Saturday, March 1, 2008

You Load Sixteen Tons, What Do You Get?

Let me tell you about an observation I've made over the past couple of days. I've been back into my dissertation, and I had one good morning last week. You know the feeling? Time sort of recedes into a distant background and your focus is all about the tick-tock of ideas, coming out in exactly the order you want them. When you finally finish the section you've been working on, you look up and realize two hours have passed and you're already late for something. It's awesome when that happens.

But besides how awesome those runs are, they make me feel fucking good. I feel like I've got real work done. I mean, I feel like I've spent my time on something and actually got something to show for it. It's satisfying.

This week I also put a few applications in the mail. Besides photocopying all the shit I needed for the applications, I also spent a stupid amount of time writing customized cover letters. Then I made sure my department secretary had what she needed to put my letters in the mail. Then I headed to the post office, waited in line, and dropped off my crap. It took pretty close to a full day.

The thing I've noticed is how I felt after getting all those applications in the mail. I'm not talking about feeling the pit in my stomach that comes from thinking about my rapidly diminishing chances of getting anything out the year's efforts besides unqualified failure. Bracket that. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the feeling of having spent a day putting together application envelopes, and getting them in the mail. Those are more concrete products than anything else I ever get from writing or teaching. You can hold those envelopes in your hand. They have weight. They're real. Putting those envelopes together, I should feel like I've done something.

So what did it feel like? Nothing. There's just no sense I've got any work done, no sense I've got anything to show for the day, no satisfaction. Like I spent the day doing nothing.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good luck, PGS! I hope you get something this time around.

Sisyphus said...

This is the best post title yet...

Congrats on getting some philosophizing done ... maybe the trouble is that you didn't have a huge-ass stack of applications this time ... that pic, it looked awesome. It was a nice way for me to visualize the work of my apps.

I'm not producing any new pages these days, just grinding back and forth over the ones I have, trying to make them consistent. Yeah, revising ... not so satisfying. I may take the stack of apps over the red pen.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing another day older and deeper in debt....

Debt that may just get you a job! Keep your head up!

Anonymous said...

That feeling you get from working on the diss is known as "flow" (I didn't make that up; check out the psychological lit); time passes, unnoticed, you are absorbed in a meaningful (at least to yourself) activity--flow makes for a satisfying life.

On the other hand, yeah, mailing out the apps is drudgery. But just remember, the payoff (if things go well) is a job where you get to do more of that more satisfying stuff.

Anonymous said...

If you spend more days doing something, like working on the old dissertation, there will be less days in your future doing nothing, like mailing off applications no one will want to look at. It's just that simple.

Anonymous said...

Wait until the day you can walk across the quad holding a box containing your dissertation, and drop it off at the grad office. That will be both concrete and satisfying. You can guess, but you've got no idea until you do it.

Anonymous said...

As a corollary, he's a problem that I find very interesting. I set aside my current research for about a week because of job-search related issues, then got back to it today, and in an hour and a half wrote more than I have in a week. If I could put in eight hour days for a week at this rate I'd be done with the paper, including editing, but as it is I'll probably take another month to get through it. And the problem isn't lack of dedication on my part, but that sometimes ideas (or their formulation in text) need to gel.

So you spoke of a wonderful two hours, and I've just had a wonderful 90 minutes. This means that we need to be able to budget our lives in a way that maximizes the number of wonderful intervals we have, and the problem is how to do that when we don't have the security of continuing employment. I'm now realizing that the difference between 4-4 and 2-2 loads isn't nearly as important as the difference between reliable n-n loads and hoped-for n-n loads.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 7:09 --

Yeah, depositing the dissertation might be satisfying. That's one possibility.

But I also know myself well enough to wonder if the diss is going to feel then--like it does now--like a shitty, half-done, half-thunk draft of the bigger, better body of work I hope it'll one day be.

I honestly don't know which I'll end up feeling. Guess I'll find out when the day comes. . . .

Anonymous said...

I think the feeling that one's dissertation is an awkward, clunky piece of crap is extremely common, and not limited to those who have, in fact, produced an awkward, clunky piece of crap.

Anonymous said...

PGS,

Having just done that in the last 4 months, I can say it's a little of both. The dissertation was at a good stopping point. I'd said all I could say at this point without taking another year to fine tune each chapter or sections of chapters into journal-quality pieces. It felt good turning it in while I also knew that parts needed more development and I would be working on this project for several more years at least. But I guess maybe one good criterion is this: if the effort to take each chapter or chapter section to the next level of excellence will make it journal quality w/o further revision, then you're done.

Anonymous said...

My comment about depositing the dissertation was meant to be encouraging, actually.

Then again, I'm one of the those people who enjoyed writing it, and looking back on it several years later I still think it's pretty good.

will philosophize for food said...

Alright. So, I'm right here with you, just two days later. I am sitting in my office with a stack of 14 large manila envelopes at my feet. And tonight, I've got to send off two *official* transcripts at $8 a piece. That will make eight that I've sent off so far, for a total of $64. And from not a single institution who has required these official transcripts have I heard a peep. They've gone off and made offers to not-me type people, and I am not only left with nothing to show for my time, but also for my monetary investment in trying to fulfill the draconian requirements of these institutions.

