Name: Tiffany Aldrich MacBain
College & Majors/Minors: English
Current Location: Tacoma, WA
Current Form of Employment/Job Title: Associate Professor/Dept. of English
Where do you work and what is your current position? What are your responsibilities?
I work as an Associate Professor at the University of Puget Sound.
My professional responsibilities can be separated into three categories: teaching, scholarly growth, and service. At my private, liberal-arts university, my teaching is considered to be the most important of the three, and so I direct the majority of my time and attention to the three courses I teach each semester. My work in that area includes new course preparation and ongoing course revision; class preparation (reading and figuring out how I want to teach the materials I've assigned); assignment creation; evaluation of student work; and meeting with students. My schedule has me in a classroom for 6 sessions each week. You might imagine that as roughly equivalent to having 6 Big Presentations every week for 3.5 months. It's a lot. By mid-November in the fall and mid-April in the spring, my colleagues and I are toast.
My growth as a scholar is also very important, but historically, due to the demands of my teaching schedule, I have had to limit my work in that area to summers. That schedule creates a certain amount of anxiety, though—a lot is riding on those few months!—so lately I have tried to carve out a few hours a week for research during the regular school year. This past semester I managed to devote 3 hours each Friday to archival work, and it felt like a victory.
Of all of a professor's job responsibilities, people may be least familiar with what "service" means. In short, it involves working for, and on behalf of, one's department, university, and community, and can involve committee work, department or university governance (e.g., serving as Department Chair), arranging for and hosting a guest speaker or special event on campus, advising students, writing letters of recommendation for students and former students, leading a discussion for a community reading group, and volunteering with local schools. The list goes on.
How did you find your job?
Every fall, universities post their job openings in The Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere. PhDs scour the ads and apply for the positions. The 10-12 applicants selected for interviews tend to meet with a committee of 3-4 faculty members at the annual conference of the Modern Language Association, which takes place in a different city each year. (Happily, more departments are opting to use Skype for these initial interviews; attending the conference is an expensive proposition for someone who's been living on a graduate student's income, and universities, too, are looking for ways to cut back.) If the initial interview is successful, a candidate has a campus visit, which is basically a 2-day job interview on-site.
Prospects in the field of English are dismal right now, and they were slightly less so when I was on the job market. My first year "out," I had one campus visit that did not lead to a job offer. My second year, I had three campus visits, one of which I cancelled because I was offered the position I currently have. I got very lucky. Not only did I get a tenure-line position, but I also live in a wonderful place that is just a short plane ride from my family. I cannot emphasize enough that my experience is not the norm.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
The most important thing I did in college was to major in English. At the time I had absolutely no intention of being a professor; in fact, I was eager to graduate and be done with school. But I believed that the English major was the perfect major regardless of which career I chose because it taught me to write well, to think carefully, and to express myself clearly. What more could you want? Another good move I made in college was to apply for an internship in the film industry. The internship was terrific—I had a summer in L.A.!—but, more importantly, it convinced me that I did not want to work in film. What a terrific experience to have had.