Advice for the academic job market
September 16, 2009 9:52 PM   Subscribe

Advice for going on the academic job market?

I'm graduating in the spring from a social science PhD, therefore it is job marketing time. There are listings in my field, although not as many as there used to be. I'm looking primarily at TT R1s. Any wisdom from the academic MeFites for the process generally (CVs, cover letters, interviews, negotiations)? Thanks!
posted by k8t to Education (16 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

The Chronicle of Higher Education forums are very useful for specific questions all the way along.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:01 PM on September 16, 2009

Here are a few links that I found useful during my job hunt last year:

Interviewing for Academic Positions
The Academic Job Interview
Academic Job Interview Questions

Seconding LobsterMitten's advice -- go on over to the Forums. There's even a wiki that links to some of the most important discussions.

And don't dismiss R2's outright. I got my bachelors, masters, and PhD at major R1's and couldn't imagine myself doing anything but working at an R1. As fate would have it, I'm tenure track faculty at an R2 right now and it's great.

Best of luck!!
posted by puritycontrol at 10:17 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yep, get yourself over to the CHE Forums and we'll take care of you. However, don't go in saying that you are only applying to R1s because 1) that is foolish in the current climate, and 2) many of the CHE regulars do not work at R1s and resent an implication that that an R1 job is somehow better than working at a regional comprehensive or a SLAC or even a CC.
posted by LarryC at 10:58 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all. I guess I'm focused on R1 because that's my training. I don't know if an R2 would even want me.

I already applied to a non-USA R2(ish) though... so we'll see.

Any pointers on where to start on the CHE forums?
posted by k8t at 11:07 PM on September 16, 2009

A little advanced planning on your part will reap bountiful rewards. Academic job hunting is a time-sucking nightmare. Set up an account with Interfolio as soon as possible.

At the same time that you register with Interfolio, contact potential authors of letters of recommendation to sound them out. Be sure to phrase your request as a variant of: "Would you be able to write me a good letter of recommendation." Anyone who hedges, even a little, is off your list. You'll need 3 solid recommenders, but should have a couple more as backups. Some schools want more letters, and some jobs might call for a particular emphasis on some aspect of your qualifications. Some people might need or want to compose a particular letter specially for a given school. Encourage this. But generic letters are fine and, if written well, can be just as good as a personal letter.

Start scanning all the online message boards and job services in your field. You'll quickly learn which are the ones that are up-to-date. Start scanning early and keep scanning well after the first round of applications and interviews. You'd be surprised what can pop up in the off-times. Keep a document in which you write down, in a quick shorthand, all the objective requirements for each job you're interested in. Arrange these in chronological order by application deadline. Different jobs require different things in your packet. Keeping this straight is a huge pain in the ass.

Write a sample, generic cover letter. Send this around to everyone you know to get advice on how it reads. Tweak it and tweak it until it's perfect. At the same time, be critical about the advice you're getting. Don't let them turn your letter into something generic. In my applications last year, I let someone I really respect give me fundamental advice about changing my cover letter. It may be coincidental, of course, but all my campus interviews came from schools that saw the earlier, "unprofessional" version. Don't let someone's advice leach your personality out of your letter. But make sure you've run it past a lot of people in the meantime. If you hear about problems from multiple sources, this is a good sign that you need to make changes.

Keep a file in which you strategize about your approach to various schools. Do your research. What hole in their faculty are they trying to fill? Who are the players in the department? Do they emphasize research or pedagogy? Do you know anyone who graduated from the school or who is on the faculty in another department? All this information will help you tailor your generic letter to the particular institution. And depending on the number of schools you're applying to, it may be hard to keep this information straight in your head.

Put together a teaching portfolio. Less is more. Summaries of student evaluations, sample syllabi, past exams you've written, all these things help to flesh your application out. But don't overwhelm them with paper. Aim for something less than 20pp. Less than 10 is best. Highlight 2 signature courses you've taught. If you don't have teaching experience, write up sample syllabi. Compose a one page statement of your teaching philosophy. If you don't have one, talk to people who've written one before.

