In the middle of an Interview Bootcamp with a client yesterday, I suddenly realized with a jolt, and to my horror, that I had inexplicably and senselessly forgotten one of the major #Facepalm Fails of the academic interview in my earlier post on that subject.
The Fail is: “Tell us about your next project.”
Do you know how many candidates have no answer prepared for this? My figures are never scientific, but I’d guess, among my clients, the percentage is around 85%.
Those of you who have worked with me on your job letter, or read my post Why Your Job Cover Letter Sucks, know that all good job letters have a short paragraph on the second/next project.
That element certainly elicits the most aggrieved grumbling among clients, no doubt about it. “Why should I have a second project already??? I’m not even done with the first one!!! How can I be expected to have a second project when I haven’t even defended my dissertation yet????” etc. etc. etc.
Complaints like these reveal, once again, your profound misunderstanding of the nature of the tenure track position and the tenure track search.
Tenure track searches are expensive, draining, and ridiculously time consuming. When a search is done and a hire is made, outside of a tiny group of Ivy League schools that do not tenure their assistant professors, the understanding is that the person hired is tenurable.
Anyone who does not appear tenurable will not be offered the tenure track job to begin with. Nobody wants to go through the sturm und drang of a tenure track search for nothing.
I pause to point out that I’ve recently come to understand, through work with a specific subset of clients, that this issue of “tenurability” is one of the leading distinctions between VAP, Adjunct, and Instructor applications, and effective tenure-track applications. Many individuals who are either mis-informed about tenure track applications, or who have spent many years in the VAP and adjunct track, are unaware of the ways that they signal a LACK of tenurability in their job cover letters, interviews, and self-presentation in general. Although they are seeking tenure track work, the applications they send out scream “I AM A PERENNIAL ADJUNCT!”
One of the primary ways that they do that, is by not specifying a plausible major second/next project.
Let me explain.
As a Department Head for five years at an R1 institution, I put five junior faculty through their (successful) tenure cases. In all cases, the tenure case hinged primarily on the candidate’s research profile. Teaching and service played a role, but research reigned supreme. The research profile, in order to be successful, had to show what we usually called an “arc” of scholarly productivity, and sometimes called a scholarly trajectory.
This arc or trajectory articulated strong forward momentum from the dissertation through the refereed publications deriving from the dissertation, through a “major next project” that emerged organically and coherently from a set of consistent scholarly or thematic preoccupations, with funding, conference papers, and publications based on this second project anticipated or achieved. The arc demonstrated, more than anything else, that the candidate would not become deadwood after tenure, but would continue to produce high profile scholarly work during the sabbatical year post tenure, and into the foreseeable future.
We have all heard about how at certain elite institutions two books are now required for tenure. That is still the exception (although be prepared for that if you are applying/interviewing at one of those schools). At my two R1 institutions (in book fields), two books were not required, but a first book and a second book-length project clearly articulated and anticipated through funding, conference papers, and some preliminary publications absolutely was. You could not get tenure without the second project.
The second project demonstrates that you are not a one hit wonder, a flash in the pan, a dilettante, a space cadet, a graduate student, etc. etc., but rather, the real deal, a scholar of the first rank, with a sustained program of research that extends out into the future, motivated by enduring scholarly convictions and a commitment to a scholarly community and its members.
A dialogue recently popped up on the Professor Is In’s Facebook page, that this second/next project might IN REALITY be something totally random that you pull out of your ass for the sake of the job market, and then only retrospectively narrate as part of a consistent and sustained scholarly project. That’s fine. It really doesn’t matter. Pull away. The point is, you need a second/next project, because it demonstrates that you think like a tenure-track—ie, TENURABLE—faculty member, and not like an adjunct who is marking out their career semester by semester, or year by year.
So, candidates, get a second/next project, STAT. It should derive, as I said, organically from a consistent set of preoccupations and concerns to the previous project, so that you don’t look like a dilettante or manic, but it should differ sufficiently to be a genuinely new and original realm of inquiry. You should be able to speak of it intelligently in terms of the methodologies you’ll use, the funding you’ll seek, and the scope of publications you anticipate. And you will articulate it as another major intervention into your field or fields.