Welcome to the GradCafe

Hello!  Welcome to The GradCafe Forums.You're welcome to look around the forums and view posts.  However, like most online communities you must register before you can create your own posts.  This is a simple, free process that requires minimal information. Benefits of membership:

  • Participate in discussions
  • Subscribe to topics and forums to get automatic updates
  • Search forums
  • Removes some advertisements (including this one!)
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Bleep_Bloop

Job market as 4th year humanities student

7 posts in this topic

I'm about to enter my fourth year in a humanities program (funded for 5 years, possibility of a sixth year). My advisor is suggesting I go on the job market in the fall. After a few days of thinking this over, I'm still unsure what to think of the idea. But first, here's a little background:

I entered with a BA, almost straight out of undergrad (deferred for a Fulbright). I found my thesis topic early (in my first semester, partially thanks to the time for exploration afforded by the Fulbright). While I didn't officially begin writing until my third year, I had been thinking about this research and presenting it at major conferences. Come September, I'll have three major presentations under my belt (at the annual conference of my discipline), along with 3 smaller conferences. I'll have two forthcoming articles from top-3 journals and a forthcoming co-edited special issue at a top-3 journal. I've organized three conferences and networked well, in my opinion. I have three semesters of teaching experience under my belt (the rest of my studies was funded by fellowships). I feel like (and have been told by the faculty) that I've been doing all the right things. So now my reservations:

I still have one, most likely two more years of fellowship funding where I could churn out a lot of material (no teaching obligations). I don't want to waste that time and prematurely saddle myself with teaching and administrative responsibilities. I have a chapter and a half of my dissertation written at the moment. With the writing schedule I've set myself, I expect to have half of the dissertation completed by September. Yet I could still use that extra time in a fifth and sixth year to further refine and get a jump-start on prepping the diss. for book conversion, expanding its scope, etc. I could also begin laying the foundation for a second project. 

Yet at the same time I realize that I'm in the position to take a crack at the market now, which gives me more opportunities in the long run. I could have, in theory, three shots if I start now. If I strike out, the fellowships will still be there. Yet if I do land a TT job, obviously I take it...but then forfeit those fellowships. 

I was wondering if anyone on the forum has been in a similar situation, or has advice... Going on the job market is very time-intensive, obviously, and will likely slow my writing down in that period. Yet it can only increase my chances by allowing me multiple shots at the market. Would this be premature? 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In my opinion it's worth the try, but in this early stage you should only apply to jobs that you actually really want and you'd be happy to give up your fellowship for. Unless your field is different from virtually every other field I know anything about, the job market is tight, and prospects even for the best candidates aren't great. So if you can get an offer, that would be amazing and you should obviously go for it. But even if not, even though the process of going on the job market is time consuming, the documents you'll produce will be a good foundation for later years on the market, so you'll be saving yourself a lot of time and stress in later years. My own experience was that creating the original documents was incredibly time consuming, but every year since, I haven't needed more than a few days of tweaks to be ready for another round of applications. So, doing a good job the first time around can really pay off down the line. I think a good goal for the first year is a long-list interview and perhaps an on-campus visit. You'll get to see much closer up what's actually out there, you'll get some experience prepping for interviews, and if you're successful, you'll put together a job talk and get to go on a campus visit. You might also learn from this process how to situate your thinking in the bigger picture, which you might find will help with the dissertation writing, especially when you move beyond the detailed analysis to the discussion of implications, next steps, and how your work fits with other advances in your (sub)field. If you come without any expectations beyond getting an interview -- which, for a fourth-year PhD student would be wise -- I think that it's a win-win. You do have the time to do this now. Anyway, that's my $.02. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also second the opinion of it being worth a try and to only apply for things you are really interested in. I would also add that you might want to ensure the time you spend applying for jobs this upcoming cycle doesn't cut too much into your productivity, otherwise you will hurt your chances of getting a job in the following year. I think this is really the only downside of applying this year, so as long as you are aware of this and can manage this, it should be fine. And you probably have very good time management skills to be productive enough to be competitive after 4 years :)

I guess it also sounds like your field is one where you go from PhD to TT position without postdocs or other fellowships in between? For someone in my field, I'd definitely say to apply for jobs since you might as well get paid as a postdoc to do the work you're describing (since it won't start your tenure clock). I suppose that if you are going to start the tenure clock right away, that might make one hesitate, but if you are competitive enough to win a TT job competition, you can surely find a way to manage!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you both for the replies! I tried googling for advice on blogs or websites related to the profession but hadn't come up with much.

