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the other sides

January 4, 2011

I haven’t been reading The Chronicle of Higher Education much this year so I haven’t gotten constant reminders. The Modern Language Association conference is coming up soon. Sciencey readers may not know what that is. I only learned about when I finally made some friends who were humanists, sometime mid-graduate school. It is the big conference for many humanists, and where they apparently do all of their job interviews1. It’s like they combine the biggest conference of the year with everything that goes into the yearly job market (the interviews, the anxiety) into one event. Sounds, fun?

Initially this seemed quite insane to me (perhaps it still does). Comparing conventions across departments, even all the way over to the humanities really underscores the oddities of academic culture. Particularly how nonsensical it can initially seem to an outsider. What is the structure of a job interview? What goes on at conferences? Books or articles? Can you cite yourself?2 What do you put on your CV? What counts as ‘scholarship’? What is the hiring process (and why so drawn out)?3

Humanist read their talks. It’s my understanding that conference and departmental talks often consist of a person literally reading to the audience. In Bashirology such behavior would be roundly mocked. Speakers are expected to have notes at most, ideally everything memorized.

On the flip side, conference poster sessions seem to be quite amusing to those not familiar with them. More than one humanist has exclaimed “ha! Like a science fair?!” after hearing my description. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I suppose so.

I’ve certainly heard of real issues coming up with regard differences across disciplines during the tenure process. Where folks in discipline X might have to explain how things work to discipline Y people. It is not necessarily a trivial process. I suppose there is some value in knowing some of how things work on the other side of campus.

1. They don’t replace the campus visit. It’s more like a first round mini-interview. Also it is apparently not unheard of to have a job interview while sitting on a conference hotel room bed.
2. in some areas, it is considered garish to cite oneself.
3. I get this one a lot.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2011 3:56 pm

    I have a friend in the history field that went to one of these. She said it was really cool and she lined up like 5-10 interviews while there, which resulted in a few follow up interviews for her at different institutions. I didn’t ask her, but I wonder what the attendance is for that thing, it must be huge.

  2. unlikelygrad permalink
    January 4, 2011 4:04 pm

    I don’t know much about the MLA (though I should, since I have friends in the humanities). But evidently they do law prof hiring at conferences, too. My sister Courtney came away from one conference with four verbal job offers, which were later followed by official letters.

    • January 4, 2011 4:46 pm

      I didn’t know that. I imagine the professional schools could be quite different.

  3. January 5, 2011 6:41 am

    I am always surprised by the huge differences between the sciences and the humanities. I was having a conversation with one of my humanities colleagues, and we ended up talking past each other for quite a while before we realized that RAs in science are paid to work on their own research,while RAs in the humanities are paid to work on the professor’s research (that they will NOT receive professional “credit” for) and need to work on their own stuff on the side. I can’t imagine interviewing on a hotel room bed!

  4. bsci permalink
    January 5, 2011 9:36 am

    There’s also the Allied Social Science Associations annual meeting, which includes the American Economic Association. They also do the massive, field-wide job interview. I heard a story from AEA where a lot of interviews were taking place in a hotel with the rooms’ doors facing a multi-story atrium. You could look up from the lobby to see scores of people in similar dark suits & brief cases waiting outside hotel rooms to be interviews and marching to different rooms on 30 minute intervals. To make the scene even more amusing, there was a player piano in the lobby.

    The strangest part for me is that conference attendance and presentation wasn’t as core a part of graduate school and they didn’t really even attend the conference parts of the job-interview conference.

  5. January 5, 2011 10:29 am

    A hotel bed?? If the interview has to be in a hotel, they could at least have the decency to do it in the bar.

    I always wondered how the whole humanities “presenting a paper” thing went down. So there’s no PowerPoint or anything? How do they hold people’s attention with nothing to look at?

  6. DrugMonkey permalink
    January 19, 2011 2:41 am

    Ummmm, science fair was perhaps created to mimic the way grown up scientists present their work?

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