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Academic Careers

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Are you preparing to apply to academic jobs with your PhD? You may find it useful to know the key steps to creating job application materials, delivering engaging stories in academic interviews, and navigating the complex job market within the academy.

This page offers information to supplement the technical and specific support given by departments. Use it to guide your strategies for success.

Find Jobs and Postdocs

Overview

The academic job search is a structured process, with commonalities between different disciplines. With that said, it is vital that you understand the nuances of your field and what is the common time frame and recommendations. Start with talking with your advisors, professors, and alumni from your department about the application process. 

 

Timeline

October through May are the typical months of the academic hiring cycle, though there may be differences across disciplines. Applications are generally due in October and November. Initial interviews may take place in December, and in-person interviews typically start in January or February, with offers starting in March and negotiations through April and May.

  • Build connections with scholars in your field and continue to cultivate and broaden connections
  • Consider building connections through conferences (e.g., arrange coffee with a senior scholar working in your field), poster presentations, professional memberships, advisor’s connections
  • Discuss plans with professors and advisors and get feedback on opportunities
  • Consider postdoc options and talk with specific departments on discipline-specific recommendations
  • Familiarize yourself with your field, identify areas to apply
  • Identify possible people to write letters off recommendation (you'll need at least three)
  • Update your CV and get feedback from advisor, career counselor, and/or Graduate Division
  • Draft cover letters and get feedback
  • Ask for letters of recommendation
  •  Prepare supporting materials (Teaching Philosophy, Research Statements, Writing sample) and get feedback from advisor
  • Consider setting up an online portfolio for job application materials (e.g., Interfolio, ResearchGate, Vitae, Academia.edu)
  • Create an actionable plan for various outcomes. Be able to answer what you will do if you don’t land an attractive academic job offer 
     
  • Review job postings 
  • Target CV and cover letter to specific positions, utilizing job posting as your guide
  • For rolling applications, submit as soon as possible
  • Finalize and submit job application materials
  • Prepare for interview questions and talk to faculty for tips on their experiences. Try to schedule a mock interview with your department
  • Draft job talk
     
  • Finalize your Job Talk and give practice job talks to faculty and peers in your department
  • Continue to search for job postings or postdoc postings that may be available
  • Attend conferences (many schools may conduct first-round interviews at these events, so know how your field works)
  • Be prepared for what you would ideally want in your start-up package (e.g., lab materials, books, additional research funds, course relief)
  • Engage in actionable activities as necessary to ensure progress (e.g., plan and execute publications, seek out conferences in your field, continue to build relationships with scholars in your field)
  • Reassess your progress and current needs
  • Evaluate offers
     

Adjunct Positions

As the demand for higher education continues to rise and concurrent funding declines, universities are struggling to keep up. This trend has led to a steep rise in the number of adjunct faculty at a university. Adjunct faculty are usually hired on short-term contracts (usually around one year) with higher than normal teaching loads, relatively lower pay, and  minimum benefits. Most research discourages Ph.D.s against pursuing adjuncting as a long term career path; however, adjuncting can be useful if you are dedicated to pursuing a job in academia but need a placeholder between your Ph.D. graduation and finding a tenure-track job. Adjuncting allows you to remain in academia and show continuity on your CV within the academic world which is a nominally valuable asset in the tenure-track job market. 

These benefits must be taken with careful consideration as adjunct some faculty find it difficult to transition to tenure track positions at their institution (or others) since the critical currency of tenure-track jobs, publishing, suffers from high teaching loads. However, adjuncting became a prefered choice among those who have a Ph.D.,a successful career outside of academia but miss teaching, a sense of connection to the scholarly community, and a drive to impact future generations of scholars. 

 

Job Search Links

As a graduate student, your skills and interests may prompt you to remain within a research environment or university setting. These jobs are largely clustered into three categories: academic jobs, research jobs, and other university jobs.

Although some can be open to masters level students, academic jobs usually require a Ph.D. The academic job market is notoriously competitive and opaque; however, with a more expansive search there are plenty of ways in which you can target your job search effectively . Academic jobs are largely clustered into three: faculty positions at universities or colleges in the US, faculty positions abroad, and faculty positions at community colleges. Here are some resources you can use to find a faculty position.

Some good places to begin your research for faculty positions at universities and colleges in the U.S. is The Chronicle of Higher Education’s job board Chronicle Vitae, HigherEd Jobs, and Inside Higher Ed Careers. As you begin your preliminary research into faculty positions, it is good to note that within the US there are key differences between faculty positions. Positions at colleges are generally geared towards hiring faculty whose main passion is teaching, whereas faculty positions within research universities are largely geared towards hiring academic researchers.

