BEST OF DOC-TALK: Job Searches

From: An MIT Doc-talker I would like to start a new subject: JOB SEARCH I expect my PhD in EE in a year and would appreciate advice on the mechanics of getting a job. I am looking for a job doing scientific research either in a large company or a university. Should I mail my resume to personnel offices? How helpful is the career office at school? How effective is cold calling prospective employers? How do I apply for tenure track positions? The job market for optics/physics theorists is pretty grim so *whatever* suggestions you might have are most welcome.
 
…and Ronda Dave’ writes: Dear Doc-talker, In contrast to the advice of many profs and administrators, when we discuss careers in Dissertation News and Thesis News, we advise students to make their theses as relevant to their future careers as they can. We tell students to select topics that relate directly to “jobs they want to get” (not to their current jobs), or which “enhance their professional reputations and standing,” or which lead to an academic career (through being publishable), or which have direct monetary payoffs (e.g., write a book, innovate a scientific process, create a marketable multimedia presentation, etc.). The other way you can make your dissertation pay off for your career is to use it to establish relationships with others–your advisors and committee members of course, but all others, both “big” and “small” in your field. This networking is something most students don’t take full advantage of, and yet it’s the basis of MOST job placements. According to a professor at U of Chicago, Dr. Wayne Baker, professionals who find jobs through personal contacts (instead of classified ads etc.) find better, more satisfying jobs that they stay with longer. Lowstuter and Robertson wrote that approximately 30 percent of college graduates will be significantly underemployed or unemployed through the year 2005 according to a recent Dept of Labor study. The only way to set yourself apart from the pack rushing for each opening in or out of academe is to network skillfully so you are a known quantity when your resume comes up for review. In contrast to what was previously true for most of your academic career, when your opportunities were created by your own talent and intelligence and your academic work “spoke for itself,” once you enter the job-market fray, networking is what will get you your job and advance your career. According to Lowstuter and Robertson, 70 percent of all jobs are found through the “hidden job network” which means these jobs are not actually advertised in the classifieds. Networking by asking for help on the internet is not a substitute for the old fashioned exercise of listing people whom you know, “rating them” according to the kind of information they have which would be useful to you in your job search, and then contacting them by phone to ask them for this information. Of course, “cold-calling” in this way is less effective than if you’ve identified these people early on and begun “relating” to them while you’re still in school. The ways to network academically are best described by Phil Agre in his article “Networking on the Network” which is available free from [email protected] with the subject line “archive send network”. [If you have trouble, send him an email at [email protected]] You may also profit from the 1995 publication by Lowstuter and Robertson “Network Your Way to Your Next Job….” the book by Wayne Baker, “Networking Smart,” and a book by Peter J. Feibelman, “A PhD is NOT Enough.” Feibelman is especially appropriate for science students such as yourself. Best of luck Doc-talker! Are there any optics/physics theorists with more specific job-seeking advice for this Doc-talker? Thanks.
 
…and here’s a posting to the “alt.education.higher.stu-affairs” Newsgroup that I came across, which addresses the subject from the point of view of using the Internet. –dt
 
A Rochester Doc-talker writes, With the recent surge in use of the internet among student affairs practitioners and graduate students, e-mail and other forms of computer-mediated-communication will figure prominently in many people’s job search processes. When I searched, I used the on-line version of the _Chronicle_ to find all of the jobs I applied for. I also used e-mail to follow-up with employers who had expressed interest in interviewing me. Other professions use the ‘net regularly for this type of thing, but it is new for student affairs. Some of the etiquette that has built up around this for other professions will make sense for us, some of it won’t. What are people’s opinions about the following uses/scenarios? 1. Sending a mail message to a student affairs listserv (e.g., STU-DEV) announcing that one is looking for such-and-such type position in this-or-that region… 2. Posting one’s resume to the list… 3. Taking the e-mail address of someone off a listserv or newsgroup posting and sending them unsolicited mail asking about positions at that institution… 4. Taking an e-mail address off a listserv or newsgroup and asking general questions about what the school is like to work for and about the city/region… These are the only situations that jump to mind at the moment, if others see potential pitfalls or gray areas around this issue, let’s hear them! Thanks in advance for your thoughful replies!
 
