Job Wiki, friend or foe?

June 16, 2007 at 10:00 am 2 comments

By several accounts, this past year’s musicological employment opportunities (2006-07) were the best in several years.  Perhaps someone with a longer memory than I can confirm that– or, maybe they can’t.  That’s because, in the past, figuring out just how many jobs were available required a great deal of hunting and gathering.  Resources such as the Chronicle of Higher [hire?] Learning or the College Music Society’s “Music Vacancy List” report what jobs are available, but don’t offer a simple running list of these positions.  Even if one compiled a full list of schools, it wasn’t worth much beyond knowing who was hiring what, where.

Enter the (wonderful/wicked) word of wiki.

As many of you know, this past job season was accompanied by the first incarnation of the “job-wiki.”  For those of you not in the know (if you weren’t in the know, would you really be reading this?) a wiki is an user-updated webpage.  This particular wiki tracks the progress of (almost) all historical and ethnomusicological academic hires during a given year.  It recently tracked the status of more than 60 jobs, both tenure-track and temporary hires.  As schools and applicants moved through the various stages of hiring (secondary material requests, phone interviews, flyout lists, etc.) the page broadcasted updates to all interested parties.    Click here to see the page as it looks now (but come back, I’ve got more to say!)

This page doesn’t share any information that isn’t otherwise available; it just disseminates it in a rapid, centralized way.  I get the sense that this task was completed primarily by the applicants themselves.  However, due to the nature of wikis, figuring out precisely who contributed these updates is unknown.  For example, I know of instances where current students at a given institution provided “insider” updates on the process at their own institution.  At the same time, I’ve heard tale of people removing previously posted information.

When this webpage first appeared, someone on the AMS-Students listserv called it an “evil job search wiki.”  And while I’ve heard tales of people who discovered they didn’t get a particular job by checking the site, it seems to me (from this side of the job fence) that this system is a blessing to the applicants.  For those managing multiple job searches, this is a quick and easy way to see where the various programs are in the process, allowing them to make more informed decisions than ever before.

The system also benefits the hiring committees—though exactly how is a little beyond my purview.  Some possibilities, given that not every school hires at the same point in the year or the same rate of speed, are that job committees can see who they are competing against, where they compare to other schools in the process, or even see if a particular applicant has been hired elsewhere.

The job season is completed, how is the wiki still helpful?

As someone not yet on the job market, I see the wiki as a highly valuable tool for tracking trends in our discipline.  This past spring, the Student Forum of the Society for American Music presented a panel on the job process.  As a part of that, co-chair Sarah Gerk, compiled a very helpful list of all job postings in musicology from 2001 to present.  (I’ll post the results of this here in the near future).  This list, and others such as that assembled by Dale Cockrell, provide interesting insights into recent trends in hiring.  With their work in hand, the wiki becomes even more helpful:

1. It tells us what types of positions (specialties) are being filled right now.

2. It allows us to compare the original job posting to the ultimate hire.

3. It reveals which programs are placing their PhDs.

Point 1 will become more useful as time goes by.  Point 2, would be a very interesting project for someone to take one.  Point 3, I’ve done a little work with:  Of the 66 initial job listings, 47 placements were made.  Out of those schools that hired (according to the wiki)…

18 Schools placed 1 graduate: Alberta; Chicago; Minnesota; Montreal; Northwestern;  NYU; Ohio State; Penn; Princeton; Texas-Austin; UCLA; Illinois, U-C; UNC, Chapel Hill; Florida; UCSB; UC Davis; Virginia; and Washington University, St. Louis.

8 Schools placed 2 graduates: Brandeis; Boston University; Cornell; McGill; Michigan; UC Berkeley; Yale; and University of Washington, Seattle.

2 Schools placed 3 graduates: Columbia and Pittsburgh

1 School placed 7 graduates: Harvard
Such information is very helpful for many reasons, not the least of which is that it helps perspective students get a sense of which schools are having the most success.  And while this is certainly not the only point one should consider when selecting a program, it is one that was previously more difficult to gage.

At the same time (and this is one place where I see that such information may be “evil”), the wiki does not say if those hired individuals are freshly minted PhDs, or, if this hire represents a move from one institution to another.  For example, glancing at some of the names on the wiki reveals that several placements (including some from my institution) went to already established professors.

How might we improve the wiki?

