How can I get back into academia?
February 22, 2011 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Repositioning myself for academic career success. Help!

I have a recent PhD in a social science from a top ranked program where everyone is expected to go TTR1. (I got pretty close to getting a TTR1 job while ABD and had a good number of interviews.) But I had an opportunity to bail by taking a government position that allows me to utilize my methodological training and is somewhat related to my research. It pays much better than an assistant professor position, has much better benefits, and is a lot less pressure than a TT position. I've been doing it for a few months now.

BUT I'm not happy. I don't like being at a desk from 9-5, I don't like having a boss, I don't like having to do research that is relevant to my agency's needs (I'm more interested in social than policy research), I miss doing sophisticated statistical modeling for people that understand it, and most of all, I miss the flexibility of working when I want and where I want on the topics that I like while also being able to schedule vet appointments, go to the grocery store, take my kid's birthday off, etc.

Thus, my plan is to keep toiling away at my 9-5 job, earning as much money as possible and getting all medical things taken care of, and go on the job market next fall (2011, for the 2012 school year), but be really picky about where I'd apply. If nothing comes up, try again in 2012 for 2013.

So, MeFi academics, what can I do to best reposition myself for this next try on the market?

- At my new job I have access to an incredible amount of amazing data that no one else has access to. BUT if I want to publish on it (which I can), I have to do so while I am working at this place. The data, however, isn't like the data that people in my field usually work with (these are large multiyear, multicountry data sets) and it isn't based on theory, which won't go over well. (But maybe this is an opportunity for me to move into the more macro aspect of my research topic?)
- I am bending over backwards in the evenings and weekends to get my dissertation breakouts submitted to journals (mixing fast turnaround time (in case I do 2011 job market) with more prestigious journals.)

- I'm planning on going to our 2 big conferences (at my own expense) and I have papers accepted at both. I have an idea to chat with people and present my current job as "like a postdoc" and make it known that I want to get back out there in the near future.
- I've told my advisor and committee my plan so that they may talk me up as well.

- I keep up on the journals and listservs and participate in discussions when I can.
- I notified the local universities (with departments less prestigious than mine) that I'm very interesting in adjuncting. I figure that more instructor of record opportunities would be good and this would demonstrate that I am committed to being an academic. I might get a new reference writer out of it too.

But if you were in my position, what else would you do? How can I best use the dataset that I have access to to my advantage? And yes, I've discussed this with my advisor.
posted by anonymous to Education (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe I can break the ice so others will chime in... I think you have a great game plan developed. Publishing from that dataset at work is a great idea because if you're going to sell it as "kind of a postdoc" then you need to have an argument about what you're gaining from that experience. New analyses from a different perspective would fit the bill. If it's the norm for your field, collaborating with others on more theory-based/traditional research is another potential approach to keeping your CV fresh. Good luck!
posted by parkerjackson at 6:08 PM on February 22, 2011

I think your instinct to focus on publications is right, and you've got a good plan here.

Another thought is to see whether any grad school buddies, or cronies of your advisors, or local uni's within a couple of hours, would like to invite you to give a talk. You go, give a talk, schmooze, connect with potential collaborators, see if anyone would like to see a draft of your forthcoming paper (so they might write you a letter), etc.

Look around at what places might be hiring next year, and where you'd like to go, and see if you can beef up credentials in the areas they're likely to want.

With respect to adjuncting:
Adjuncting is time consuming. Be sure it will really help you.

Consider what kind of place you'd like to apply to. Will it be a teaching-intensive position? If so, it's a good idea to try to get at least one class per semester (maybe not more, since again, adjuncting is time consuming). If you're aiming for super researchy places, that time might be better spent on publications, starting collaborations with people currently in academia, etc.

Will you be selling yourself as the go-to person to teach something that the department has to teach, but which nobody else wants to teach? If so, try to teach that class at least once.

Adjunct at the most prestigious place you can. (balanced with other considerations eg how long the commute is to the various places) If the place has a seminar series or whatever, maybe you can make yourself more of a presence in their department, too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:39 PM on February 22, 2011

Another idea to get your name out there and gain some visibility (together with the previous comments) would be to present at some upcoming conference. I think your unique background/experience/data could make good material for a presentation. This, in turn, will add something fresh to your CV, perhaps help you build a network, and also get you back in the loop.
posted by mateuslee at 12:43 AM on February 23, 2011

My advisor says getting more teaching experience is a waste of time for R1 if you already have some (ANY) teaching experience. It's all about da pubs.
posted by amberwb at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2011

You're mostly doing the right things already, I think. Publishing is certainly a priority, but whatever you publish, dissertation-related or job-data-related, you be thinking about having a coherent broad account of your research agenda. Don't just publish in order to blindly notch up extra CV lines — not that that hurts, exactly, but it doesn't help you as much as it could to be able to account clearly, in a few sentences, for all your separate projects and how they represent your overall intellectual agenda, the kind of research that you want to do in the future. Hiring committees really seem to love (perhaps more than they should) candidates who have an easily-boiled-down self-portrait of a research agenda.

You don't say how much teaching you have already done. If the answer is "none" or "just TAing" then an adjunct class or two for which you design the syllabus will likely help quite a bit, but so will (same answer as above) a good self-portrait of who you are, and who you want to be, as a teacher. A good teaching philosophy statement and the ability to talk for a few minutes about your approach to teaching a basic selection of courses — undergrad intro, upper-level undergrad, perhaps a graduate seminar topic — are vital even in interviewing for a relatively research-focused job, especially for someone coming from a layover outside of academia.
posted by RogerB at 12:32 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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