I just returned from the AHA in New Orleans, where I was asked by a very nice, considerate, and genuinely curious historian: “So, what can we do to make this more fun?” I grumbled something about eliminating the job interviews, but quickly took it back, not wanting to seem to ungrateful for the single interview I had lined up (and believe me, I am grateful!). I’ve been thinking about her question, and I offer here three ideas:
- Eliminate job interviews. It adds too much stress, too many distractions, and too much name-badge reading and ass-kissing. Yeah, the conference would lose money. But I can’t be arsed with that. I see no real reason not to convert to telephone interviews for the first round. Or, if you really want to judge a person by his/her looks, I suppose webcam interviews will work. But enough already with this antiquated interview-in-person bullshit.
- Help graduate students and non-TT faculty network. I have a hell of a time meeting and getting to know new people. I’m the person standing in the corner at the Oxford University Press reception, clinging to my tiny plate of food and pretending that I’m interested in the ceiling tiles. I know that I should go out and introduce myself and shake hands, but everyone else seems to already be in the middle of a conversation, and it’s incredibly awkward. Senior faculty and advisers can help by acting as wing-people and leading with introductions, but far too few do this. I wonder if there could be some program that would make this easier. Maybe something like speed dating, where the senior faculty sit at tables and the grad students get five minutes of time with each person. I dunno.
- STOP READING YOUR PAPERS. Seriously, this has to stop. Do more roundtables centered around common questions, or show us your evidence and talk about your preliminary conclusions, or use notecards to prompt you through your prepared talk. But for shit’s sake, enough with the junior high-level presentations.