, research funding should be thought of as separate from a fellowship or stipend for your coursework.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.