1. Hyperlinks.  I’d like to see hyperlinks from the school name directly to the job posting itself.  That cuts out the need to go through the Chronicle or the CMV (which itself may be nothing more than a link) to get to further information about the subject.

2. Courtesy.  It became standard practice over the course of the season to add the name of the person who accepted the post as soon as that information became available.  More appropriate, perhaps, would be to allow that individual the opportunity to either add their name (perhaps as a badge of honor).

3.  Confirmed.  This is a wiki so all content is by nature subject to the whims of those contributing—that is to say, all information is .  Hopefully nothing is entered maliciously, but .  Errors occur, info changes, etc.

The next year’s list has already begun.  Way to get a head of the pack University of Delaware! (Perhaps someone from your program can link up a detailed job description.)  Congratulations to all of those who gained professorial employment this year – I hope to join you soon!

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Teh Noob Musicology: ut-re-mi-fa/ut Expose yourself to art

2 Comments

  • 1. amusicology  |  November 14, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Originally Posted by Zoe Lang at 2007-06-16 12:00

    Thanks for addressing this topic, Ryan. As someone who spent the past 3 years on the job market, I must say that the wiki is a great idea. Schools are slow about making decisions, whereas for someone on the market, the time frame can be very different. We may also be offered jobs beyond those posted on the wiki (for instance, other on-campus jobs, staying on as a teaching assistant, or even *gasp* the wonderful wide world of non-academia), and in that situation having an idea of what is happening can be very helpful. Part of what makes the job market such an exquisite form of torture is precisely the amount of waiting that goes on, and this wiki helps confront this problem.

    I suspect that some of the naysayers to this plan are concerned about possible confidentiality issues or that, as most of us know, the academic market can be wild and crazy, with changes occurring as time goes on. For example, a school may invite candidates, then not feel any were a good match and invite a separate bunch of candidates. These types of abnormalities, though, should not prevent information from being shared. Jobs are a touchy issue because there is so much at stake (plus there are rules for the institutions); however, this wiki seems in the spirit of collaboration, not competition. Now if we could just get centralized job listings, including (and especially) temporary ones!

  • 2. amusicology  |  November 14, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Originally Posted by Douglas Shadle at 2007-08-05 07:45

    Thanks, Ryan, for this excellent analysis of the job wiki site. Not that you made a major omission, but I would like to add that Chapel Hill actually had 2 placements and not just 1. The second announcement, at Millikin University, came right around the time you wrote this piece.

    Secondly, I think the raw placement numbers are misleading in an important respect: they do not include the number of applicants on the market at any given time. As far as I know, the two Chapel Hill PhDs who got jobs were the only two recent graduates on the job market who did not already have one (viz., there might have been Chapel Hill grads looking for better jobs who didn’t get them). That may not be the case, but there were definitely not 15 struggling PhDs out there, only two of whom got jobs. The raw numbers do mean something, but they do not tell the whole story. Maybe the new national survey of PhD programs can shed more light on this issue.

    Like anything else, the wiki has its good and bad points, and I think you summarized the good points very well. On the other hand, the wiki potentially intrudes on what, for some people, is a very private and sensitive matter. Your second suggestion for improving the wiki site, “Courtesy,” brings up an important point about intra- and interdepartmental ethics: “It became standard practice over the course of the season to add the name of the person who accepted the post _as soon as that information became available._” If a relatively private person gets hired, what obligation do they have to post that information right away if they do not want to, and whose right is it to post that information instead? The truly courteous wiki poster would wait until information is _publicly_ available, not simply available.

    Potential ethical problems arise with respect to the timing of posts. Part of the “wikipedia philosophy” is that all posted information must be publicly available. The concept is so sacrosanct in financial markets that trading stocks on insider information is illegal. For the job wiki, “trading” on inside information is discourteous at best and a rude invasion of privacy at worst. Just because someone has been hired “officially” does not make that information public. Moreover, even if an entire department knows who the official hire is, the information is still not necessarily public, and it is the duty of each department member to withhold that information until the university or the department makes an official announcement. After official announcements have been made–and they unfortunately are often very slow in coming–it is anyone’s ballgame. Posters to the wiki should respect their colleagues’ privacy and wait for official public announcements to be made, even if it slows the dissemination of information that might otherwise be useful to other applicants.

    Thanks again for a great evaluation of the job wiki site.

    Best Wishes,
    Doug Shadle
    UNC-Chapel Hill


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