BullfitPosted: December 17, 2012
I had productive Twitscussions today with Zen (@DoctorZen) and Cedar (@crienrer) about the ubiquitous “tell us how you think you would fit with our department” question. I accept this as a “have you looked at our web site” test. Fine. However, I really think this puts applicants in an unfair position if they are supposed to make a positive argument about their particular desire to work in your department.
As I pointed out, from the applicant’s point of view, the way I “fit” is that you advertised a tenure track position that I would potentially like to have. So did 39 other schools. I am one of 100s, you are one of 10s [correction: if we are talking interviews, you are 1 of 1 or 2 or 3 in most cases] . In applying, I provided documents – a cover letter and research/teaching statements – that are designed to tell you what I am interested in doing, academically, if you hire me. You have medium- or short-listed me based on this. Aren’t we on the same page with “fit” then?
So, either the fit question is disingenuous (did you look at our web site) or it is redundant (do you want to work here). (Although now I’m told that in reality many people DO apply for jobs they don’t want. I can’t quite wrap my head around this, so I’m tabling it.)
Then, a third possibility. This is a question to get you to talk. To get a glimmer of who you are, your priorities, whatever. To sell yourself as a faculty member in THAT deparment at THAT school. To show your enthusiasm for becoming THESE people’s colleagues. I see the utility of that from the SC’s perspective. However, I think it’s deeply unfair. You are asking applicants to dissemble. SC’s have the luxury of choices (but listen to them complain about how many applications they have to look through), applicants generally do not. The power relations here are stark. To expect each applicant – who you KNOW has applied to many jobs – to tap dance to convince you that you are exactly what they’re looking for is uninformative. You are selecting for tap dancers. So, I tap danced. I can convincingly recite attributes of your department and institution as if they’re from my childhood dreams. Whatever.
In real life, I do not GET to honestly say to myself: I want a SLAC with a strong UG research program, or I want R1 with little teaching, or a med school, or an institute, or a big city, or a focused department, or a broad interdisciplinary department, or somewhere I can have a weekend hobby farm, or – god forbid the nuclear fucking bomb — somewhere my spouse and I can both have careers.
So: fuck it. I won’t make those choices. I applied for the jobs where we can imagine the possibility of a future for us. The only way to live through this kind of 2-career anxiety is to take the job specifics out of your future happiness equation.
But yes, for each one, I will pretend they are exactly what I’m looking for, like every other candidate will. But I don’t love your department or your university, and I don’t know you yet… you’re just a place, some strangers, a job, one of many possible futures. It is debasing that I should be expected to have pinned my hopes on one kind of department or school or career path when I have so little control over the small probability of any one of those possibilities working out. And it is debasing to SC’s to let themselves use this kind of gamesmanship as an indicator of what kind of colleague, teacher, or scientist you are.