Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Monday, May 9, 2011


For reasons that are not at all difficult to suss out, the academic job market has been unusually tight for the past few years: public institutions are impacted by state budgetary crises, and even some of the richest privates have faced reductions when their endowments have declined in value. This year seemed to be a bit better--I have not seen comprehensive statistics yet, but my impression is that this year's market, in English at least, saw a real uptick in the number of jobs advertised. But it is still a tough market to crack, in part because there is a lot of pent up demand after a couple of especially lean years. We ran a search this year, for instance, and had more than 350 applicants for one position, which means that there are a lot of qualified people out there applying for academic jobs.

In light of all this, I am very pleased with the success our PhDs have had on the market this year. To date, we have placed 17 people, including (at last count) 12 in tenure track positions and another 3-4 in the kind of prestigious and/or multi-year postdoctoral/visiting positions that can be a stepping stone to a good tenure track job down the line. Most of the credit for this, obviously, goes to our terrific grad students. Some of it goes, too, to Vicki Mahaffey, who was our placement officer this past year, and to Tony Pollock, the director of our grad program, who helps out with placement in myriad ways. In fact, I think our whole faculty should take some credit for the success of our grad students, since almost all of us will have taught some of the students who are moving on to pastures new in some capacity, and since many of us also participated in mock interviews and other events designed to help prepare grad students for the rigors of the job market. I know I'm not alone in feeling that every placement is a team victory.

I'd also like to think that this robust placement number reflects something of a sea-change in the academic marketplace since my own graduate student days (I got my PhD in 1993), with more and more departments looking to hire people who already have substantial track records of teaching and scholarship. It is almost always the case that PhDs from top public institutions like the University of Illinois graduate with more hands-on experience designing and teaching their own classes than do their counterparts at private institutions, and our students often have pre-doctoral publication records that also stack up well against anybody. So when somebody hires one of our students, what they are getting, in effect, is a sure thing: somebody who has already shown that they can do all aspects of the job.

Next Fall, former PhDs from our department will take up new tenure track positions at the following universities and colleges: Juniata College, Michigan State University, North Georgia College & State University, Penn State University-Erie, Quinnipiac University, Rider University, Syracuse University, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, University of Oregon, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and Virginia Commonwealth University. It makes me proud to know, as I do, that every one of these institutions will be very happy with the hires they've made.

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