Navigating the Academic Job Market

*tap, tap*

“Is this thing on?”

I know it has been a long time since I have updated you all on my life. If you follow along on Instagram then you know that the last 6 months of my life have been insane — I completed my PhD, I successfully navigated my first cycle on the academic job market, landed an incredible Post-Doctoral Fellowship, and move to D.C.!

Last fall was pretty much a stressful blur. In addition to finishing my dissertation and prepping for my defense, I was also working full-time in study abroad, and applying for academic jobs (which is like a full-time job). As many of you know, the academic job market is intense. Not only does it require a lot of time and effort to apply, the competition is fierce. One job that I applied to revealed during my interview that they had received over 300 applications!

What makes the academic job market so tough? Well, it is a number of things, but the biggest factors are: 1) decreasing funding for public, state universities, which is hitting the humanities particularly hard; 2) increasing use of adjunct professors; 3) delayed retiring of tenured faculty; and 4) a surplus of PhDs from previous cycles who have yet to land tenured positions. Simply put, you and hundreds of other highly-educated, well-qualified PhDs are all competing for the same dwindling number of tenured positions.

So, what is the solution? Sadly, no one really has a solution and many programs resort to simply telling PhD candidates and graduate students, “you will never get a job.” I cannot tell you how many times I heard that line! While I do believe you need to enter graduate school aware of this incredibly challenging situation, I do believe there is still opportunity if you are prepared, positive, and willing to think outside the box a bit.

What gives me hope? My personal experiences. Honestly, I was shocked by my own success on the market this past year. I applied for 16 positions, received 6 Skype interviews, 4 on-campus interviews, 1 non-tenure job offer, and 1 Post-Doctoral Fellowship, which I accepted.

Would I have loved to walk away with a tenured job offer? Of course, and I actually came very close, but given the current climate, that is an unrealistic outcome for a first round. Remember, because of the market forces listed above, I was competing against other applicants a couple or even several years out of their graduate programs (for comparison, I graduated in December).

Bottom line — while the academic market is stressful and tight, you can succeed! With this positive take in mind, I want to share what I learned from my first cycle on the market. I am going to begin a new series here called “Navigating the Academic Job Market.” In upcoming posts I want to share my personal experiences and discuss how the application process works, what you can do to stand out in a saturated market, the interviewing processes, tenure vs. non-tenure jobs, post-docs, and careers in the humanities more generally.

I would love to hear if you have any specific questions or topics you would like me to cover in this series. Let me know below!

8 thoughts on “Navigating the Academic Job Market”

  1. Hello Ashley! I’m a long time reader and really appreciate the academic content. I finished undergrad in 2018 and just got into a great History and Museum Studies Master’s program which I planned to be my launchpad to a PhD. Due to the exorbitant costs of the program and my undergrad debt, it’s looking like enrolling will not be the right choice for me.
    I’d love if you could touch on alternative ways to prepare for doctoral studies and how to make yourself a competitive applicant as well!


    1. HistoryinHighHeels

      Hi Shannah,

      Every field is different, and I am no expert on museum studies, but I would advise only doing Masters and PhD programs that offer full funding. If you plan on making your career in museums, you should also research the federal loan forgiveness program!

  2. I would love to hear more about your application process and your interviews. I will be entering the market within the next year or two.

  3. Hi Ashley! I really enjoyed this post and I am definitely looking forward to seeing your series on the academic job market. I am particularly interested in hearing how you made yourself stand out as an applicant because in this job market landing the number of interviews you got is amazing. But in general I would love to hear your thoughts on navigating the job market and how to do so successfully since I’ll be going on the market this fall.

    1. HistoryinHighHeels

      Yes! Standing out is so important. I will definitely share what I think I did right. I also hope to interview a couple people who have served on search/hiring committees recently and ask what stood out to them.

    2. I’d love to hear more about this- I work in higher ed administration but only have a Master’s degree. I’ve considered going for an Edd or ph.d but don’t even know where to begin! My current university doesn’t offer doctoral level program or tuition reimbursement .

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