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.