It's reassuring to get similar advice regarding the breadth of applications. Most students I've talked to about this have given me a quizzical look and wondered why I wouldn't apply to any opening remotely relevant to my sub-discipline, given the state of the market. My intuition has always told me that this will likely harm a candidate in the long-run, and should only be done if you're getting towards the end of the rope (i.e. it's your last possible job cycle and you're just throwing everything down). On academic job wikis from my field I've seen people write that they've submitted 40, sometimes 50+ job applications and I can't even fathom the amount of time that would take. My adviser has told me to just keep my head down and maintain my writing schedule until the end of summer...besides mentally committing to going on the job market, it's time to just wait and see what jobs start being posted in September. It's flattering that he thinks I'm competitive, but it took me entirely by surprise and generated professional jitters.

I appreciate the advice re: if you're basically doing the work of a post-doc, you may as well be paid as one and have the title on your CV. I hadn't thought in those terms. That said, I should have probably included in my original post that I'll also be applying to post-docs. In my field post-docs are not required for TT jobs, however. Anyone who is competitive for a post-doc is competitive for a TT job, perhaps because post-docs are scarcer in the humanities. They're usually only found at prestigious institutions...the largest humanities post-doc programs (perhaps 3-5 offers per cycle) are at Columbia, Princeton, UChicago, Michigan, etc.  It's not uncommon for competitive candidates to snag both a TT position and a post-doc in the same cycle, and then negotiate with the institution offering the TT to defer the job for the fellowship. That's obviously the best of all possible worlds, but I've seen it happen. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
29 minutes ago, Bleep_Bloop said:

I appreciate the advice re: if you're basically doing the work of a post-doc, you may as well be paid as one and have the title on your CV. I hadn't thought in those terms. That said, I should have probably included in my original post that I'll also be applying to post-docs. In my field post-docs are not required for TT jobs, however. Anyone who is competitive for a post-doc is competitive for a TT job, perhaps because post-docs are scarcer in the humanities. They're usually only found at prestigious institutions...the largest humanities post-doc programs (perhaps 3-5 offers per cycle) are at Columbia, Princeton, UChicago, Michigan, etc.  It's not uncommon for competitive candidates to snag both a TT position and a post-doc in the same cycle, and then negotiate with the institution offering the TT to defer the job for the fellowship. That's obviously the best of all possible worlds, but I've seen it happen. 

Ah okay. In my field, it's almost the inverse! Only the very top tier students get TT positions right after grad school. There has been one graduate in my program, out of the ~40 or so that graduated in the last 8 years that achieved this. And almost all of these students, at my school or elsewhere, will defer the TT in favour of a postdoc. There's nothing like the 2-3 years of 100% research to really jump-start your productivity and prepare you for the tenure clock! Some postdocs are externally funded so you can take your postdoc anywhere you want, and it's pretty common for someone who got both a postdoc and a TT position to take the postdoc at the same institution as their TT position, allowing them to start taking on students and start a research program without starting their tenure clock.

Many other very good students will get some sort of prize postdoc fellowship and then a TT position in the next cycle. A large number of prize postdocs at my current institution go on to TT positions after 2 or 3 years here. The vast majority of people who end up in a TT position only get one after 2 or 3 postdocs. 

