Rate My JIL, Post-MLA Cycle Hall of Shame: Ivy League “Writing Programs”

As the Wiki tide turns violent in the run-up to the dreaded MLA conference, my valiant job-seeking friends (and soon-to-be-friends; I can’t wait to see how many anti-Schuman grad students come sniveling to me after their first job market season is over; I notice they’ve already quieted down some!) must turn to the dreaded “secondary market,” which consists primarily of VAPs of varying lengths (some of which really do turn long-term; just ask my husband, who got a “one-year” job at UMSL seven years ago, and is now undergraduate director and chair of the curriculum committee!).

These are the jobs that your adviser–who lives in a nine-bedroom house in a great college town and spends summers in Paris–will condescendingly assure you are “an important step on the way” to the tenure track. “You have to be flexible and willing to move,” says a person who has had the same address since 1983.

But there is also another iteration of the “secondary market,” and that’s what I like to call “glamour-adjuncting” at the Ivy League: dead-end lectureships at Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, etc., where your heart beats in your ears when you apply because you think, “Holy shit, a Harvard affiliation!” but then when you get there you’re treated like a VoTech-school dropout double-Untouchable tainted one, with a job title that doesn’t even begin to resemble anything professorial. Here’s the latest ad for one of these, which I’m delighted to say was brought to my attention by the incredible Sarah Kendzior, after I stalked her family at the Trader Joe’s today (we both live in St. Louis, as both of us have mentioned about ninety-twelve jabillion times).

Harvard, “Preceptor in Expository Writing
Requirements: PhD or ABD in MLA-related discipline (aka, 3000 people already heartbroken by their MLA non-prospects will apply to this shitty, shitty job).

Here are some of the highlights from the absolutely insanely extensive and individualized application the precious Harvard writing program demands:

For the first round, they want, in addition to CV/cover letter/whatevs:

brief one-paragraph descriptions of two courses that you might teach in the Writing Program (the Hiring Committee is interested in hearing ideas for courses that would both fit the Program’s pedagogy well and complement the current roster of Expos 20 courses. Please upload your two course descriptions as a single attachment to the Applicant Document field “Proposed Course Descriptions.”

Don’t worry, job-market losers–you’re not going to get this job (it will go to Harvard PhDs who also struck out on the market!), but at least they’re going to steal your ideas for courses! What a great way to get a bunch of free course plans!

your comments on a student paper uploaded to the Applicant Document field “Paper 1.” Instructions for commenting on a student paper are as follows: Please read the three student drafts, posted below, and choose one on which to comment.

[…] We’ve included the essay assignments, posted as pdf files below, to give you some context for responding to the draft.


Please address your comments to the student writer of the paper. […] Save a copy of the essay with your comments to the student about how to revise this draft. You should include both the margin notes you make on the draft itself as well as your end comments. Please do not comment on every writing issue in the student paper; instead, focus your margin and end comments on the issues that you think are most important for the student to work on for the revision. Upload this document in the ARIeS system to the field “Paper 1.” If you hand-write your notes, please make sure the penmanship is legible. 

Oh, it’s cool, people currently on the job market and heartbroken that another MLA season is a full-on career genocide LOVE spending their time grading fucking papers from imaginary Harvard students. Harvard, if you want to farm your paper grading AND your curriculum planning out for free, just advertise for “predoctoral interns.” I’m sure you’d get just as many takers.

But that is NOT ALL. This application, which looks like it will take upwards of ten hours to complete, also has a litany of “supplementary” questions, including:

How many years of experience do you have teaching undergraduate writing courses?
(DEFINITELY not readily available information on the applicant’s CV)

How many years of experience do you have teaching undergraduates as a graduate student?
(nope, no CV for that!)

 How many years of experience do you have teaching your own course(s) (i.e., not as a discussion section leader)?
(uh, does Harvard not believe in CVs?)

