so long suckers?
April 21, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

What did you do the summer before you went on the academic job market? What do you wish you had done?

It looks like I'm going to finish my (humanities) dissertation next spring, which means I'll be spending the fall semester awash in the glory of my first run at the academic job market. I'm looking to get a leg up on both this process and on the end of my dissertation, as well as for any tips, tricks, and hacks I may not have thought of that will make this all as pleasant as humanly possible.

For what it's worth, I'm fully funded in a highly ranked Literature program with good advisors who are well-known in my field, with a few publications already out and more on the way. I'll be applying more or less exclusively to English departments and American Studies jobs in the U.S. and Canada, and (possibly) the U.K. Obviously I can't argue with the wisdom of the "you're already doomed" caucus, but I'm prepared to beat my head against the job market wall for at least a few years yet.

Thanks folks.
posted by gerryblog to Education (10 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I published my papers, caught up on sleep, spent three weeks playing computer games, spent time with my friends, and applied for jobs. That last part is surprisingly time consuming by the time I researched where I could go and what kinds of jobs are out there and immigration and funding etc. It really helped having laid the ground work when I was interviewing and also when talking to people at home about where I wanted to go (which you need to be doing to get leads and network and all that good stuff). Definitely start thinking about that as soon as you can, don't wait a whole semester or whatever.

Sorting out the final publications also took more time than I expected. In my case it involved doing some extra work that didn't have time to go into my thesis, and also chasing up other people a lot. When you're no longer a student there every day your stuff can get relegated a bit, so pushing through those final details definitely takes some extra attention.

I wouldn't have done anything different. I ended up with a great job, partially because of the ground work I'd put in, and was able to move across the world to start the job feeling refreshed and ready to go. This was thanks to the time I'd put aside for recreation in the previous three months, whereas straight after I finished my PhD I just felt burnt out and slightly bitter.

Oh, I also had money saved so I didn't have to get an income straight away, which meant that I was able to have four months unemployed while I sorted out the PhD defence and publications and applied for jobs. Trying to do that while supporting yourself is a huge pain and really splits your focus. Might be too late to change that for you (and, to be fair, my husband was supporting me too), but definitely give some thought to how the money will work once you're done.
posted by shelleycat at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2011

Best answer: I have been on the market twice - once ABD (but had my proposal done) and once post-ABD. I cannot express to you how much better it was to go on the market with PhD in hand.

1. Being on the market is a fulltime job. (Keeping up on the positions, crafting new teaching statements, cover letters, printing crap out, making PDFs...) You need to decide if it is worth not being able to work on your diss fulltime in order to go on the market. Go to the Academic Jobs wiki for your field (here's English lit) and see if any ABDs got jobs last year. If no one got a job ABD last year and your advisor(s) confirm that it is not common for ABDs to get jobs, for Jeebus' sake, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME applying for jobs. You'd be much better off finishing your dissertation on time (or early).

2. Go to your letter writers and start talking to them about what you need from them in your letters of recommendation now. For me, my best letter was from my advisor (who is a big shot). I had TA'd for him 3 times so he could speak to that as well. I then had a committee member with whom I had TA'd 3 times and I have co-authored 1 thing with her. She had been on the market farily recently and is a good networker, although not a big shot. Then I had a non-committee member with whom I had co-authored a piece, who is a big shot and is well known in a sub-aspect of my diss. He is known for writing great letters. Some jobs require a 4th letter - I got that from my chair, another big shot. I had done well in her class.

3. Craft your cover letter. A good cover letter takes a year to write, I heard from a wise person. Personally I have a primary letter and then I substitute in some text based on the school. Again, my cover letter post-dissertation is a lot better than it was pre-dissertation. Go to the campus writing center, graduate career services, talk to your advisor, talk to your friends. Spend as much time as humanly possible on this.

4. Start pulling together your other materials - transcripts from undergrad and grad, writing samples, etc. Get them into PDF form.

5. Get all your teaching evals - quant and qual - scanned into a PDF. Create a table of mean quantitative eval scores. Cherry pick some nice qualitative comments to illustrate some good points about you.

6. Craft your teaching statement. I sort of blew this off the first time, but I've since seen some really good ones. This can't hurt, even in more research-y positions.

7. Some people use Interfolio. In my discipline one crafts specific letters for specific jobs, so Interfolio isn't as useful for me. But if it would be for you, start looking into it.

8. Subscribe to all the relevant listservs for your discipline that would have job postings on them. Read the academic jobs wikis for your field for the past 3 years to see who hired, when they were posted, what the status of the people that got jobs was.

9. Get more opportunities to have been an instructor of record if you haven't already. Broaden the courses that you could teach out of the box without prep. Is there a local community college or small college where you can pick up a class or two without too much skin off your back? If so, do it. More evals, more experience.

8. Network. IMHO, joining committees and getting involved with your conferences and associations is the best way to get known quickly.

9. YF(ield)MV, but publishing is the primary way that one can improve themselves.

10. Read books about academic interviewing.

The market is brutal and time-consuming. Best of luck to you.
posted by k8t at 10:27 AM on April 21, 2011 [13 favorites]

Oooh - and set up an academic webpage for yourself with your CV. Set up an profile so that you'll know when you're Googled. Get all social networking site profiles set to not searchable. Maybe set up a public academic twitter and sound smart on it.
posted by k8t at 10:28 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ooh, and one thing that I did that was smart -- before the major conference for my field at which most folks interview, I sat down with every faculty member in my department and told them exactly what my dissertation was about and what jobs I was applying for so that they could network for me.
posted by k8t at 10:31 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I apparently can't shut up about this...

I think that there is a lot to be said for "taking the year" between diss filing and being on the market.

