Job Seekers, Be Like the Willow Tree

Guest post by Erin Costello Wecker, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor of English
Director of Composition
The University of Montana

At the 4C16 CFSHRC event, Lydia McDermott, Letizia Guglielmo and I co-hosted a mentoring table on preparing for the job market. Now that the job hunt season is gearing up, we are going to use the coalition blog to sum up a few of the key points to help prepare and empower job seekers in rhet/comp. This blog post offers some insight that was shared with me while I was on the job market and things that I learned while going through the process two years ago. Be on the lookout for additional advice from Lydia and Letizia in upcoming blog posts on this topic.

Willow tree with sun beams shining through the leaves

Willow tree with sun beams shining through the leaves

Be Flexible

Be flexible and open to different kinds of academic settings and positions, this includes TYC, WPA, small Liberal Arts Colleges, and larger state Universities. Sometimes when looking at all of the job openings it is daunting to envision which type of school or position you are looking for, especially if you are just finishing graduate school.

Begin by making a list of schools and then take time to visit their website. What is their mission statement? Who would be your colleagues and what type of research are they doing? Would your position be teaching focused, research focused, a combination of the two? What type of students attend this institution (i.e. focus on STEM fields, thriving Business School, loads of English majors)? Would you be working with graduate students?

Think About Fit

From this preliminary search you can get a sense of what type of work seems exciting. It is helpful to think of your own schooling background. What type of institutions did you attend? Generate a list of things you enjoyed and things you felt did not foster your academic development.

From that list a clearer picture of what contributions you would like to make to a school will become more evident, which will in turn help to refine your list of places to apply. Let your list guide you, but do not let it rule your search–remember where we started, be flexible and open to different kinds of academic settings. To that point, generate honest and focused documents for your teaching statement, research statement, and administrative statement and tailor your CV for two-three different types of positions.

Start getting ready soon. The job ads are already coming out. You can check them out here on the handy-dandy rhet map.

Be Like the Willow

A job search is demanding, but it is also exhilarating as there is promise in each new adventure. As the title suggests, willow trees are adaptive to climate and soil, grow fast, and have a distinctive shape with strong, well-developed roots. When I went on the job market I could not imagine leaving the city I loved, especially after calling it home for fifteen years; to my mind I had roots and I was not sure I wanted to uproot them. Yet as I begin year number two in my new job, in my new home, in a new time zone, with a new climate, and new people, I am reminded that possibility is what led me to this location.

A final bit of advice, to help wrap your mind around the changes that accompany a job search, take time to read your documents over and allow yourself to enjoy, for at least a moment or two, the accomplishments that have led you to a job search in the first place. When teaching writing we often stress the importance of process vs. product, yet when on the job market it is so easy to develop tunnel vision where landing a job is the only destination in sight. So, trust your talents and embrace the opposite actions of the willow tree: reaching skyward for light and remaining earthbound for rootedness, and when a gust of wind approaches just sway; I promise you will not break.