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6 hours ago, Ramus said:

With all due respect to you and others considering these programs, I wouldn't seriously consider either of them if you want a TT job teaching literature. Neither are highly ranked and neither will lead to a tenured position on the lit track. (The outlook may be slightly better for rhet/comp at Miami.)

I’ve applied to the programs in commuting distance. I’m not in a position to relocate anywhere. 
 

And are there really only 20 programs you can graduate from to find TT work in 5 years? I doubt it. 

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1 hour ago, jedeye said:

I’ve applied to the programs in commuting distance. I’m not in a position to relocate anywhere. 
 

And are there really only 20 programs you can graduate from to find TT work in 5 years? I doubt it. 

As evidenced by this thread, you'll find examples of those who do well outside the top 20 as defined by US News (or top 30, or whatever your threshold is). That's not really the issue. The issue is whether a program consistently places its graduates into tenure-track lines. And, of course, we haven't even started the discussion about whether a program places its graduates into good tenure-track lines (with a livable wage, livable teaching expectations, etc.) 

But it sounds like you may have already made up your mind, OP. In all seriousness, I wish you the best of luck. I just don't want you to be disappointed if you put in the time for a PhD and don't find a tenure-track job waiting on the other side. That is the fate that will await most of us completing a PhD, but, fairly or unfairly, that is almost guaranteed to be the fate awaiting doctoral graduates of Miami or Ball State. 

Edited by Ramus

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1 hour ago, Regimentations said:

Which is why placement records are a better indicator than USNews rankings: https://english.wustl.edu/phd-careers
Universities with bigger pockets are often able to provide certain resources that attract more faculty and provide its students the resources that cash-strapped universities may not always be able to provide. I think the USNews is a good place to start and would caution going beyond the top 50 with very few exceptions. However, I don't think all universities ranked in the 20s or 30s are equal. Some might be better than top 20 schools based on individual subfields. I think it's important to remember that the top 20 can shift a lot depending on which 13 or so percent of those surveyed respond. I'd advise against entering a program that is in the top 20 if there are stronger programs outside the top 20 which might have a better success in placing students inside one's field. If someone can't complete a program due to feeling unsupported, it won't matter where they've been accepted. 

All fair points. My advice for OP would be dramatically different if they were trying to split hairs over two programs ranked in the 20s ("Do I pick 23 or 26???"). One can certainly place too much stock in rankings.

1 hour ago, Regimentations said:

I agree with you that neither Ball State nor Miami have placement rates which indicate a good chance of succeeding academic job market in Literature. However, I think their placement rate allows others to see their record.

I'll only add that few programs publicly report their placement statistics as thoroughly as WashU. (As someone who's ditching academe upon graduation, I especially appreciate that WashU reports alt-ac placements as well. Too often those graduates are simply excluded from placement reports. ) For example, OP's two options don't post the kinds of placement information that one would need to really understand the likelihood each offers for securing a TT post. Miami reported their 2019 placements but nothing else. In lieu of comprehensive numbers/placements, Ball State offered only anecdotal "success stories," which forces one to guess about how representative these success stories are.

Edited by Ramus

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15 hours ago, Regimentations said:

I think the University of Maryland and Washington University in St. Louis have both "punched above their ranking". 

The irony here is that both schools you've listed are top programs. Yours, Washington University, is in fact listed as a top 20 by USNews. So I'm not really sure why you're trying to convince early career graduate students that you've somehow beat the odds with your modest graduate education when in fact you've benefitted from the prestige of your program as much as anyone.

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Just now, rhetoricus aesalon said:

The irony here is that both schools you've listed are top programs. Yours, Washington University, is in fact listed as a top 20 by USNews. So I'm not really sure why you're trying to convince early career graduate students that you've somehow beat the odds with your modest graduate education when in fact you've benefitted from the prestige of your program as much as anyone.

Part of me hates that I know this offhand, but Maryland is #30 and WUSTL is #35 according to the new English rankings. Much better ranked (at least) than the other two being discussed, nothing to scoff at - but plenty of people don't even consider the #30s. So I think Regimentations' perspective is quite interesting. 

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36 minutes ago, merry night wanderer said:

Part of me hates that I know this offhand, but Maryland is #30 and WUSTL is #35 according to the new English rankings. Much better ranked (at least) than the other two being discussed, nothing to scoff at - but plenty of people don't even consider the #30s. So I think Regimentations' perspective is quite interesting. 