Once you're an assistant professor with new preps to do, a new city to get use to, the stress of a move, etc., you're not going to have a ton of time to work on getting your dissertation chapters into publishable form. (In my field that'd be in journals, but I've seen this problem with humanities folks that do more book publishing.) If you can swing working at Starbucks or adjuncting or whatever, staying put where you are, but having received your PhD, you can spend the spring and summer submitting pubs, then you go on the market in fall (with no money, but with more time), then you get your offer in the winter, and you can have a slow peaceful move to New City over the spring and early summer, whilst getting your additional dissertation pubs out.

Then you start the new term as an assistant professor without the fear of TENURE and PUBS as much over your head.
posted by k8t at 10:36 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been on the job market a couple times, neither time "successfully" (but I'm OK with that, and think it actually confirmed my doubts that I really wanted a traditional academic job), so take my advice with a grain of salt.

k8t has a good point: being on the job market is surprisingly time-consuming. In my department there was some rule of thumb like "being on the market is equivalent to writing one chapter" in terms of time consumption, but this is obviously going to vary a lot from individual to individual. At any rate, don't assume that your dissertation-writing pace will be unaffected next year.

Use the summer to draft your dissertation abstract, c.v., writing sample (if you haven't got something published already, you may have to carve a suitable chunk out of a diss chapter; it will need to be tweaked so it can be read as a stand-alone piece), teaching portfolio, and the core of your cover letter. I'd suggest spreading out the work on these things so that you can approach the drafts with "fresh eyes"—for example, devote all day every other Monday for the whole summer to drafting your job materials. You can also work on your "elevator talk" if you haven't got one down pat yet.

If you can get some material published, that's great, but don't pursue publication so single-mindedly that you seriously delay finishing the dissertation.

Alert your intended referees NOW that you're going to be asking them for letters of recommendation in the fall. Ask what materials they'd like to see before writing letters. Then try to submit your request and materials to them about 2 months before the likely first application deadline.
posted by Orinda at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Regarding k8t's advice, be aware that some institutions might want their name on your publications for them to count toward tenure. I'm not saying to hold onto your papers just to game the system, but don't be in a hurry to get something out because you hope it will help you with tenure, (though it very well might help you get a job, so there's that). Of course, whatever helps you get that job is more important than worrying about tenure at this point anyway.
posted by monkeymadness at 11:05 AM on April 21, 2011

Oh, and good luck, be confident in interviews, spend a lot of time researching programs/departments/institutions/cities before any phone interviews. Knowledge about a job makes a great impression on a search committee.
posted by monkeymadness at 11:07 AM on April 21, 2011

What I did? In the summer of 1996: some time in Berlin, reading and writing, followed by a couple weeks in Paris with my wife, doing the same. Then a crazy week in the south of France attending a funeral and a wedding (in the same family). That was followed by return to the US, two weeks of apartment-hunting, then driving a car from Michigan to California for a family member, camping along the way. Finally the fall started....

I don't think I wish I had done anything differently. But I had started to think about the market a year or two before, because my grad program had workshops on preparing for the academic job market, and I had read some useful books--Miller and Vick's Academic Job Search Handbook, Paula Caplan's Lifting a Ton of Feathers, The Academic's Handbook, and some others. And I had applied for a job, prematurely, the previous spring. I'd also been going to job talks in my department for a couple of years, in part to try to figure out what to do and, especially, what not to do.

When I got back to Chicago in the fall of 2006, I worked out a plan for systematically scanning H-Net, the AHA Perspectives, and the Chronicle for job openings, notifying my recommenders, preparing applications, etc. And I worked out the plan for finishing my dissertation.

K8t's advice is generally great. I'd add, though, that the job search can be a full-time job if you let it. I tried to limit my job-hunting work to one afternoon a week: drafting and revising material, trips to the post office/FedEx box, looking for new postings, etc. Sometimes it might have taken an entire day. But it certainly wasn't a full-time job. Writing the dissertation was my main job, and I scheduled at least 3 hours every day for it. (Start at 9, write until noon, keep going if I was on a roll and quit if I didn't feel like continuing. I did have the luxury of a dissertation writing fellowship so I didn't have to teach.)

I also planned a series of conferences to present at and to attend even if I wasn't presenting, including the American Historical Association annual meeting. I guess you'd be going to the MLA. At the end of my cover letter, I said that I would be at the AHA meeting if the committee wanted to meet with me--I advise job seekers now to do the same, mutatis mutandis. It is a big expense (took me five or six years after getting my job to pay down all the debt from grad school and the first year of a job), but it's a useful experience even if you don't get many (or any) interviews.

Good luck!
posted by brianogilvie at 7:44 PM on April 21, 2011

brianogilvie's post reminds me: another thing you can get started on during the summer is planning ahead for MLA or whatever the big annual job-interviewing meeting in your field is. Start scouting airfare (or train tickets, etc) and hotel deals. Set aside a budget for travel expenses, interview clothing, conference registration, etc (not to mention all the postage, FedEx, and dossier service fees you'll incur well before the conference). I think it's best to plan on going even if you don't get any interviews. I've heard too many sad tales from people who didn't plan to go, then got offered an interview at the 11th hour and either had to scramble to make (expensive) last-minute arrangements or had to TURN DOWN the interview (!!!). (Remember, the people serving on search committees are academics: they often tend not to take care of their non-teaching duties until after the end of exams, so it's actually not that uncommon to hear nothing from a place you've applied until two days before Christmas.) If you go to the convention with no interviews, at least you can attend panels, troll for free books at the publishers' exhibit, and get a feel for the conference if you haven't gone before.
posted by Orinda at 9:43 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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