Dispatches from The Job Market: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Existential Terror. This Week, Interfolio!

September 28, 2012 § 3 Comments

I have been on some damn market or another a total of five times since 2005. The first was for my MFA program (I applied to 10 schools and was accepted by 2, one of which was Emerson College, which I chose because Boston seemed like a good place to wear autumn sweaters and solemnly drink coffee); the second in the attempt to escape Emerson and transition to PhD programs in…who cares, whatever, anything other than this, because as it turns out autumn sweaters are overrated, to say nothing of solemnity (I applied to and was rejected by 4 programs in areas for which I had no training, go figure); the third for the English PhD because I wanted to study political humor, yes, sure, ok (I applied to 10 schools and was accepted by UO); the fourth in the attempt to escape UO and transition to USC because of a massive Vitamin D deficiency (this was a FAIL.JPG); and, finally, in 2012, for my first stab at academic jobbery (which apparently is a real word?). As always, the process is weird and overwhelming and makes one feel like a dumbass — any scrap of self-doupt you’ve stored away in your sadness reserves will come fluttering out of your hair the second you sit down to write your job letter. The trick is to dust off your best Courage Wolf bodysuit and keep moving, because the alternative is far worse. Still! The process is just terrible; see above.

The one thing I have enjoyed is seeing how the application times have changed. Back in my day, well one of my days, we used to mail our application materials, and have professors print letters on official department letterhead. They’d even scribble their names over the envelope seal, to ensure confidentiality (it was a simpler time). This process was just the WORST, because getting academics to print out a single Word document takes at least 6 weeks. Depending on whether the institution wanted the profs to mail their letters themselves, or if they could mail their letters to the applicant (who could then submit their entire application in a nice tidy bundle), things could get even more complicated.

Between my first and second round of applications, more and more schools began abandoning ye olde hard copies in favor of online application portals. Instead of having to rely on the post office, or the printer hooked up to your Dell Inspiron laptop, you’d merely input your recommenders’ email addresses and the school would generate an automated letter request. The professor would upload his or her document, and then boom application complete. Depending on the professor’s level of technological competence (usually ranging from “none” to “yahoo mail”), this process could be a vast improvement or its own kind of WORST — many professors still opted to mail in their letters, because of the newfangled whatsits.

But KIDS THESE DAYS now have the Interfolio, which streamlines the process even further — now recommenders only need upload one document to one website once, which means that letter seekers no longer have to fall asleep crying because their recommenders keep missing submission deadlines. At least, that’s how the process is supposed to work. In practice, the transition from online application to self-serve letter submission has proven to be just as uneven, and just as annoying, as the transition from paper to online applications. Some schools do the new thing, and some schools still do the old thing, and the schools that do one are often unable to support applicants doing the other.

For example, schools that use specialized application forms/portals often don’t give an option for Interfolio letter submission. Technically one can opt to submit letters via the unique Interfolio email addresses assigned to each letter (which, when entered into an online application, pings Interfolio, whose robots then send whatever letter to whatever requested destination — hat tip to whoever came up with that idea), but if there are any supplemental questions on the recommender form (“on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the applicant’s personal hygiene”), said robots can only populate whatever field with N/A — not exactly ideal when your whole damn life is riding on this one round of applications. In those cases, an applicant can either choose to forge ahead anyway, or decide to do things the new old fashioned way and sheepishly email his or her recommenders asking for ONE MORE FAVOR.

In conclusion, everything that is old new is new old again, and the problem, as always, is that old new institutions have trouble communicating with new new institutions, and as soon as everyone is on the same page, some even newer new thing will come along and start the whole process over again, as it was written, forever.


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§ 3 Responses to Dispatches from The Job Market: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Existential Terror. This Week, Interfolio!

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