I don’t have any job materials to submit. How else can I help?

Submit secondary resources

If your department has created resources for graduate students applying to academic jobs, consider submitting them to the repository. This might include, for example, guidelines for giving a job talk, participating in an interview, preparing job materials, or searching for jobs.

Please make sure the resources focus on transparency, equity, and inclusion. Make sure that they are well-described (and specify source institution and academic discipline, as appropriate). Make sure authorship is correctly attributed.

Secondary resources should be uploaded to the “Additional Job Search Resources” folder on the Docs page. Here are more guidelines for submitting materials.

Share the resource

We share the network aggressively on twitter, but are still working on connecting with people beyond our social networks. We are particularly interested in making sure that graduate students and ec scholars on the job market have access to these resources.

If you belong to a scholarly society, facebook group, or department, consider sharing this project. You could write about it in your departmental newsletter! Post about it on your grad student blog. Post it to your area studies facebook group. Email it to your friends.

Recruit participants

We are always looking for more volunteers to submit materials. Even if you can’t submit materials yourself, think of ways to encourage those in your network to submit.

If you are a senior scholar, advising junior scholars on the potential risks of participating in a project like this would be particularly useful. We know that causes a lot of anxiety!

Expand the resource

Have ideas about other ways we can support transparency and equity in higher ed? We’re interested. Email halperta@gmail.com.

So you want to invite an alt-ac to speak on your campus

This piece was cross-posted on medium.com

As the job market for higher ed breathes its final gasps, grad programs around the country are looking for ways to connect their students with people who have successfully transitioned out of academia.

This is the right thing to do. Most of your students are not going to get tenure track jobs this year, and while some of them may have the capacity to wait out the failed economy with a series of contingent or temporary positions, others are going to be looking for a way out.

Your instinct to invite alt-ac workers to speak on your campus is good, and I’m happy to report that we can help.

The Academic Job Market Support Network was formed long before COVID-19 put the final nail in the coffin of tenure-track employment. It is designed to help humanities phds navigate the academic job market and, increasingly, the transition to alt-ac.

The Academic Job Market Support Network is an initiative built on transparency, community, and generosity. Our purpose is to improve equity in career outcomes by providing resources for students regardless of their cultural or economic background or the status of their institutions.

Among the resources we offer is the Alt-Ac Support Network spreadsheet, a public list of volunteers interested and available to speak with students about their careers. The database provides the names, contact info, and background of post-phd workers, and states whether they are available for one-on-one consultations as well as departmental visits.

You can share this list with your students, who can use it as a networking resource. You an also invite people from the list to speak with your students about their background and their profession.

Please do this!

But if you are newly awakened to the alt-ac world, if this is the first time your department is making a concerted effort to help students pursue alt-ac careers, then there are some things you should know before you start emailing alumni and contacting strangers.

First, note that this is the companion post to a much angrier piece I wrote about what it’s like to be invited to speak as an alt-ac worker. I encourage you to check out that article, which has resources and tips for working in alt-ac.

In this gentler piece, I simply want to remind you that many of us who left academia for other careers did so because we had no other choice. We may be happier now than we would have been on the tenure track; we may have better salaries and a better quality of life; but many of us carry with us the weight of that disappointment.

I also want to remind you that alt-ac speakers are most effective when we are part of a more comprehensive professionalization program. We simply cannot carry the fear and uncertainty and broken dreams of your students.

What we can do is serve as models for the kinds of careers that are possible outside of the tenure track and provide practical advice about how to prepare to leave academia while pursuing a PhD.

This is most effective when a department has already done the work of preparing their students for professional development. Some things you might do to prepare include:

