Papers, please

As someone with graduate students, I keep my eyes peeled on the job ads as they roll in every fall. Is it just me or is there for the first time (in my recent memory) a increase in the number of job ads that want you to send graduate transcripts along with a cover letter, cv, etc.? What are people expecting to see in these transcripts? The grades graduate students receive don’t reflect…. well, much of anything (I would argue that grading systems in general are a lousy way to measure student learning). Are they looking to see what classes you’ve had? Like if you claim to be an Africanist they want to see Africa classes on your transcript? But often specialized training takes place outside the classroom. Are they looking to see how close you are to completing a Ph.D? But how would a transcript tell you that?

Anyone have any idea what is going on? Perhaps I just missed something. 


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

16 thoughts on “Papers, please

  1. I have assumed that it is a “Did they get the margins right?” sort of thing (GPA and other seemingly objective criteria by which the pile can be reduced before actually having to put thought into the applicants’ merits).

  2. My impression is that the transcript shows that you are where you say you are in the program – many universities will note on the transcript if you’ve completed your qualifying exams, and all should record the degree(s) granted on your transcript.

    With anthro jobs increasingly going to people who have already finished, I think requesting a transcript is a simple way to ensure that you are interviewing someone who’s actually done. And most places (in my experience) will take unofficial transcripts during the application, with official ones needed before a job offer is signed.

    Curious to hear others’ experiences, though.

  3. I recently had to submit both graduate AND undergraduate transcripts for an adjunct teaching gig. Actually, the transcript for the doctoral degree was optional. It was the ones for undergraduate and Master’s degrees that were required. Go figure.

  4. Alex,

    I was as nonplussed as you were, especially now that there seem to be more jobs available than in the past 4 years. A transcript? What the hell?

  5. My guess is that this may have something to do with HR offices who are stressing “due diligence” or some such thing. We required transcripts on the last search we did–I don’t remember doing this before. The request for transcripts was at the behest of HR. In the search committee itself we were much more interested in teaching experience in the particular classes we needed taught, and research program.

  6. I’ve noticed the same trend in my field, Classics, and it strikes me as an odd document to ask for too.

  7. I agree with Tony Waters. I suspect that this is part of the general creep of audit culture in the academy.

  8. I see it as a reflection of tight funding. If the committee needs to make an expedited decision before the plug gets yanked on the money then having letters of rec and transcripts reduces the amount of time they have to wait on the actions of others.

  9. The audit culture thing I believe. The costs of ordering transcripts is of course yet another wealth transfer out of graduate students and into their institutions. But bogus credentials? Is that really a large problem? Are people claiming they have a Ph.D. when they’ve defended but not deposited or are they just making up degrees wholesale?

  10. Rex: I think you’re right about the audit culture thing, but the problem is not that so many people are presenting bogus credentials, but that institutions have become obsessed with insulation from liability, especially in hiring. It only takes one failed job candidate who sues for discrimination to lead a university to require a full set of documentation of all credentials for every job candidate for years. When I served on the diversity/equity/affirmative action advisory committee at my university a few years ago I was surprised at the volume of complaints, including lawsuits, that flow into that office annually. CYA is the new catch-phrase in HR offices…

  11. Right. I was not asserting a real problem occurring in great quantities, just the organizational effect of a small number of high profile problems–usually occurring at the administrative rather than faculty level, I would add. The recent pop culture instance is the old resume padding Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson. Public universities in my corner of the world are under unbelievable political pressure and have adopted strategies at all levels to avoid fiascos, big and small. Sadly, all this policing is a factor that drives up admin costs which are passed on to students and are felt by frontline staff faculty and staff.

  12. Transcripts for all candidates is certainly overkill, but there are also increasing numbers of places who want letters of recommendation–not just names of references–for all applicants. And just wait till your institution gets around to expressing its trust in its employees and potential employees by requiring criminal background checks on all the folks on your short list. That’s when the real fun begins.

  13. Given the job market crunch, I think there are more people applying outside their subfields and (even) fields. Transcripts help to substantiate the CV/letter and what people say the can do in terms of the training they’ve received.

    But yes, onerous and silly. As are initial letters of rec, in my opinion. It’d be better if they made an initial cut based on CVs and cover letters and took letters for the long-short list people (though I understand wanting all the materials the SC needs on hand from the start).

  14. As”certifications” have become the standard by which candidates are judged on the bureaucratic side of institutions, especially in IT departments, it’s not surprising that the HR departments would look for equivalent paperwork for all job candidates. This thread also brings to mind the creepiest new word I’ve seen HR using recently: “onboarding” – the process of orienting a new employee. It’s no coincidence, I think, that it sounds like waterboarding.

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