I am looking at the general rankings, not English graduate program rankings. Job search committees are routinely made up of faculty outside a candidate's area of specialization and, often, with at least one member outside the department. Departments will want to hire someone with specialization they do not have in order to round out program and university expertise. This means a graduate program's prestige can be less important to a university's overall prestige when on the academic job market.

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1 hour ago, rhetoricus aesalon said:

I am looking at the general rankings, not English graduate program rankings. Job search committees are routinely made up of faculty outside a candidate's area of specialization and, often, with at least one member outside the department. Departments will want to hire someone with specialization they do not have in order to round out program and university expertise. This means a graduate program's prestige can be less important to a university's overall prestige when on the academic job market.

This is an interesting consideration, thank you. In my experience, everybody in English lit is hyperaware of the English rankings, so I still think Regiomantus' perspective provides a useful angle with which to look at this. I'm aware of a number of applicants who wouldn't apply to WUSTL. (Which, if you didn't apply to anything but top 10, that's totally your choice! I wouldn't fault anyone for pragmatism. I'd only be inclined to call you an ass for thinking you're actually better than WUSTL.) The English rankings would likely hold sway with many committee members who are aware of them and are keen on prestige. 

If this weren't a factor, Rice would have greater success than Berkeley, since overall it is #16 and Berkeley is #22, even though Rice is #35 and Berkeley is #1 in English. However, while Rice does very well for its ranking - and let me be clear, it's a beautiful program I'd be honored to attend - Berkeley's placement rates in English are breathtakingly good. There's just no comparison. 

Nonetheless, I have wondered if overall/undergrad prestige impacted the job search, and it doesn't surprise me to hear it's a factor as well for committee members outside of the specialization. Good information to be aware of, no matter what choices an applicant makes.

Edited by merry night wanderer

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On 2/17/2020 at 8:59 PM, Ramus said:

I just don't wantyou to be disappointed if you put in the time for a PhD and don't find a tenure-track job waiting on the other side.

I’ve been adjuncting a while now, so I know what it’s like on the other side. I know TT jobs are hard to find, but I also know that there are plenty of profs who have a good solid career without being from the top programs. And I’ve served on a search committee, so I know it’s not about where you go as much as if your specialty and your approach fit in with the needs and the culture of wherever you’re applying. I’m not looking to teach at a top program. Not that I wouldn’t apply, but I’d be happy to teach just about anywhere as long as I can have a decent paycheck and a good work-life-writing balance. In all my college and grad school education and teaching, I’ve never heard anyone talk about ranking of programs as something that really mattered. I just want to find a place that will teach me what I need to know, empower me to write what I need to write, and land a job with a livable wage. 

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Yikes. I was already feeling kind of down about my only acceptances so far being fairly far down the list (47 and 60), but reading some of the comments here just completely ruined my day. Now I'm wondering if I should just pack it in until next year (or altogether).

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55 minutes ago, MundaneSoul said:

Yikes. I was already feeling kind of down about my only acceptances so far being fairly far down the list (47 and 60), but reading some of the comments here just completely ruined my day. Now I'm wondering if I should just pack it in until next year (or altogether).

I'd say get your advice on this topic outside of Gradcafe. Talk to your recommenders, talk to grad students at the programs you're considering, talk to the placement officer (if applicable) at those programs, talk to faculty at those programs. GC is mainly the blind leading the blind--the vast majority of users have too little information to see the whole picture. This isn't at all to say that you shouldn't think about ranking, but that offline conversations will probably lead to much more fruitful information, particularly tailored to your subfield, your previous credentials, and your goals. 

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I can't agree more with the post above. Professors in your field are going to be able to give you much better information about the actual 'prestige' of a program than an online ranking can (especially since they can't take into account how perhaps a Medievalist coming out of the program ranked at #27 might be worse off than the Modernist coming out of the same program due to most programs having faculty strengths and weaknesses across the subfields). Most places will post their placement records but as someone else has said earlier, what is more important is the capacity to make a good placement rather than the actual placement records since the job market is pretty bad. Do what the post above said to do and don't let random people on the internet make you feel like your choices suck if your professors think that they'll be great for you and your goals.