  1. Collect information on both academic and alt-ac career outcomes for graduates in your department over the past one, five, and ten years.
  2. Collect information on the career aspirations of your current graduate students and their feelings about how well prepared they are to pursue those careers. Note that students often feel like they will be punished by their department for speaking honestly about this, so consider an anonymous assessment.
  3. Assess how your department has responded to the changes to the academic job market since 2008. Consider activities such as: curriculum redesign, expansion of dissertation requirements, expansion of job-market preparation, changes in faculty advising responsibilities, changes in cohort size, changes in student and faculty recruitment strategies, introduction of funded internship programs, and formalized (and funded) partnerships with alt-ac organizations and professionals.
  4. Assess how your department establishes and maintains relationships with alt-ac professionals. Do you have funds set aside to invite them to provide mentorship, support, or guest lectures? Do you provide funded internship programs? Do you hire alt-ac professionals to adjunct in your department?
  5. Assess how your department is supporting your graduate students. Do student stipends meet your city’s cost of living? What are the financial conditions of your international students? Do your students have a union?
  6. Assess how your department is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Are you providing emergency funds for students who have lost summer income? Have you extended student funding packages & time to degree? Have you established postdocs for students graduating now? Are you communicating regularly and clearly with your graduate students about your pandemic response?

As an alt-ac speaker, I have been invited to campuses where I was the only alt-ac training students received, and to campuses where I was part of a series of speakers invited during a student’s final year.

I have never been invited to speak on a campus where alt-ac preparation begins prior to the final year of a student’s phd.

By the time students reach their final year of their phd, it’s much too late for them to start preparing for an alt-ac career. This doesn’t mean they can’t have one. But it means their transition is likely to be more difficult and more painful.

This is why I encourage you to use the alt-ac spreadsheet to invite people to campus. But I encourage you to do it as part of a more comprehensive effort to help students prepare for their post-grad careers.

How We Talk and Write about DH Jobs

This post was co-authored by Amanda Visconti and Brandon Walsh. Crossposted to the Scholars’ Lab blog , Amanda’s personal blog, and Brandon’s personal blog

Early this summer, we (authors Brandon and Amanda!) planned a post about job search materials, but finishing up the draft got delayed by several weeks. In the intervening time, a small Twitter debate on the subject of academic job advice occurred, and we ended up holding off this post for a few months while discussing how to do it well.

The debate in question: someone shared the job advice they generally give students on the academic job market, and folks responded with frustrations about the prescriptiveness, privilege, and goals of the academic job advice genre. Since then, we’ve also appreciated inspiring work being done on the topic by Hannah Alpert-Abrams. The Academic Job Market Support Network that she spearheads shares a lot of the spirit behind what we intended to do with our job search materials, so we’re taking this as an opportunity to revisit the post we had planned. We have both uploaded cover letters from our pasts to the AJMSN (Brandon’s letter here and Amanda’s letter here), and we talk a bit about our reasoning below. We’ll offer some general thoughts about job searches in digital humanities, and annotate each other’s cover letters. We thought the latter might be a useful exercise beyond just sharing them.

Slightly Better Job Advice, Take Two

Framing an academic job search exclusively in terms of handy tips undervalues the degree of luck that goes into any search. Do these things, such advice seems to suggest, and the just and right meritocracy will reward you with a job. But the academic job market is anything but just, and anything but a pure measure of merit[1]. The same is true, of course, for job markets beyond academia. Digital humanities job searches, be they for faculty positions or otherwise, suffer from the same issues. Internally we’ve had a lot of conversation about how to share job advice with our students. We’re frequently called upon to do so, and we want to do it well. So we thought it worth sharing a few of the things we try to consider below. Keep in mind, of course, that this is not an exhaustive list.

  1. The academic job market is not identical with all job markets in academia. There is a range of different careers that engage in intellectual work, careers that might be called alt-ac (though there are good reasons for not using that term to describe them). Paths to these careers are often just as obscured as paths to professorships, and resources for how to navigate these types of job searches are scarce. Resources for finding and thinking about these kinds of careers are one of the key things we can provide students.

  2. Students need our support. In particular, refusing to share resources about job searches, even if the act is well meaning, can reinforce privileged access to those same materials. Our initial reason for writing this post was that we noticed we were repeatedly sharing the same cover letters with folks looking for work. We found ourselves wondering how many other people at UVA or elsewhere might not know to ask for such resources.

  3. Offers to aid in job searches, on and off the tenure track, are better when they go beyond lists of advice. In particular, we try to help folks think through backup plans and suggest talking with a career center as part of the conversation about how to seek positions in the digital humanities. We try to speak from our own experiences but also to recognize our own limitations as resources. We do not have all the answers, but we still might be able to help in some way.

