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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Updated Digital Portfolio

Hello everyone and welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse! Last week I rambled for a while about the Rocky franchise as a way to say, I'm feeling a bit punch-drunk by the academic job market. This week, I'm going to attempt to be a little more helpful and a little less complainy by debuting my newly renovated digital portfolio!

How does this help you? Well, one of the things that got me anywhere close to confident about what the genres of the CV, cover letter, diversity statement, teaching philosophy, and research agenda entail is the practice of looking at many many examples from scholars I admire. So, if you think I can write pretty sometimes and/or have said a smart thing once or twice, maybe my documents will help you. More importantly than the actual text of my documents, however, are the rhetorical moves these texts represent. I'll talk about each one of them individually so you get a better sense of what I mean, but, first, I want to discuss the importance of a document that I haven't shared--the dreaded cover letter.

Cover Letters and Responding to Job Ads

The hardest thing for me when starting to write cover letters was not having a specific ad to respond to. I was trying to get a jump on thinking through some of the major job materials this past summer, as I would recommend for all students expecting to go on the market, and so I only knew some of the macro-level audience expectations for things like a letter. When I teach students how to write resumes, I tell them that their best resource is the job ad itself, a text designed to nudge applicants in the right direction. Without this ad, I felt lost, even though I knew I needed to write about my teaching experience, research interests, and service to my department. I encourage everyone to try this exercise though because it helps you form an unadulterated sense of who you really are as a scholar without the filter of who a particular institution wants you to be.

That said, once you have real ads to look at, it's really helpful to know exactly how to read and interpret them as well as how to respond. For that, I'd like to point you to Dr. Lisa Melonçon 's blog entry on This wonderful resource includes an annotated job ad as well as a very clear letter-writing template that is immensely helpful.

You can tell Lisa is a reliable source by how she vehemently rejects the structural integrity and design of my bloody mary. In this way too, when it comes to professional documents, she's never afraid to tell you "you're doing it wrong" :)

Of the documents featured in my digital portfolio, my CV might be the most different when compared to other folks in the field of Tech Comm. If you're reading this blog post, well, that shouldn't surprise you. Part of my mission when creating Rhetorical Roundhouse was to put Rhetoric, Technical Communication, and Martial Arts Studies in serious conversation with one another. As such, my CV features a "Martial Arts Teaching Experience" section. Why? Because who I am as a scholar and a teacher is informed as much by that side of my career as it is by what I learn in my writing classrooms. This is the same reasoning for why my black belt ranks are listed in my "Education" section--I consider them advanced degrees on the same level as my MA and forthcoming PhD. Other than that, the CV is truly an exercise in making sure you 1. know the expectations of your field and 2. represent yourself persuasively for a specific audience in concise bullet points.

Update: I just yesterday decided that I was padding my CV a bit too much. That said, depending on the job, I may eliminate a lot of the journalism or creative writing publications. No, this doesn't mean that I'm not proud of this writing, it just means I don't want to present a confused image of myself for a potential employer.

When reading though my Teaching Philosophy, the sentiment I just mentioned in the CV section should become more clear--who I am as a teacher, practically and philosophically, has been trained through my enculturation with martial arts. I make the claim that the "first classroom I ever taught in" was a martial arts studio. What I mean is that I was professionalizing as an educator long before I ever took a pedagogy course in graduate school. While you may not be a martial arts instructor, it's worth thinking about the other life experiences that have shaped your beliefs about teaching. The biggest piece of advice I can offer about this document is that you MUST tie these personal beliefs to real practices--be specific with your examples and provide some clear form of evidence to back up your claims. Don't let the word philosophy fool you, this document is just as much about demonstrating what you do in the classroom as it is about what you think about it.

This one can be tricky. On the one hand, a document like this can be viewed as a COA statement, one with the sole purpose to appease some PR or legal agenda at your institution. On the other hand, this kind of document can represent a serious reflection of the ways in which you as an applicant offer something unique. I chose to do something novel in mine--I was honest. As a first-generation college student and someone who has funded his own way through two graduate programs (I've got the student loan debt to prove it!) I feel like I understand some of the sacrifices many of my students are making. While I may not understand each one of them on an individual level, I understand myself enough to know that my main motivation for being a teacher is to be the kind of person who knows how to listen. The only reason I ever wanted this job in the first place is because I viewed it as a way that I can use my talents to help others. So, I don't know if my Diversity Statement is good or rhetorically effective, but I know it's True.

This document, in theory, is pretty easy. Start with the research you're passionate about, the work you did in your dissertation, and then explain how you'll begin to port over some of those ideas into smaller publications. Again, be specific! Once you establish that, explain the future of your research and where you intend to publish that, why, and for whom.

The research agenda is my newest addition to the portfolio and I'm not quite sure I know how to feel about it yet. Note: this is still a work in progress. The purpose of this type of document is to ensure potential employers that you have a concrete plan for how to publish in your field and secure tenure. While I understand why this is important for the department and prestige of the University, I have a hard time seeing how regimented academic publication is beneficial to students, community stakeholders, or larger non-specialist groups. For that reason, I have a hard time writing something that makes it sound like that process is the most important part of my job--a commonly held belief in R1 culture. As I just mentioned, I'm in the game to help people. Really actual help real actual people. So yes, I have plans for publication, I really do--see? But I'm not sure I can honestly ever see these plans as anything more than a series of hoops--a lifetime of work to get a board room full of people to tell you you've done a a good job. Too cynical? Probably. Is it risky to put this in writing while potential employers will be putting me under a microscope? Absolutely.

Update: After writing this with a bad case of the Mondays, I want to reiterate something important. I like writing and researching and I think I'm pretty good at it. If I accept a position in a more research-oriented environment, I'll perform my job expectations to the best of my ability--but I'll likely not be convinced that academic publishing is ever truly more than just a job requirement. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'll publish something that helps aspiring graduate students and that will change my mind. My point is, I have my own beliefs about the value and impact of my work that, at times, may conflict with the beliefs and values of my institution--that's life, no job is everything you want all the time. But is that going to stop me from working hard to shape the field in the scholarly direction I believe is important? Is it going to bog me down to the point where I can't be a great teacher? Prevent me from doing work with my local community? Forget about it.

In conclusion...

These documents are just a few that you should prepare when readying yourself for the academic job market. Already I've seen ads that want original syllabi for undergraduate and graduate courses, summaries of teaching evaluations, and, of course, 9,000 letters of reference. The truth is, like any transitional period, this is a dark and scary time full of stress. But, this too shall pass.

To end on a note of levity, have a chuckle at this list of "honest" academic job ads that's been floating around this past week.

That's all for this week--I hope you get something out of it. Thanks as always for reading and be sure to check back soon...I've got some REALLY exciting projects in the works.


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