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3 hours ago, MundaneSoul said:

Yikes. I was already feeling kind of down about my only acceptances so far being fairly far down the list (47 and 60), but reading some of the comments here just completely ruined my day. Now I'm wondering if I should just pack it in until next year (or altogether).

I genuinely sympathize for you. It's shitty feeling like you've gotten wins in this arduous process but that those wins might not be enough to position you well for your end goal (presumably, a TT job). As one of those commenters ragging on the odds of getting a decent TT job from a lower-ranked school, I'll just say that I hope it's clear my remarks are not designed to make readers feel like shit. I get no satisfaction from that. My concern is with the consequences of the well-meaning optimism on this site. I'm all for celebrating, but the back-slapping and congratulations can obfuscate the realities of graduate education in the humanities today: those coming out of lower-ranked programs are very unlikely to get good, well-paying jobs that allow graduates the time to think, write, and teach well.

The national TT placement rate is something like 60%; it will be considerably lower than that for lower-ranked programs. If you're comfortable playing those odds, that's on you. I wish you good luck. It literally makes me sick to my stomach, however, to think that applicants are not undertaking such a big decision without considering the stark reality of the job situation. 

2 hours ago, caffeinated applicant said:

I'd say get your advice on this topic outside of Gradcafe. Talk to your recommenders, talk to grad students at the programs you're considering, talk to the placement officer (if applicable) at those programs, talk to faculty at those programs. GC is mainly the blind leading the blind--the vast majority of users have too little information to see the whole picture. This isn't at all to say that you shouldn't think about ranking, but that offline conversations will probably lead to much more fruitful information, particularly tailored to your subfield, your previous credentials, and your goals. 

2 hours ago, Rrandle101 said:

I can't agree more with the post above. Professors in your field are going to be able to give you much better information about the actual 'prestige' of a program than an online ranking can (especially since they can't take into account how perhaps a Medievalist coming out of the program ranked at #27 might be worse off than the Modernist coming out of the same program due to most programs having faculty strengths and weaknesses across the subfields). Most places will post their placement records but as someone else has said earlier, what is more important is the capacity to make a good placement rather than the actual placement records since the job market is pretty bad. Do what the post above said to do and don't let random people on the internet make you feel like your choices suck if your professors think that they'll be great for you and your goals.

I hope it is obvious to all applicants that they should seek a range of opinions on these topics. The only caveat I would add is that you should take the opinions of your professors—especially if they graduated with their PhDs before 2008—with the same grain of salt you would apply to other pieces of advice. While I hope for your sakes that you have perfectly well-informed professors who can be painfully blunt with you about the relative merits of your prospective programs and the job market, you unfortunately cannot assume as much.

Let me give two examples. While a baby undergrad way back in 2012/3, I got word that I had been admitted to the University of Arizona with a "fully-funded" package. My recommenders were ecstatic for me: "this is well-deserved," they told me, "a great offer," "proof that you have what it takes to be a professor," and on and on. But their enthusiasm was misplaced. They didn't know that UA had a heavy teaching load, a wimpy stipend, and, most importantly of all, a poor placement record. (If memory serves me correctly, UA had only placed one student in my subfield into a TT line in the prior five years.) If I hadn't pressed to find this all out on my own, and had simply listened to my professors, I may well have ended up in a program that would have left me unhappy and poorly positioned to secure post-graduate academic employment.

Fast forward a few years: I'm now at Ohio State, working under smart, well-connected faculty. You'd think they'd be in the know and honest with me about jobs and the like, right? Wrong. My advisor has repeatedly expressed to me his belief that "those with the good ideas are the ones that make it" and good ideas simply "get out there"—regardless of the conditions required to create and refine good ideas, the connections needed to "market" those good ideas, and the institutional pedigrees that enable the kind of required connections to be made. This kind of pollyanaism borders on professional malpractice. Even someone like my advisor, who is closely attuned to the present job market, can indulge these habits of thought, either because they help him sleep at night or because he genuinely (if mistakenly) believes in the righteous meritocracy he espouses. 

TL;DR: GradCafe doesn't have all the answers, but don't assume your professors' words are gospel, either. 

