One-Body Problem Postscript: Don’t Be Sibyl, Be Selective

By Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

In response to my series on “The One Body Problem,” reader S.R. asked me to

“say a little more about ways of managing these different roles psychologically and mentally? How to switch between roles quickly and without lag time? How to switch on the right persona at the right time, without letting the ‘other’ persona seep in or otherwise get in the way??

These are great (and TOUGH) questions!

Let me start by saying that a dual Ac/Alt search is definitely easier for people who are more extroverted or have experience with improvisational modes – they don’t hold any given persona too tightly and are quick to follow the cues of any given situation.  The multi-pronged search will be particularly draining not only for those who like familiar routines, but also for shy or introverted people, especially when the Alt/Post search involves entering new arenas.

This is why I discussed personality in Part 3 of the blog series: folks who thrive in predictable structures should NOT choose the “Sibyl” option and should segment their Ac/Alt searches (even within shorter periods of the same year) rather than running simultaneous searches.  You will feel more coherent and efficient this way.  Likewise, very shy or introverted people need to develop a good pace for the networking or application process so you have time to recharge.  In networking, for example, your model might be to make one new contact a week or month, while a more extroverted performer might take a single day to meet with 4 or 5 people.

While you can’t control application deadlines, the configuration of your search process IS something you can shape, so choose logistics you can live. One size does NOT fit all. You need to select whatever process makes you feel most comfortable and competent, not one that drives you crazy.  You may think you are “foregoing” great opportunities if you don’t go all out and apply for anything and everything. But you won’t increase your chances of success if you don’t feel good about, and in, the search process.

A crucial and possibly counterintuitive point: the successful search is NOT a numbers game.  I know folks who applied to 100 jobs and landed 3 interviews and others who applied to only 10 jobs and landed 3 interviews.  In my own case, as I joked in an earlier column (because it’s so improbable), I applied to exactly one tenure track job in the past 3 years and got it.  Success doesn’t depend on the volume of applications, but on their fit.  (And plain, dumb, luck). You need to be discerning and selective about what to apply for, customizing your materials as much as possible to emphasize that fit.  Networking helps a lot – both by informing you about what an employer is really looking for, and (especially in the Alt/Post-Ac world) increasing the chances that they may actually solicit your application.

To the larger points raised by S.R., I would use the analogy of being bilingual. There’s a double learning curve to developing fluency in two languages and it needs to be front loaded. However, once a general competency is achieved, switching back and forth is more organic or seamless. Your vocabulary or roles become very familiar and it doesn’t take much mental work to re-enter them. In the case of job-searching, the process is supported by written documents which get more refined with experience and can readily “remind” you of who you need to be in any given context.  In fact, revising those documents is itself the “rehearsal” that prepares you to play your part(s) with conviction.

Of course, as with bilingual folks, occasionally the “other” words seep out. That is par for the course and usually the stakes aren’t high for small foibles or mix-ups.  It’s the larger struggles you need to watch out for – i.e. mixed vocabulary or genres that will make you seem incoherent or unintelligible in any given application.  This probably means you are too tired, working too quickly, or have taken on too much volume in applications to pay sufficiently nuanced attention.  Remember, it’s not a numbers game.  It’s about finding the fit. You know you have a good fit when the words and ideas come easily, when you DON’T have trouble remembering your persona in a particular application context.

If the dual search process ends up feeling too difficult or inauthentic to you, it’s a clue that you are barking up the wrong tree(s). Even with the logistical challenges and mental complexity involved in the One Body problem,” you should still feel surges of positive engagement and interest in both paths: otherwise you shouldn’t be on them – they’re not for you, and you won’t be a convincing applicant.

Finally, though, there’s the possibility of a really wonderful form of “seepage” where the dual process reveals a BRIDGE between searches and personas: when something from the academic side illuminates a contribution you might make to an Alt-Ac job or vice-versa — something you learned from interviewing for a non-academic position informs a future faculty application. Such moments of resonance or synergy can make you a more compelling applicant on either path and more importantly, continue to clarify who you really are and what you really want.

So, if you can stand it, there is much to be learned from engaging in both academic and Alt/Post-Ac searches over the same general period of time.  But as I delineated in Part 3 of this series, the WAY you do that can and should vary according to your own preferences and needs.  You only have one body.  Take care of it!

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


One-Body Problem Postscript: Don’t Be Sibyl, Be Selective — 1 Comment

  1. Great analysis of the relevant issues! Incredibly helpful because it is nuanced to give you an honest idea of what to expect our there. To me the most difficult thing is actually figuring out where you fit best. This issue of “fit with yourself” is something that I wish we could have some specific pointers to handle. I have seen attempts to provide those. More info on reinventing yourself is always appreciated.

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