Much of the frustration, work, and anxiety of the trough of the J Curve relates to paperwork.
Induction into the Great Paperwork Nightmare arrives with the crafting of The Job Letter, which is unlike anything you’ve ever written before and for which the only instruction seems to be “make sure it’s perfect.” If one of your (hundreds? of) letters is, in fact, somehow perfect, you will have to fill out more bureaucratic forms than you knew existed, because you will become a faculty member.
Let’s see: there’s internal funding applications, annual activity reports, applications for different internal funds, SSHRC Standard Research Grants (if you’re in the social sciences or humanities … oh wait! They’ve changed all the programs and now the forms, too!), a variety of other SSHRC grants, sabbatical applications, convert-your-salary-to-research-funds forms, research ethics forms, graduate dissertation / research project/ Master’s thesis / reading course forms, reference letters, reports to journal editors on revisions attempted or rejected, and the mother of all of them (at least from where I’m sitting), the tenure application.
Mostly, you stare at these form-fillable but not saveable PDF, these table-based Word docs with crazy formatting, these spreadsheets that won’t run on your Mac, slack-jawed, writing and creativity alike locked up. Cue the whining, complaining, defeatism, procrastination, and, if you’re me, drinking.
Well. Thank God for my friends, I say.
When I went on the job market, Heather vetted my letters for me, giving me concrete feedback and advice like “this is too timid,” or “you need a longer paragraph saying what your dissertation is about.” The research office here collects winning SSHRC apps from researcher volunteers, and puts them in a binder for us to consult. When I was trying to write my tenure dossier, three colleagues who’d come up in the three years before me sent me all their material to use as examples. Immeasurably helpful. This week, I sent my tenure dossier to a friend in the US who wondered how to write up her technical work in new media. I sent an internal award application to a friend here who’s junior to me and has never yet applied for one. I sent my salary-conversion application to a colleague in my department who wanted a model of what kinds of things she might budget for and how to justify them.
Of course, when I send you that stuff, you’ll see what my research is. You’ll see my reference lists. My CV and all the things I’ve done or not done so far in my career. You’ll see my budgets, my five year research plan, how I allot work to graduate students, where I’ve applied for jobs, what kind of funding I had in grad school. You might see my big idea, even. But that’s okay: I don’t think you intend me any harm, and I don’t know why that information has to be so closely guarded. Are you going to steal my ideas? Judge my career? Decide you want to apply for the same fellowship as me?
Okay–once in grad school I was in this seminar where we had to workshop our annotated bibliographies, and the next day a classmate RECALLED ALL MY BOOKS. But that’s the only bad thing I’ve ever had happen. I guess it comes with the digital media research area: I’m all about transparency and disclosure, baby.
So to everyone who has ever sent me their own material to save me some stress preparing mine, I thank you from the very deepest part of my heart. I will never recall your books, I promise.
And to anyone who might like to have a look at something I’ve written, to use as a model (or a terrible warning; I don’t know), you’re welcome to it. Just ask.
What about you? Do you share? Have others shared with you? Why? Why not? What are we hiding?