 

Edited by Ramus

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I think these thoughts are so important to consider, and perhaps help us wade past the shine of an enthusiastic offer from a program! I agree that the grad school application process is so difficult that it is hard to imagine that it is only the first of many challenges. I've spoken to too many current PhD students (from all kinds of institutions) who all entered graduate school thinking that, in this market, they would be the exception. It seems this belief in exceptionality is the rule among grad students.

All of the opinions gathered here (including my own) center in one way or another on the failed promise that PhD => TT job. Cobbling together advice that others have given me (and in particular the advice of one amazing professor), I wonder if the most productive way to make the decision for whether or not to pursue a PhD centers around two questions: (1) will I be losing something huge in the 5+ year process of pursuing a PhD (either mentally, emotionally, socially, opportunity cost in another career, or (!) financially); and (2) does the thought of pursuing a PhD sound sufficiently enjoyable to warrant pursuing it for its own sake. If you're going for that second question, perhaps add a third: (3) will I be able to drop out of my program if I find that it is not as enjoyable as I had anticipated.

I also think frequently of this New Yorker article by Joshua Rothman about the decision to pursue a PhD in the humanities in this job market. The link is here: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-impossible-decision. From this article (sorry suck at font formatting 😧 ). 

What percentage of graduate students end up with tenure? (About one in four.) How much more unhappy are graduate students than other people? (About fifty-four per cent of graduate students report feeling so depressed they have “a hard time functioning,” as opposed to ten per cent of the general population.) To make a rational decision, [a friend] told me, you have to see the big picture, because your experience is likely to be typical, rather than exceptional. “If you take a broader view of the profession,” he told me, “it seems like a terrible idea to go to graduate school.”

And later in the article: 

[...]there’s the fact that graduate school, no matter how bad an idea it might be in the long term, is almost always fulfilling and worthwhile in the short term. As our conversation continued, my friend was struck by this. “How many people get paid to read what they want to read,” he asked, “and study what they want to study?” He paused. ”If I got into a really good program, I would probably go.” 

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3 hours ago, caffeinated applicant said:

GC is mainly the blind leading the blind--the vast majority of users have too little information to see the whole picture.

While there's a lot of truth in this, it's also worth noting that there are some veterans on this forum who are well into their PhDs or finished with them and can certainly provide some valuable insight into academic life. Among them are @Ramus, @Warelin, and @Bumblebea. (I don't want to so presumptuous as to place myself in this esteemed crowd, but I've also been around for bit, having just passed my qualifying exams). You should certainly take all advice with a grain of salt. This is especially true of anonymous advice, though as @Ramus rightly points out, even your professors aren't immune to giving bad advice. However, it's also important not to merely accept or reject advice on the basis of whether or not it's what you want to hear.

NB: none of this is to deny that it's a very good idea to reach out to people who may have more direct insight on your particular situation and see what they have to say.

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On 2/17/2020 at 8:20 PM, jedeye said:

And are there really only 20 programs you can graduate from to find TT work in 5 years? I doubt it. 

Honestly? I'd say there aren't even 20 programs you can graduate from to find TT work these days. At the risk of sounding like That Person ... that's how bad the job market is. There is no job market. I'm no longer on the job market, but in my particular field--which was once very robust and considered a "must have" for almost all university English departments--there were a total of seven tenure-track jobs this year. Seven. Back in 2013, there were 35 ... and that  was considered a "bad year" at the time.

My point is that we've basically moved into uncharted territory. None of this is even showing up in the rankings yet because it's such a new reality. And yes, it's new, but it's not turning around. It's the new normal, rapidly becoming just "the normal." 

On 2/19/2020 at 5:07 PM, jedeye said:

I’m not looking to teach at a top program. Not that I wouldn’t apply, but I’d be happy to teach just about anywhere as long as I can have a decent paycheck and a good work-life-writing balance. In all my college and grad school education and teaching, I’ve never heard anyone talk about ranking of programs as something that really mattered. I just want to find a place that will teach me what I need to know, empower me to write what I need to write, and land a job with a livable wage. 

Since the two programs you're weighing are much better known for their rhet/comp programs than their literature programs, you might want to think about doing something rhet/comp adjacent. Not that you should give up specializing in literature (if that's non-negotiable for you), but maybe look at cultivating a side-specialty in rhet/comp--not to mention helping with the writing center, working with the first-year writing program (they need lit PhD input too), learning how to teach technical or developmental writing. That kind of activity will make you more attractive to the kind of universities that will actually seek to hire a PhD from a less-elite program.