  4. Student support like this necessarily includes emotional labor. For us (the authors), this has proven unavoidable. In conversations we try to emphasize that the student is smart enough and good enough for this work, that the job market is not a reflection on them, and that our current jobs are the results of luck in a lottery system (where every time you win a lottery it makes winning future lotteries a bit more tipped in your favor…). The fact that we have jobs does not necessarily mean our advice will be helpful (CW for war: see e.g. Abraham Wald on survivorship bias[2]). In short, it is not enough to tell students that they need do X and Y in order to be successful. In the Lab we believe these conversations need to engage with the messy work of what the job search entails.

  5. Advice about any job market should come with a frank discussion about all the factors involved in being offered a job (i.e. how many factors are out of candidates’ hands), and about the precarious nature of employment in the field that the particular position may or may not play into.

We’re not sure how we share our cover letters given this context, but it still seems worth doing; we’re going to continue advising the local students who work with us, and we’d like to help students who are elsewhere if we can. Some of the ways we try to make our advising do more good than harm include:

  • Thinking about intent vs. impact: job advice is often “well meaning”, but what matters is the environment it builds up or dismantles, who it tells is worthwhile as they already are vs. who it tells to change, who it empowers with information. Consider whether telling a student that you don’t judge them for XYZ, but that interviewers will, has the same impact as you judging them.
  • Not posting job ads to the SLab Slack fellows channels (where they might be regular, unwanted reminders of job market stress to folks who aren’t even looking for work right now, or otherwise want to limit when they’re thinking about jobs). We’ve moved to including a list of interesting jobs to the end of our lab newsletter instead, where students can regularly choose to look at them if they choose.
  • Moving to a public newsletter as a means of distributing these posts means that students can opt in without self-declaring themselves as on the job market, which allows for greater transparency about the process. It becomes less about knowing who you have to ask – anyone (even non-UVA people) can get access to that newsletter if they choose.
  • Focusing our commentary not on “what others will expect” or “the right way to do things” (e.g. how to write the salutation), but instead on examples of how to best communicate one’s personal strengths via cover letter. In this way, we hope to keep the focus on the individual person and how they can take ownership of their own background rather than on how to please an anonymous committee (this can be a moving target).
  • Leavening advice with affirmation of students as scholars and humans; helping them think about how to do what they value in life, even if they can’t do that as their main job. In short, academia has a way of encouraging people to think about their academic work and academic “merit” as deep reflections of their “worth” as a person. We try to reaffirm the fact that every person is worthwhile

Thoughts on some specific DH cover letters

Below, each of us shares the text of one of our cover letters for the other to annotate. The comments below reflect what we’ve tried to do when we have served on hiring committees and reviewed cover letters: avoid the stuff we feel we shouldn’t evaluate on, and what we do look for. Of course, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Our hope is that sharing the letters in this format will offer a bit more insight into how we think about DH job searches. It’s also worth noting that we each clearly read for different things. Similarly, other people serving on DH hiring committees might look for different things. We’ll focus on the hiring experience for:

  • Brandon’s current role: Head of Student Programs at the University of Virginia Library’s Scholars’ Lab[3]
  • Amanda’s previous role: tenure-track assistant professor and DH specialist at Purdue University Libraries[4]

While our comments below are about our cover letters, you might be interested in checking out other hiring and school info we’ve shared: Brandon’s job talk for his current role, Amanda’s job talks for her current role (with links to job talks shared by three other scholars as well!) and her previous faculty role; and Amanda’s doctoral defense talk, advice about defense talks, and literature/DH PhD exams list and advice. We’ve added the cover letters to an existing effort to gather and contextualize job materials led by Hannah Alpert-Abrams on Humanities Commons—check out their files page for other cover letters, various types of written statement, etc.

We started working at SLab on the same day and were not involved in the hiring of each other, so all comments are views from outside the search committee. You can check out the full cover letters on Humanities Commons, and reading them in full first might be useful: Brandon’s cover letter and Amanda’s cover letter. You might wish to compare these to how the job ads described these roles: Head of Graduate Programs and Digital Humanities Specialist Assistant or Associate Professor. In what follows, we intersperse inset text of our letters with short, bulleted lists of comments from the other person.

