How I prepped for the academic job market

I am by no means an expert on academic jobs just because I now (miraculously?) have one. But I have been told that I am organized, and, yes, that is because being an anxious person sometimes means having a system for everything. So before I totally bury all memories of the academic job market, I thought I would put together a timeline of some of the things I did to get ready to search for academic jobs…

My to do list started very informally in my first year of my PhD program. I know that sounds over-the-top-early but the job market takes a lot of work. Checking things off one at a time helped me to feel in control. Here’s how I prepared for the academic job market as a PhD student:

Year 1

  • Do research that excites you: Enthusiasm for my research ended up being my momentum through a lot of the hard stuff that came later. Try to set yourself up to do the research that you want to do right away. This might include some trial-and-error and trying out different topics until you find the one.
  • Read The Professor is In: My MA advisor insisted I read this the summer before I started the PhD and, as always, she was totally right. When I told other grad students I had read a book about how tough the job market is they either said “I don’t need to read that yet” or “I don’t want to know how bad it is.” Ummmm…denial is not a good strategy. Knowing what you’re getting into is a good strategy. Even though the information about prepping job market materials was not yet relevant, having a framework for what would be evaluated helped me to define my grad school goals.

Year 2

  • Write papers that help you figure out your research area: I was pretty bad at this in my MA (I wrote papers about everythingggg). It’s ok to spend some time exploring topics, but once I had a topic area, I tried to use grad seminar papers to narrow in on that topic. This involved writing some papers that ended up being duds, and some that ended up being important parts of my dissertation. This leads to…
  • Ask about publishing: In seminars, I tried to have meetings with professors where I told them I wanted an academic job, and needed experience publishing. They were usually willing to help develop seminar papers that had (somewhat?) original arguments in them, which is necessary for publishing. I was also not afraid to ask for lots of publishing help–how does it work? where should I submit this? can I use a cover letter you have written as a template? Publishing is confusing and took me a while to get used to.
  • Network smarter, not harder: This was the year I realized that going to giant conferences and hoping to meet people who did similar things was just not working. I reassessed and submitted to several smaller conferences that had the explicit goal of having senior faculty mentor grad students. It was amazing! First, these conferences were genuinely helpful, second, they were genuinely…genuine. I didn’t feel that I had to do any super fake networking anymore because I was really there to have conversations that developed my research.

Year 3

  • Read job postings: If your discipline has a listserv, subscribe, if not, check out the InsideHigherEd job postings. Note any trends in hiring. I don’t think you can totally pivot toward every job (duh) but you can think about how to make your application more friendly to what everyone seems to want. In my case, people in my area were often also being asked to teach several other classes, so I made sure to ask to teach one of those so it would be on my record before the job market.
  • Submit, submit, submit: This is the year I got the most journal submissions under review. Some got accepted, some got (mega) rejected. Most needed several rounds of hardcore revisions that took 12-14 months. Submitting in year 3 gave me time to do those revisions so that I could use the articles as writing samples on applications.

Year 4

  • Prep materials: I drew on as many resources as possible to prep my job market materials–career services helped with my CV, our graduate teaching program on campus helped me writing my teaching and diversity statements, I asked recent graduates for example cover letters, my advisor read and edited cover letters, my DAD read and edited cover letters (what can I say he loves helping with grammar). It takes a village. Use the village. Oh, now is also a good time to reread TPII book for tips on writing decent materials.
  • Get organized: I had a spreadsheet where I put all of the relevant job information, especially deadlines, keywords, and information about each department.
  • Ask your letter writers: I did this in August. I also made them all a “job application digest”–just a word document with all of the jobs I submitted to and some notes about what I had said in my cover letter, so they could tailor rec letters.
  • Throw yourself at your dissertation: Every interview asked how I was planning to finish the dissertation. Making real progress made this question much easier. I definitely lost myself to the job market for a solid month in November. Then, I realized that my dissertation was the only thing I had control over. So I got back to work.

And here are some other resources that I also enjoyed reading:

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