And yes, there are universities that would rather have a Ball State or Miami PhD rather than a Cornell PhD. A community college or large open-admissions regional university is going to value relevant teaching experience and "fit" over pedigree. But even this dynamic is changing in certain places, as schools and departments are taking advantage of the "buyer's market" to burnish their credentials with an Ivy hire. A friend of mine just took a sabbatical from her small public college in North Dakota, and the department hired a one-year VAP from Princeton to take her place. It's wild out there these days.

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On 3/1/2020 at 12:53 PM, Bumblebea said:

Honestly? I'd say there aren't even 20 programs you can graduate from to find TT work these days. At the risk of sounding like That Person ... that's how bad the job market is. There is no job market. I'm no longer on the job market, but in my particular field--which was once very robust and considered a "must have" for almost all university English departments--there were a total of seven tenure-track jobs this year. Seven. Back in 2013, there were 35 ... and that  was considered a "bad year" at the time.

My point is that we've basically moved into uncharted territory. None of this is even showing up in the rankings yet because it's such a new reality. And yes, it's new, but it's not turning around. It's the new normal, rapidly becoming just "the normal." 

The job market is bad and some universities are adding new job requirements for applicants to be considered. However, I'd like to push back that there aren't even 20 programs you can graduate from to find TT work. I graduated from a program in English that has never been considered (to my best knowledge) a top 20 program by the USNews. I went into a field that wasn't "popular" at the time. I ended up finding full-time employment at what most would consider a "dream" university at all levels for their education. My experience, publications and getting to know professors helped me land my position despite the bad job market. 

At the graduate level, the USNews doesn't consider placement as part of their ranking criteria. Nor does it consider financial well-being, student happiness, publications, teaching experiences or student outcomes. However, the university I graduated from does have a stronger placement record than some schools in the top 20 but it's always been a smaller program.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/4/2020 at 9:36 PM, Regimentations said:

The job market is bad and some universities are adding new job requirements for applicants to be considered. However, I'd like to push back that there aren't even 20 programs you can graduate from to find TT work.

I was not speaking literally. My point was that, no, there aren't EVEN 20 "safe" programs you can graduate from that will give you a better shot at tenure-track works because oftentimes these days there aren't even 20 TT jobs in any given cycle! So of course there's no safe program, nor is there a magic bullet that will get you a job.  

This last couple years have been, hands down, the worst on record, and according to some experts we haven't hit bottom yet. 

Yes, there are anecdotal cases of people graduated from X program and getting hired at elite Y school. There are always anecdotal cases and always have been. In fact, I would venture to say that at this point ALL WE HAVE are anecdotal cases--not patterns anymore. We don't see enough people getting hired to even begin to quantify things. Some of the Ivy programs haven't made a TT placement in a couple years. The fact that someone outside the Ivy League gets a good job does not negate the overall pattern, nor should it be taken as evidence that "if you work really hard that's all that matters and you will get a job." It should more like be taken as evidence of "sometimes miracles happen, but statistically speaking they will probably not happen for you."

On 3/4/2020 at 9:36 PM, Regimentations said:

My experience, publications and getting to know professors helped me land my position despite the bad job market. 

I mean, I also had a lot of those things--major publications (one which won an extremely elite award), a prestigious national dissertation fellowship, presenting at sometimes 7-8 conferences at year, teaching experience out the wazoo and glowing teaching evaluations, and, yes, relationships with professors, many of them leaders in the field. And oh yeah, now I've got an article forthcoming from the tip-top journal in the entire field. And I still spent six years on the market, coming in second for a lot of jobs. So no, I am not going to sit here and say that some people get jobs because they worked hard and accrued experience and made connections. A lot of us do those thingsAnd a lot of people still go home empty-handed. 

The job market these days is about being lucky. Extremely lucky. No more of this bootstraps stuff. 

Edited by Bumblebea

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7 hours ago, Bumblebea said:

So of course there's no safe program, nor is there a magic bullet that will get you a job.  

I think this is the key; there are no safe programs.

 

7 hours ago, Bumblebea said:

The job market these days is about being lucky. Extremely lucky. No more of this bootstraps stuff. 

