The Job Wiki, Take Two

November 5, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Musicology Job Wiki: Friend or Foe?

Collaborative Internet Tools: Working with Management Issues.

I would like to begin by thanking the Committee on Career Related Issues for inviting me to participate in this evening’s panel.  As music scholars increasingly turn to the internet as a space for collaborative work, I think it becomes ever more practical to hold discussions such as this.

I’d also like to preface my remarks by “situating my perspective”:  As a PhD candidate in musicology (almost but not quite ABD), I am not on the job market.  Nor have I been a member of an academic search committee.  Therefore, what I’d like to share with you today are some of my “outsider” views on the internet tool known as the “Musicology Job Wiki.”  Apropos of Phil Ford’s imminent discussion, this paper began its life as a blog post.  It has since been supplemented by comments, concerns, and issues from the numerous conversations I’ve had with other musicologists over past several months.  Most of these “informants” were on the job market last year, recent PhDs who were both successful and unsuccessful in gaining academic employment—in the spirit of the wiki, I maintain their anonymity.

By several accounts, this past season’s job opportunities were the best in several years.[1]  Perhaps someone with a longer memory than me can confirm that.  But then again, 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 Education and the College Music Society’s “Music Vacancy List” do an excellent job at reporting what jobs are available.  However, neither offers a simple running list of these employment opportunities.  Even if one did compile such an inventory of job openings, it wouldn’t tell us much beyond who was hiring what and where.

Enter: The musicology job wiki

The most recent round of hiring was accompanied by the first wide-spread use of the “job-wiki.”  As you probably know, a wiki is “software that allows users to easily create, edit and link web pages [and is] often used to create collaborative websites.”  This definition, which was provided by wikipedia, understandably cites itself as “one of the best-known” examples of a wiki.  Less well-known is the “Academic Careers” wiki, which resides on the server of, a free service that currently hosts nearly 2000 public wikis.  The “Academic Careers” wiki is one of its largest serves over 40 separate disciplines.  One of those is music, whose listings subdivide into 20 categories (or pages) including various administration, performance, and academic positions.[2]  “The musicology job wiki” is one of these subcategories.  This collaborative website tracks the progress of all historical and ethnomusicological academic searches during a given year.  During 2006-2007 it monitored the status of more than 60 jobs: tenure-track and temporary hires as well as a handful of post-docs (despite there being a separate page for such opportunities).  As schools and applicants moved through various stages of the hiring process, the page broadcasted updates to all interested parties.

Just so we’re all on the same page, let me briefly explain how this works:

New jobs appear throughout the hiring season, previously requiring a candidate to monitor various lists, web postings, and email listservs to remain up to date on the latest offerings.  Now, when a job is announced, it is added (in alphabetical order) to a list on the webpage within anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.  Entries generally identify whether the job is ethno- or historical-musicology and which specialties or secondary areas the hiring committee desires.  One PhD on the market last year told me, “I learned about new jobs I’d somehow missed in the flurry of information during the craziness that is the semester.”  So, at the outset, the wiki serves as a centralized clearinghouse for available jobs.

[This (here on the screen) is the list for the current year.  You can’t see all the names on this screenshot, but if we did have internet access in here and could scroll down you’d find that there are currently 50 schools on the list.]

As any given search moves through the various stages of the hiring process, the page is edited, anonymously, by its users.  Over time, the name of each institution will advance through successive category headings:  schools that have requested secondary materials, conducted phone interviews, named flyout lists, hosted on-campus interviews, and finally those that have extended an offer.  Here we see that (as of yesterday) four schools that have contacted applicants about interviews here at AMS and two are conducting phone interviews.  Good news for some, bad news for others. 

For those juggling multiple job searches, the wiki is a quick and easy way to see where various programs are in the process, thus allowing them to make better informed decisions than ever before.  One recent hire told me: “Because of the large number of jobs out there, it was hard to keep up with them all. I had to have a running list of places I applied to and what my status was at each, just to know what I’d done and not done. It was useful to know when a school had either hired someone, moved on to another stage in the search, or canceled [it completely] — I could then cross it out of my list so I didn’t have to be preoccupied.  Essentially, it eased my mind.”  Put another way, it is more comforting to take one job if you know you are out of the running for another.

At the same time, one must remain cautious of information gleaned from the site.  Another job candidate shared with me their encounter with one institution; let’s call it “Music State University.”  As they made it through successive rounds of hiring, the applicant updated the wiki accordingly, re-positioning the school’s name at each stage.  In early December, they proudly placed “Music State” beneath the “completed phone interviews” heading. Then, a few weeks later the applicant saw that the wiki had been updated by someone else: “Music State” now appeared with the programs that had “completed on campus interviews.”  Thinking the door had closed, this person followed other options and was on the verge of accepting another offer when they received a phone call from “Music State”:  The first round of interviews failed, would they please fly out for an on campus interview.  Long story short, this PhD is now on the faculty at Music State University.  As they put it: “Not exactly what one expects to have happen with the wiki information, but a telling case of how it’s not always possible to rely on the info posted there — even if it is [quote-unquote] ‘confirmed’!”

With the caution and wherewithal that any candidate should bring to a job search, there is little reason to doubt the accuracy of the information on the job wiki.  In talking with recent hires, I sense that updates to the site are completed primarily by the applicants themselves, based on information they receive directly from the hiring committees.  However, due to the nature of wikis, it is difficult to figure out precisely who contributes new information to the page.  It remains possible that students or faculty at an institution going through a hire could provide their own updates on the process.  In theory the site doesn’t share any information that isn’t otherwise available; it just disseminates it in a rapid, centralized way.