These aggregate lists may not be enough to look for jobs dedicated to your field or interests. We highly suggest that you get on listservs or find job boards. In this case, it is best to look for academic job boards within your field of study. For students of Political Science, for example, the American Political Science Association hosts a members-only job board APSA eJobs. For faculty positions in Economics, the American Economic Association hosts their AEA JOE network. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your discipline-specific job boards. You can find out by connecting with faculty, current students in your cohort, and professional organizations in your field.

For students open to faculty positions abroad, Academic Positions and Times Higher Education is a good place to start. Academic Positions lists academic jobs from around Continental Europe, whereas Times Higher Education lists academic jobs in the Commonwealth (UK, Australia, NZ, etc.) and Asia.

Applying to community colleges takes as much consideration as any other academic job. However, there are additional considerations when applying to community colleges.  

Learn about the uniqueness of the institutions to which you are applying.
Because community colleges come in all shapes and sizes, it is important to realize that there are diversities in culture, expectations, duties, publishing requirements, and working conditions of committee services. It is very important that you spend time researching the institutions in which you are interested in applying (just as you would for any other academic position) and not assume that what happens at one community college happens at another.

Qualifications
To be able to teach at the community college level, a master’s or Ph.D. will often be sufficient. There is no special teaching license needed.  It is important to have a CV prepared for community college applications (rarely are resumes requested). Be mindful that with the emphasis on teaching at community colleges, highlighting these experiences is important. Be sure to note if you were the instructor of record and/or designed a course. Consider obtaining a teaching certification during your graduate education, such as UCSB’s CCUT program. 

Tenure vs. Adjunct Positions
Tenure positions do exist at community colleges, though numbers are sadly dwindling. Requirements for tenure may vary between community colleges and states, so it is important to understand what is expected. It is a myth to assume that research and publications are not valued for community college professorships. Tenure positions more often than not will encourage publications, presentations at conferences, and other similarities to R1 schools, but the amount and expectation may differ. Adjunct positions may be a great option to pursue if you are interested in teaching and want to be a part of academia in a way that focuses on this discipline.

Passion for Teaching
Teaching needs to be important to you if you want to work at a community college, given the strong emphasis they have in ensuring they have scholars who excel at teaching. Be able to explain why you want to work at a place where the teaching load is higher than R1 schools. Teaching demonstrations often happen during interviews for community college tenure-track positions, so prepare by developing a class lesson that is engaging and connects with students. Demonstrate the following skills (or develop experience in these areas if you need to enhance your application for community colleges): online teaching; course design; outcomes assessment; and working with students with disabilities, English language learners, and adult students. 

Interviews
During the interview, you will most likely meet with the Vice President or President of Academic Affairs. Provide examples of how you were able to serve a larger college community and your ability to continue these efforts in the future. Show ways in which you are familiar with the college's community and  are willing to serve on committees that impact the college as a whole.

Emphasis on the Student Experience
One thing that most community colleges have in common across the US is an open access admissions policy. The student population will certainly include many students who are underprepared for college-level work. This might include first-generation college students, students from adversity, or returning students. A strong community college faculty application needs to demonstrate a thorough understanding of this circumstance and a strong interest in working with this varied student population. In your application, show your experience working with non-traditional students. Demonstrate your commitment to diversity in your teaching and working with students. 

Where to search for community college positions
If you have a passion for teaching and helping bright students succeed through academic success, who at times might be first generation college students or students that come from adversity, then a career within one of our nation’s great the community college system might be ideal for you. One of the appealing aspects of community college professors is molding and impacting students’ lives at the beginning which can have a long lasting impact on their career. Each state usually has a repository of community college jobs within a single website. For example, if you are looking for a faculty position at one of California’s community colleges, try starting with California Community Colleges Registry. Other nationwide community college job boards, such as Community College Jobs, do exist but they are not as exhaustive. Faculty positions in select departments at community colleges can be open to masters level students, but you will need to check each individual position for specific requirements.

Postdocs

A postdoctoral fellowship is a position where individuals with a doctorate work in a temporary position to conduct more publishable research under a more senior scholar while receiving additional training. There are many elements that vary for a postdoc, including the length of time, nature of research, extent of supervision, purpose of the position, university affiliation (if any), and location in the public or private sector. The best way to maximize a postdoc is to set clear goals for how you want a postdoc opportunity to advance your career goals. And, talk to a current postdoc (or two!) to ask them about their experience. 

Reasons for Considering a Postdoc

In a postdoc you have the time to develop further as a researcher without the pressures of a tenure-track position (e.g., teaching and service requirements). Taking a postdoc is often a good way to get more publications and be a more competitive academic researcher if you are interested in applying to faculty positions at a later time. For some fields, it is necessary to do a postdoc for a certain amount of time before you will get a faculty position. Ask colleagues to see what the expectations are in your field.

Postdocs are able to stay up-to-date on current research trends in your field or learn a new or underdeveloped area of expertise. There is also time to learn several different elements related to your research field, such as journal reviewing or new lab techniques, to round out your skills. 