I think there are a lot of factors that come into play.And I'd like to make mention here that I'm not aiming this at you. Some factors might matter to some, and not matter to others:

Is the University hiring in your subfield? Do you fit the culture of the university? Are they looking for a "diverse" hire? Can you afford the cost of being on the job market? Are you published in journals they care about or respect? Have you completed a postdoc? Do you have book publications? Have you won any grants? Are they looking to balance gender within the department? Was it a real academic job search or did they already have someone in mind?  Do your politics and theirs get along? Were you qualified for the academic position? Were they qualified to run the search? Were you "over" qualified? Did you make an interviewing mistake? Can you make someone care about why your research matters? Are you more than a narrow specialist? Have you taught a wide range of classes that they're interested in?  Are your letters strong enough? Do they like your pedagogical style?

There are thousands of reasons why someone isn't hired and I think it's important to realize that biases exist even when we don't want them to. There are a lot of things we can't control but I think being happy with one's work is the most important thing we can do to try to assure our success.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Regimentations said:

I think there are a lot of factors that come into play.And I'd like to make mention here that I'm not aiming this at you.

I did not think you were aiming this at me. After all, I do indeed have a job. But I spent a large chunk of my life trying to get one, so I'm eye-rolling at some of the statements people make that imply that the market is self-sorting and that those who didn't get a job didn't deserve one in the first place because they made some "gaffe" along the way that ensured their unhireability, just as those who got hired somehow did everything "right" and deserve their success. Such as: 

1 hour ago, Regimentations said:

Are you published in journals they care about or respect? Have you completed a postdoc? Do you have book publications? Have you won any grants? Are they looking to balance gender within the department? Was it a real academic job search or did they already have someone in mind?  Do your politics and theirs get along? Were you qualified for the academic position? Were they qualified to run the search? Were you "over" qualified? Did you make an interviewing mistake? Can you make someone care about why your research matters? Are you more than a narrow specialist? Have you taught a wide range of classes that they're interested in?  Are your letters strong enough? Do they like your pedagogical style?

I mean, really? Yes, of course there are hundreds of people who enter the job market every year who are published in respected journals, who win grants, who are qualified (really??? you think this comes down to who's the most qualified??), who don't make interviewing mistakes (!!! if it only came down to interviewing mistakes so that people could fix them!), who have interesting research that "matters" (always a subjective thing anyway), who aren't "narrow specialists" (my years and years of teaching at a non-Ivy League program ensured that), and who have taught a wide range of classes (lol, again, after years on the market and VAP circuit, just ... lol). 

And as far as being "over-qualified"--I mean, sit down. Honey, we're all over-qualified these days.

After my own years on the job market, though, I vowed never to engage in this kind of blaming. I realize just how insanely arbitrary the market is, and that anyone who has a job just got lucky. There were 200 people who could have gotten my job and were just as qualified, and they didn't. I'm not a special unicorn. I do not have a special brain. Yeah, I did a lot of "right things" along the way, and I worked hard, but so did a lot of other people. It almost didn't work out for me, and if it hadn't, it would not really have been my fault. 

The experience was extremely humbling. What's distressing to me, though, is that successful job seekers still want to see less successful candidates as responsible for their own lack of success. That doesn't exactly fill me with optimism for the future of the discipline. 

Edited by Bumblebea

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@Bumblebea: I think you're misinterpreting the intent behind what I'm saying and I realize that my word choice may have been a bit sloppy. As such, I'd like to apologize for that. What I listed above isn't what I believe got me the position or areas in which I believe others didn't do as good of a job at.  However, I think it's important to realize that biases do exist even as we try our best to avoid them.

 I'm aware that people can do all the "right" things and still not get a job offer. However, I think it's important to realize that there are a lot of invisible factors that applicants have no control over. School A might might be biased towards accepting students from a "top 20" school whereas School B might prefer students outside the "top 20". Neither will do one any good if neither is hiring. Both might be untrue but not if we continue to tell applicants that they'd only be qualified to teach "XYZ" College. I was originally discouraged from applying to my current institution from professors from other colleges for a variety of reasons. And I realize that I was fortunate. But I also wonder how many applicants in the job market got locked out because they were told they're not good enough. I wonder how often we end up killing careers before they even get started when we tell people on these boards that it's "top 20 or bust". Too often, I think we do this without stopping to consider what the applicant's goal is. Do they want to stay in a specific area for personal reasons? Do they want to teach at a liberal arts college? Do they want to teach at a private high school? Do they want to teach at a community college? All of these might have a different way of increasing your chances for a spot. Different colleges might have more resources to help you achieve those tasks and a top 20 may or may not always have the support you're looking for in order to achieve your goal.

