Decided academia is right for you? Here are 3 rules to guide you in your job search.

  1. Not all universities are created equal; tailor your applications accordingly.

    Universities differ widely. Generally there are: research institutions, teaching institutions, and a blend of both. There are also different levels of each. Some research institutions have a heavy emphasis on getting grants, whereas others do not place such a strong emphasis on grants but still value high publishing productivity. Some teaching institutions, moreover, place strong standards on teaching evaluations and other teaching measures, whereas others have different standards.Know which type of institution you are applying to, and tailor your application accordingly. Don’t go on and on about your research interests in your cover letter if you are applying to a small liberal arts college (SLAC), and vice versa with teaching interests. This goes for phone interviews and in-person interviews, as well. Also, don’t assume that just because the institution values teaching that they do not care about your research pursuits. Do your research about each school in detail before you apply!

  2. Treat your job search as a part-time job. Doing an academic job search is going to take a concerted amount of effort and time. Some areas (e.g., psychology) have wikis devoted to job hunters and post new ads and updates. Keep track of where you find the job ads, because often times they’ll ask you for this information again. You’ll need to budget your time toward searching for jobs, applying, and follow-ups. You’ll also need to organize all your jobs for your letter writers so that they know exactly what to do to upload and/or send their letters. When I did my job search, it took at least 20 hours a week at its peak. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other job hunters (e.g., your labmates). It doesn’t always have to be as competitive within your own school as you think. I found a job to apply to that my friend also applied to. Also, some search committees will ask for additional information (e.g., essays). This also takes a lot of time, and things often get missed. So make sure someone proofreads your materials before you send them!
  3. Make a case for your “Academic Fit.” Just because you tailored your application toward a specific institution does not mean you’ve made a compelling case for “academic fit.” Search committees are searching for a new co-worker, as well as a new hire. Because of this, people may presume things about the department that are not necessarily true. One time this guy was applying for a position, and he had lots of neurocognitive experience. He assumed that his trendy neuroscience background was all the rage in the department he was applying to. Despite the trendy neuro experience, the department needed more cognitive and less neuro. So he didn’t get the job. The academic fit was just not there. Do your homework on each institution, and try to foresee what areas they may be lacking. If you fit that niche, you’re in good company. If you don’t fit that niche, you’ll need a compelling reason why they should hire you. If you don’t persuade them, they may look elsewhere. Academic fit also benefits the job candidate, too. If they didn’t want to hire you because you didn’t mesh well with their faculty, you probably wouldn’t enjoy working there, either.


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