Thursday, December 02, 2010

Highs and Lows of the Academic Wikiverse

Gone are the days of waiting for the post.
I have no idea whether most of the readers of this blog are simultaneously on both the academic job market and the non-academic job market, or exclusively on one or the other, but I'm pretty sure that, either way, most have heard of the Academic Jobs Wiki [aka Wiki].

This little gem came into existence several years ago, when I was an A.B.D., and has provided countless hours of entertainment, excitement, misery, anxiety and horror for thousands of doctoral students and Ph.D.s across the country. So completely has the Wiki taken over the academic job market that search committee members now deign to post updates there too. [FYI: They also read it to learn what the applicants are gossiping about or what horrible, petty things they're saying to one another. The Wikiverse can be a cruel, cruel place.]

Those who read and frequently post comments on the Wiki [aka the Wikiusers] usually have a love-hate relationship with the group. They love knowing, almost immediately, what the search committee members are up to at any given university where they've applied for a job. They love feeling like the Wiki is helping lowly job applicants stick it to "the man" by granting anyone and everyone access to the inner workings of a hiring process that has remained shrouded in mystery, confusion, and, all too often, total silence--for decades. Now the tables have turned, they say; now the applicants have the power! Wikusers unite! (Even if the vast majority are still unemployed at the end of the day.)

Like many addicts, however, true Wikiusers also admit that they hate how much time they spend pouring over the job listings, frantically looking to see if other applicants have received acknowledgements or requests for writing samples or preliminary interviews or on-campus interviews or, dum dah dah dum, job offers. While normal people check Facebook or whatever first thing in the morning, academic job seekers keep hitting up the Wiki day and night, hoping for news or answers or rumors or false leads, anything that will breathe life into a tedious and ridiculously drawn-out search process.

Just give me one more Wikihit. Just one more! Please!!

The first year I went on the market the Wiki was like morphine for me, minus the fun times. I was on there 24-7. The thrill of knowing something, anything, about the academic job market and who was interested in whom kept me going throughout the hiring cycle. But I also found myself despairing when confronted with an inevitable Wikijection [i.e. when you realize that while other posters are advancing in the search process, the jig is up for you]. Wikijections are swift and brutal but they enable applicants to start the grieving process sooner rather than later, and believe me when it comes to receiving official rejections in academe, later is usually WAY later, like months and months from now or never.

I know it's (probably) wrong to pilfer the wiki and use posters' words without their explicit consent, but I'd like to close with the following comment on the state of the academic job market by a Wikiuser. It was just too good to pass up. Why not enable this particular A.B.D. to reach a larger audience, here or elsewhere? Besides, I've noticed that even authors publishing first-person or advice pieces in The Chronicle of Higher Ed, or blogging for the CHE, have incorporated wiki comments into their articles, so I'm certainly not alone in my pilfering. Wikiusers everywhere beware: anyone can read your words; anyone can pilfer; almost anyone, if they choose, can figure out your identity.

I have a grad-school friend (a single, footloose, continent-trekker moving from VAP to VAP) who likens it [the pursuit of academic employment]  to professional baseball--you pay your dues in the minor leagues for a few years, putting up with job insecurity, low pay, and far-flung locales, and then you reach the "major league" of a t-t job. To which I reply that major league baseball is millions of dollars, five-star hotels, star-struck fans, and amoral groupies. [here here!]

Whereas a tenure-track job is $50,000/year [if you're lucky] to fight with colleagues, desperately suck up to childish journal referees as though your life depended on it (it does), and cajole mostly disconnected students in a place that you wouldn't even drive past [or use the porta potty at the rest stop] had you chosen any other career. And that outcome makes you extremely lucky and a superstar amongst your former grad-school colleagues.

For me (and I bet a lot of others), it started as some amorphous thing that I thought would be fun to do, and morphed into an unhealthy obsession. Now I'm frantically checking the wiki, desperate for the privilege of paying $800 to go to Boston and take a 1 in 12 shot at landing somewhere called Institute, West Virginia. I recognize that this is my own choice, but I do think the system is fundamentally broken.

NB: Originally posted under the "Alternate Jobs?" section on the U.S. History, 2010-11 Wiki page:,_2010-2011&curid=16752&diff=123206&oldid=123137

Are you a current or former Wikiuser who needs to put the pipe or needle down for a moment and vent? Feel free to do so here.


Anonymous said...

This was an extremely timely entry. This is my second time on the market and the first time that I have been so dependent on the wikis. It is definitely to the point where I am actually checking updates in bed.

Corinne said...

Me too. I'm a little wiki whore. Can't get enough this month due to the anxiety of waiting and wondering pre-MLA, and I feel ashamed to admit it. Whenever my partner catches me on my laptop, I try to pretend I'm doing something productive in another window. But he knows better . . .

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