Well, after much institutional hemming and hawing, I am definitely going to MLA this year -- I've actually known this for about 2 weeks now, so it's not exactly fresh news -- I made all my travel arrangements the last day of Nov, just under the wire for the registration discount etc. But it's starting to sink into my mind a little more. I'm on a hiring committee, but the doubts about my travel were because our department policies about these things change from year to year (who goes to the convention, who pays, etc) -- I actually really like going to MLA, so I was glad to volunteer, especially since my Chair is paying for it this time. About half my time at the convention will be spent interviewing, but truth be told, I actually enjoy doing that work.
The duties involved in hiring new people are some of the few service duties that I think are inherently important. It matters to me -- both individually and as a citizen of the department -- that we hire smart, interesting new people who will fit well into our departmental culture. Since I'm probably going to be here for a few or many more years, this kind of service has real impact on my life. Yes, it's a lot of work -- and it can be emotionally draining -- reading stacks of files from good candidates who aren't right for a job can be depressing, since the job market in literature has so much randomness built into it. I wonder how many of these people will find jobs at all, much less jobs they are a good match for. And I have to confess to the occasional twinge of insecurity or jealousy reading some candidate files -- people who've had very different careers than I have, people who've drastically outpublished me, etc. But it's exciting, too, to remember that there are so many smart interesting scholars out there in the larger academic world beyond the walls of this concrete office building, and to pursue the chance that we might be able to entice some of them to come join us here.
Obviously, the job process is incredibly, horribly stressful for job candidates. But it can be anxiety provoking for those of us on the other side of the process too: will my top choice candidates turn out to be horrible duds in person? will we be able to persuade the various factions in the department to set aside old battles in order to make a good hire? will our top candidates even consider coming here? There's a certain kind of institutional insecurity that causes departments to second-guess themselves and the candidates, which I think is as damaging to the process as the arrogance of certain top-five departments who are rumored to make actual job offers at MLA itself to cut out the competition.
But for now, we're in the excitement stage, filling in our dance card for the convention. Lots of possibility in the air. 'Tis the season.