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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!