But there are tons of postdocs overall. I don't know the exact count for sure, but basically 75% of PhD graduates in astronomy and astronomy-like fields intending to stay in academia will have some sort of postdoc position. A smaller fraction are prize postdocs, which are funded with money awarded from national organizations (NSF, NASA, etc.) or private organizations (Heising-Simons Foundation, Carnegie, other similarly named organizations) or institutional fellowships (Miller fellowship at UC Berkeley, Harvard Society of Fellows, etc.). These postdocs pay really well and allow great independence in research. The majority of postdoc positions are not prize positions and they are more like staff scientists hired to work on a specific project. In astronomy, they still pay pretty well. Most graduates can expect to double their income going from student to postdoc.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Bleep_Bloop your field sounds not unlike mine. Until very recently postdocs weren't really a thing, but nowadays there is more and more of that (and other temp teaching positions) before people will land a TT job. There are some postdocs funded by someone's grant, but many will tend to be prestigious, and if you win one of those, you are also competitive for jobs (and yes, it's not uncommon for someone to land both and defer the job for another year of freedom as a postdoc). From my own experience, those competitive postdocs are great and if you can get one, you should. You could also try and negotiate to start a year later so you can make the most of your carefree time with funding (though these postdocs often won't be able to allow you defer, but it's worth a try). That will be the last time you have freedom to do research independently of other demands on your time like teaching, advising, and service, or you can choose to be minimally involved in those to develop professionally but also keep most of your time free for research. It's an excellent way to jumpstart your post-PhD career. I take these kinds of postdocs to be on a par with applying to good TT jobs. I would not, on the other hand, recommend applying to just any random posting that might come with a high teaching load or be located in a remote area. You can allow yourself to be picky right now, and you owe it to yourself to do it. There might come a time later in your career when you have to make sacrifices that aren't nearly ideal, but this isn't that time. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/13/2017 at 0:27 PM, Bleep_Bloop said:

It's reassuring to get similar advice regarding the breadth of applications. Most students I've talked to about this have given me a quizzical look and wondered why I wouldn't apply to any opening remotely relevant to my sub-discipline, given the state of the market. My intuition has always told me that this will likely harm a candidate in the long-run, and should only be done if you're getting towards the end of the rope (i.e. it's your last possible job cycle and you're just throwing everything down). On academic job wikis from my field I've seen people write that they've submitted 40, sometimes 50+ job applications and I can't even fathom the amount of time that would take. My adviser has told me to just keep my head down and maintain my writing schedule until the end of summer...besides mentally committing to going on the job market, it's time to just wait and see what jobs start being posted in September. It's flattering that he thinks I'm competitive, but it took me entirely by surprise and generated professional jitters.

I'll be honest: I don't think anyone should ever apply to every single job opening, especially if you already know you aren't willing to move there. For example, I dislike cold weather and rural life enough that I'd never apply for a job in the Dakotas or Alaska. You know yourself. If you like teaching but want significant dedicated time for research, don't apply to schools with a 4/3 or higher teaching load. If you prefer to be in the classroom, don't apply to R1s with a 2/2 or less teaching load. If you aren't sure, then apply to a mix of both at school you could see yourself working out, just to see what happens. I'll be honest and say that I've pretty much always known that I didn't want to work at a R1. But, when I finished my PhD, I did what my advisor wanted and applied to those jobs anyway. It was a waste of my time and of the time of those on the search committee. I'm now in a position where I only apply for jobs that I really want (because of the institution/department, the location, or what specifically they're looking for), which means maybe 4-7 applications a year. 

At the same time, having been on the market multiple times, I'll be honest and say that submitting 50 applications isn't that much more work than submitting 10 because most of the materials are the same. Your teaching philosophy statement isn't going to change, and neither will your statement of research interests. If anything, you may make small tweaks to those documents so they better match each school but, such changes aren't going to be huge or take very long. Your CV might be reordered to highlight certain things but, again, changes will be minimal. That means that the cover letter is really the only thing that's going to vary a lot from one application to the next and, even then, it's a lot like grad school personal statements in that a lot of the content stays the same regardless of where you're sending the letter. YMMV, obviously.

I agree with your advisor that it's worth going on the market as a trial. Also, if you already have fellowships and do somehow land a TT job, you may be able to negotiate a course reduction with the new job or something where you do another semester of fellowship before starting the job. Such things can and do happen in my fields.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0