11 August 2005

to letterhead or not to letterhead

I would like to pose a question about status/title/affiliation that has arisen in connection with my on-going "between jobs" identity. namely, the "independent scholar" question. last year I was affiliated with Penn State's history department and with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, as a visiting scholar and research associate respectively. On the job market, this meant that I had letterhead to use, which was great, and on the ground it meant a variety of benefits for me, including working on the collection at the ROM, getting library access and giving a paper at PSU, etc. etc. I put these things on my cv with titles as they are above. go here for some advice about why getting affiliations like this is a good thing...

but it seemed to raise more questions than it answered. so people would ask to share stories of living in Toronto (I gave my address in State College clearly on the application materials) and they'd assume I was affiliated with the art history dept at Penn State (again, I was clear about this, but as an art historian, it was confusing). in the end, I felt it was more confusing than not, and while I imagine if I had not used letterhead I wouldn't have gotten a few of those interviews (seriously—go here and do a search for letterhead), the downside was that it raised questions like what are you doing, where are you, and why can't you be clear about it, despite my attempts to be clear.

so I'm feeling that I should switch to the dreaded "independent scholar" label. this seems straightforward, and somehow I feel like it's more honest to my full identity as a scholar—yes, I did research at the ROM and work with their collection, but "research associate" implies that I'm there every day working in the back room.

so my options are:

  • stick with the ROM affiliation and letterhead, and somehow explain it better
  • stick with the ROM affiliation and don't explain, just put it out there
  • go with independent scholar, no letterhead
  • go with independent scholar, create some very simple letterhead for myself

for the last option I was toying with a simple monogram-like letterhead: R • M • B with a full width line across the top of the page, above the monogram.

obviously thinking too much about this.

I clearly need help (on a variety of axes). thoughts?


Sam said...

Going with independent scholar and your own letterhead is most certainly the most honest, genuine thing to do. And it would be really sad if institutional affiliation played a big role, when your CV is so impressive.

However, academia has almost nothing to do with genuine honesty, and institutional affiliation does matter.

Keep the ROM letterhead.

alisa said...

my thoughts fall in line with sam's. you are no less spectacular than your CV, which continues to be my model.

the only other thought i have is to contact some art historians who've recently been on search committees to hear how independent scholars were regarded. it's pretty darned likely--sadly--that sam is right. keep the ROM tie, but maybe change your title to 'independent researcher' or something similarly innocuous.

viggo mortensen said...

I certainly think you should create your own letterhead -- the design sounds fabulous, although, of course, it all comes down to the font choice.

That said, for the job applications, sadly, sam and alisa seem on track -- I would keep the ROM letterhead, although perhaps (as alisa suggests) devise some adjective to make your connection seem more attenuated, like "visiting research associate" or "adjunct..." or some such...

Transient Gadfly said...

am not transient gadfly. am mrs. transient gadfly i guess, which i kind of horrifying, but okay. anyway, read twice (in different pieces) in the chronicle this season people on search committees saying you should not use letterhead as it just looks like you're stealing stationary from your school. for what that's worth. it's like whatever you were reading that said sun screen is killing you because it's blocking the vitamins you get from the sun whereas skin cancer is treatable. faced with the same problem this last go round, i did it sans letterhead at all. was going to use the letterhead of the place i was adjuncting but wanted my fulltime work to be the standout experience. didn't seem to make much of a difference, although, of course, you never know. having served on search committees though, i can say i never never notice the letterhead. also, so many people submit alternate ways these days -- email or fax or something -- and it's xeroxed so many times before it gets to the seach committee, that it matters less anyway, but i bet that's less true of the jobs you're talking about. i would think raising fewer questions and drawing less attention to where you are/aren't at the moment might be a good thing?