[EDIT (1/4/2017): Alas, the ThisIsGradSchool blog has gone down (grad school isn’t meant to last forever, after all). Please find my post below for posterity.]
THIS IS THE JOB SEARCH
If I’m honest with myself, I know that there is some part of me, however small, that loves grad school and doesn’t want it to end. Granted, sometimes that part of me is drowned out by the pressures of high-stakes deadlines and lit reviews that never seem to end (as each article leads to at least two more articles that simply must be included).
I know that this phase of my personal and professional life is not a destination, however, but a key step to something else. Specifically, I’ve got to get a job! And, unless you’re blessed with independent wealth and no recurring obligations, you too have to find employment that will put your newly acquired skills to use. Having just completed that process myself (Shh! No spoilers… wait for the big reveal at the end), I’d like to share the top five bits of wisdom that I’ve learned (some of it the hard way).
- It’s never too early to start! “Yes,” you say, “I know that I have to think about finding a job when I’m done, but right now, I’m just trying to make it through [insert really difficult course here]!” I get it. The end of your grad school road is still years away.
I’ve listed this one first, though, because this was one of those hard lessons for me. When I started my job search in earnest, I quickly realized that it was much more complicated and challenging than I thought it would be, and that I was about a year away from being as marketable as I wanted to be (publishing takes a long time).
Wherever you are in your journey, start now! Search for available positions like the ones to which you ultimately plan to apply. Then put together the application for real. Write the cover letter. Pollish your CV. Consider who you would have write recommendations and think about what they might say.
When you try to present evidence to potential employers (even hypothetical ones) that supports strengths that you know you possess, you’ll figure out pretty quickly if your evidence is strong enough. When you see an area with insufficient evidence to make your case, you have time to fix it. If your service is strong, maybe you should focus on getting a publication out. Maybe you’ve got the publications, but you need evidence of teaching excellence. Whatever it is, figure out what you need while you still have the time to go get it.
- You’ve got more options than you think you do! The professor of the first course in my doctoral program (the course that everyone takes, regardless of program or track) told us that he was there to turn us into professors. At the time, I said to myself, “Well that’s great and all… but what if I don’t want to be a professor?” (Looking back, that was kind of ironic… but that’s really what I said.)
There are nearly limitless options for you on the other side of grad school. You could find a post-doctoral fellowship. You could work for a private company. You could join a non-profit foundation. You could start your own business as a consultant. In your specific field there may be all kinds of options that I would never even think of. Investigate all of them!
- You’ve got a lot of resources! Every conference that I go to has some kind of graduate student strand, event, or seminar, and the vast majority of them deal with employment. As scholars and academics get more and more specialized and differentiated, this is the one thing that all grad students need. I recommend that you go to all of them. I attended them religiously, and I always learned something valuable. If you are thinking of becoming a professor. Visit TheProfessorIsIn.com and read everything that you can. Karen gives straight talk and great advice.
- Learn patience, perseverance, and optimism! Academic jobs have an unusually long timeline. You may be able to apply for some positions more than a year before the start date. In fact, it is virtually impossible to find, apply for, and land a job in a month, no matter how hard you try.
Just like many other slow processes, trying to rush it never goes well. I’ve got a favorite barbecue place in town that serves an amazing brisket. If John Rivers and his people didn’t start making my brisket long before it ever occurred to me that I should go get some, however, I probably don’t actually want it.
Also, I’m not going to tell you that it’s right, or even excusable, but you will never hear from at least half of the places to which you apply. No feedback; no condolences, no pep talk… just… silence. I applied to 22 positions with 20 different organizations. I heard back from eight of them [as of 1/4/17, I’ve now heard from 11 of them… exactly half]. The right job is out there for you. Don’t get discouraged! Keep throwing out your line until you get a nibble.
- Lean on the ones close to you! The people around you are critical Your family, friends, professors, advisors, classmates… you need all of them! Your friends and family keep you anchored and sane. Well, maybe my wife wouldn’t vouch for my sanity (How could she with all that I’ve willingly taken on?), but without her support I would have lost my last shred of clarity long ago. Your professors, advisors, and mentors have all been through it before, too, so heed their wisdom.
Don’t forget to look around your classes, though. Your fellow grad students are the most amazing resource ever!! I’ve never seen any other group of people collaborate and support one another so naturally as grad students. The job search is a great place to build in some systems of support for one another. Read and critique one another’s cover letters and CVs. Hold mock interviews with one another. Ask a trusted mentor to share advice and experience with the group. If you have a colleague who is in the thick of the search now, send them some encouragement. When grad students get together on an issue, they all win!
Is there more advice and wisdom to share? Of course there is, but these five key elements will give you a really solid foundation on which to build. Know that there is light at the end of this very long tunnel. The job search is a long and arduous process but, like everything else related to grad school, it is completely worth it!
With all of the foreshadowing and side comments throughout my post, you may have already guessed it. I did decide that I wanted to be a professor, and I spent my job search looking for tenure track positions. The process that I started last August has finally come to a close! After ten months of searching, and waiting, and applying, and waiting, and interviewing, and waiting, and hoping, and waiting… I just accepted a tenure track Assistant Professor position starting in August 2016!!