Thus far I’ve restricted my comments to the applicant side of the equation.  The job wiki also affects hiring committees—though exactly how is a little beyond my purview.  (I hope someone will speak from the hiring side of things at the conclusion of my remarks.)  Given the different rates of speed at which institutions move through a search, some possible advantages for job committees are that they can see where other schools are in the process, who they are competing against, or even if a particular applicant has been hired elsewhere.  That said, it seems to me that the job wiki ultimately places more power into the hands of the applicant.


A colleague recently asked me why I am so interested in the job wiki, especially given that I’m not even on the job market.  Well, I will be soon…its never too early, right?  But moreover, I see the wiki as a valuable and dynamic tool for tracking trends in our discipline.  This past spring, the Student Forum of the Society for American Music presented a panel on landing a job as an Americanist.  As a part of that, University of Michigan graduate student Sarah Gerk, painstakingly compiled a list of all job postings in musicology from 2001 to present.  (I’ve asked her to assemble her findings for an upcoming Amusicology post).  Her list, and others such as that assembled by Dale Cockrell, offer interesting insights into what hiring committees look for in a candidate.  However, this information tells us nothing about the results of those searches.  The musicology job wiki does. 

Once a candidate accepts an offer, their name is posted to the wiki.  (Here you see last year’s results.)  At some point, someone also went through and added the name of the institution where the hire received their PhD.  This information not only allows us to compare the original job posting to the ultimate hire, it also reveals which programs are placing their PhDs.

According to the site, last year, of the 66 initial job listings, 52 placements in musicology and ethnomusicology were made.  Out of the 52 positions filled, the job wiki informs us that 16 schools placed one candidate and 11 schools placed two.  The remaining 14 positions were filled by applicants from only three institutions, which placed 3, 4, and 7 PhDs, respectively.  Such information is helpful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it helps perspective graduate 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, the wiki does not say if those individuals hired are freshly minted PhDs, or, if the hire represents a lateral move.  For example, a glance at the names on the wiki reveals that a number of placements (including some from my institution) went to previously employed PhDs.  Likewise, the numbers alone do not necessarily correlate to the success rate of an institution.  Several of the schools that placed “only” one PhD achieved a 100% placement rate because they only had one graduate that year.  Furthermore, some of the schools with higher numbers granted more PhDs than were ultimately placed.  Of course, there are always different ways to read or manipulate the numbers—perhaps management issues of another sort, for another time…  Nonetheless, the wiki makes such information readily available.  In a few more years, I suspect we’ll have some very interesting figures.

Of course, this information will only yield interesting perspectives on our field, if we (as musicologists) agree to uphold the integrity of this platform.  The musicology job wiki is well-organized and clutter free, especially compared to other academic job pages.  Some of those wikis contain personal comments and observations or snide remarks about programs and people.  Our musicology wiki maintains a sense of professionalism, one that I hope continues.  Still, there are a few things I think could be improved.

Someone on the Art History wiki recently posted the following:  “Shall we set guidelines by consensus for the format for 2007-2008?”  They then provide a model, to which others will presumably follow.  With last year’s musicology wiki, I get the sense that a small handful of people closely monitored the site and dealt with formating and content issues.  I would like to see current users adopt some sort of “style sheet” that can be followed when making updates.  One of the reasons the musicology job wiki was as helpful as it was last year was the streamlined presentation of information organized for ease of reference.  Perhaps someone will post a template.  Items that we might add to the current format include hyperlinks, taking the user directly to the job posting itself, and the date that information is added.  It has also been suggested that listing “most recent institution” for people making lateral moves might allow for a better assessment of placement rates.  Recently, someone on the African-American Studies page started adding starting salary figures, stating: “A rising tide raises all ships, right?”  Given that it is a wiki, people are free to add whatever they want.  At the same time, people are free to remove information as they see fit.  Ultimately, the users of a wiki decide what information is appropriate; collaborative, yet anonymous management.

Foremost on the minds of those I’ve spoken with is the issue of courtesy.  Some people quite simply do not want their employment information made so widely available—this goes for both job candidates and hiring committees.  As I mentioned, it became standard practice to post the name of whoever accepted a position.  In theory this is the provenance of the candidate, but there were instances where someone’s name appeared before they were ready to make such information public.  More appropriate, perhaps, would be allowing that individual the opportunity add their name (perhaps as a badge of honor) or not (as a way of negotiating a better deal elsewhere).  But who am I to dictate such things?  This is a wiki after all!

One recent hire wrote on my blog: “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.”  Perhaps this brings us to the biggest management issue: Can the musicology job wiki strike a balance between collaboration and competition?  The reality of our field is that not everyone will get hired all of the time.  In January, someone posted a message to the AMS-Students listsev with the following subject line: “evil job search wiki.”  And while there are numerous tales of candidates who were upset to learn they didn’t get a particular job by checking the site, it seems to me that the benefits of this system far outweigh the drawbacks.  I suspect as many people agree with me as disagree.

As we know, the hiring season is underway.  Eight new jobs were added to the wiki in the past week alone.  I’d like to say good luck to all those involved (whether you are hiring or being hired) and offer my congratulations to all who got jobs this past year – I hope to join you soon!

[1] Fall 2006- Spring/Summer 2007

[2] These include: Administration, Band, Brass, Choral, Church Music, Conducting, Guitar, Instrumental Music, Jazz, Keyboard, Miscellaneous, Music Business/Technology, Music Education, Music History/Musicology/Ethnomusicology, Music Librarian, Music Theory/Composition, Orchestra, Percussion, Strings, Voice/Opera, Woodwinds, Community College Music Jobs, Post-docs

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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