Preparing for the Academic Job Market: When to Begin
- Begin Immediately! Start preparing for the academic job search as soon as you have started your graduate program.
- Begin perhaps by giving a presentation at a department colloquium, then at a professional conference, and then focus on publications.
- Compile a teaching portfolio throughout your graduate program.
- Think about employment and your marketability when choosing your dissertation topic; the goal is a publishable work! It's best to choose a topic that's not too trendy, as it's difficult to predict trends over time.
- Think carefully about who you want to use to provide your employment recommendations; you'll need three faculty members who know you and can evaluate your research and/or teaching experience (hopefully both!)
- It IS who you know! Think carefully who you affiliate with for post-doc opportunities (if these are available in your discipline; they tend to be the norm for the sciences and engineering). You need visibility in your field for future employment purposes.
- To get a good post-doc, it's what you have done; for a faculty position, it's what you will do.
- When applying for a faculty position, you need to have carefully thought through your plans at that particular institution: what resources you need, how you intend to involve students in your work, what your research will bring to the institution.
- Be flexible, especially with your post-doc. Be prepared to switch areas of research interest if necessary. Be flexible also where you apply for faculty positions; challenge yourself to explore other groups and areas of research. Diversification is good! Post-docs are designed to help you learn and develop the experience you need after completion of your doctorate.
Publish or Perish?
Quantity vs. Quality: How many publications are enough? Quality is most important. One article in a major journal trumps 10 in minor journals (journals that solely publish the work of graduate students are not recommended).
Think carefully about your publications prior to securing employment; although they can be impressive to a search committee, you may want to save some of your publishable work for after you've become an Assistant Professor, when you're seeking tenure!
Building your Teaching Portfolio
Document your teaching experience via a portfolio you can use to demonstrate your expertise:
* One key note: DON'T fall into the trap of stalling your dissertation to get teaching experience
- Keep copies of student evaluations for your portfolio.
- Have faculty members visit classes you are teaching to review your performance so they will be in a better position to comment upon your teaching experience as they write recommendation letters for you.
- Give copies of your syllabi for courses you've taught, along with an explanation of learning objectives.
- Create syllabi for courses you've never taught (but you'd like to teach!)
- Develop a teaching philosophy that is unique and your own, typically articulated in one type-written page.
- Keep copies of student papers or sample assignments that you have graded and offer an explanation of your grading context and goals, OR simply create a summary document describing assignments, typical grading comments and actual grades awarded.
- Include sample exams and classroom activities.
- Ask faculty if you can fill in for a class while they're away at a conference, etc.; be readily available for guest lectures; you may want to consider documenting these via videotape.
It's Who You Know
Be very thoughtful about the individuals you ask to write recommendation letters on your behalf, as this is a critical piece of the academic job search. Unlike undergrad days, it's not sufficient to ask a professor you've had for just one class; these need to be faculty members you've built a strong rapport with during your graduate studies. Of course you'll get a letter from your advisor and perhaps members
of your committee, but try to get letters from outside your department as well as inside. When in doubt, ask your major advisor which faculty you should ask to write on your behalf.
Recommendation letters are very detailed and long; they discuss your strengths and weaknesses, teaching abilities, and review your dissertation and research interests in depth. They should be thoughtful and reflective. When asking for a recommendation letter, ask if the professor feels well versed enough regarding your abilities to be able to write a STRONG recommendation; lukewarm support clearly shows through. Should you ask that world-renowned scholar you had for one seminar to write on your behalf? Of course reputation in the field carries weight, but only if they can speak clearly to your abilities.
Help faculty to write a good recommendation for you; provide a resume, dissertation/research abstract, teaching portfolio, and a list of institutions where you've applied. Encourage faculty to call those institutions on your behalf if they are willing; a well-placed call can make all the difference!
Application Packets: Your Dossier
These two elements are vital:
- Letter of application
*Please note: Career Center staff members are available to review your vita and letters and offer constructive suggestions for representing your skills in the best possible light! Call (757) 221-3231 to schedule an appointment.
If required by the institution:
- Typically, three recommendation letters
- Two-page dissertation abstract
- Writing sample (dissertation chapter)
- Teaching portfolio (see description above)
Application Process: Show me the Jobs!
Many disciplines interview at their major annual conferences; try to schedule your interviews in advance, but be sure to bring multiple copies of your vita to drop at the conference.
Early in your search process, plan to become an avid Chronicle of Higher Education reader (copies available in Career Services and almost every academic department); you'll also want to review and perhaps subscribe to the major publications of your discipline, which typically post job opportunities, and subscribe to a few targeted listservs.
When applying to a specific institution, you'll want to research it and the department carefully in advance to prepare your cover letter accordingly:
- The Fiske Guide to Colleges is great; very detailed! Peterson's can also be helpful.
- Check out the college's catalog and departmental web page to review course offerings, faculty names and their research interests; come prepared with questions for faculty regarding their research.
- When invited for an interview by the department chair, feel free to ask detailed questions about what to expect from the interview process: who will be at the interview? What courses are they hiring you to teach? What will the structure of your interview day be like?
Sweaty Palms: The Campus Interview
Anything goes in the campus interview! In addition to the typical search committee interview with faculty and meeting with department chair, you should be prepared for any mix of the following:
- Teaching a class (usually with advance notice of topic)
- Offering a departmental colloquium focusing on your teaching style or research interests
- Presenting to a student advisory board on a topic of your selection
- The key is to show your versatility! Sample interview questions include:
- How do you feel about teaching?
- What specific teaching experience do you have?
- Why are you interested in our institution?
- Describe the way you would structure a syllabus for _______ course.
- Give a 1-minute or 3-minute spiel on your dissertation.
- What courses do you like to teach?
- What are your future research interests?
- What questions do you have for us?
Often your campus visit will include a departmental colloquium, or "job talk." Use the colloquium as an opportunity to not only display your research interests, but also your teaching skills. Find a way to connect with your audience. Your audience, typically faculty and students from the department, want to learn something from your job talk; place your research in context of the field of your study. Conference presentations are great preparation!
A Few Don'ts
- There's no need to send thank you letters or notes to each person you met with during your campus visit; just a few key individuals, like the department chair.
- There's no need to send too much information in advance; send what the committee requires (i.e. it can seem too eager if you send your entire dissertation!)
- Don't be too aggressive; it's probably not a good idea for you to call the department chair just to stress your qualifications (but OK if your faculty advisor does!); feel free instead to call the department secretary to make sure your application materials have been received and are complete.
- Typically it's best not to raise the issue of spousal job search assistance until you have an offer in hand.