Call for Horror Stories

Two of my future columns for Vitae are probably going to be about the dreaded Wiki and conference interviews. I have my share of horror stories from both of these august steps on the road to washed-up non-scholardom, but I am looking for more. In the comments, or in an email, please send me the following, if you’d like your story (anonymized, of course) to appear in a future column:

1) any experiences you had with Wiki obsession

2) the worst of the worst conference interview stories. It is a rare conference interview that is not a demon half-hour from hell, but some are worse than others. I want the worst ones. Skype and phone interviews don’t count–I want in-person clusterfucks where you had to shell out upwards of $1000 for the privilege of whatever particular humiliation they subjected you to.

If I am going to use your story, I will let you know, and I will muddle all details that could possibly be identifying.

10 thoughts on “Call for Horror Stories

  1. I found it ironic that earlier today, my esteemed professional organization posted this FAQ about our next annual meeting–in particular, question #5–given that during my first year of conference interviews, I was shamed by a department head who learned (via pre-interview chit-chat) that I was staying in the conference city an extra day and a half after the conference finished. “Don’t you feel bad about being on vacation when you have a dissertation to finish?” she asked, while giving my CV the side-eye.


  2. Hey Rebecca, can’t wait to read those stories. I suppose this is slightly off-topic, but I wanted to share with you something I’ve witnessed not once, not twice, but several times now from hiring committees. It goes something like this:

    So everyone gets together and trashes all the sparkly new PhDs who think they have a chance at our prestigious and precious R1 department until they can settle on a short list of appropriately Ivy-pedigreed and/or native speaker “advanced assistant” professors who are wanting to change employers: “Well why would we hire anyone straight out of grad school? We can afford to be choosey.” This in spite of the fact that EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. of the hiring committee members had been hired *gasp* straight out of grad school.

    The MLA delegation is assembled, consisting of Distinguished Professor Lady Lovesherselfalot and her two Ladies-In-Waitingforpromotion. The delegation looks and behaves a lot like something out of Mean Girls: “We read Butler on Tuesdays.” And off they go to the MLA.

    They grant audiences to a few peasants at the Ivory Hilton. They exchange pleasantries with these peasants, perhaps cards, perhaps a few quips. Then, they choose their three campus visit candidates strategically. You see, they already know who they want, and they already had an idea who they wanted before the interviews began. They’ve already chosen their favorite. And so that they can have their favorite, they choose for campus interviews two candidates who they know are absolutely abysmal duds and one stellar and amazing scholar who, although prolific, has the personality and teaching skills of an asthmatic potato. Obviously, the delegation has made the department’s decision already at the MLA. And I think this practice is a lot more common than we realize. We bemoan the practice of inside hiring (or rather, the fake national search that gets our hopes up), and yet we say nothing about the strategic practices of MLA delegations to get the candidates they want. How awful. You land an elusive campus interview and you don’t know whether you’re the dud or the star. I guess when the hiring letters go out you know which one you are.


  3. I once had a conference interview that opened not with a question but with a 15 minute summary from the search chair of all the things that he disagreed with in my writing sample. He finally allowed me to speak when he asked, “with your background, what makes you think you are entitled to a job at our university?” The question referred to my non-Ivy PhD. So, I was interviewed in order to be reminded of my place, even though at the time I had a book contract with a top press in my field. A few years later, I ran into the search chair at a conference and he then insulted me and the institution that currently employs me by saying, “I didn’t know people at [your] university did any research.” We were in the book exhibit at my press’s table, standing right in front of my book.


  4. Possibly worst conference interview was in a dark, small hotel room at MLA. It was with the department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton.

    A famous professor was reclined on the bed, sitting up against the headboard, supported by pillows, feet straight out; wearing glasses and surrounded by piles of files. A mysterious woman was sitting uncomfortably on the luggage stand. I sat on the only chair.

    Famous professor talked. He had barely read my vita and asked no questions, but read a sheet of paper outlining job conditions: xx,xxx salary for ABDs, xx,xxx salary if your PhD is in hand by the time you start, etc. That was pretty much it.


  5. Please give me more details as to how exactly this works and if there are any costs involved. Please don’t have anyone call me, just send me an email reply. Thank you. Sarah.


    • How could anyone call you? We don’t have your number! Just leave a horror story in the comments anonymously, or email it to me using the link under “about me/contact.” It will only cost you whatever dignity your original experience lost you, and may or may not appear (anonymized and with identifying details removed) in a future article.


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