#Medrhet & the Job Market

As we’re moving through the summer, the social media crew (Maria Novotny, Lori Beth De Hertogh, and Rachel Bloom-Polar) have been posting some intriguing topics on twitter and the Flux Facebook group. We’re working toward having some additional content appear here to intersect with those topics.

Last week the topic was how to negotiate the job market with a #medrhet focus. Since summer is the perfect time to be working on job market materials and doing some hard thinking about that process, this topic was the perfect one to expand.

The job market is tricky, and it’s getting tighter. While good jobs are still possible in composition/rhetoric, that area is now overproducing graduates or for those who want to immediately disagree, I’ll go as far as to say that it’s bordering on that. The numbers of graduate programs 90+ and the number of jobs, around 200 tell their own story. My number of jobs separate out the technical and professional communication jobs because my own research and close attention to the job market in that area has shown that many TPC jobs will go unfilled rather than fill them with someone who doesn’t fit. (Read another way,  rather than fill them with someone who has no work in the area and only a composition degree.) In TPC, the number of jobs with specializations preferred and the number of graduates are still at a mis-match, which means in TPC the best candidates are experiencing a buyer’s market.

There are a number of job search types, such as  a wide net search (applying for all jobs that you feel you are qualified for all across the country); a limited search (targeting just the jobs that you are ideally qualified for in specific locations or specific types of institutions); a geographically limited search (usually based on you or your partner’s inability to move from the region you currently live in); alt-ac positions (those positions that alternative to traditional academic jobs, which normally starts with a position within higher ed but traditional tenure-track faculty); or jobs in industry. In every case, you need to decide on a couple of things first

  • who you are as a candidate
  • what you want out of the job

Who you are as a candidate means you need to know what skills and expertise you have that can complement the place you’re applying. What you want out the job is a bigger question that hinges on other life factors (e.g., your partner and their job or knowing that you don’t want to do research all the time, etc.). Neither one of these things are easy to figure out, but both are essential to having a successful job search.

All jobs are not the same, and you have to prepare yourself and your materials for the type of job you want. That means you really need to know who you are as a scholar and a teacher. A big part of that is situating your identity as a #medrhet scholar and teacher into the overall landscape. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re doing from rhetoric and composition, TPC, or Comm studies with a rhetorical bent. That means you’re probably looking at jobs in those areas. For the purpose of the job market those are your primary areas (however you define yourself) and then #medrhet is a specialization (and then the area you study within it is a further away to define yourself).

For example, no one would dispute that I identify as a TPC scholar. I’m definitely a generalist in TPC because of my background and what I research, but I do have some areas where I have strengths such as my ability to teach any of the technology heavy courses (such as web design or information design or content management) and I know a lot of method/ologies. This latter point bridges TPC with who I am as a #medrhet scholar. I also intersect with my research in #medrhet that looks at the impact of technology on health communication and literacy. I usually don’t use myself as an example, but in this case, it’s apt because you should be able to see from my description how I would position myself in the job market.

See how specific that is and how I can then look at job ads to see where I may be a better fit than others. I need to match what the ads say to what type of job that I want. In the storify embedded below, Kristin Krondlik makes EXCELLENT points about figuring out how your work and interests can fit in with a  teaching school. In TPC, the majority of programs are at regional universities, and applying for those jobs is quite different from applying for an R1 research job. IF you don’t understand those differences, then reach out and ask someone. We have  a wide network of folks that work at those types of schools who would be happy to answer questions about their jobs and what it’s like to work there.

A big key to your job materials is to be sure to take time to show how your work and expertise can fit the school to which you are applying.  Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to customize a letter to every school, but you may want to consider writing custom letters to your top five or ten schools based on the other demands on your time during job market season. While your work is fabulous, job search committees want to see how it connects to their department and institution, that is, how you can make them better. Right now many universities, big and small, are emphasizing work around health and medicine. It’s important to try to understand some of this initiatives–particularly at the campus visit stage–and how you can contribute.

While the majority of job seekers will stick to typical jobs, the alt-ac scene or jobs in other locations are a bit more open to #medrhet scholars because of our diverse and truly interdisciplinary backgrounds. If this is more of your style, look at job listings within the university job portals or do a more non-anademic search and look at ads from other national organizations such as American Medical Writers, American Public Health Association, federal and state level jobs in health/medical related departments, and at organizations (such as large hospital or insurance systems) for jobs that may suit your strengths and interests.

No matter what type of job you’re looking for, work diligently on being able to

  • talk about what you do AND why it’s important in a way that any non-specialist will understand
  • highlight your skills and expertise that match the job ad
  • show how you can contribute in positive ways to the department and/or the institution
  • demonstrate your knowledge of the broad area to which you identify, as well as your #medrhet area

Scan through the storify for more details.

Use the summer to be working on your materials, and don’t be shy about reaching out for help with questions or for someone to read your materials. The #medrhet community is a thriving and more so, it is generous.