Brandon’s cover letter

Brandon’s cover letter, notes by Amanda

I am writing to apply for the position of Head of Graduate Programs in the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia. As an alumnus of both the Praxis Program and the Graduate Fellowship in Digital Humanities, I have a deep appreciation for the Scholars’ Lab’s commitment to experimental forms of collaborative, project-based pedagogy.

  • If you have past experience or knowledge of what the place does, share that! You don’t have to have worked/learned at the place (as Brandon did at UVA) to speak to what specifically draws you there. E.g. maybe you’ve gotten a sense from their social media, a project or conference talk, or a blog post about what’s important to how the place works?
  • Brandon shows awareness and mutual commitment to some of the lab’s values here; he shares this in a way that lets the search committee learn something about him (that he digs experimentation, collaboration), rather than something more abstract like “I would be honored to work at such a great place” that doesn’t give the committee info but does take up some of your limited space.
  • Most of the cover letters I’ve seen use the first paragraph to deliver information that isn’t really new—this is my name, I’m not confused what position I’m applying for, I think I would be a good fit—so I like how he leads with a framing that does tell us more about him as a candidate.

I believe that my own extensive teaching record and my experiences as a digital humanities developer and project manager, all of which are shaped by my understanding of the Scholars’ Lab’s values, make me uniquely qualified for this position.

  • There’s limited space to tell the search committee about yourself, so rather than make his cover letter repeat his CV, Brandon connects up items in his past that could help him successfully fill this role’s goals. Rather than using himself as a reference (e.g. “I am very good at x” or “I am xyz adjectives”), Brandon points out that the past roles listed on his CV are connected as different approaches in DH, suggesting he’s both learned skills from being in a variety of different roles, and can probably work in an informed way with colleagues in those roles.
  • He again recognizes specifics about the lab—that through our staff charter, choices, etc. we try to be attentive to how our values shape our work. Some institutions make learning about how they do work difficult, unfortunately.

Student mentoring has been my first priority for the duration of my career.

  • Brandon shares who he is as a professional and community member: articulating what matters to him, showing he understands what matters to this job, and going on to explicitly demonstrate how the two overlap.

I have taught a number of digital humanities workshops and classes, but I am proudest of my recent work as co-administrator of the Undergraduate Digital Humanities Fellows program at Washington and Lee University, where I currently serve as Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow. This initiative attempts to adapt the principles of the Praxis Program to a liberal arts context by allowing undergraduates to engage in collaborative research projects of their own design. I serve in both supervisory and technical roles in this program, and my daily tasks range from scoping student projects to teaching technical lessons on GitHub or programming concepts in PHP. During the past year, I have worked with humanities students to design and implement digital archives, editions, and storytelling projects through a combination of hands-on training and mentoring.

  • The first half of this sentence (“I have taught a number of digital humanities workshops and classes”) could mean anything from teaching two small workshops ever, to multiple courses designed and taught himself—when hiring, readers may assume the lowest possible situation that your statement might mean, unless shown otherwise via specifics. Brandon helps us not need to guess—he doesn’t rehash his whole list of DHy skills here, but mentions a few in context in a way that suggests familiarity with other DH practices as well.
  • Specific examples, including names of methods, tech, approaches showing familiarity. A good way to demonstrate knowledge of an area is to describe what daily work practices look like—specific tools or methods, what your involvement in a project specifically looked like.

I recognize that the vitality of a program depends upon a student community that extends beyond the bounds of the fellowship years, so I have created an outreach plan that builds our student network by having fellows visit other courses and mentor others as digital experts.
This student community can – and should – contribute to life beyond the walls of the academy: this year I am piloting a program that sends our fellows to a local High School AP Computer Science class to collaborate on digital projects. Drawing on the lessons I learned during my own training, my efforts always aim to teach the person not the material. Helping students to find the confidence to speak, act, and sometimes fail productively in public in roles like these is as important to me as any temporary success afforded by a project.

  • Brandon states some of his values and goals, then immediately identifies how he acted on these. This both backs up claimed values in his letter, and demonstrates experience reflecting on and iterating one’s practices to bring them into line with what you identify as important.
  • There’s use in defining commonplace terms. Everyone knows what “teaching” means, right? But is this someone who cares about “filling young minds” and also mocks their current students on social media, vs. someone who sees students as colleagues, fellow scholars, humans? Brandon’s approach in this paragraph helps the reader see if we’re actually talking about the same thing when we say “teaching” (same for “research”, “scholarship”, “service”, etc.).

