Reflections On The NWSA Conference In Puerto Rico

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When the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies offered to help send a select few to the 2014 National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Conference, I immediately responded with an enthusiastic YES! I am very grateful to the department and its supporters for helping fund me so I could attend the NWSA conference. Without this assistance, I would not have been able to go and learn the valuable information that I received at the conference.

As a 2nd year graduate teaching assistant for Women’s and Gender Studies (WGST), and a doctoral student who hopes to graduate this May, I am currently immersed in the job application and hiring process. The process of applying and attaining a teaching position in WGST within higher education is a very daunting and overwhelming task. As a result, my time spent at NWSA was spent primarily on professional development.

There are several steps that are included in the job process. The first step is to find a university that is a good fit for you. This means finding universities that align with what you want to do (teaching or research) and a location that you will be happy living. Re-locating and transferring universities is time consuming, can be expensive, and also very stressful; so finding the right university is important. This means researching the university to find out type of institution it is (ex: research one institution or a liberal arts college), their mission statement and objectives, their policy for diversity and inclusiveness, do they have centers and student organizations, what size is their women’s studies department, and is the location a place you would want to live.

Once you have found a position you want to apply for, you must gather the application materials that the position is requesting. Some positions will receive a large amount of applications, so it is important that you tailor your materials for that specific position, and demonstrate within your materials that you are qualified for the position. Your cover letter is one of the most important documents you will submit, and most positions will require a cover letter or statement of interest. The first paragraph is the most important paragraph in your cover letter and could make or break your application. If the institution is a research institution, then you should lead with the research you have published and your research interest. However, if the university is more teaching and community based, than you should lead with your teaching experience and examples of your service to the community. If you clearly demonstrate within your application materials that you have done your research on the university and that you are a good fit, then you may receive a phone interview.

During your phone interview, you should focus on demonstrating why you want to work for their university, why you are a good fit, and how you will contribute to their program. Knowing information about the program and their mission and goals are helpful when responding to their questions. During a phone interview, your questions should focus on gaining more information about the job description and the program. Questions about resources should be saved for the on-campus interview. Salary and benefits questions should be asked after you have been offered the position. If your phone interview is successful, then you will be called for an on-campus interview.

During an on-campus interview you will most likely be required to meet with everyone in the department and also possibly graduate and doctoral students. There is also a good chance you will be asked to present a research and teaching presentation. It is important to continue to show that you are a good fit for the job/program/university and you can picture yourself working there. After the on-campus interview, the job offer will follow.

If you are offered the position, there are a few steps you should follow before accepting the position. The first step is to ask for time to make your decision. You should then check on any outstanding application that you may have. If there are no other jobs that are in contention, you should then make a list of non-negotiables. The university has decided they want to hire you, so that means you need to make sure that you try and get everything you need to be successful at that position. A good starting salary is important because it will affect your pay at each level. State institutions usually publish their salaries; however, private institutions usually do not. This also means that there is a limit that the department has for salaries. There will be little room for how much they can increase your salary from the amount they offered. However, there are other aspects that can help increase the appeal of the position.

Some areas in which you may be able to negotiate are receiving a work computer, tenure leave, library resources (make sure they have the journals you need for your research or teaching area), software you need to be successful, grant support, money for research and conferences (WGST and your home department), relocation money, summer course opportunities, money to pay for journal articles to be published, and is there an opportunity to get a graduate assistant to help with research. These are just a few examples of items you can negotiate. It is important that you decide what is most important in order for you to be successful; and always remember to get it in writing! Administrators can come and go, so it is important that you receive everything you were promised.

In addition to negotiating your contract, you should also ask about policies concerning the tenure process and benefits (partner benefits as well). The tenure process can vary at each institution, so it is important to know what counts for service, research, and teaching. The number of students and how many preps will contribute to the amount of time each course will take. Teaching within WGST is sometimes referred to as labor of love. Individual’s teach within WGST because they love it, and are typically are not paid enough, given the proper resources, or have their work recognized (ex: counting mentoring as service). However, it is important to set your standards and learn when to say no. The process of getting hired and tenured can be very draining and it is imperative to take care of yourself (self-love and mental health) and to have a good support system.

The valuable information that I gained at the NWSA conference has given me more confidence when applying for positions and navigating the hiring process. Not only has this information helped me within my personal life, but I have also been able to apply this information in the WGST Professional Future course. I shared my experience and knowledge from the conference with my students in class and have incorporated many aspects of the application process into their assignments. I am very grateful I had the opportunity to go to NWSA and share what I have learned with my fellow WGST peers, students, and community.

Lauren Deckelbaum