29 Sep

The academic job hunt

One of the toughest things a potential new scholar goes through is the academic job hunt. As the competition gets more fierce and university tenure track positions decrease, it can be a source of incredible frustration. I went through two rounds of searching for a job (Fall 2012 – Spring 2013, Fall 2013 – Spring 2014). In the end, I consider myself extremely blessed and thrilled to have accepted an offer at the University of Washington – Seattle’s Information School as an assistant professor in Digital Youth.

I wanted to write this post as a reflection of the process I went through. To say that it was simply hard is an understatement. There were many lows as well as many highs. I have a couple insights and thoughts about the process. However, I am by no means the expert at this task. So I caution readers to take my advice with a grain of salt. But I hope these tips may be helpful for those seeking an academic position.

1. I get by with a little help from my friends:

Going through the academic process is a nightmare when you are by yourself. Find friends, find loved ones, find someone who will listen to you. The number of hours you spend writing, getting rejections, and feeling down can really wear you down. I was able to find a strong support system of friends and mentors that really helped me out. You need people to read your materials, tell you what needs to change, read the materials again, and tell you (again) what needs to change. You need honesty and people who are willing to tell you that your materials need work. I also needed friends who would listen to me when I was down or dejected. In the end, even though it was such a brutal time in my life, you find out quickly the kinds of relationships you build and the people that you can trust.

2. Be a friend to others:

Don’t just become a hermit and hide away during this time. Don’t just be a taker. Help others, especially when you are the most busiest! I know this sounds antithetical, but hear me out.

During this really crazy time, I spent a lot of hours reading over many of my own friends job applications and helping out with a lot of their talks. I took every opportunity I could to read other people’s materials and give them my honest feedback. You have to give back to people during this time. In the end, it gives you such clarity and insight on how to improve your own writing and presentation skills.

And yes, there’s a lot of research that being a GIVER is better for you in the long run.


 

3. The job hunt doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game:

Let’s be honest, we are all applying to same positions as our friends. People call this term the “frenemy”. I hate this term. Why can’t we all just be friends? During this job hunt, I was quite aware who was getting positions and call backs. And you know what, be happy for your friends (and the people you don’t know) that get the callbacks when you didn’t. Lana Yarosh says it best in her blog:

I also figured out that when I began comparing myself to others, I only made myself envious, insecure, and miserable. Lots of my friends were also on the market and I made the explicit decision to be happy for them and look for ways to share happiness and provide support, instead of stalking their Google scholar pages. By making this decision, other people who are on the market became a wonderful source of insight and support instead of a source of stress.”

What Lana writes is absolutely true. Many of my friends applied and got positions I applied for as well. But you have to be supportive and encouraging. Be happy for your friends and the people that get the positions. Don’t see them as the frenemy; see them as your friends and help each other out. The world of academia is very small and you may end up at conferences where you meet new people and those new people are the ones that got the position you want. Be happy for them and make new friends.

4. Do your homework:

Again, applying for the academic job market is no joke. Lana’s got a good estimate; I had about the same number of hours of preparation:

I tracked my time: 40 hours spent writing my general materials and preparing the job talk, 2 hours spent preparing each application (21 places, so more than 40 hours total), additional 30 hours on preparing and doing phone interviews and general follow-ups to application, and each on-site took an average of 40 hours when accounting for preparation, travel, actual meetings, and general logistics (so, my 8 on-sites took me a total of 320 hours!). Most of the prep happened in October and November, most of the followups in December, and the on-sites were in February and March.”

Philip Guo’s giant PDF of his reflections is also notable in the amount of hours you will spend on this.

It’s also not just about the writing and preparing, you need to allocate time to reading articles people published. I spent a lot of time skimming abstracts and taking notes on all the research that was going on in these positions, particularly those in the search committee and possible collaborations.

5. Resources:

Just like the old weird man in the cave says (I’ve wondered why he lives there giving swords to strangers), don’t go into this alone without resources. First, ask successful people who’ve gone on this academic route for their packages. I had at least four professors show me what they wrote and I spent time analyzing each one of them to figure out what they all had in common (thank you grounded theory methods). I’d be happy to share with anyone my academic package as well, just email me and I’ll send them to you. Second, blogs are helpful. Some blogs I used come in mind (send me more, I’m trying to compile a list):

  • The Professor Is In: No nonsense advice here. Karen Kelsky is wonderful at telling you what the common problems are in applications. For a consulting fee, you can hire her services as well. I didn’t use Kelsey for this process, but she has a pretty good solid track record at helping those who really need some personal guidance.
  • Philip Guo: He scored 10 on-campus interviews and even had to decline offers. So you know he’s got good advice.
  • Lana Yarosh: My friend Lana rocked it with six offers out of eight on-campus interviews. Not too shabby.