Today, I offer a few fundamental premises.
1. The job market today is about adjuncts, not graduate students.
A lot of my friends and colleagues and random internet commentators suggested graduate-training programs offer to fund sending their students to conferences if they get interviews; in fact, many programs do just that, if they are wealthy enough. But not only does it encourage another level of have/have-not, unless the programs are offering to fund grad student trips to conferences for 4-5 years, often long after they’ve finished their PhD, such a proposal doesn’t solve the problem.
In modern academia, fewer and fewer people go straight from graduate school into a tenure-track job. Most adjunct for awhile or, if they are lucky, get post-docs or fixed-term positions. Any system has to protect them from financial exploitation.
Departments should send their graduate students to the annual disciplinary conference, though, in order to take advantage of all the professionalization and networking opportunities (and learning how to pitch books) that one can find there.
2. The conference interview is already dead.
We have a reliable technological fix that is only getting more reliable. My cellphone is better at video conferencing that the highest-tech suites of 10 years ago. Academic interviews will all turn into a round of video (or phone) followed by on-campus. This is not neoliberal. This is not corporatization. It’s just efficient and smart. We don’t need to be in the same meatspace to do a set of screener conversations.
It also has the benefit of being cheaper for the adjuncts and grad students. See point 1 (and pretty much every essay on this topic).
So the choice is this – take command of the funds used to send interviewers to conferences or see them lost to the general budget.
3. The video interview protects from certain forms of bias.
I didn’t say this in my essay, but I’ve heard from a number of people – women who were pregnant in particular – that they are more comfortable concealing potentially bias-worthy features about themselves over video interviews (or phones). Pregnancy, in particular, is notorious red flag for departments, raising the specter of the “mommy track.” It’s true that on-campus such things may be visible (or there may be a baby or pumping breaks), but by that point the seachers are more invested in the candidate as a whole person.
More to come on this topic. I am going to work very hard to get information from people doing conference interviews. I want to hear why. I want to hear what they think I’m missing.