I’m on the research committee of our huge department, which means that right now I’m going through a thick pile of applications for PhD fellowships. Ten three-year fellowships were advertised for the whole of the Faculty of Humanities, so our department (one of five) will get 2-3 at best. I have 28 applications in my pile.

After the re-organisation, our department consists of Humanistic Informatics, Linguistics, Comparative Literature, Art History, Classics, Computational Linguistics, Theatre Studies and Nordic, which is huge in itself and includes old Norse, grammar and sociolinguistics, Norwegian as a second language and of course Nordic literature, oh, and didactics too.

The pile of applications is interesting – more than half the applications are in literature – comparative or Nordic. The level of competition in this field is remarkable – so many people want to be literature professors!

Also, it’s interesting to see how the applications are at all levels of excellence – and how quite a few are not. Trying to go through them quickly before our first meeting about them I’m frustrated at how few of the cover letters do something as simple as stating what the applicant wants to write their PhD about. When you’re trying to figure out whether this application should be looked at by an art historian or a linguist or a classicist you want, oh, how about simply including the title of your project? After all, you’ve attached a five page project description. I suppose perhaps having done that, many applicants figure we already know – and we do, it’s just that it’s a lot easier to put all the information together when the applicant does it for us in the cover letter.

We still have at least two meetings ahead of us: we have to gather in assessments of the applications from subject experts, fill out forms describing each of them to be sent to the applicants themselves and to the higher level committee that finally selects who will be hired, and finally we have to prepare a prioritised list of up to seven candidates from our pile of 28.

It’s also rather humbling being at this side of the academic system suddenly. It doesn’t feel that long since I was one of the hopeful applicants. Had I realised the huge piles of paper I’d be competing with I might not have dared! But I’m glad that I did.

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