08 May 2017

Two Modern Opportunities For Large-Scale Rejection

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Andrew Kay explains that applying for an academic position and on-line dating in the 21st century dehumanize the pursuer in very similar ways.

I minimized OkCupid and returned to my cover letter. I felt afresh the silliness of the undertaking: to make an earnest bid for any job in which you’re one of perhaps three hundred highly qualified applicants, in a field where twenty such jobs might come along in a given year, requires a degree of moxie bordering on self-delusion. Both the academic job market and online dating, I was coming to realize, involve their participants in economies of excess, superabundance. You enter each world laden with the knowledge that you are one agent in a vast and hyper-competitive ecosystem surging with rivals; that, having captured the curiosity of a person or institution of your desiring, you’re but one of a dozen prospects they are likely entertaining alongside you. Make a false move—or simply come off as average—and risk being swept aside.

Like the OkCupid profile, the academic job letter reduces the multi-chromatic splendor of a self to a single beige that it shares with everyone else. Here are inner worlds—rococo architectures fashioned over years of contemplation—broken down into a short opening paragraph wherein you introduce yourself, indicating your home institution and the title of your dissertation, as well as the job you seek (MY SELF SUMMARY and WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR); two paragraphs in which you sum up your dissertation, articles and research interests (WHAT I’M DOING WITH MY LIFE and I SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT); a couple of paragraphs in which you dramatize your strengths as a teacher and convey the myriad things you offer in the way of department service (I’M REALLY GOOD AT); a closing paragraph in which you say, in effect, “I’d love an interview; if you’re interested, here’s how to contact me” (YOU SHOULD MESSAGE ME IF).

Somehow, within the confines of this form, I had to capture hiring committees’ attention. This meant gussying up the raw material of my scholarship in language that was sexy, piquant, certain to leave them wanting more. English academics, I should explain, occupy a peculiar relation to their ideas and the language in which these are housed. Many display an erotic responsiveness to the terms trending in their field: the aptly chosen theoretical catchword, or charismatic articulation of a (preferably anarchic) thought. (I once asked a colleague whether she and her partner spent much time talking about their research together. “That’s called foreplay, Andrew,” she responded.)

RTWT

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Seattle Sam

What about the strategy employed by the guy who wrote Black Lives Matter a hundred times on his college app?



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