academic reorganization · canada · change · open letter · slow academy

The Pedagogy of Comprehensibility

When I was in the last year of my PhD the current graduate chair at my alma mater decided to initiate a new professionalization course. Unlike the research methods class I took as an incoming PhD student, this course was entirely voluntary and meant for those of us in the finishing stages of the degree. We learned how to write job letters (there’s a formula!) We learned how to prepare job talks. We delivered job talks to mock interviewers and then after the interview we as a group discussed how the candidates did: what questions were answered well and why? Which questions need more thought, and how might the candidate do a better job of presenting her or his project? What exactly does one ask when given the opportunity to pose a question to the interviewing committee? We even discussed what one should wear to an interview (general consensus is still a suit) and whether one should have a drink at dinner (yes, but only one).

Of the many invaluable things I learned in this professionalization course the discussion of the CV has stuck with me. We work-shopped our CVs for organization, font, and design, and we were given the invaluable and simple advice to update our CVs regularly. It makes sense: in the course of a few months immense amounts of CV-worthy things can happen. Book reviews get written, conference papers get accepted, service is completed and (holy grail) articles get published. The short point of this post is to encourage readers to write everything down. Keep your CV up-to-date as conference season approaches.

But there’s a more theoretical and complex point I’d like to make, and that is one of what I’m calling the pedagogy of comprehensibility. Each time I revisit my CV I consider whether or not I am comprehensible to potential hiring committees (though you could insert admissions committees, tenure and promotions committees, granting agencies et cetera here). On the one hand, I’m not comprehensible (file this sentence under is-this-too-dangerous-to-write-about-since-I’m-an-LTA?). I don’t yet have a manuscript publication, I teach, research, and write about poetry and poetics, gender, race, urban space, collaboration, and experimental writing. I’m on board with one of the most phenomenally innovative digital humanities projects in the world. This can look like a lot.

On the other hand, I do my research under the umbrella of being a Canadianist. Here’s what I’ve come to think: whether I am in a contract position or (one day) a tenure-track position I’ve come to see my job as one of facilitating comprehensibility. In other words, it is my job to teach committee member X to understand my areas of research interest.

There is much to worry/complain/rage about in this profession, and taking on the responsibility for change is a tiresome burden. However, what I learned from Dr. Ellis’s professionalization course is that it is my responsibility to teach you how to understand me. More over, I learned from that course that we can’t do this alone, we need networks and communities and small classrooms of people who are willing to mentor all stages of pedagogical comprehensibility.

What about you? How have you been taught to teach others to understand your CV?

Speaking of teaching others how to understand the necessity of our work, don’t miss Donna Palmateer Pennee’s open letter regarding the academy and the upcoming election. Professorial vote mob? Count me in.

3 thoughts on “The Pedagogy of Comprehensibility

  1. This is an excellent point. It also speaks to the fact that while you will have a master CV for your own use, you will present a slightly different document each time you apply for a job (or whatever). That document will organize the information in a way that makes sense TO THE READER.

    If you are applying for a job that specifies a need for a poetry and poetics specialist, that will be more prominent. If a job requires a generalist in Canadian studies, the variety of your work becomes a strength.

    And the cover letter that accompanies the CV is like a good travel guide book — pointing out the sites of special interest to this particular hiring committee.

    Using members of your network to test your comprehensibility is an excellent idea.


  2. I liked this post *alot*!

    I miss Dr. Ellis.

    You've already been an immense help to my CV, Erin. In general, though, I agree with keeping it collaborative – I definitely think it is important to have other people eye your CV for blatant errors or points which are improperly categorized. I also opt for a very simple template because I don't want to seem like I'm showing off (it's a rule I learned for resumes), but I know that might not be as important at this stage.

    Comprehensible – yes. Master file with individual iterations – yes. Thanks for the tips!


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