Recently, I attended a series of workshops sponsored by the Graduate School and Project AGER, in which Dean Barbara Bender provided useful, concrete advice to students preparing for an academic job search. An audio transcript of one of these workshops can be found here. I was hoping to reflect on a few of the more interesting and/or important points from this workshop.
The series of two talks was hours long and filled with useful information, so I will highlight a few points, hoping to give some advice that is the most important and some that may be less common (since job-searching students are often inundated with redundant advice).
First, check the accreditation of a school to which you might apply. Make sure that the school is accredited by one of the regional accreditation boards. Some fields of study also require special accreditation — if this is true in your field, check for that too. Likewise, check whether the institution operates as a non-profit. While there are plenty of job opportunities at institutions that are not accredited and/or for-profit, it’s important to understand that aspect of the institution to which you might apply for a job.
It may also be important to consider the type of school (research-oriented, liberal arts, technical, big, small, rural, urban, religious, etc.), and to consider the school’s mission. Most schools have a mission statement (or something equivalent) that you can read. It might give you some idea about the guiding principles of the school’s educational and scholarly work and help you consider how well the school fits your career plans. The history of the institution may also provide some insight here, as might the status of faculty collective bargaining, benefits, and so forth.
You should also consider positions in schools besides the usual four-year institutions. Community colleges and other such institutions may often be overlooked in a job search, but some community colleges, 2-year institutions, etc., can offer competitive salaries — and often with tenure lines and a strongly unionized faculty. There are also jobs outside the tenure track, like contract teaching, online & continuing education, institutional research, and administrative work.
If your career goals include working in academia, but you leap into industry, it is possible to go back to a university sooner or later. One thing that is important, if this is your goal, is to be sure to continue to publish or otherwise participate in scholarship.
And, in the later stages of the job search, two important considerations: organizational structure (departments, units, schools, divisions, etc.) of the university or college in question, and the specific expectations they will have regarding teaching and service (teaching load, committees, summer programs, etc.).
There are many other great pieces of advice, but hopefully here I’ve featured a few that might be more important to job seekers and less commonly heard.