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Navigating the Academic Job Market...
Where would you like to live?
Do you want to big fish in a small pond or a small fish in
a big pond? Are you hoping to culminate your graduate education
with the perfect academic job? If so, it’s important
to understand that the process of landing your dream job actually
begins the moment you enroll in graduate school. Indeed, your
entire graduate experience should be viewed as an apprenticeship
for the professoriate. Graduate school is the ideal training
ground for mastering the research, teaching, public speaking,
and networking skills you need to find a solid academic job.
Graduate school is replete with
opportunities to begin building a solid academic reputation.
Take advantage of them! Present your research every chance
you get; a wide range of potential forums exist, from informal
on-campus “brown bag” seminars to poster sessions.
Also, you should strongly consider attending
and/or presenting at regional or national conferences. Your academic
discipline will promote these types of conferences by putting
out a “call” for papers which list research categories
and specific deadlines for submission. Be sure to mark those
deadlines on your calendar! In addition to seeking presenters,
the “call” will frequently request help fulfilling
other key roles, such as session/topic organizers, discussants,
and presiders. If you’re not prepared to present, take
advantage of these pathways to participate. Even simple attendance
of the conference can beneficial, as it allows you to network
with experts in your field; meet publishers; view firsthand the
most effective means to present your own research; and even “interview” for
If you don’t have the funds to
attend many conferences, be selective about which ones to attend.
Be sure you are a presenter, and plan ahead to make your networking
efforts purposeful. In addition, research what type of financial
assistance might be available to you; some departments, traineeships,
grants or fellowships provide travel monies specifically earmarked
for students to attend conferences.
The Application Process
Don’t wait until you finish
your degree to begin applying for jobs; seeking the perfect
position should be a thoroughly integrated aspect of your education!
While writing your thesis/dissertation, make researching what
job openings are available a part of your regular routine,
and apply to all that are of interest to you. I suggest that
you send out applications at least twice a month, for example
on the 1st and 15th.
With so much going on, it’s important
to stay organized. To streamline the process, I suggest creating
a job application packet that includes a basic cover letter,
a writing sample, teaching evaluations and a curriculum vita.
Be sure to rework your basic cover letter each time to tailor
it for the specific job for which you are applying.
(Note: Most academic positions ask for
a curriculum vita (CV) rather than a resume. A resume is a summary
of your work history and education that typically doesn’t
exceed 1-2 pages. A CV is a complete summary of your accomplishments,
and should include your name; education; dissertation committee;
a summary paragraph about your dissertation; any publications
you have completed (e.g., master’s thesis); conference
presentations you have done; and awards you have received. Starting
out, your CV may be quite short, but it will grow in length as
you progress along your educational and career paths.)
Moreover, I suggest that you create
an Excel spreadsheet (see below) that helps you track
job openings at each university. Universities advertise job
openings at various times throughout the year, so it’s
important to keep track of important deadlines. Highlight all
deadlines, note each time you send out an application packet,
and provide an updated file to your committee members on a
monthly basis. It’s important to keep committee members
apprised of all jobs for which you apply, because they will
need to write recommendations for you. It’s your responsibility
to ensure that your application is complete and on time, and
getting recommendations in on time may be one of the more challenging
aspects of this task. Be sure to ask your committee for suggestions
about how to make the process go more smoothly, particularly
if you are in a small department with limited resources (e.g.,
administrative support, mailing materials, and supplies).
Try not to get too emotionally connected
to the application process, because it can be very trying. Some
universities are very good about acknowledging and responding
to the receipt of your materials; others are not. Be aware that
the process can take months. Because of the large number of applications
that are typically submitted for each job, it can take a great
deal of time to review all paperwork and narrow down the pool
of applicants to a reasonable number of possible candidates.
You may not be contacted unless or until you make the “short
“Making the short list” means
that you are among a small number of possible candidates who
are still being considered for a particular job opening. If you
make it to this point, the faculty and dean of the department
will want to take a closer look at you. They will arrange an
interview, which usually involves flying out to meet with them
face to face. As such, it will be necessary to coordinate your
travel plans with the appropriate coordinator (e.g., the person
who called you). Be sure to clearly ascertain how travel costs
will be handled, and to clarify who will be paying the costs,
and when. Some universities want you to pay for the costs upfront,
and then reimburse you afterward. Others make and pay for the
travel arrangements themselves so that you don’t incur
any out-of-pocket costs. Either way, it is necessary to track
all of your costs and keep copies of all receipts. You may wish
to consider keeping a separate credit card on hand to pay for
expenses associated with your job search. You don’t want
to lose the opportunity to interview for a great job because
you couldn’t afford the airfare!
Your Three-Day Interview Process
A campus interview is the forum
through which department faculty get better acquainted with
you and ultimately determine whether or not you are a good “fit” with
the job, the faculty, and the staff. This process often occurs
over a three-day period, and includes a variety of activities,
including an oral presentation commonly referred to as your “job
talk,” several meals with the hiring committee, additional
social occasions, interviews with students, and one-on-one
interviews with the dean and each department faculty member.
Understand that you will be under review
from the moment you exit the plane; the only time you will be
alone is when you are sleeping.
Note, as well, that how you dress will
set the tone for the interview. You needn’t run out and
spend a lot of money on clothing, but take care to ensure that
your attire is professional. Dressing conservatively is always
the safest route; your attire can give you a competitive edge
and make a positive impression.
