Apologies for missing Tuesday’s post and then delaying on Thursday’s post. I had a family health crisis (thankfully, fully resolved) that kept me away from the computer this week.
Today’s post is a Special Request post for K, who asks, what can a grad student do right now (even from the first year) to prepare for the job market?
This is an excellent question and one that I have wanted to write about for some time. I have no patience, no patience whatsoever, with the “love” narrative (“we do what we do because we love it and money/jobs play no role”) that prevails among many advisors and departments and profoundly mystified graduate students (see the most recent example, in the Chronicle this week, here).
It is my view that graduate school is meant to prepare one for a job and career. And it is from that belief that all of my work as The Professor derives.
For those of you who feel otherwise, that is your right.
But my remarks are always addressed to those who wish to prioritize being competitive for permanent, tenure track employment, with salary, benefits, and retirement, at the end of their Ph.D.
So, Dear Graduate Students, here are things that you can do now:
1. Never forget Dr. Karen’s primary rule of graduate school: Graduate School Is Not Your Job; Graduate School Is a Means To A Job. Do not settle in to your graduate department like a little hamster burrowing in the pine shavings. Stay alert with your eye always on a national stage, poised for the next opportunity, whatever it is, to present a paper, attend a conference, meet a scholar in your field, forge a connection, gain a professional skill.
2. Year one and every year thereafter, read the job ads in your field in the Chronicle and your disciplinary professional organization website, and track the predominant and emerging emphases of the listed jobs. You don’t have to slavishly follow trends, but you have to be familiar with them and be prepared to relate your own work to them in some way.
3. Do not forget the rule of increasing returns (in grants). A $500 book scholarship situates you for a $1000 conference grant, which situates you for a $3000 summer research fellowship, which puts you in the running for a $10,000 fieldwork grant, which then makes you competitive for a $30,000 dissertation writing grant, and later a $100,000 postdoc.
4. Make strong connections to your advisor and also to other faculty members in your department and in affiliated departments outside your department. Interact with these faculty members as a young professional, without forgetting the letters of recommendation that you will one day need.
5. Minimize your work as a TA. Your first year will be grueling, but learn the techniques of efficiency in teaching as fast as you can, and make absolutely, categorically, sure that you do not volunteer labor beyond the hours paid. Believe me, this will take vigilance. Do it. You are not a volunteer and the university is not a charity.
6. Attend every job talk in your department and affiliated departments religiously. It matters not if these are in your field or subfield. Go to all.
7. Attend national (not just local or regional) conferences annually.
8. Take every opportunity available to you to present your work publicly.
9. Remember that the best dissertation is a finished dissertation.
10. Write your thesis and dissertation with an eye to publication. In many if not most fields it is now necessary to have at least one refereed journal article while still ABD. Strategize your Masters thesis or one chapter of your dissertation to be your first publication, and send it out at least one year prior to the Fall you will first go on the market. Do not be seduced by expressions of interest or invitations from editors of edited collections. These are where good publications go to die. Your first piece needs to be in the highest ranked refereed journal you can reasonably manage.
Bonus Advice: Put the amount of work into your job letter and teaching statement and research statement that you would put into a dissertation chapter or refereed journal article. Far, far more hinges on these documents than any other piece of writing that you do.
There is more to write. I am preparing a longer piece on this subject for the Chronicle of Higher Education. If the Chronicle does not publish the longer piece, I will post it here on the blog. For now I stop here.
In the meantime, I think I can hear about a third of my readers saying “Oh yeah! I can do this!” And a third saying, “Aaaaaarrrggghhhh…..I can never do all this!” And another third saying, “I refuse to do all this! What a distasteful exercise in tactical drudgery.” The choice is entirely yours. But be aware that the best and most competitive candidates, the ones whom I have watched and assisted as they sailed through a first year on the market with something like 10-15 conference interviews and 5 campus visits, and 2 competing offers, had every one of these elements of their record locked and loaded.