I think it's important to note here that what might be considered a "gaffe" in one hiring committee might be considered an asset at another.

At some schools, college pedigree might matter, but I have a feeling this number will decrease as time goes by. I think more students are being made aware of alt-career choices. I think more students are pursuing these options even before the dissertation stage. Some of these decisions are made by choice as students realize that they're not passionate about teaching. My main concern here is how many applicants are discouraged to feel this way though. We often judge success by how many applicants a school is able to place a student within a "top school" but we don't often stop to consider the size of the cohort, how the school has grown (or shrunk) in resources over the year, student happiness, their living conditions" etc. And I think a lot of this pressures students into going someplace they might not be happy. I think a lot of this only forces students into applying to "top schools" even if they might vibe better with faculty in a different university. I think this continues to allow the "top 20" universities remain at the top. I think it sends applicants a message that they'll only be successful if they go to a specific college but I'm not sure if this is true. We often don't have a full understanding of placements or the changes they've made to increase placements records. 

But I also think that we need to stop this. There are different systems that individual schools might use to determine what schools they consider to be in the top including local reputation but we won't ever know a university's full reasoning behind whether or not they choose a certain applicant a job offer. Some of these are things that are controllable to some extent; some are not. 

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13 hours ago, Regimentations said:

I'm aware that people can do all the "right" things and still not get a job offer. However, I think it's important to realize that there are a lot of invisible factors that applicants have no control over. School A might might be biased towards accepting students from a "top 20" school whereas School B might prefer students outside the "top 20". Neither will do one any good if neither is hiring. Both might be untrue but not if we continue to tell applicants that they'd only be qualified to teach "XYZ" College. I was originally discouraged from applying to my current institution from professors from other colleges for a variety of reasons. And I realize that I was fortunate. But I also wonder how many applicants in the job market got locked out because they were told they're not good enough. I wonder how often we end up killing careers before they even get started when we tell people on these boards that it's "top 20 or bust". Too often, I think we do this without stopping to consider what the applicant's goal is. Do they want to stay in a specific area for personal reasons? Do they want to teach at a liberal arts college? Do they want to teach at a private high school? Do they want to teach at a community college? All of these might have a different way of increasing your chances for a spot. Different colleges might have more resources to help you achieve those tasks and a top 20 may or may not always have the support you're looking for in order to achieve your goal.

Ah, okay, I get what you're saying, and I'm sorry for overreacting. No, I completely agree with this. For a long time I have been critical of the "top 10 or bust" mentality of some of these internet "getting into grad school" communities. I have been beaten out for jobs by people who graduated from programs much, much "lower ranked" than mine (in quotation marks because who really knows about the value of certain programs). I think when people peddle this narrative of "it's not worth going to grad school if you don't get into a top-10 (or top-12 or top-20) school," we not only ignore diverse career goals (teaching-focused school, community college, independent scholar) but also create kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy that carries on into the next generation. It's widely believed that "nothing good" comes out of "lower-ranked" programs because it has been decided that nothing ever has and nothing ever will. And that's BS. I mean, in some ways I'm living proof--I didn't go anywhere special (a program ranked about the 20s-30s) and have won fellowships and national awards and been published in the best journals. So obviously I was capable of producing good scholarship, even if the admissions committees didn't think so at the time (or I didn't present myself as an applicant who could do so). 

As I've said elsewhere, the job market works both ways. Slippery Rock University is probably going to be more keen on hiring someone from Duquesne or Indiana U of Pennsylvania than they are someone from Princeton. Cleveland State is going to be more receptive to a Case Reserve U. grad than a Berkeley grad. The job market is very much about "fit," and graduating from a high-ranked school is not going to guarantee you employment at universities looking for someone who "fits in" and understands where the students are coming from. 

If I could wave a magic wand and turn my 30ish ranked PhD into a Yale PhD, would I do so? Probably. But I also wouldn't have the job I have right now. Moreover, I am not certain I would have worked so hard or done the scholarship I did if I hadn't been at 30ish.

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