Torpedoing my job prospects?

I am officially “on the market,” looking for an academic appointment in New York City or the commutable surrounds starting in the fall of ’06. So, for starters, if you are a dean at Columbia and are desperately looking for someone like, well, me… here I am!

I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately about jobs and blogs, and so I figure I should be a decent test case. I know, my CV isn’t up on the site right now, but I’ll be doing a redesign of the site next week that will bring it up.

I have always assumed that, despite mis-spellings and anarchistic tendencies (both in politics and in thought) that my blog might actually help me get a job, or at least not hinder it. Then I run into an article on blogging and academic jobs in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, which strongly suggests that having a blog can only be a deficit. The anonymous author runs down some of the bloggers in his candidate pool:

Professor Turbo Geek’s blog had a presumptuous title that was easy to overlook, as we see plenty of cyberbravado these days in the online aliases and e-mail addresses of students and colleagues.

But the site quickly revealed that the true passion of said blogger’s life was not academe at all, but the minutiae of software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica. It’s one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can’t afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.

Professor Shrill ran a strictly personal blog, which, to the author’s credit, scrupulously avoided comment about the writer’s current job, coworkers, or place of employment. But it’s best for job seekers to leave their personal lives mostly out of the interview process.

It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people’s choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one’s childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It’s not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order.

Finally we come to Professor Bagged Cat. He was among the finalists we brought to campus for an interview, which he royally bombed, so we were leaning against him anyway. But we were irritated to find out, late in the process, that he had misrepresented his research, ostensibly to make it seem more relevant to a hot issue in the news lately. For privacy reasons, I’m not going to go into the details, but we were dismayed to find a blog that made clear that the candidate’s research was not as independent or relevant as he had made it seem.

We felt deceived by his overstatement of his academic expertise. In this case, it was not the candidate’s own blog, but that of a boasting friend, that revealed the truth. The lesson? Be careful what you let a close associate’s blog say about you. What that associate sees as complimentary may cast you in an unflattering light in the eyes of a search committee.

I probably fall into all of these traps a little on the blog, and so that’s worrying. Of course, they were hiring for a humanities position, and any geekery I get into on this blog (and it tends to be pretty lightweight) is far more relevant to my work. If techy stuff is going to scare off a hiring committee, I probably don’t want to be working there.

But when it comes right down to it, I also engage in some of the problems reported of Prof. Shrill. I tend not to talk about my personal problems, though some of my eccentricities may appear on the blog. And I’m not particularly shy about my political views here either. Again, though, would I want to work at a place where outspoken political views and general strange behavior were not tolerated, nay embraced?

The “Bagged Cat” category is a bit difficult to get at. It sounds as if the candidate pitched his background in an application to indicate that he was doing work that the committee would find interesting. I understand that this can go too far, but doesn’t everyone do this to a certain extent? After all, when I talked to the folks here at UB, a paper on film theory — though it remained on my CV — really wasn’t relevant to the department so I didn’t talk about it.

My view of blogs in an academic hire comes of my own experience on a hiring committee. I want to know as much about a candidate as possible. It happens that in our last hires none of the candidates had blogs, at least not ones that could be easily found. But if they had been bloggers, I suspect I would have be positively predisposed to them, and interested in how they expressed themselves more generally.

It is a truism in academic hiring that you need certain qualifications to get a foot in the door. My publishing record has been relatively weak, and I realize that will likely close the door for me in many universities, despite the fact that I am a fabulous member of faculty, and will shortly become a publishing machine (are you listening, NYU?). But I also know that people “lose” the interview for things as trivial as not being a fan of one professor’s pet theory or chewing with their mouth open at lunch, or whatever… or are ranked first because of the sort of interpersonal feeling that says “Yes, I want to have this person working with me for the next few decades.” I think blogs do, to a greater or lesser degree, give some insight into the personal characteristics of a person. And unlike the Chronicle author, I do think that the personal and the professional are related and are relevant to a hire.

In any case, I’m not about to stop blogging, at least not in order to get a job. People are going to know what they are getting ahead of time. If anything, I’ll be stepping up the material that appears here. So there!

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7 Comments

  1. Posted 7/9/2005 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Doug Tygar and myself think that this CHE article is a tad ridiculous…

  2. Posted 7/9/2005 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Good luck with the job hunt. Since you do write about your personal life from time to time, I know you are looking for something closer to your wife’s awesome new job. I can relate to what we call in the Navy being a “geographic bachelor” — I’ve been working at LSU for the past academic year while my husband stayed behind at our home in Florida (10 hours away). Good luck to you & your family.

  3. Stefanos
    Posted 7/9/2005 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    shanna compton teaches over at the New School, try them: also Rusckoff is a cool teacher that you may have connected with, who is over at NYU. also, NYU seems to be a cooler more tech savvy place than columbia. Lots more innovation and connection to consumer tech companies in midtown that may interested in blogging. But Columbia is where that journalism school is.

    city college is a cool place: there are actually tons of cool jobs down here.

    –Problem is–

    Its kind of expensive to live down here: rents and homes are very expensive.

  4. Posted 7/10/2005 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t read the entire CHE article–just your excerpt–but from the rather lengthy quote, it looks like an unmitigated piece of crap. I’ve read better thought-out pieces on LiveJournals.

  5. Posted 7/11/2005 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    there is an exceedingly long discussion now in the chronicle forums under job seeking. including some itneresting claims about the ethics and legality of the practices described. It might be worht giving a scan.

  6. Posted 7/11/2005 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks everybody — great links for checking out.

  7. Posted 7/13/2005 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    From my side, I’ve got to say that I think of my blog as a substantial asset in terms of my employability in the tertiary sector. Sure, my blogs posts aren’t always serious or confined to my thoughts about academia, but the majority of what I comment on is in some way related. It does help that I position myself broadly at the interesections of Media Studies, Communication Studies, Literary Studies, Digital Humanities and New/Digital Media, so there isn’t a lot that happens online or in the media more broadly that I can’t justify writing about. That said, I think it is important for all academics to have some sort of public voice in order to maintain a rich, vibrant and engaged relationship between academia and the public more generally; blogs are one of the best ways of maintaining such engagement. Moreover, on a personal note, while I have some wonderful collegues in Perth, it is the most isolated capital city in the world, and the blog is a wonderful way to build, maintain and enhance my connections with scholars (and others) across the wired world.

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