Dear Search Committee,
I am writing to submit my application for the position of XXX at your institution. I believe that my research, teaching, and professional experience would be well-suited within your department and institution.
But you most likely won’t interview me. This isn’t self-effacement or a lack of confidence in my credentials or abilities, but a cold reality given the academic job market.
Truth be told, out of the hundreds (perhaps even approaching thousands at this point) of applicants you have received for this position, I won’t stand out; there are no illustrious research awards, no prestigious grants, no publications in high-ranking journals, no fancy letterhead on my letter or the letters from my references. I have taken an unusual path, too, during my academic career: a comparative literature PhD who has taught almost exclusively writing classes recently, publishing primarily on French authors while applying for English positions. And those things that would make me stand out, blogging for Inside Higher Ed and community-building through social media, probably do not factor very highly on the list of priorities you are looking for in a candidate.
The research I do is important and has value. Merging textual and postcolonial studies, in order to gain a better and more complete answer to the question, “who made these texts” whether in French or in English is vital if we are to understand the larger, global systems (commercial, cultural, political, institutional) in place that place limitations on postcolonial authors and subjects. How, in turn, these authors work to resist and subvert these limitations has long been a question of postcolonial studies, but my approach crosses linguistic and national boundaries in a comparative perspective. The work started during my dissertation and continues with my study of Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferriere. As I continue my research, I will continue to look at emerging and established literatures from postcolonial and marginal situations.
I am also exploring ways that my research can be informed and enriched by Digital Humanities. Three years ago, I didn’t even know what Digital Humanities were. In a short time, despite a heavy teaching load and zero institutional support, I have joined a national DH research consortium (Editing Modernism in Canada) as a co-applicant and advisory counsel member, presented at the pre-eminent international DH conference, and experimented with new ways to share and disseminate my research using digital tools. I’ve come far, but I know I still have a long way to go. With the security and support of a tenure-track position, I know that I can advance even further in my work with digital humanities.
My teaching has been at public institutions, specifically ones that are geared towards traditionally underrepresented populations (a Primarily Hispanic Institution; an HBCU, and a rural, regional state institution). At each, I have been successful, adapting my teaching for the various audiences and populations. I am also always evolving in my pedagogy (which I openly blog about), having now moved towards empowering students to do more building in my classes, digital or otherwise. I have also embraced a more peer-driven learning approach when applicable to my teaching, empowering students to take ownership of their educations’ in my classes. I also started a successful Twitter chat directed towards First-Year Composition instructors, and our core group has presented at the NCTE and CCCC. Teaching doesn’t happen alone, and I believe in forming a strong community both inside and outside of the classroom.
Finally, I am a devoted citizen of the university. I am currently a part of the President’s Leadership Academy, and far form having “drank the (administration’s) Kool-Aid” I am honestly trying to learn how the public university works in order to better work within the system to improve it. My record speaks for itself in this regard: I am not afraid to get involved. I have worked as a member of department committees, university committees, national organizations, and local movements. I’m willing to get my hands dirty.
All of this is also just a small piece of who I am as an academic and as a professional. I’ve been working in what are now known as alt-ac positions part-time and am actively also searching for a full-time one alongside this current academic job search. This experience would be invaluable for both your undergraduate and graduate students who are certainly looking for this kind of guidance alongside traditional academic mentorship.
None of this, ultimately, will probably make a difference, and this letter and CV and list of references and writing sample and teaching statement and whatever else I’ve included will be set aside for a long list of more stellar candidates, many of whom I know personally and will be very happy for (and you will be very happy with). I do not envy your jobs at the moment, having to see first-hand in the endless piles of quality letters and credentials and awards that are clamoring to work at your institution the end results of the casualization of the faculty at large. This letter will stand out as an anomaly, but won’t make the cut. I appreciate that you have read this far. Best of luck in your search.
Lee Skallerup Bessette, PhD