Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs
The posting below gives some excellent advice from a personal perspective on navigating the current academic job market. It is by Dr. Alvaro Huerta, assistant professor of Urban & Regional Planning and Ethnic & Women's Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.* Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs
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Advice on Successfully Navigating the Current Academic Job Market
As someone who recently accepted a tenure-track faculty position at a four-year university, I want to share some helpful advice for those on the academic job market. The selected tips below not only represent my experience on successfully navigating the academic search process, but also include insights that I've learned from other academics on the subject. Like other academics, I lament the dismal academic job market, where we have too many qualified PhDs applying for few tenure-track job openings.
From the demand side, the current saturation of PhDs on the job market is primarily linked to several structural issues: (1) an overall decline in state funding for public colleges and universities; (2) the adjunctification of the academy, where adjuncts or non-tenure track faculty consist of 75% of all instructors in higher education; and (3) the delayed exit or retirement of tenured professors. Regarding the last point, given that tenured faculty represent coveted positions associated with high status, great benefits and lifetime job security (with some exceptions), it's logical that professors hold on to their positions beyond the average retirement age in the U.S.
From the supply side, not only do universities produce too many PhDs for the tight labor market, but there's also a surplus of PhDs from prior years. Overall, those in the job market for tenure-track positions include: ABD's (all-but-dissertation); recent PhDs; postdoctoral fellows; adjunct faculty; visiting assistant professors; visiting scholars and researchers; independent scholars; and those individuals working in a variety of non-faculty positions with the goal of eventually securing a tenure-track position.
Managing the Tight Job Market
In this context, I offer the following selected advice and strategies to job seekers in this brutal job market:
Seek expert advice. Seek advice from your advisors, recently hired faculty from your department and other academics who can provide valuable tips on preparing application packets. In the social sciences, a typical application packet includes a cover letter, statement of research, statement of teaching, CV, three letters of recommendation, one writing sample and, occasionally, teaching evaluations. Transcripts are usually requested once an applicant secures an interview. Also, don't hesitate to solicit successful sample applications from other academics. For further excellent advice on this topic and related areas, refer to Karen L. Kelsky, PhD, at "The Professor Is In" (www.theprofessorisin.com) and UC Berkeley's Career Center website at "Academic Job Search" (https://career.berkeley.edu/PhDs/PhDAcademic.stm).
Prepare in advance. Expect to allocate between three to six months to complete your application packet. Given that each document deserves a lot of time and effort, you should produce quality documents that reflect your academic credentials, research interests and potential abilities in future scholarship. This includes revising documents, proofreading, seeking input from advisors and getting feedback from peers. After you've completed the application packet, provide selected documents, such as CV, Cover letter and research statement to your academic recommenders. By doing so, they'll be able to write a stronger, more detailed letter for the job search committee.
Be selective. Similar to applying to graduate school, be selective when seeking tenure-track positions. That is, only apply to positions that you're qualified for. Academic job descriptions clearly stipulate (or should) the required qualifications and areas of specialty. Thus, if a job description requires someone who specializes in quantitative research methods, don't apply if you're an expert in qualitative research methods. By narrowing your job search to positions where there's a likely "match" or "fit," you will save time and energy in this time-consuming effort.
Act like an academic. Just because you don't have a tenure-track position, it doesn't mean that you can't engage in scholarship and academic activities to raise or enhance your scholarly profile. Try getting ahead of your competition by taking part in activities that help to raise your scholarly profile, such as publishing in scholarly journals, attending and presenting at academic conferences, joining and contributing to academic listserves and networking with other academics, especially in your field.
On being an adjunct. On the one hand, there are three pros from this status. First, you have the privilege of teaching, mentoring and preparing tomorrow's leaders. Secondly, you obtain academic work experience to include in your CV. This is important, since academic positions typically require some level of teaching experience, especially for teaching-focused colleges and universities. Thirdly, if successful in the classroom, you acquire strong students evaluations that you can share with your recommenders and, if you secure an interview, can provide to the job search committee. On the other hand, apart from the job insecurity, low pay and lack of benefits, there's the danger of being pigeonholed an "adjunct" by tenured faculty, especially if you've been lecturing for several years without any publications in scholarly journals. While there's dignity in all honest work, unfortunately, in this tight labor market, perception matters.
Be positive and confident. Just because you're on the job market for one or more years doesn't mean that you should be pessimistic or insecure about your academic job prospects. Remind yourself that by obtaining a PhD from an accredited university, you've already accomplished a great academic milestone and should be proud of yourself. If you display a lack of confidence or competence to your recommenders and, especially, job search committee members, you'll limit or eliminate your job prospects for a tenure-track position. This is not to imply that you shouldn't share your personal issues or insecurities with trusted advisors. In short, you don't want to give anyone in a position of power (e.g., a "gatekeeper") an excuse to not hire you, especially if you meet or exceed all of the job requirements.
To conclude, while there's much more to say about the job search process, I hope the aforementioned advice provides some job seekers with guidance on this rigorous and stressful process. That said, given that we find ourselves in an extremely tight labor market for tenure-track faculty position, I empathize with all of those PhDs on the job market and hope the best for all of you, be it inside or outside of the academy.
* Dr. Alvaro Huerta is assistant professor of Urban & Regional Planning and Ethnic & Women's Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He holds a PhD in City & Regional Planning from UC Berkeley. He's the author of the book, Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm (San Diego State University Press, 2013).