As a member of Washington and Lee’s digital humanities faculty committee, I have helped to develop the school’s digital humanities curriculum, which aims to provide students at all levels of expertise with an intellectual and practical understanding of innovative digital work. In particular, I have focused on collaborations that raise the skillsets of my colleagues as long-term investments in growing our resources. Working with Professor Sarah Horowitz and a student researcher on her interest in text analysis, for example, has led to both a co-taught class on digital history as well as a co-authored open access textbook.

The book is, foremost, a pedagogical exploration, an attempt to write an accessible introduction to digital text analysis for complete newcomers. The writing of this textbook was also, in itself, a teaching exercise: the writing process required Professor Horowitz to learn version control and Markdown in addition to a number of text analysis techniques. These experiences were part of a larger experiment that I spearheaded in collaborative writing and publishing that has led to invitations for presentations and workshops at DLF and Bucknell Digital Scholarship with our Digital Humanities Librarian.

As an experienced project manager and digital humanities developer, I also offer an advanced skillset to augment my teaching.

  • Brandon shows how he invests in people around him, making the place he works better for colleagues in different roles (here: student, staff, faculty).
  • When applying for a staff job from a doctoral and/or faculty background, it can be useful to demonstrate how those experiences don’t disadvantage you—i.e. you don’t understand what the staff position will be like. Brandon manages to both show the skills he learned from his past work experiences, while also aiming them at the kinds of work he’d be doing if hired.
  • Brandon notes skills that might not be in the job ad, but are critical: collaboration, managing projects, a broad understanding of tech.

I served for several years as the project manager of NINES, and I have given invited talks on project development at the University of Michigan, SUNY New Paltz, the University of Central Florida, and the Center for Networked Information. I have consistently worked to supplement this supervisory experience with the skills necessary to implement projects myself. During my time at Washington and Lee, I have deployed and maintained three Rails applications, supervised Omeka customizations, and designed text analyses in Python, in addition to carrying out my own research in machine learning and sound studies. These skills will allow me not only to lead workshops on the technical aspects of digital humanities research, but also to supplement the resources of the Scholars’ Lab by providing technical support to fellows myself.

  • It’s very good to share things you’re proud of! If you don’t highlight these, your search committee might never know about them. If you have trouble doing this, you might have friends or a supportive teacher who can help you remember experiences or decisions worth sharing here. Julia Evans has a good blog post about how to get comfortable talking about your strengths.
  • Brandon does a good job pitching his achievements for this staff role—sharing the things faculty hiring committees value, like invited talks, but coupling those with tech skills and his broader learning from those experiences. He comes across as someone who wants to be in a staff job that’s heavy on mentoring, collaborating, experimenting, rather than someone treating this job as an alternative to another career goal.

I know first-hand how transformative the right interventions can be in the lives of graduate students. The Scholars’ Lab’s commitment to equipping students at all levels for both the kinds of careers that they will find and the intellectual provocations they can make in the digital age has shaped my own thinking, and it continues to inform all of my work. I see this position in the Scholars’ Lab as the perfect opportunity for me to help others learn as I once did, and to use my skills and experiences to extend the excellent work of the Scholars’ Lab’s fellowship programs.

I look forward to discussing the great potential of the position with you.

  • I like the wording in the final sentence—“great potential” reminds me that I’ve gotten a sense from this letter that this is someone who’s thought hard about the strategy and tactics of student-focused DH, who is ready to do good in this role.

Amanda’s cover letter

Amanda’s cover letter, notes by Brandon

Dear Purdue University Libraries team,

I’m a digital humanist with an Information M.S. (University of Michigan), new Literature Ph.D. (University of Maryland), and over eight years as a professional DH web developer and public-focused DH scholar, working since 2009 in multiple staff roles at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). I write to apply for the Digital Humanities Specialist role.