Which brings up something that has puzzled me for some time now: why do schools require official copies at the initial application stage? Let's say you get 200 applications. At an average of $10 each (figures completely pulled out of my ass), that's $1500-1800 spent by people whom the institution has no intent to interview. Why not just do the utilitarian thing and require them solely of the finalists, so that not everyone who wants to apply to the damn job has to take the monetary hit? Do they really think that I care enough to try and trick them by altering that A- in the Nietzsche seminar my first year of grad school to an A? Isn't it patently obvious that since I've been admitted to candidacy, I must have had at least half way decent grades?

Is there anyone who wishes to defend this practice? Is it defensible?

Anonymous said...

I'll say it again. Send photocopies. Include a paragraph in the letter acknowledging that the advertisement requests official transcripts, but given the costs of official ones, you've included a photocopy and can provide an official one at an interview or some further stage in the process. If everyone does this, then schools will get the message. I've weighed the cost of $12.00 per transcript for a .05% of getting any random job versus other benefits I gain by spending the $12.00 in other ways. If they're impressed with me, then they'll deal with the transcript thing. If they see me as just another applicant that doesn't stand out from the crowd and toss my application because, whatever their initial reaction would have been, they don't want to bother with this difficulty, then I don't stand much of a chance getting to the next stage anyway.

tenured philosophy girl said...

WPFF: No philosophy search committee in the universe gives a single turd whether your transcript is official - those requirements are always imposed by HR drones 'from above' and there's not a single thing you or the SC members can do about it. This is no reason not to resent it of course, but just be sure to direct your resentment appropriately and don't expect anyone on this blog to defend the idiocy of this.

tv party said...

The transcript requests really are stupid. Maybe I should send them my GRE scores too? I think the key to getting through this process is recognizing how absurd it is and just getting a few laughs out of it. I don't really know how else to react to it. I don't understand why anyone takes it seriously. I mean, half the time I'm applying to jobs I don't even want. It's foolishness.

I had the same experience when I mailed out this round of applications; I didn't feel like I accomplished anything. I kind of felt like I was wasting my time (obviously the job will go to the student from the higher ranked school, or the postdoc will go to an inside candidate etc).

Anonymous said...

"Is there anyone who wishes to defend this practice? Is it defensible?"

naah, i'm not going to defend it.

i'll just note that, for many departments, it is probably mandated by some office superordinate to the department. e.g. a personnel office, or the dean's office, which sets university-wide guidelines about how hiring searches are conducted.

so, stupid, but not something that we can change easily.

Anonymous said...

I'll say that there are jobs I decided not to apply for because I didn't want to go to the bother of sending official transcripts. It's not that I wasn't interested in the job, but I'm one of those people who does a little research on each school I apply to and personalize the cover letter. And when a lot of ads get published in a short time, I can't apply for everything by the deadline, so I prioritize. And anything that requires special attention (spec syllabi, official transcripts) ends up lower on my list than it would otherwise.

There's the cost and also the hastle of getting official copies to include, or putting the request in the mail for one more thing. The cost isn't that bad since few schools require official copies, though it's irritating. But why would I send two mailings for one application, when I could get two applications out in the same time to other schools?

Those of you on SCs, maybe you could tell HR, every time you do a search, that you're losing candidates because of the requirement? And we'll do our part to not complain (I'll speak for myself at least) as though the requirements are your fault?

Anonymous said...

I've had this feeling too sending out this round of applications. It is demoralizing spending all this time customizing cover letters for one-years positions at places you're never heard of in places you would never want to live and still knowing that you don't have a good chance even for these lousy jobs.

This got me to thinking. Does anyone have anecdotes to share about people who didn't finds jobs, but moved on to find fulfilling employment outside of academia without going to law school? You always hear people say that plenty of people with philosophy PhDs go on to have good careers outside academia, but usually these general statements aren't backed up by any specific cases (at least I haven't heard any).

job sites said...

oh no thats too bad

Anonymous said...

I'm actually shocked that schools require current students to pay for their transcripts. I understand for alums, but current students? All I have to do is drop a form off at the registrar's office, and they send it without charge. I wonder if these things should go on the list of things to find out when researching grad programs. It's never been in any such list I've seen, but I'd think it would be nice to know that a school with a Ph.D. program is unwilling to pay for its own students' transcripts, photocopying, and postage when they're trying to find jobs. That's pretty lame. It's in their own interest to provide these things, so any claim that they don't have the funds is just short-sighted. The reason schools who are better in this regard do it is because they know it's worth it to them to do it. It's the same principle as being good to your customers if you own a store. It's worth it to you to make the people who pay you money feel good. It's worth it to you to assist the people who will be boosting your reputation in getting the jobs that will allow them to do so.

Anonymous said...

I applied for a job (non-teaching, but in higher education administration) at a state school in the south a couple of years ago.

They wanted OFFICIAL copies of ALL my transcripts. I had undergrad, post-bac and grad transcripts from the same institution. $10 each, for a total of 30 bucks for ONE job application. Leaving aside for the moment that my institution probably could have given me a combo rate (I asked, they wouldn't), it's a stupid holdover from the "official transcript" days of fellowship applications, etc.

Search Committees could get easily get by with the photocopied version (and I disagree that it's HR or departmental functionaries that require the official transcripts), but they don't because like many things in the higher education world, they're traditional. And tradition counts. Which is why I ponied up and sent the official transcripts because I didn't want to get dumped on a technicality.

This university probably had 100+ applications for that director-level position, and they sure as hell weren't going to interview more than five.