From: A Michigan State University Doc-talker Excellent Topic! I am glad to see this one being discussed… because I am currently on the academic market! Thank you for posting this new line of discussion! > How do I apply for tenure track positions? > The job market for optics/physics theorists is pretty grim so *whatever* > suggestions you might have are most welcome. Here’s my method. First, be VERY unselective in your academic job search. We have all heard the horror stories of hundred (sometimes thousands) of PhDs applying for one job (according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. last May, most of these higher estimates apply to jobs in Physics, and English). Therefore, while you think you have a great vita, there may be 30 others with BETTER (or MUCH better) vitas, so don’t be cocky. A great article to read is called “The Academic Job Search: The experiences of a new Ph.D. in the job market” by William Iacono (1981, Canadian Psychologist, 22, pp 217-227). Iacono takes one through the whole process and tells what worked for him (especially helpful is his description of how to handle the job talk). He says that there is a LOW correlation between his pre-job talk expectations about the school and his actual impressions of the school. That is, many schools that were highly ranked in his mind prior to the interview were immediately ruled out when he visited, and other schools that he thought were unattractive initially became VERY viable places of employment when he visited them. Learn to become a master of Gopher on the Internet. The Chronicle of Higher Ed. updates its job announcements WEEKLY and the APS Observer updates its announcements monthly. These can be accessed quite readily via Gopher. Once I had the announcements, I would begin the process of applying. Be sure to READ the announcement CAREFULLY. Do they want a special statement (e.g., teaching, how you have multi-cultural experience in your prior work experiences, etc.)? Do they want transcripts (all or just graduate)? Do they only want a vita at this time? Do they want you to just list your references, and NOT send letters of recommendation? Make sure you read the ad carefully. My policy was to always send (unless the ad said not to) the following: Cover Letter (tailored to each school… NO LONGER than ONE page!), Vita (updated each month), a 2-page Teaching Statement, a 2-page Research Statement, a sample of my teaching evaluations, and then representative reprints/manuscripts under review. In the cover letter, discuss what job you’re applying for, where you saw the ad, your overall area of expertise (minors, specializations), then a paragraph summarizing your research interests, a paragraph on your teaching experience and interests (perhaps noting that you would be happy to teach many of the courses they have mentioned in their ad), and finally, how you believe that your qualifications and interests would nicely “fit” with their current emphases and stated needs. It is usually very difficult to find out very much information about the schools you’re applying to (current faculty, interests, etc.) if you’re applying to mid- to smaller- sized schools, and therefore, it will be more difficult to ‘tailor’ your letter to that school. Don’t worry too much about this, because your qualifications will get you in the door, and the committee will not ‘penalize’ any applicant for not stating explicitly how he/she “fits” with the department. After you’ve mailed the application, be sure to make a note about the application deadline. I keep a list of the schools and their deadlines on the wall next to my desk so that I can refer to it. This will come in handy later. Then note from the advertisement whether you should send transcripts. If so, do it as soon as possible. Many transcript services at universities are quite busy this time of year so you don’t want to wait too long and jeopardize your application because of delays at the Transcript service. Next, write a note to all of those people who are writing letters of recommendation telling them that you’re applying for the positions, and when each school’s deadline is. NOTE: I used a helpful ‘trick’ that saved a few applications when I applied to graduate school: tell the letter-writers that the DEADLINE is a date 2 WEEKS EARLIER than the real deadline. That is, give them that fictitious date, and don’t tell them about the real (later) deadline. That way, if they forget to send it, then you can politely remind them to mail it when the fictitious deadline rolls around. That way, you have a 2-week buffer that will be a lifesaver in many cases. [note: many schools are less concerned with deadlines when it comes to searches for professor positions, but it is best to treat these deadlines VERY seriously!] Then, it is best to check with the school about a week before the real deadline, to see if the application is complete. If not, take care of missing items immediately. Then you just have to sit back and WAIT. And WAIT, and WAIT. After about a month (sometimes sooner) following the stated deadline, the school should be finalizing its “short list” of candidates. If you don’t receive a phone call from the search chair (or dept. chair) inviting you for an interview, you probably didn’t make it to the short list. However, you may still have a slim chance for that place if their interviewees prove to be undesirable. (e.g., if you’re the next person on the ranking below the interviewees from the first cut, you may be asked to interview). If the school has provided an email address in their correspondence for a contact person (secretary or search chair) I usually email that person around this time to inquire as to my status. Some places don’t get around to letting you know about your rejection status until well after the deadline (e.g., sometimes up to 3 months afterward). Once you get an interview (or interviews), I strongly recommend that you read Iacono’s article (if you haven’t already) prior to visiting the school. Also, you should re-read (or read for the first time) the chapter by Zanna and Darley (in their book “The Compleat Academic” — 1985 Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.) called “The Hiring Process in Academia”. Especially the section on “The talk that gets or loses the job.” These are MUST-reads for anyone in any field prior to giving their job talk/colloquium during their interview for academic positions. Hope these tips and information are helpful!
 
From: A UNL Doc-talker I have found some very helpful advice in: Feibelman, Peter J. 1993. A Ph.D. Is Not Enough. Addison Wesley, 109 pp. Contents 1. Do you see yourself in this picture? 2. Important choices: a thesis adviser, a postdoctoral job 3. Giving talks 4. Writing papers: publishing without perishing 5. From here to tenure: choosing a career path 6. Job interviews 7. Getting funded 8. Establishing a research program Excerpts of the text can be found in issues of The Scientist: 3 Oct, 17 Oct, 31 Oct. (The 12 Oct 1992 issue had an article on postdocs in industry.) While book is geared toward scientists, many of the concerns which it addresses are common to other fields.
 