  • The first thing I notice is how Amanda structured her letter differently than how I typically do so. I tend to treat cover letters like essays, where the structure of the thing to come will be laid out in the final sentence of the first paragraph. Amanda leads with her experience here, which is likely to make sure her cover letter gets past an initial quick read.
  • It’s perhaps also worth noting how wild and varied the paths often are for digital humanists. In this field maybe more than others it is not uncommon to tie together many seemingly disconnected life experiences into a narrative about yourself. The connections between library degrees, and PhD in English, and positions at a DH center all speak to each other in clear ways. But I can easily imagine a need to pull together a variety of different experiences that might not parse so easily for people. This seems fine to me. More on diverse life experiences below!
  • Another thing that stands out here is that Amanda does not just point out what she has done – she points out different experiences from very different contexts. Research experience as a graduate student, library experience, and hands-on experiences. It’s helpful to think in these terms when presenting yourself to a search committee. It’s not just about the work you’ve done. It’s also about the kinds of contexts and audiences to which this work exposes you.

As an example of my work, my recent dissertation project is InfiniteUlysses.com—an interface that brings scholars, teachers, and readers of all backgrounds together in annotating and discussing a challenging book, personalizing the annotations displayed to any given reader by their backgrounds, interests, and needs. Infinite Ulysses achieved sizable impact for a literature dissertation, with over 13,000 unique visitors during its first month of open beta. The challenge of helping everyone feel empowered to participate in the humanities drives my research and project design.

  • To underscore what Amanda says above – I usually tell people to make sure their letter is not an extension of their CV. When addressing things that appear in both, I usually try to make sure the things in the letter expand or provide context that you might not otherwise get in a CV. This text is great, because she expands on a project that might otherwise only get a line and not have the same impact.
  • I also like how she takes the work and expands upon it to describe what she learned from it. That sort of self-reflection is something I usually look for in cover letters and try to represent in my own.
  • Amanda’s accomplishments here and as articulated in the letter are impressive, but I often think it’s a matter of selling yourself regardless of whether or not you have done a lot, whether or not your blog has thousands of hits. Take the things you have done and use them as an opportunity to spin a story about yourself.

Successfully completing a non-monograph dissertation taught me how to champion others embarking on digital scholarship, both in educating their colleagues on their digital work, and in the practical aspects of project design, technical learning, and planning for the full life cycle of the project. I dealt with this last—DH long-term thinking and digital preservation—as MITH’s Webmaster, auditing our two servers full of projects, files, and databases ranging back to 1999, and in my training and experience doing digital preservation work with MITH’s early e-lit collection.

  • Another thing I often look for – the letter is a space to offer reflections on your experience. I like that Amanda takes the experience with the dissertation and goes a step further to show what it means in the broader narrative of how she approaches people and her work. In other words – it answers the “so what?” question. These moments of reflection can also be a chance to connect yourself to the values of the institution and position for which you are applying.
  • As a student, it can often feel like you have no experience. But you do! It’s just a matter of taking those experiences you do have and extrapolating to how they would apply to other circumstances. So in this case, Amanda does a great job of showing how working as a dissertation and webmaster apply to other circumstances and to the position for which she’s applying. I often tell students to think of it like roleplaying. If you were in the position, what experiences have you had that you could imagine helping you? Write about them. Sometimes trying to imagine yourself doing the work can help you think further about how to present yourself for the application.
  • Lastly I would note that it’s important to consider the practical skills you gain from doing digital work as distinct from the research aspects of that work. To be sure, they’re both tightly joined in practice. But it’s all too easy to get to the end of a digital project on Victorian archives and think, “this has given me experience with Victorian research and digital archives.” But there is also a whole range of other “soft skills” that such work gives you experience in – project management, software development, project promotion, etc. These are all things you can have experience in and they are also things you can discuss critically! Reflections on these parts of the process are often of immense use to other scholar practitioners. Think of them as experiences but also as potential objects of scholarly inquiry.