Potential Drawbacks

There are a few concerns with this career choice, so it is best you weigh them with the benefits it would bring. Do not accept a postdoc position because it is the “easy route” or to avoid other career decisions. Just like any career choice, make sure you are selecting this for the right reasons. 

One point of concern could be that salary may be lower than those offered by faculty or industry appointments. There also may be limited opportunities to engage in mentoring or teaching activities. In some cases, there may be delays in establishing independent work from a mentor, making it harder to establish your own research objectives. This could set you on a path of research-based work and is not broadening your skills to other opportunities. 

 

Where to find Postdoc Opportunities 

There are multiple ways to research a postdoctoral opportunity. A postdoc opportunities aggregator like the National Postdoctoral Association‘s or UCLA’s GRAPES database are good places to begin your search. However, many postdoctoral opportunities are offered by specific researchers or small research clusters within departments of universities. In order to know about these opportunities, it is best to subscribe to your field’s top professional association and attend its annual meeting or conference.  We also advise you to connect with professors and research clusters that are conducting research similar to yours or try to present at their local conferences. 

Professors within your department, especially those on your dissertation committee, are valuable resources that can help you find and make connections with the institutions hosting the postdoc. Sometimes, instead of a postdoc being formally instituted initially a professor may create a position through their research grant. In such scenarios, it would be advisable to stay in contact with professors who conduct research that pique your interest and request to be part of their teams. Send them an email, introduce yourself, and ask about the possibility of doing a postdoc.Postdoc opportunities can also be created by applying for grants once research takes off in conjunction with your advisor or researcher. 

There is no one way to a great postdoc. Even if something might not exist on paper today with a little targeted networking and presenting your case it could always be created. Here are some additional resources to consider when searching for a postdoc opportunity:

 

Networking in Academia

Networking is absolutely critical to a successful career in academia. While the aphorism ‘your work speaks for itself’ is true, it is so only up to an extent. Making your work known by others is absolutely critical in your career as an academic. There are multiple avenues by which you can make your work known, and they all constitute “networking.” The best way to begin networking as a young graduate student is to both attend discipline-wide conferences and conferences relevant to your narrow fields of research, even if you are not presenting. For example, a political science grad student may consider attending a  big, discipline-wide conference such as the annual American Political Science Association conference or the annual International Studies Association conference as well as a sub-discipline conference such as the International Political Economy Society.   

While attending these conferences is the first step, it is not enough. Only commingling with peers at a conference is a job half done. It is critical that you contact a few professors beforehand whose fields or topics of research interest you the most to set up brief  10-15 minute informational interviews. These interviews, and the conversations that you hold with professors, form some of the first foundations of networking in academia. These informational interviews are your first impressions, so it is best to make sure that your conversations are substantial and meaningful. Consider them as your first of many job screenings and put effort into preparing questions and summarizing who you are.

After building relationships with professors from other universities, we recommend that you stay in touch with them, as deemed appropriate, with relevant and substantial conversations via email. Since you did the hard work of making a first contact, now is the time to continue to nurture and cultivate these relationships as needed so that  professors do not forget you. Another good strategy is to network with both big name professors and junior professors. Junior professors are closest to the literature and methodologies that you may end up using in your research, and big name professors can carry weight in the hiring process. 

In addition to networking at conferences,  it is advisable that you start presenting any research papers or workable ideas you have at conferences. While research papers do not need to be published or fully completed, they must demonstrate you are a serious, cutting-edge researcher. Papers go through a long laborious process before they are ever published, so it is okay to not have a full and complete paper when presenting it at conferences, but they should not be sloppy.The presentation of the research papers should be well-rehearsed beforehand. By presenting a paper, you will get to join panels and make connections with professors and other academics in your field.

There are also other avenues by which academic professions share and disseminate information. Websites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate help researchers share projects and papers at any stage of the research cycle. You can also connect with other scholars and foster comments and communication about your research with them. These websites also provide access to deep analytics about the impact of your research by tracking your citations and who has been reading your work. You also get a chance to access other researchers works-in-progress. This tool can help in gauging the direction of the field and developing research so you do not end up repeating something similar, denting your own efforts inadvertently. Networking through Academia.edu is also a form of building social capital for the academic world. The more your research is noticed on these platforms,conferences, and new mediums such as Twitter, the more likely it is that people will cite your work.

Another critical source of networking is having your own website. Academics not only utilize individual websites to host the pre-firewall version of their papers, but are also able to collect and host all their public engagement activities (such as newspaper articles, etc) in an easily searchable format. If you are a researcher with a unique dataset which might be of use to others, hosting it on your personal website with a recommended citation allows other researchers to easily access your data and cite you for it. The modern age requires an academic to go beyond the CV and into the public intellectual realm to maintain policy and academic relevance. Owning a high quality website becomes an essential strategy of this public outreach. For resources on professional identity branding, check out the GradPost

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