From: A Michigan State University Doc-talker Although I am not an optics/physics theorist, I do have a couple of suggestions for the MSU Doc-talker. In the posting from the MSU Doc-talker, he mentioned the Chronicle of Higher Education. I recommend their job postings to anyone looking for any type of professional position in a university. Many libraries carry the Chronicle, and the jobs section is available through the Net. While it is true that a large number of individuals apply for some jobs, there are other jobs which receive fewer applications. In addition, these job listings can provide information on desired qualifications or job expectations. While registering with a placement office is not as essential as for an undergraduate looking for a first job, it can’t hurt. Career planning and placement offices often have valuable information on companies and universities which can assist candidates in preparing appropriate application letters and for interviews. I would also support the notion of getting involved in professional organizations which might provide networking opportunities. In addition, professors may be aware of job opportunities through their personal contacts.
 
From: A University of Iowa Doc-talker In response to the posting from a MSU Doc-talker With the recent surge in use of the internet among student affairs practitioners and graduate students, this year will likely be the first year that e-mail and other forms of computer-mediated-communication will figure prominently in many people’s job search processes. [much deleted] 1. Sending a mail message to a student affairs listserv (e.g., STU-DEV) announcing that one is looking for such-and-such type position in this-or-that region… 2. Posting one’s resume to the list… I don’t think either of the strategies above are a good idea — especially the second one. Most serious lists are populated by busy people who are annoyed by personal postings and postings that do not move the discussion forward. Not a great way to introduce yourself. 3. Taking the e-mail address of someone off a listserv or newsgroup posting and sending them unsolicited mail asking about positions at that institution… 4. Taking an e-mail address off a listserv or newsgroup and asking general questions about what the school is like to work for and about the city/region… On the other hand I think either of these are okay. Most people seem to be willing to respond to unsolicited email from strangers as long as you don’t request anything that requires more than a quick reply. If the individual is willing to send you further material like job announcements or school information they will usually volunteer.
 
From: A Northwestern University Doc-talker In response to the posting from a MSU Doc-Talker (material deleted) 2. Posting one’s resume to the list… 3. Taking the e-mail address of someone off a listserv or newsgroup posting and sending them unsolicited mail asking about positions at that institution… 4. Taking an e-mail address off a listserv or newsgroup and asking general questions about what the school is like to work for and > about the city/region… Number 2, posting resumes to a list, sounds like a no-no to me unless the list is specifically devoted to such advertising. For example, I subscribe to several lists devoted to the areas of literature in which I specialize. If people looking for jobs in those fields were to begin posting resumes, the list would suffocate under the weight. On the other hand, Number 4 seems like a good idea, especially in the aforesaid context. When I was looking at graduate schools, it was extremely difficult to get an idea of what a particular program was really like unless I knew someone who was currently a student there. Asking current faculty what it’s like to teach there, however, introduces certain pitfalls: if they’re not tenured, they’re not going to expose their discontent, and if they are tenured, they may be involved in the hiring process and may also be disinclined to spill their innermost thoughts. I’ll be interested to hear what others think.
 
…and, finally, we picked up this posting to the mailing list AERA-GSL, which touched on the same subject. To take advantage of this generous offer, you should join the AERA-GSL list. To do this, send an email message to [email protected], and in the body of the message, say “SUBscribe AERA-GSL Your Name,” (inserting your own name). –dt
 
From: A Businessman Doc-talker I post this note to make an offer to AERA-GSL participants. Many of us are working in one variety or another of distance learning or distributed education research. Some of us are also engaged in that perennial terror, job hunting. Both of these interests are increasingly well served by resources available in the Internet. As it turns out, one of my main tasks in my primary employment is discovery and recovery of information resources in the Net. Thus, my offer: Within the bounds of my time, I will be pleased to assist any LIST member to locate resources in the Net. Likewise, I strongly urge ALL of us to learn more about the exploding information space of the World Wide Web. Toward that end, I offer the following starting points for your exploration: TO LOOK FOR EMPLOYMENT: point your WWW client at the following Uniform Resource Locator (URL): (Yahoo – Stanford University) http://www.yahoo.com This site mounts pointers by subject area. Use the search option on the main menu to locate the employment resources page. There are several pointers into job resources of interest to academics and educators. TO RESEARCH NETWORK RESOURCES FOR EDUCATION: Yahoo has a sub-hierarchy on education. The site also mounts a pointer to EINET Galaxy, a second very large “by subject” resource base. The following sites will also facilitate your search throughout the net. Each of these sites mounts one or more HUGE search indices and powerful search engines: (Gopher Jewels) gopher://cwis.usc.edu/11/Other_Gophers_and_Information_Resources/ Gophers_by_Subject/Gopher_Jewels (Charlotte’s WWWeb) ftp://ftp.crl.com/users/ro/croberts/homepage.html (Lycos Home Page — 1.5 Million Pointers!) http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu/ (Web Crawler WWW Search Engine) http://webcrawler.cs.washington.edu/WebCrawler/WebQuery.html (Master Web Search Page) http://cuiwww.unige.ch/meta-index.html The Meta Index provides gateways into over different search-oriented sites, including those above. The place sometimes gets busy and it is in Switzerland, so plan on using early morning or late evening time if you can. Those who know how, can download the Meta Index page, or I’ll be happy to ship a copy by E-mail to anybody who needs one.