My work has always been interdisciplinary in both topic and methodology. A few of my diverse past DH projects include:

* Co-organizing the first digital humanities and games unconference (THATCamp Games)
* Developer on the “Making DH More Open” team’s Braille WordPress plugin
* Data visualization and topic modeling of Digital Humanities Quarterly to explore DH citation networks (recipient of the inaugural ACH Microgrant)
* Team teaching and design of a DH course for UMD’s Digital Cultures and Creativity undergrads
* Librarian-aimed user testing and documentation for BitCurator’s archival digital forensics tools

I offer excellent communication, teaching, and presentation skills, and am especially deft at research use of social media (over 2,000 Twitter followers) and blogging (over 22,000 unique blog visitors to date). I’ve worked in a number of pertinent roles: as a librarian and digital archivist, university teacher and student, web developer, and DH center staff, as well as alongside others in these roles. This background gives me inside experience of the different needs and values of these important scholarly constituents. After working on interdisciplinary teams for six years at one of the world’s top digital humanities research centers, I’m a skilled translator between tech and non-tech colleagues, and my research best thrives through collaboration.

  • I think the reference to social media work here is useful. When I was hired at the Lab, they specifically cited my blogging and presence on Twitter as assets. You might not think about that kind of public outreach as tangible work, but it is! It’s often helpful to think about the value you bring to the institution beyond your research and teaching. This framing can be especially useful for positions beyond the tenure track in libraries or otherwise.
  • One thing I notice about Amanda’s letter is that it really speaks to the diverse experiences she had when she applied to the position. That’s great! In academia I think we are sometimes challenged to think of ourselves as this coherent narrative where all roads lead to a single path. But, in practice, we have all sorts of experiences. And that broad background can be part of your narrative. We don’t all fit into neat boxes.

I’d love to discuss how my background in digital humanities service, training, research, and building would complement the Purdue University Libraries’ learner-centered mission! Thank you for your time and consideration.

  • Small point, but it’s often quite clear when a single cover letter has been sent out to multiple institutions with the name of one simply subbed for another. There are small ways to flag that you actually are applying for this specific position at this specific place, and this is an example of them. That’s to say, I like that Amanda doesn’t just say she is a good fit, she connects her experience to the mission of the institution in this last moment. It can be difficult to figure out what that mission is (in the Scholars’ Lab we have an explicit statement about our values), but you could get clues from events, projects, research, and similar initiatives undertaken by the institution. If they’re committing time and energy to it, they care about it.
  • In terms of thinking about how to find out the character of an institution, specific events or projects can help. But there are often large, general questions you could ask about a place that could help you think about their mission. Is it a small liberal arts college or an R1 institution? Is this a DH center you would be hired into or a single position apart from a larger network of support? Is the position part of a library? Is the position hired for a particular grant or is it sourced on hard money? Are we talking about an institution of teaching? higher education? cultural heritage? What sort of audience / public does the institution tend to cater to? There are a number of large buckets like these that institutions tend to fall into. While each organization is unique, thinking about large categories like these can help provide clues to what this particular one is about.


  1. The coiner of the word “meritocracy” intended it to ridicule the very ideas folks now use the term to convey.

  2. I remember seeing a tweet recently where someone connected the infamous image of the bullet hole locations on the surviving planes to listening to some kind of job advice selectively—maybe listening to folks who got hired about what not to ask during interviews? If you know who tweeted this and wouldn’t mind, please let me know so I can cite them (@literature_geek on Twitter/visconti@virginia.edu). It’s important to record where ideas came from, even in smaller things like this post.

  3. Brandon’s title has been expanded over the course of his work here; at the time of hiring, it was “Head of Graduate Programs”.

  4. We thought this be more broadly useful to students than the cover letter for her current job, as that fits leaving a faculty role to direct a lab, rather than locating one’s first post-PhD job.


Some reasons why you should share your job materials online

My instinct, when I first thought about putting my job application materials online, was that it was a terrible idea.

It’s awkward to publicly share documents that are weird, gloating representations of achievement — the kind of self-aggrandizing language that I would never use outside of a job application.

It’s also uncomfortable to share documents that are flawed, imperfect, and dated. My job materials make promises that I never fulfilled, and represent ideas that have since changed significantly. They were never intended to live on past the submission date, and I have to admit that I remain afraid that when you read them, you too will realize that I’m an imposter in the academic field.

I can only hope, as you read my documents (which are available on this website), that you will read them with generosity.

So why did I put my job materials online?

