It's Never Too Late to Start

Courtesy of Julie Miller Vick and Mary Morris Heiberger, U. Penn.
Authors of The Academic Job Search Handbook

Planning a career in academia? As the list below demonstrates, you’ll want to begin planning at least 24 months in advance. Given today’s job market, David Jensen, a writer and speaker on career issues worldwide, says to plan “on a truly significant effort.” He notes that new grads will often invest only “20 to 30 minutes a day in their job search.” According to Jensen, “In 2009, that will get you a few ’thank you’ responses from human resources, and little else. If you aren't spending two hours a day on your search, you're unlikely to get any kind of traction at all.”

So, starting early and staying organized are critical to a successful search. For more tips on conducting an academic job search, see Vick and Heiberger’s The Academic Job Search.

Two Years Before Your Target Job Start Date
  • ƒFinalize dissertation committee.
  • ƒIdentify upcoming conference dates and make plans to attend.
  • ƒ Read job listings to see what’s out there. A good place to start is the Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • ƒ Explore postdoc options.
  • ƒ Establish long-term goals and set priorities; discuss plans with your partner or family, if you have one. 
Summer, Fifteen Months Before
  • ƒ Stay on track to finish dissertation by next summer; a Ph.D. in hand is safer on the job market. 
  • ƒ Talk to your adviser and other faculty about going on the market. Seek their advice and review potential contacts. 
  • ƒ Continue setting priorities and communicating with your partner/family members. 
  • ƒ Gather letters of recommendation. 
  • ƒ Prepare your CV and other materials (abstract, teaching and research statement, etc.). 
  • ƒ Submit papers for academic conferences. 
  • ƒ Obtain and prepare postdoc applications. 
Fall, One Year Before
  • ƒ Finalize your CV. 
  • ƒ Secure all letters of recommendation. 
  • ƒ Keep working on dissertation! 
  • ƒ Attend Career Services Center programs on academic job search and interview preparation. 
  • ƒ Practice interviewing. 
  • ƒ Read all job listings in your field. 
  • ƒ Write cover letters and send applications. 
  • ƒ Keep in close touch with advisor. 
  • ƒ Consider making direct inquiries to departments of particular interest.
Winter, Eight Months Before
  • ƒ Continue practicing interviewing. 
  • ƒ Attend academic conferences. 
  • ƒ Prepare and practice job talks. 
  • ƒ Continue to monitor job listings; apply to those that are a good fit. 
  • ƒ Go on campus interviews or telephone interviews. 
  • ƒ Apply for non-academic positions, if interested. 
  • ƒ Be good to yourself. Take some breaks! 
Spring, Five to Six Months Before
  • ƒ Receive offers. Remember, it is not official until you have it in writing! 
  • ƒ Negotiate. 
  • ƒ Revisit “Plan B” and “Plan C” if necessary. Remember, non-academic positions are open year round. Many people conduct more than one academic search, so consider on-campus options – teaching, grants, etc. – to get you through another year until next fall’s round of academic openings. 
  • ƒ Thank everyone who helped you after you accept a job offer.

Additional Resources

Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering, by Richard M. Reis (IEEE Press, 1997) is an extremely thorough guide that offers good advice from the first years of graduate study up through successfully completing the tenure process. It's enlivened by case studies. Reis also runs an e-mail discussion group that touches on a variety of issues related to faculty development (See page 8).

The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001) is a start-to-finish guide to finding a faculty job, but plenty of other good options are out there. Also check out the AcademicJobSearch mini wiki at The Wikia Scratchpad (a place to share information about the academic job search on a national and even international basis).

Jensen, David G. 2009. Tooling up: The cold, hard truth about finding a job in 2009. http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2009_02_20/caredit.a0900025