Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Business cards for profs?

I've never had a strong feeling one way or another about business cards as a professional academic.  I've been getting them printed since my last year of grad school, when I was on the job market for the first time and [foolishly believed that I was] getting ready for a blitz of interviews everywhere.  Obviously, that was not how it worked out that year, and I felt kind of silly sitting at home, filling out online applications that never called me back, a big pile of business cards that announced my identity as an ABD.  They didn't cost too much, but naturally every cost was a burdensome expense at that time.  And of course, since I really had to finish up that year, I did so, which made those business cards obsolete.

Then I got a bunch of new ones made when I got to Research City for my postdoc.  Those, at least, made sense to have: business cards are a very common part of everyday life among professional and artisan classes in RC.  People were visibly pleased to take one from me, in contrast to the times when they asked for my card and I could only offer an email address.  I didn't use them much at all in my job hunt that year, but I certainly made good use of them in my research.

Those cards, of course, are also obsolete now, since they declare me as a fellow of a now-past postdoc, and give my former address in RC.  And, you know, half of them is printed in RC-ish, which almost no one involved in any aspect of my job hunt this year can read. 

So am I expected by hiring committees and conference attendees and/or poobahs to get another set of cards printed up, declaring me a VAP at Ghosttown U. in the pseudology department?  My very limited Stateside experience with such things suggests that they're just window-dressing.  People handed them out sometimes after chatting about common research interests, but I can't quite see the purpose, now that we have Academia.edu and Facebook and websites for every college department in the universe.  But I'd hate to come up short if someone were intrigued by my book manuscript or thought I should consider an open position somewhere, and asked me for a card to keep my name fresh in their heads.  On the other hand, I'd hate to spend whatever larcenous sum of money Ghosttown U. or its local competition might charge for a professional-looking business card, and then hand out about five of the 150 cards I had to order.

Those of you in the know, please share: are business cards useful among academics at conferences and on the job market?  Or are they a waste of money and paper?


  1. Your department should spring for cards for you. Mine did, and it's already proved very useful. I'm sure at conferences this will be especially important. If nothing else, it's a signifier of that certain je ne sais quoi of academe. I always felt like a huge loser when I didn't have a card to offer in return, and it feels awesome to have my own now. (I have 250 of 'em!)

  2. Hm. I never had business cards. Never. But I got a job. Then again, I think we're in different job markets. I'm at a SLAC that doesn't expect me to write a book for tenure. But you have a book manuscript going, and it sounds like you're going to be applying to R1s. So I don't know. I suppose it never hurts to have them, but then, I'm not 100% convinced of their necessity.

    P.S. My department did just order me business cards, but since this is a permanent position, that seems appropriate and not like a waste of time, money, and effort. And they should be good for six years, until I'm up for tenure. Even so, I doubt I go through a whole box in that long-ish time period.

  3. I guess they are useful at conferences (like Fie, it's kinda more expected that academics in my field *don't* have them, but then again, we're all artsy and anti-corporate like that in our own minds) --- how many conferences will you do this fall? It seems to me like you'd end up handing out about 5 over the course of a year if you spend most of your time workin' away at the Postdoc farm.

    If you really want 'em, you could order the 250 free cards that certain online printing places offer as incentives to get your business --- they won't be of spectacular quality, but they should do in a pinch.

  4. @Hap: Wish me luck. I'm not sure that there's any money budgeted for that sort of thing for lowly VAPs, here at Ghosttown U.

    @Fie: I know what you mean about not going through the whole box. How often do we ever exchange cards, as academics? Still, I have occasionally run into situations at conferences where someone will hand me a card and ask for one in return, and I've got nothing. That's annoying.

    @Sis: I'm slated to go to two big conferences this fall, so it's not an idle question. It's entirely possible that I would hand out about five cards — but that still presumes that I have them to hand out. I guess what I wish I knew is whether that really matters or not. Do such things really make a big impression? Do other academics actually care, or are they secretly embarrassed that they paid $50 for embossed business cards, and hope that someone else also paid such vanity costs?

    If anything, I wonder if the one area studies conference on my itinerary, where people from many disciplines interact, might benefit from an exchange of business cards. We pseudologists all know how to find each other, but maybe not so much the people in other disciplines who are only dimly aware of pseudology's existence.

  5. This probably differs by discipline, so take my perspective with the requisite amount of salt--but I've literally never used my own business cards (provided by my institution), never thought of having them before I was offered them, and have virtually never been given one by another academic.

    I've gotten cards from editors, but they've never asked for mine. And the only people who have ever given me there cards were two young (and slightly smarmy) grad students or junior professors.

    I actually really, really like paper products (I write handwritten notes all the time; have used the same personal stationery for more than a decade; use letterhead at every opportunity), but although I thought I'd love having business cards, it just doesn't seem like part of the culture in my field.

  6. My college bought them for us...in addition to the uses you mention, they're handy when advising and you want to give the student a way to contact you if another question arises. Or at the major fairs when representing the department.

  7. I never got cards, because I decided pretty early on to leave my first TT job. I got another job, and since I was going to be up for tenure "early" (b/c of prior credit from my first job), I figured why get 500 cards printed up with Assistant Prof. on them when I'll be promoted to Associate soon enough. Then I kind of forgot about it. Now, I'm thinking that I'm more than half-way to Prof., so why get 500 cards with "Associate Prof." printed up on them?

    But I guess the real reason I keep forgetting about cards is that like Flavia, they just don't really come up or get tossed around very much. They make sense for editors, though.

  8. Thanks, everyone! Much to my surprise, it turns out that my department will pay for business cards for me. Knowing that, I'd feel silly not getting them. I can always stuff a handful in my wallet before I head out to a conference. I think the best option for me is to have them, but never offer one until someone has asked for a card or given me one of their own already. Like Flavia says, there's something smarmy about a young academic who seems too eager to press a business card into your hand. And, like Historiann points out, I have hopes of talking to a few editors who might want something more professional than just an email address.

  9. I'm coming late to this, but I never had business cards until I got my t-t job, where they supplied them. That said, I've been given people's cards, and I've given mine back in return on those occasions - and also, it's easier to just hand somebody a card than to take the extra few minutes to write email addresses in programs. Basically, I've never taken to the whole "let me give you my card" shtick, but sometimes they are useful. I basically jam a bunch in the back of my nametag in case I need them, and if a situation arises where somebody asks for my info, or if somebody gives me their card, I'm set. And if I don't use them, I don't use them. That said, I've never looked down on somebody for not having them, and nobody ever cares if I don't have one to give back. I think the card is a convenience - but like most conveniences, not actually necessary.

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