Use Your Summer Wisely

Chronicle of Higher Education
July 20, 2007
by Julie Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong

If you are going on the academic job market this fall, remember that the hiring season always arrives sooner than expected

Academics welcome summer with a collective sigh of relief. Finally they can get to those tasks that are nearly impossible to accomplish during a busy academic year working on that manuscript, completing the revisions on an article, learning the new laboratory technique from the colleague across the hall.

The pleasures of the season are both great and small, ranging from exciting research trips abroad to shorter lunch lines at campus eateries.

However, those of you going on the job market in the fall would do well to take advantage of the relaxed pace and get some serious work done on your job search. Let us offer some suggestions that will make this fall somewhat painless.

Get started on your CV. If it's your first time on the job market, you may never have written a curriculum vitae before. If that is the case, a good way to get started is to list of all of your academic accomplishments. Then look at some sample CV's from colleagues in your field, just to get a sense of what they include and omit.

You might also read the book co-written by one of us, The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), or our most recent CV Doctor column (see http://chronicle.com/jobs/tools/cvdoctor/2006) to get a general sense of what CV's look like and what common mistakes to avoid.

If your campus career office works with Ph.D.'s (and that is increasingly true across the country), you might take advantage of that service and get some expert feedback on your document. You will want to have a CV that clearly states your qualifications and makes it easy for search committees to see why you would be an excellent candidate.

If you already have a CV, take a close look at it. Does it say what you want it to say about you? Have trusted colleagues take a look at it. They might be able to provide you with useful comments, as well as point out errors that you may have missed. Be sure to update your CV so that it includes all of your recent accomplishments, including recently published papers, newly awarded grants, and anything else you may have achieved since you last updated it.

What else will you need? Many institutions ask job candidates to submit more than just a CV and a cover letter. You may be asked to submit a statement about your teaching philosophy, a research statement, a writing sample, or a teaching portfolio.

Summer is a good time to begin drafting those documents. Ideally your final drafts will be tailored to each institution to which you are applying. Although you most likely won't know which jobs will be available in your field until late summer or early fall, you can, nonetheless, begin to start writing.

And doing so will help you articulate your identity, both as a researcher and as a teacher. Time spent doing that is not wasted it will help you find the words that best describe you, both on paper and, later on, in the interview process.

Familiarize yourself with all of academe. There are so many kinds of institutions of higher education in the United States. You have some familiarity with research institutions, and you may feel comfortable with colleges similar to the one where you did your undergraduate work. But there is a lot of variety out there that you, as a job candidate, need to consider.

If you have friends working in academe, try to talk with them this summer and find out what they like, and don't like, about where they work.

Seek out letters of reference. It's not just a matter of asking people to serve as your references. You also have to decide how you will have those letters sent out.

If you are on the job market for the first time, you might find that your department already has a system in place for sending recommendation letters. Perhaps job candidates are referred to your college career office's credentials service; perhaps letters of recommendation are handled within the department by staff members; perhaps job candidates use an Internet-based service, like Interfolio, to send their letters; or perhaps professors will send out the letters on their own.

The benefit to using a credentials service, be it within a department, online, or in a career office, is that you, the job candidate, have control of when and how the letters are sent to a given institution. A letter from a recommender that specifies how your research profile will fit a particular department can be wonderful. But the letter won't help you if your recommender can't meet deadlines and sends in the letter two weeks late.

If you've been on the market before, ask your references to update their letters as soon as possible. You should send them an updated copy of your CV, along with any other relevant documents, so that they can see your professional development over the past year.

Advice for dual-career couples. Whether or not your partner is an academic, it is crucial that you articulate your goals before you go on the job market. You want your search strategy to support the personal and professional goals of the two of you, and you need to be ready to answer potential employers' questions honestly and clearly.

It can help to talk to other couples and find out what has worked for them. Read some of the many articles available online on how dual-career couples handle job searches. Think about what is right for both of you, not what you think an employer wants to hear. Among the issues you need to consider:

If you and your partner are in similar fields, will each of you apply for the same jobs?

How are you going to feel if you end up competing against each other?

If your partner isn't an academic, is there a hiring cycle for his or her field, and a specific point at which he or she should start a job search?

How far apart from one another are you willing to live?

What will you do if you receive jobs on opposite sides of the country?

If you are willing to live apart, can you afford to maintain two households?

It is usually a good idea to reach a joint decision about where both of you will search, and within which geographic areas you are each free to act independently. Waiting to discuss those issues until you both have landed terrific offers in locations thousands of miles apart sets you up for deciding who will "sacrifice" an offer.

You may prefer to decide in advance on geographic locations in which you believe you can both find satisfying employment, and to concentrate your search on those areas. Colleges and universities, like other employers, realize that many candidates may be part of dual-career couples. Very often, if a department is serious about you, it will do what it can to assist your partner.

Develop your fan club. Academic hiring, the work life of faculty members, and the nature of research are a mystery to most people outside of the academic community.

There are probably people to whom you are very close including your partner or spouse, parents, siblings, and friends who have no real understanding of what you have done to master your area of study. They may think that you sit at a computer, in a library, or in a lab all day, but they don't actually understand the work you do. They probably also don't understand how academic job searches work and what academic life is like.

It's up to you to help those people understand, because you will need their support through the next several years.

To outsiders, it may look as if you have a lot of free time. As an academic, you know that it is difficult to leave your work behind that, in fact, it is never done. When the people in your life can see why it is crucial for you to meet a grant deadline or submit an article by a particular date, they can help. But you need to educate them.

While popular culture lets us into the lives of doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, teachers, financial analysts, and a host of other professionals, few television shows or works of popular fiction cover the lives of doctoral students, postdocs, or faculty members.

Of course, there are people who will understand what you're going through your professors, colleagues, fellow graduate students, fellow postdocs, and faculty members at other institutions. Let them know that you will be going on the job market, and that you may need their advice along the way.

Have some fun. Try to spend a little time relaxing this summer or doing something you love that doesn't involve your academic career. If you have been wanting to do some hiking, to read a few books by your favorite mystery writer, or to finish building a cabinet, do it. Go on a trip with your family. Take your children to the zoo or on a camping trip.

Give yourself a break from worrying. The happier you are, the more comfortable you will be on the job market. Take advantage of the season.

Julie Miller Vick is senior associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jennifer S. Furlong is associate director. Vick is co-author of The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press), along with Mary Morris Heiberger, who was associate director of career services at Penn. Have a question you would like answered in Career Talk? Send it to careertalk@chronicle.com. For an archive of previous Career Talk columns, see http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/archives/columns/career_talk.

http://chronicle.com Section: Chronicle Careers Volume 53, Issue 46, Page C2