Have you worked in administrative, supervisory, or mentoring capacities in current or past teaching positions, particularly as those capacities relate to the teaching of writing? If so, please briefly explain.
(Who in the everloving fuck is going to be downgrading their life from a supervisory writing-program position to this shitty glamour-adjunct job?)

Do you have experience teaching or working with ESL students? If so, please briefly explain.
(and also explain why you are not then teaching ESL in a much better and cooler country, and instead voluntarily want this awful job?)

Do you have experience teaching basic writing or academically at-risk students? If so, please briefly explain.
(LOL JK we are totally joshing you because Harvard students are all rich as fuck!)

The tenure-track job market is insulting enough–but these glamour-adjuncting waste lands (which, make no mistake, are complete and utter career dead-ends) really take the cake. Speaking of which, I’d really like some cake.



8 thoughts on “Rate My JIL, Post-MLA Cycle Hall of Shame: Ivy League “Writing Programs”

  1. Seriously? Let us put aside for the moment whether or not the job is going to be “real” or not and a serious contender. THEY ARE GOING TO RATE SOMEONE ON HOW THAT PERSON GRADES A PAPER??? Should I laugh or cry? My personal rule (which I learned from a prof but more important _works in my experience_) is that anyone (me included) cannot stand to see too much red ink (or comments in boxes, whatever) on his/her paper and be able to process it. Thus – you get to pick on 3 things, preferably ones that _you have been teaching all semester_ and not ones that a committee is going to “catch” (“OMG she didn’t catch the xyz! Can this person be trusted to teach writing?”) when in fact maybe I am more concerned about, say, sentence fragments that week or passive voice or ANYTHING I HAVE BEEN TEACHING.
    This stunt is worse than having an instructor go in blind to teach someone else’s class – a common practice which always ends in disaster in the best of circumstances and helps _no one_. I guess Academic Freedom, here, also extends only so far. You Will Grade As We Tell You To Grade After We Hire you Because You Graded As One Deciding Vote on the Committee Grades. Ugh.


  2. Priceless. Just priceless. All of it. From ‘doesn’t Harvard read the CV?’ to: “These are the jobs that your adviser–who lives in a nine-bedroom house in a great college town and spends summers in Paris–will condescendingly assure you are “an important step on the way” to the tenure track. “You have to be flexible and willing to move,” says a person who has had the same address since 1983.”


  3. I applied for that gig back in the dark ages of the mid-90s. Got an interview, too. Didn’t get the job. Only the course description was required back then, and they had too many “literary” offerings, they told me. I can only imagine that the applicant pool has increased exponentially in the meantime, so who actually reads these supplementary materials? I’d love to know the algorithm that guides the initial application triage.


  4. Ha – sadly, sometimes I think these very vague one year positions are my only shot (…as do 3000 other people.) The (entry-level!) TT ones in my field are all “we are looking for someone who studies a different part of the world, runs a major research project that can train undergraduates, and also we’d like you to have several years of non-academic but related work experience at a supervisory level so you can run an institute.” Alas, I am a mere mortal, so no. It’d be comparatively easy to make a case for why I’m qualified for a one year position themed around “social sciences and the humanities,” “being human,” “water,” “mobilities,” etc. – by the end of grad school we can all fake that, right?

    I hope you write about more of these sort of positions, because they make the whole sick joke…actually kind of funny.


  5. I am not at all sure why anybody’s shocked by this…until we unionize, and demand that our unions stick up for us, well golly…


  6. If the application is too hard for you, I’m sure the job would be too hard for you, too. What’s especially hilarious is that you probably spent more time on this idiotic blog post than the application required. Good luck in your future complaining endeavors.


    • That idiotic blog post took about 12 minutes, I’ll have you know. But yes, I’m sure that’s it. I am just too stupid to ever hold some glorified adjuncting job where I’m stuck teaching freshman comp. Good thing I make a living off my complaining endeavors now! Meanwhile, speaking of hard–you are aware that you just trolled a woman who not three days ago labored for 29 hours (most of it without painkillers) before having an emergency cesarean, right? Classy as fuck.


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