Assistant Professor of History at James Madison University and a 2011 graduate of the CUNY-GC History Program
I remember going to one of the job market roundtables hosted by the department at which one professors said that as a member of a search committee he refused to consider anyone who hadn’t yet completed the Ph.D (which, unfortunately, they didn’t bother to mention in the job ad). While I suspect that’s true at many schools, I, and others, began applying shortly before the degree and landed several AHA interviews. I didn’t get any of those jobs and it wouldn’t be until I actually had the degree that I did get a job, but the reason I failed to secure a job during the first year had nothing to do with the fact that I wasn’t finished. There were other legitimate reasons. If nothing else, those experiences prepared me for the second time around and it made the whole process much easier as I had already done much of the work assembling the many moving parts of the job application.
I suspect that a lot of senior faculty realize that it’s useful to have historians who have digital skills and they have come to expect that young faculty members will have some technological chops. For the courses I taught while working as a Chancellor’s Fellow, I created a very simple course website through WordPress. In almost all of my interviews this came up and I found that search committee members were over-impressed by the site. So I think a little bit of technology know-how can go a long way.
As it so happens, I have a background in doing Public History, but nonetheless I found that search committees, history departments, and institutions as a whole are beginning to value historical scholarship that transcends traditional coursework. They may not always call it public history, but I think if GC students, in the classes they teach, incorporate assignments in which their students get out into the real world and actually create something that lives beyond the semester (perhaps digitally) they are likely to find the experience rewarding. Departments are always thinking about partnering with local institutions and if applicants already have experiences designing creative assignment; bridging networks to libraries, museums, archives, etc; and having students work with primary sources in their own communities I think it could serve as an asset.
Several people told me that for each interview I needed to learn as much as I could about the institution, the department, and the professors. I think some candidates think about this in the wrong way. I remember Prof. Burke, during a mock AHA interview that he so graciously volunteered to do, asking me which two faculty members I would want to work with (as if historians ever work in teams!). He then suggested (as many others would) that I should brush up on the scholarship of the professors in the department. In none of my interviews did anyone expect that I know anything about any of the professors or the work that they did (this might be different if one was interviewing at Harvard). And while I do think it’s wise to know what the strengths of a department are so one can pitch him/herself in a way that will complement and not overlap existing scholarly pursuits, I think that candidates who come to interviews asking about Prof. Smartypant’s book on Boring Subjects run the risk of sucking up too much. Nonetheless, I think applicants need to do a lot of homework about the school, but I think the focus should be geography. They should think about the local cultural institutions and resources that they might use for assignments in their classes and the places where both the would-be professor and his/her students might conduct research. Referencing these kind of opportunities, rather than referencing books and articles written by current department members can, I think, show that he/she has done his/her homework, thought seriously about working in that institution, and already has plans for taking advantage of the university’s resources, including those beyond the walls of the campus.