Use your list of schools & requirements as a checklist. Well in advance of deadlines, start filling out your interfolio account with the required items. Figure out a naming convention and name every item in a regular format. Accidentally sending a cover letter for school x to school y is kiss of death & will wake you up at night for years to come. You can send stuff out at the last minute, but it becomes insanely expensive. Aim to file your applications a week or two in advance.

After you file an application, interfolio will give you the option of producing a pdf file of the whole application, with blank pages where your letters of recommendation sit. Do this once. Scan the whole pdf to make sure everything is in order. Then file the pdf away and move on to the next school on your list. Fight the urge to go back and check again. This is normal but will not alleviate your anxiety in any way. Don't think too far ahead about interviews and on-campuses. There will be plenty of time to strategize about these down the road.

This was my generic approach. Some schools have special application procedures that will need to be noted in some non-standard way. But this process should work for 90% of your apps.

Find ways to alleviate anxiety and to keep focused on your work. In the end, you will look back and realize that 6 months of your life disappeared in an instant. But if you can keep your head and be systematic about it, you'll learn a lot from the process. And if you're unsuccessful one year, the next year will be much less about process and much more about commanding the details of your applications. At the end of the year, if you recognize a pattern, you'll spend the next six months filling in the gaps in your profile before you try again. Contact your academic mentors to get advice about how to fill these gaps in. Be relentless about addressing these problems.

Most importantly, do not get down on yourself. You are about to get a ton of rejections. Everyone does. All it takes is one interview to get a job. And each time you get an interview, you are outpacing literally hundreds of other candidates. If you can do that just once, you can potentially do it again at any school. It's seriously that subjective. In the end, tenacity and attention to detail are the key attributes.

I wish you lots of luck.
posted by felix betachat at 11:30 PM on September 16, 2009 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks a ton Felix.

Just to add:

I'm subscribed to the 2 main associations' job listings and I'm on other email lists that have job postings, plus CHE, and

I've been meeting with all the faculty to chat about jobs generally, refreshing them on my diss topic.

I already did a cover letter, teaching statement and a new CV over the summer with career services, my committee and some editing friends. I have 3 versions of these: one traditional (media effects), one new/social media-y, and one general. In my teaching statement(s) I've listed classes in their current catalog that I could cover and some additions I could bring.

I have already PDF'd 2 application packets and sent out 1 paper app (although it was a half day of printing). I have 1 more app after this. In November I'll be at our big national conference, hopefully interviewing.
Is there an advantage to Interfolio versus doing it myself?
posted by k8t at 11:57 PM on September 16, 2009

Is there an advantage to Interfolio versus doing it myself?

Oh good god, yes. Interfolio will save many, many hours of process time. Time that would be better spent on researching schools and crafting a good application. They're basically a document delivery service. Upload a writing sample once and its there to send out to everyone. You get a notification when one of your recommenders has uploaded their letter, meaning you don't need to wring your hands about if something was sent on time.

I cannot imagine how people kept everything straight before Interfolio.
posted by felix betachat at 12:01 AM on September 17, 2009

Include a plan for where your research is going in the next few years as part of your CV or covering letter. You need to give the department some sense of what ideas you have for research and to show that you can lead an independent research programme, especially if you are coming out of a postdoc or PhD programme where your research ideas will have mostly come from your supervisor.
posted by Jabberwocky at 1:38 AM on September 17, 2009

I'm looking primarily at TT R1s.

I would gently advise against this strategy, not least because it is likely to leave you unemployed.

(Full disclosure: tenured prof at a four-year/MA regional comprehensive. It's been far easier to pursue my research interests here than it would have been at a R1, and my standard of living is equal to and often higher than that of my acquaintances at big doctoral campuses. There are trade-offs to think about.)
posted by thomas j wise at 5:02 AM on September 17, 2009 is another source of listings. I'm on my department's hiring committee this year, and it's always a challenge figuring out where to advertise and how to get the best applicants. If your field has the same issues as many fields do with gender representation among faculty, you might see if there are resources that would be useful there.

