Preparing for the Academic Job Market: Part I



Last night I applied to my first tenure-track, Assistant Professor position.  One that accepted ABD applicants, but more on that to come in Part II.  A bit surreal, to say the least, that I’ve come this far.  This PhD journey is not over, but the end is much closer than it’s ever been.  The light at the end of the tunnel is not an incoming train; it’s the Doctor of Philosophy.  That’s worth at least a few nights out to celebrate with my wife and cohort, but I digress.

So after applying to the position last night, I thought it would be helpful to write down some of what I’ve learned so far about how to adequately prepare for the academic job market.   Mind you, I only know about the process from reading dozens of articles, talking to several Counselor Educators about their job application and hiring process, and mostly by reading Karen Kelsky’s amazing book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning your Ph.D. into a Job.  If you have yet to read her book, stop reading this blog right now, click the link above, and purchase this incredible paperback for $10.27 on Amazon.  Seriously, it’s that good.  Ok, getting back on track, full disclosure: I have yet to land a Skype or conference interview, a campus visit, or much less a written job offer.  However, here’s the snapshot of what I’ve seen and heard of how best to prepare for the academic job market.

As you’ve probably heard by now, the overall academic job market for tenure-track, full-time, Assistant Professor positions is becoming pretty bleak.  State funding for most universities is down. The adjunctification of academia is growing with passing years. In other words, more and more universities are hiring adjunct faculty members to teach core classes instead of hiring full-time academics. There are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of applicants trying to fill one position depending on the profession.  Just do a Google search on academic job market, and you will discover many hours of reading about the problem in the event that you need an aid in falling asleep tonight.

Therefore, it is vital that you complete your doctoral program with a career in mind, doing specific things (i.e. publishing, presenting, teaching, researching) to make your application competitive when you apply for jobs.  I wrote more about this intentional process in another blog here.

Today, Part I of preparing for the academic job market will be about what you should have already done to be ready for the application process.  If you find yourself reading the content below and not having done all of these things, the good news is you probably still have time to add to your CV.  Within the next week (or two), Part II of this series will be about the application process itself, including creating CV templates for various university settings (teaching vs. research institutions), tailoring cover letters, and shoring up your letters of recommendation.

In order to be competitive for the academic job market, here are some things you need to have done:

Publish Peer-Reviewed Publications.

The summer orientation before I started my program, my adviser told my cohort that we would need to publish four to five peer-reviewed publications in order to be competitive.  Karen recommends an absolute minimum of one peer-reviewed publication but says the more, the better.  If you have not been able to publish yet, read this (again) on practical ideas for turning coursework papers into publishable pieces.

Present at Conferences.

Along with my adviser telling us to publish, he said that presenting at least over a dozen times at state, regional, and national conferences would also be necessary in order to be competitive for that first job.  Not only will this give you valuable experience in giving talks in front of larger groups of people, but it will also build your network of professionals.  More on purposeful networking here.

Obtain Teaching Experience as the Instructor of Record.

Karen emphasizes that while gaining experience as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) is ok, gaining experience as the sole instructor of record is a must.  Faculty search committees want to know that you can fully prepare courses from start to finish and all that entails.  It’s not enough to grade a few papers or substitute teach for a professor.  Even research university positions that value research over teaching will desire your ability to facilitate courses for students.  Talk to your adviser, approach other faculty members about teaching, or be proactive about obtaining adjunct faculty status with your university about teaching courses for undergraduates.

Gain Research Experience in Addition to the Dissertation.

While completing the dissertation is necessary for the PhD, it is not enough to be competitive for that first teaching job.  Karen says that completing a second research project will help set you apart from the other 120 applicants that also completed a dissertation.  And even if you didn’t complete a second project, speaking about your second research project that you are planning in the near future is vital when creating a cover letter.  Search committee members don’t care as much that you completed a dissertation…that’s what all PhD students do.  Real faculty members create research agendas and additional projects, and you want them to see you as a colleague, not just another newly minted PhD.

Publishing peer-reviewed journal articles, presenting at national and state conferences, obtaining teaching experiences as the sole instructor, and completing an additional research project are all necessary things to do in order to be ready to apply for that first Assistant Professor position.  By doing these things,  you will place yourself above the average applicant and increase your chances of getting that invitation for the Skype or campus interview.  Now that you’re ready to apply for jobs, what’s next?

The next comes in Part II of Preparing for the Academic Job Market.  Please check back in the next week!



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