My academic job search

I will tell you about my academic job search, but first! Big news at the Kitchen Table House: we adopted a dog!! A little Chihuahua named Dex. He will get his own post at some point, but I will be using his adorable face in this post about my job search.

Since I will be telling you about job searches, I would like to share my own. I will break it into stages and start with my academic job search. Even though I do not have an academic job, I began my application process ambivalent about academic jobs, not completely opposed to them. Before I started searching, I told two of my committee members that I was considering non-academic jobs. Each of them told me they thought that was great because Tenure Track (TT) jobs are hard to get, but neither of them could give me much advice on the process, since TT is what they knew. Since they could help me with TT jobs, and because I love teaching and academia was familiar, I dipped a toe into the academic market first.

The tenure-track dream

I had originally planned to defend my dissertation in spring 2016. This was based on wishful thinking and department funding expectations. In fall 2015, I applied for 8 full-time, tenure-track positions and 1 FT lecturer position. A lecturer position is full time (unless specified) and offers salary and a contract, but that contract may be only one year.

The states were California, Washington, Idaho, Missouri, Connecticut, Oregon, and Vermont. That is a broad range! And in most states, I was applying for one single job. Each application packet took hours and hours over several days. For each application, I was also spending days thinking about that location and what life would be like there. Where we would live, type of work for the Dude, schools for the kids, cultural opportunities. For one single job opportunity. For instance, at one point I was comparing positions in southern Missouri and southern coastal California. They each had the same salary range. But one was in a southern Missouri housing market (median house price was about $110,000). The other was in Malibu (median house price was just over $2 million).

The academic job search process

Out of the 9 positions, I had 2 phone interviews, a 22% response rate. This is a good rate of response, especially considering my circumstances. At that point, I still had a full academic year and a half left before I defended. Also, I had no publications, which really affects desirability. While some people apply for many jobs over a broad spectrum of qualifications, I was very selective. My family and I had a frank discussion about where we could and couldn’t live, and that narrowed the field. I stayed away from research-heavy positions because that is not where I wanted to be.

I didn’t try for any programs ranked higher than my current institution. Instead, I stuck with listings that were in my field of expertise, very close to it, or were listed as open. In sociology, areas of interest matter. I have expertise in labor markets and families and feel most comfortable in qualitative methods. When job postings are listed, they are often for very specific types. The department may be looking for someone to teach environmental sociology, or they may need someone who can teach statistics. Some folks apply broadly , even if they don’t look like a good fit on paper. Although I could have applied for everything I saw, I opted for a more targeted academic job search.

The nuts and bolts of the academic job search

The job search season starts in August, with job panels at the American Sociological Association (ASA) annual meeting. I had one interview there, and applied for the job based on that interview. Aside from that, I searched for jobs using the ASA job board. I sorted by date and scanned the ads for geographical location, salary, and areas of interest. Each ad listed what was required for the application. For most non-academic jobs, an applicant submits a resume and cover letter, and probably fills out an online application which repeats the resume. This will be followed by one or two interviews. Academic job applications are much different and more intense. The applicant may have to submit any combination of the following:

  • A CV- An exhaustive resume that includes every publication, service committees, classes taught, etc. This can span more than 10 pages directly out of grad school
  • A writing sample-A standalone piece of work-about 25 pages. Usually an article or dissertation chapter. If you are still writing it, this step may involve extensive editing and feedback
  • A teaching philosophy/statement-A description of how you teach and why.
  • Sample syllabi
  • Sometimes a research statement-What your research interests and plans are
  • Teaching evaluations-all student evaluations from your years of teaching. Need to calculate the quantitative scores and pull out some good representative qualitative comments and put them into a presentation that is visually pleasing.
  • A cover letter-which speaks not only to skills and ability, but also your *fit* within the program
  • 3 letters of recommendation-Written and submitted separately

The packet will be due around October or November and interviews will be in December or January. Candidates who are selected are either given a phone interview, a Skype interview, or an in-person interview. Usually a non-in-person interview will be followed by an in-person interview.

The interview process involves a panel interview that most folks are familiar with. However, it also includes a teaching demonstration, a lecture on their research, lunch and dinner with faculty, possibly a meal with grad students, and lots of one-on-one interviews with various faculty and administrators. Sometimes they even have the candidate meet with realtors to get a sense for housing costs. It can last all of one day and may stretch into a second.

I had two phone interviews and did not progress to the in-person interview. The decisions are made in spring and the new faculty member starts around August, one year after the ASA job panels.

I can imagine how difficult it must be to put that much preparation into the process, fly out, dine with folks, really imagine them as your colleagues, only to be turned down. And it isn’t like other jobs where maybe another position will open in the next few months. When it is done, it is done.

The final stretch of the academic job search

In the 2016-17 school year, I did not apply for any academic jobs. I was uncertain that I would finish that year. Furthermore, I lost funding for the 2016-17 school year. My dissertation had stretched into a fourth year and that was considered inadequate progress. Just like that, I was removed from graduate assistantship and placed on adjunct status. I was still teaching the same course, but making about half the salary I had received the year before, and without health insurance and tuition coverage.

It is fair to say this helped sour me on the academic experience. However, it was only one piece of the alt-ac puzzle for me. Please see my other blog post that goes into more detail about why I ultimately chose not to pursue an academic career. Until I defended my dissertation, I was not 100% in the non-ac camp though.

I would have applied for my dream academic job if it had materialized in 2016 or 2017, but it didn’t. In the 2016-17 school year, I did a mini academic job search. I watched the job ads but didn’t see any that were a good fit for my areas of interest and geographic location. During that year, I transitioned into non-academic work. In the 2017-18 school year, I didn’t see anything either. In both of these academic rounds, I was also operating with the knowledge that my youngest is in his final years of high school, and his high school has been a really good fit for him. So any academic would have to be in our metro area, which was not likely.

I love teaching more than I love most things, and I like a lot about academia, so it has been hard to give up in some ways. Although I do still peek at the job ads, at this point, an assistant professorship would likely mean a significant pay cut and I have paid such a high opportunity cost to academia already that I am not willing to do more.

The academic job search is thorough and exhausting. I am glad I did it once. My ultimate goals took me in another direction. However, I learned a lot about myself and how best to identify and describe my skills and abilities during such a rigorous process.


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