Spend some significant effort on your research statement; the committee will want to be sure you're proposing something that is (1) really great, and (2) a good fit with the department's existing activities.
posted by JMOZ at 5:40 AM on September 17, 2009

Lots of very good advice here. I want to nth the Chronicle fora. Pretty much every question you want answered is on there. I'm in a completely unrelated field, but someone told me when I was on the job market that being on the job market is like having a job. It helped me to treat all the time-consuming things that are necessary with the right level of concern.

Also, do remember that the first rejection letter is the worst. After a while you can make a game of how quickly you can open it, read it and get it into the wastepaper basket. Best of luck!
posted by ob at 7:29 AM on September 17, 2009

You should apply for:

Every single job that you are not clearly and distinctly disqualified from, except for those where you know for certain that you are unwilling to live under any circumstances. Back in the day, I lived in the woods in NC not too far from the main office and mail facility of PHE, inc, the largest sex-toy company in the US (known mostly through their "Adam and Eve" catalogs). Anyway, I applied to every relevant job except those where I figured that I'd really rather stay in NC and pack dildoes for a living than move there. Having that as my worst-case alternative led me to apply for positions I might not otherwise have.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm focused on R1 because that's my training. I don't know if an R2 would even want me.

When I interviewed at an R1, the Search Chair told me how most of the faculty in the department got their PhD's at R1's, got their first jobs at R2's, and then got jobs at the R1 institution later on in their career. (Might be different in your field, though.)
posted by puritycontrol at 7:35 AM on September 17, 2009

Usually by this point (mid-September) we have a lot more openings posted, particularly from the R1s looking to snag people early. So my main advice is to really, carefully consider if you are truly willing to go anywhere (geography and institution type) in order to be employed, or really only want certain kinds of jobs. I know your program emphasizes TT R1, but in reality most TT R1 grads don't go on to teach at those institutions. Some of it is just supply and demand, and right now there is a very big surplus in supply and very little demand, so any of those jobs that do get posted are going to get hundreds and hundreds of applicants, many from people who have already finished the Ph.D. That means you are going to have to work very hard to stand out (tailor your cover letter, use the terminology they use in the job ad in your letter) and make sure you have a strong statement from your advisor in his letter where he states he is confident that you will finish in May.

If you do decide that you are open to other institutions and jobs, particularly teaching-focused departments, then you need to have a 2nd CV that is teaching-oriented, and a 2nd base cover letter that is teaching-oriented. But if you do decide to apply for those jobs, you really need to commit yourself psychologically to those jobs, because they will be suspicious of you (a lot of R1 grads tend to apply to these schools as "fall back" options, which the schools do not like at all) and they can totally smell insincerity a mile away. So my other piece of advice is to not apply for jobs if you really would not consider an offer from that institution. It's just a waste of your time and theirs otherwise.

Feel free to memail/email me if you want to chat more, especially re: teaching vs. research and ABD vs. PhD in hand job searching.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:37 AM on September 17, 2009

The best advice I had last year when going through this process was to know that the process is completely and utterly unpredictable and often, at least from the perspective of the job seeker, illogical. The school with the job that looks absolutely perfect for you may never call. A school you've never heard of may end up being a surprisingly good fit for you (as happened for me).

I strongly concur with ROU_Xenophobe's advice to apply for everything you can possibly apply for. You can always turn down jobs/campus visits later if you're getting good responses from your top choice schools, but you can't go back and apply for more jobs later when you realize how competitive those top schools/jobs are going to be.

I didn't use interfolio because I spent lots and lots of time customizing my documents for each job and felt it was easier for me to have control over the content of every application if I did it myself. Doing applications and phone interviews was nearly full-time job for me from the end of September until mid-December, but it paid off in the number of interviews, campus visits, and offers I had.

Good luck!
posted by BlooPen at 10:24 AM on September 17, 2009

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