Sacrifices

In the past month, two of my three closest friends from high school have either gotten married or placed a down payment on a house. Two weeks ago at the wedding, the single one, whose house is still currently in the process of being built, showed me pictures of the structure and mentioned how real it felt as they began to put the windows into place. Being stuck in grad school while close friends make these huge commitments is less than ideal to say the least. As their future gets clearer, they pose questions about the cloudiness of mine and as I’ve posted on the blog before, my aspirations of going into academia don’t necessarily impress my trio of friends: The Dentist, The Surgeon, and The Homeowner.

Seeing their lives progress while much of mine has remained at a stand still somewhat made me question my chosen path. These interactions combined with the barrage of academia job applications I’ve sent out without much any response hasn’t been positive reinforcement that this is going to be my career.  Even if I thought industry was a good fit for me, I haven’t had any sort of formal experience since my internship in 2009 and wouldn’t really know where to begin to make the switch. Most of my professional experiences the last 4 years have been so focused on teaching, I’ve been honing skills that I’m not sure how valuable they would be in an industry setting. Sure, my public speaking is much better, and I’d argue I can communicate science better than most of my peers, but even students from my department who have much more impactful research and leadership experiences than I do have struggled finding a job.

About a month ago, I set a deadline of June 1st as when I’d start looking for positions in industry,  just to see what was out there and if I could find a position that would work for me.  That was Monday.  However last week, the instructor for the summer course I’m TAing for had a conflict and needed me to cover her lecture.  I’ve given talks at conferences and departmental seminars, but this would be the largest crowd I’ve ever spoken to probably outside of my high school graduation.  It was an introductory lecture, Biological Molecules, teaching the building blocks of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids, something I had no problem teaching but given this was my first time, I had this odd feeling of nervous excitement, similar to Christmas morning as a child, heading into the lecture. 2 hours later…okay, you caught me, I let them out early. 1.5 hours later, I felt inspired and confident that that all the sacrifices I’ve made to be here have been worth it, and that the wedding and the house are still in my future and I’ll get to them.  First comes the hard part, finding someone to let me teach.

The Waiting Game

I’m also looking for academic positions and there is so much truth in Rebecca’s post from a couple weeks ago, that I highly recommend reading it.  I also wanted to speak a little bit about my experience, specifically in relation to the interviews.

In addition to making (small) steps towards graduating and enjoying the NBA playoffs, this past month I’ve had two different types of interview experiences and wanted to shed some light into what to expect. Disclaimer, I’ve only focused on applying to positions that focus on teaching, specifically at smaller PUI schools and community colleges.

Phone Interview

I’ve had two phone interviews which were very different from one another, both in the types of questions and tone. However, count on several different people being there, usually at least 3-4 different faculty members, with the interview being led by the department chair.  For one of the positions, it was a tenure-track position and questions were much more direct and specific, such as “Please provide some ideas on how you would use research as a learning tool” with the committee looking to gain insight into my expectations with working with undergraduates.  The other phone interview was for an instructor position and felt more like a conversation as opposed to an interview. Here, I was asked more broad questions like “How did you first become interested in chemistry?”  Like I mentioned, I’ve focused on positions with primarily teaching responsibilities, so I did not get asked any questions about my research and would imagine this would be different for research oriented positions.  I was somewhat surprised by this, but I can say that having seen faculty hired through our department here at Rutgers, final candidates were asked to come and give a short talk about their research, so it’s possible this was the next step in the interview process.

In-person Interview

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to an “Adjunct Invitational” at a local community college. I’ve spoken to some other colleagues about what this experience would be like, but it seems like most community colleges do this process slightly differently. About 4 weeks ago, a representative from Human Resources contacted me about selecting a time slot for their Adjunct Invitational giving me options of 2 hour-long slots.  When I arrived at the college, there was a large waiting area with tables surrounding the waiting area in a large circle, similar to a Career or Involvement Fair. At each table was a different academic department, and when your name was called an HR representative would come and escort you to your “interview” with your respective department.  I use interview loosely here as it was more of an informal conversation asking about my teaching experiences and philosophy only lasting between 10-15 minutes for myself in both circumstances.  I interviewed with two departments and spoke with 2 and 3 faculty respectively,  so despite signing up for an hour long slot, I was only there for about a half hour, but that could change depending on how many candidates are interviewing for your position.  Some of the other people in the waiting area spent more time waiting to be interviewed than the actual interview.

While I haven’t heard back from either yet, getting these “reps” and practice for these positions was really important helping calm my nerves a little bit, so the only thing I will add to Rebecca’s post is that not getting an offer is STILL progress. Good luck to anyone else on the job hunt!

The Job Search. Gulp.

Of late the job search within academia has been popularly compared to the Hunger Games.  It would be funny if it weren’t actually true.

Having worked for two years between my completing my Master’s degree and entering the Ph.D. program in art history, I’ve had the benefit of going through this ringer before.  While I have no idea if my experience was typical, it was definitely a trial, and I suspect that writing about it can only help anyone else going through this phase of graduate school.  Either you’ll relate, or you’ll enjoy a bit of schadenfreude.  Without further ado, What I Learned About the Job Search:

1. Don’t take it personally.  If you didn’t get the job, or even an interview, it sure feels like the hiring committee has weighed you, measured you and found you wanting. But having been on the other side of the hiring process too, I think I can say with some certainty that nobody was sitting with their feet up on a conference table, throwing darts at a copy of your CV tacked to the wall and joking that you must have been mad to apply in the first place.  I have been in the room when hiring decisions were made, and no one cackled like a Bond villain over rejected résumés.  A rejection letter often has nothing to do with you.  In my field of art history, for instance, perhaps a museum’s upcoming exhibition schedule dovetailed beautifully with another applicant’s thesis on Rembrandt.  It didn’t mean other applicants couldn’t do the job.  So it’s not you. You’re lovely.  And qualified.

2. It could take awhile.  After my M.A. program, I spent about six months sending my CV to anyone who would take it, applying for anything remotely within the realm of possibility.  In all, I sent out 52 applications and got two interviews and one offer.  A few months later, I was chatting with a senior member of the museum staff at an office happy hour, comparing war stories.  After his Ph.D., he’d sent out 125 cover letters.  Maybe you’ll find something immediately, but be prepared for a marathon, not a sprint.

3. It’s not the end of the world.  It just feels like it. Every day I made a point of checking the same sites and searching the same fields – and then trying new ones just in case they yielded anything.  Most days, it came to nothing, and it was so very easy to be glum.  But chin up.  Sometimes things get worse before they get better – it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.

4.  Network.  Eat something.  Network.  Coffee break.  Network.  Then network some more.  I have to admit, I’m not so great at this, since networking in academia can entail attending conferences, which in turn entail registration fees and travel expenses. While they may not amount to a fortune, a small pile of coins can be a fortune in grad school.  But things like alumni associations can be useful as well, along with social media such as academia.edu or LinkedIn.  And not all functions are pricey – be on the lookout for things you can afford to do.

I’m no expert, and for all the advice I’m dishing out, I will probably let the job search get to me every now and then.  It’s hard out there for a prof, especially if you have to take a series of adjunct jobs to string together a meager income.  (It happens.  A lot. When even fashion magazines are talking about this, you know it’s officially a thing.) But armed with the knowledge that hiring decisions, while not always in my favor, are often the result of a perfect storm of events having little or nothing to do with me, maybe I’ll have fewer sleepless nights.

What advice do you have for people entering the job search?

Job Search Advice

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.