Five Questions For … College Professor Benjamin Vogt, on the Higher Education Job Hunt
After a frustrating search for a faculty position in the Midwest to teach creative writing and literature, author Benjamin Vogt decided to try a new approach. He’s posted his own job opening – for colleges to “apply” to hire both Vogt and his wife. Vogt, currently an adjunct professor at Doane College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, spoke with EWA.
1. How many jobs have you applied for via the more “traditional route” over the past two years?
In 2010, I applied for just a few jobs to see what it was like and learn the ropes. In 2011, I applied for maybe 20 jobs, and this fall it’s been around a dozen. Most of the jobs I apply for are in the geographic area we’d like to be in, or are positions or schools that sound intriguing. My wife is just now finishing her Ph.D. so she’s started dabbling in the job market herself. She also recently completed a program where she shadowed a professor at a private liberal arts college, which helped narrow down her ideal job.
2. How would you characterize the responses you’ve received, and is your nontraditional ad yielding any fruit?
The nontraditional ad is something I just now started throwing out on social media sites. I had written it many weeks ago as a sarcastic response to the rhetorical style of higher ed job ads — when you read hundreds, something sort of snaps inside. Last year, via the traditional method, I had a few phone and Skype interviews. I did have many requests for additional materials, however, as I have this year. It’s such a tight job market, and I feel it’s equivalent to sending work to literary journals for publication, which is equivalent to throwing darts at a board, but only after practicing a lot. Some schools send back form rejections in the mail or via email, but I’d say 50 percent you never hear anything from. That might be understandable with hundreds applying for each job.
3. You’ve written extensively about your 2,000-square-foot prairie garden. If a great job opportunity came your way in a more urban setting, would you be tempted or is your environment a dominant factor of your writing/teaching life?
We want to settle down permanently in an area where we can have an acreage and restore a prairie, perhaps holding festivals, sponsoring artist retreats, selling plants, incorporating classes in our home environment–so I don’t think an urban area would work unless we’re talking small urban, like where I live in Lincoln, Neb., with an easy commute from the rural to urban.
4. There are many married couples in academia who have to accept appointments at different institutions — often great distances apart, and who struggle to find positions that offer long-term security. Do you think that’s just part of the new reality of the higher education landscape?
I know several married couples who have tenure track jobs at the same school, and many more in the same city, so I don’t think it’s impossible to have what we want. I don’t know if the struggle is a new reality or not. It might be, with more and more graduate degrees being conferred. Even so, if one spouse has a tenure track job and the other a secure visiting assistant professor position, that’s still pretty good.
5. What’s surprised you about the job search process?
How perfect and “on” you have to be. It’s got to be the greatest, consistent performance of your life to even get a toe in the door, let alone a torso. The vetting process is long and silent–it’s not like applying for a “normal” job. A candidate also has to fit into many niches all at once–personality, research, writing, teaching methods, intangible college needs, intangible likes and dislikes by potential colleagues and students.
I’ve heard horror stories: One about how a candidate held a fork at dinner comes to mind. It can be psychologically overwhelming. Maybe it should be overwhelming, especially if you stay at the same place forever or if the department is small. I still don’t believe you can market yourself to any one school, though; –you just have to throw yourself out there and see who bites. But I think there’s more than one way to get a nibble in this online world, so that’s why we decided to post a joint job ad and see what happens. It’s therapeutic and fun, and shows a bit of our personality more than just a cover letter and CV.
This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.