How to Achieve ‘Job Talk’ Success:
Practice, Practice, Practice
Achieving success with your “job
talk” should come naturally for you if you have adequately
prepared with the help of colleagues and friends. Your “job
talk” interview should definitely not be the first time
you publicly present your case and research. Practicing before “the
real deal” can diffuse a great deal of stress and anxiety
you might otherwise feel. To condition yourself for job interviews,
take advantage of forums such as on-campus “brown bag” seminars
or gatherings of friends and colleagues. Practicing in these
types of informal settings allows you to hone your presentation
skills in a relaxed atmosphere, and increase your self-confidence.
Keep in mind that the most common
question you will be asked will be regarding your dissertation
research. Be sure to prepare a concise one- to two-minute summary
of your research that you can recite at will. You should prepare
a five-minute summary of your research, as well, in the event
that someone who is very interested requests more information.
You will also be asked about the future of your research: where
you see it going, and how it can be applied. It is absolutely
critical that you be fully prepared to answer these types of
For some job interviews, you may
be asked to give a class lecture in addition to a job talk
presentation. Be sure to fully prepare yourself by carrying
overheads, even if you have a PowerPoint presentation. If you are required
to give a PowerPoint presentation, be sure to practice this
with friends, as well. Avoid simply reading what is on the
screen! PowerPoint is a tool to help you synthesize information;
the screen should not include every word you want to say but,
rather, concise bullet points that serve as “prompts” for
the points you want to make. There is nothing more frustrating
than having someone read off the screen. I have often felt
like screaming at a presenter, “I have a Ph.D; I know
how to read for myself!”
One obvious question you will
want to know about your “perfect” job is what kind
of salary it will provide. However, you should never discuss
salary during the initial three-day interview … during
this critical time, it’s important to focus on every
aspect of the job but money!
Before you arrive on campus, put your
research skills to task and read everything you can about the
hiring university and department so that you can ask intelligent
questions of your potential colleagues. Pinpoint someone on the
faculty who is conducting research in your area. And come prepared
to answer the common question, “With whom on the faculty
do you see yourself working?“
While you're on campus be sure to ask
your potential colleagues questions about the type of resources
that are available to faculty (for example, computer technology,
server space, travel money, grant opportunities, teaching or
research assistants, lab space, administrative support, publication
assistance, and opportunities to collaborate with other faculty).
These are all very important considerations, particularly if
you would be moving from a large graduate program to a small
school with fewer resources.
The Art of Negotiation
The appropriate time to begin
discussing and negotiating salary is AFTER you have received
an OFFICIAL JOB OFFER IN WRITING. A formal offer is a clear
indication that the university really wants you to become a
faculty member. Remember: you were selected after months of
careful consideration. Don’t be afraid that they will
renege their offer if you counter for more money and resources.
Most likely, they will be willing to invest in your future
success. In fact, most university deans fully expect to
negotiate on the offers they make. If you need help evaluating
the offer discuss it with your mentor/advisor.
To ensure that you maximize the benefits
you receive, be sure to do your homework. You should definitively
know what other people in your graduating cohort are currently
receiving, as well as what other faculty members (especially
assistant professors) on that campus are making. Faculty salaries
at public universities are public information; look them up!
You should be honest about your financial
situation, and know your bottom line. Sometimes the dean and
others on the hiring committee can forget what it is like to
be a struggling graduate student. Remind them that you may not
have any assets when you leave graduate school; for example,
if you don’t have a house to sell, you won’t have
start-up capital for your move to a new location.
Clearly, salary negotiation is
a very important consideration. Not only does a good salary
provide a better standard of living, it also establishes the
baseline for future income increases, and can also reduce the
need to look for other, career-diverting ways to earn additional
To thrive in your new job, however,
you will need more than a good starting salary. Start-up
resources can be even more critical than salary in terms of assisting
you to be more successful. Negotiations should focus on getting
the things you need to best succeed at your job, while remembering
that you will becoming part of a group of people with whom you
will likely work for years to come.
In addition to salary, other points
of negotiation can include:
A job for your spouse;
A down payment on a house;
Moving expenses (for example, airfare, rental car, transportation
for spouse/children, etc.);
Lab space, computers and specs, materials, server space,
Access to graduate/undergraduate assistants;
Time off from teaching;
Summer salary (how many summers?)
Understand that the negotiation process
is the last time that you will be in the driver’s seat!
Once you officially join the faculty, you will be competing with
other departmental budgetary priorities and senior faculty for
important resources, so make the most of your bargaining powers
Email Question of the Month:
Where on-line can I search for Academic
Be sure to read December's FinishLine
for information about how to prepare for the Academic Job
Market. Next to find a job, first check with your discipline
specific scholarly and professional Associations. Depending
on your current finances, it might be worth it to join the association
if you are in the process of looking for a job. In addition,
below are some links to periodicals that include job listings
of interest to scholars in all fields. You can
search by state and academic discipline. Some of these
links send daily or weekly updates directly to your email if
you register with them. Registration is FREE and you can
unsubscribe any time you like. I found a job as an
adjunct professor using HigherEd Jobs.com.
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About the Author: As a single mother, professor
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a
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Navigating the Academic Job Market...
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