I put them online because I identified a third source of discomfort behind my instinct to keep my materials private. I had a deep, sincere anxiety that if I were to put these documents online, it would break the rules. The job application process is shrouded in secrecy, and while I wasn’t entirely sure why that was the case, I had a feeling it might tank my career to speak up.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that I couldn’t identify a single legitimate justification for that secrecy. What I began to realize is that the secrecy is part of a greater system designed to limit access to academia and to maintain the status quo.

Without a public repository of sample materials, the way people learn about the job market is by reading the small number of public resources available, by getting training through their departments, and by getting information from their personal networks of advisors, mentors, and friends. I believe that this is the legacy of an era when jobs were primarily acquired through nepotism: when a faculty member at a prestigious institution could make a call and get his student a job.

I cannot speak for your feelings, but I know now that part of what was motivating me to hide my job materials was the desire to hold on to the advantages that system has provided me. I went to a prestigious university, worked with brilliant and supportive mentors. I am a beneficiary of an inequitable structure, and I feared, at a deep and unconscious level, that to share my materials would tip the balance of privilege against me. In a highly competitive market, I feared the possibility of a more equal playing field.

What I have come to believe is that as much as I might enjoy the privileges of that system, it does not serve us as a community to sustain inequity in the job market. Transparency around the secret processes behind the job market is the only way to make sure that all the brilliant scholars who do not have access to information — because of their upbringings, because of their institutions, because of the people they work with — have a more equal chance to be recognized for the merit of their work.

I also hope that increased job market transparency will help make people on the market now feel a little less alone. For many of us, graduate school makes us feel like we are desperately behind, unqualified, and somehow unaware of key information that we should already know. While there are things that are hard for good reason (it will never, ever be easy to write a dissertation), the anxiety of job-market-imposter-syndrome does not serve a good pedagogical purpose. It serves the purpose, once again, of maintaining the status quo by introducing additional barriers to success for those whose background or training put them at a disadvantage.

Finally, I’ll say this: it’s been incredibly easy to share my job market materials. I chose to share materials from a few years ago — from job searches that are long since over, and about projects that have changed substantially. These antiquated materials have very little to do with my work as I understand it now. What’s more, I’ve found, as I always do, that being public about the imperfections of my work and about my professional struggles has led to nothing but growth and support from the academic community.

I hope you’ll join me in making your materials available online. If you’re a humanist who has been on the academic job market in the last five years, consider adding your documents to the humanities commons group. Take a look at our guidelines for tips on scope, documents, and uploading processes.

And please share widely. One day, humanities programs will receive the funding they deserve, and the process of applying to jobs will become less onerous and more hopeful. In the meantime, as we wait and advocate for that day, I really believe we can make this process a little bit better for everyone.

Thank you.


Welcome to the Academic Job Market Support Network. We host information and resources relating to job searches. Right now our main purpose is to share sample job materials, which are available on the ‘files’ page.


This group is open to anyone, but we are primarily concerned with supporting humanities PhDs (abd and post-grad) who are pursuing academic careers. We are open to any discipline but have historically focused on digital humanities and language and literature materials, and we host materials for the full range of potential academic jobs, from TT to postdoc, VAP, lectureships, and adjunct positions. We are institution agnostic (ivies, R1s, regional publics, SLACS, community colleges are all welcome) and have some alt-ac materials, mostly for jobs directly relating to doctoral training (i.e. academic librarianship).

Want to contribute?

As a member, you can add your materials by uploading them to the ‘docs’ page. This a great way to support current and future applicants, thank you! We do ask you follow the following principles:

  1. Be selective: we know, you’ve written hundreds of documents. But please follow these guidelines:
    1. Submit no more than one document from each genre/job type to the site.
    2. Only submit documents that were ‘successful’ – that is, applications where you proceeded to the interview stage.
  2. Submit as PDFs: not everyone has Word.
  3. Protect your privacy: Make sure you remove your mailing address and other personal details.
  4. Include area-specific info: In the title or description, describe:
    1. The type of doc (“cover letter”)
    2. The type of job (“VAP”)
    3. The field/department (“English”)
    4. The year (“2016”)
    5. edit: It’s just now occurring to me we should think about nation, like U.S., Canada, UK, Europe… since the markets are so different!
  5. Categorize your files: Use the above information (document type, job type, department, and year) to select categories. This will make it easy for users to sort or search for the kind of documents they’re looking for.