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What silenced me so long is the state of application. Month after month, job applications determined my life.  When you are applying for jobs – depending on the jobs, obviously, but still -, blogging and tweeting can easily be perceived as a sign of vanity or of an unprofessional leisure. Every time I was tempted to write, I worried that future employers might interpret it the wrong way, and at some point I simply decided to wait. Since I finished this long round of applications and interviews yesterday, let me tell you first about the good news, and then about a few general conclusions I draw from this process.

The main news is that I will be a full professor in German studies from September on, at Le Mans University. It is a small department (I will be the only professor, but there are other permanent positions) at a University that is really working towards establishing Digital Humanities across the Humanities disciplines. The research axes of the 3l.am (which will be the structure hosting my research) are open enough for me to go in the several directions that interest me for the years to come. In order to develop and implement new teaching and research concepts, it is pretty much the ideal setting for me at this point, and in many ways, it feels like the time when the research group “Berlin intellectuals” started. Except that I don’t look the age of my students or PhD candidates any more…

Thinking about starting my research group in 2010 with the experience gained since then makes me reconsider not only my own boldness, but also, and maybe even more so now, that of the people who were part of the research group. Of course, this research group was hosted at the most (or one of the most) prestigious universities in Germany, but it has always remained a rock in the shoe of the administrative and institutional structure. I was not the pupil of a famous professor, nor a famous professor myself, nor in any way organically or hierarchically related to a professor, and yet these young people applied to be part in this. I was no one (with cool research questions and a lot of money, but that should have ringed the bell of the tale of the Cicada and the Ant) and there was a clear risk that this would lead them no place high on the academic ladder. I am all the more happy that my first PhD candidate to have finished her PhD now holds a permanent position.

Not having raised to the position of being respected like a professor has been excruciating in the two last years, when I felt like I had reached the point where I should help my ducklings find their way in the big world. Even when you have repeatedly said that other career paths than the academic one are not only possible, but in many ways preferable for one’s health and life balance, it is difficult to provide orientation in fields that you don’t know yourself. I am truly convinced that there are more and more career paths that leave more time for research than academic careers spent between teaching, administrative duties and trying to get a little bit of money to have other people do for you the research you don’t have the time to carry out yourself.

As for me, and even if I seriously started exploring other options, I will get back to the French University body I left 15 years ago. After four interviews for professorships in Germany and exactly as many in France, I have finally reached the point where I am a not afraid any more of going to the interviews. Things were different even two months ago. I was mentally paralyzed weeks before, re-wrote the story of my life for every position and imagined lives to come, one here, one there, organizing mentally weeks and months and seasons. And most of all, I was scared to death. The idea to be judged by a jury with a hidden agenda, the idea that I would say the wrong thing at the wrong moment, was petrifying. My mouth was so dry on the moment when I sat down in front of the jury that I had to drink half a bottle before being able to speak.

Here are a few completely stupid tricks that I finally put together for myself in order to channel the technical panic issues and concentrate as much as possible on being myself and feeling like I am the perfect person for the position I am being interviewed for. I write them here in case they’d be of help to anyone in a similar situation.

  1. The interview starts on the moment when you set foot in the building where it takes place. Beware of the first encounter with the jury. It will be on the floor, probably. Be oriented. Don’t feel embarrassed by your bag(s). I did most of my interviews in France dragging my red suitcase, since the interviews all took place within a few days. That was horrible. Try to avoid having the damn suitcase with you when you enter the building. You have to be able to move your arms normally in order to fill your own space in the first encounter with the jury (or your competitors).
  2. Be ready for chit-chat on your travel, the weather, or whatever suits the awkward greeting moment on the floor. Welcome conversation on the floor matters.
  3. When they let you in the room and tell you to “take your time and organize yourself”, it is not true. Be very vigilant at this point. Have your things ready and ordered so that you don’t get lost in papers in your bag. Make eye contact as soon as possible, with every jury member.
  4. Have not only water with you, but also a glass. Sometimes there is no glass for you on the table and as it turns out, drinking out of the bottle (even if it is only to enable your mouth to speak) can be perceived as very impolite. You would expect to have water and a glass on the table when you are interviewed, but sometimes there’s nothing at all on the table, and the person who will eventually suffer from it won’t be the jury, but the applicant.
  5. For short-sighted people: make the test of readability before you start talking. You can’t know in advance at which distance your notes will be from your eyes. Before starting to read, check whether you can look up and back in your notes without losing your line. The more shortsighted you are, the more bad points for “sticking your nose too much to your notes” you will get. That’s life. The only alternative is speaking freely or learning by heart. I tried half-written out notes for my French interviews but it didn’t work out so well in the sense that I did not lift more my head from my notes, fearing to lose my line anyway. I would say: choose the format you are the most comfortable with and check distances before you get going. And get new glasses (I am very happy about my new glasses that go much deeper down my cheeks and allow me to look down more comfortably)!!

The rest is about experience. After interview number 4, I stopped being scared, for reasons I still cannot explain. The only interview I ever felt I really rocked was interview number 5 (not the one where I got the position). People react differently after the interviews and I belong to the depressed sort of people who need days before stopping to think about all they’ve said wrong and completely disregard all they’ve done right. You have to get to know yourself and what kind of interviewed you are. Your family should also learn how to lift you up, not only immediately afterwards, but in the few days after, when you re-play the whole story in your head again and again.

Everyone has to decide for themselves how far they are ready to go with applications in the academic system. No one should be forced to continue “because eventually at some point it will work”. Application processes bite at your soul, again and again, until you learn to keep the distance. But you are the only person to know how much you want to endure.

This being said: I will work  towards opening positions at my department in the years to come. And I will read this blog post on the day before the interviews, promised.


Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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