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Decoding University Hiring Processes: The Academic Job Search Handbook, 5th Edition
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The POSTDOCket

Volume 15, Issue 3 (March 2017)

Lauren L. Drogos

 

The Academic Job Search Handbook, 5th Edition by Julia Miller Vick, Jennifer S. Furlong, and Roseanne Lurie is the latest update of a reference book, first published in 1992, aimed at helping you land that faculty position. As the authors have recognized, there have been changes towards the academic job hunt since the previous edition was published in 2008. One of the biggest is the trend at universities towards using more adjunct and teaching faculty to fill formerly tenure-track positions, and in the current political climate, this is expected to continue.

 

As someone currently in the midst of my own academic job search, I consider this handbook to be a great reference for anyone pursuing an academic career. As I read, each chapter provided helpful reminders of advice I need to consider during my search. One highlight for me was the inclusion of real example documents, like CVs and teaching dossiers that successful applicants have prepared. These documents are a great place to start when you are preparing your own submission packet. In addition, there are much needed descriptions of the hiring process and decoding academic job postings. Oftentimes, without candid conversations with faculty who have been on hiring committees, the whole process feels intentionally confusing!

 

Another highlight of this book is the collection of interview preparation questions. These can be invaluable in becoming comfortable answering probing questions about your research and goals. There is also a guide on responding to potentially uncomfortable and illegal interview questions, and I was pleasantly surprised this topic was covered. However, most of the discussion in this book is focused on getting a position within the United States. While some of the advice is generally useful across countries, you should keep in mind interviewing protocol may be different abroad.

 

The Academic Job Search Handbook is quite broad. It covers everything from getting a postdoctoral position to negotiating an offer for a tenure track position. Perhaps due to the wide scope and coverage across disciplines, depth of information is sometimes lacking. For example, the discussion of a teaching dossier is only a few pages long (except for included documents). Another issue is that throughout the book, there are references to discipline-specific language and conventions. It can be bewildering if you are unaware how, or if, your own field’s conventions differ from the provided examples, and how to adapt the standard application they describe to that of your field. This is a case where a mentor in your area of research will be invaluable.

 

Some of their advice I found occasionally impractical. One that stuck in my head was a suggestion to “plan interim opportunities” in case your job search fails. Suggestions like this seemed to assume job seekers would have a financial safety net (i.e., parents or spouse) in place, which is not always the case. Another issue is that the handbook doesn’t sufficiently address the possible failure of your search. There is a chapter on extending your job search beyond academia, but in my opinion, there is a still an elephant in the room. Even if you follow all of the advice in this book, as well as that of your mentors, you may still fall short of your goal, especially considering the rate of PhDs ending up in academic positions has been steadily declining.

 

I would recommend this handbook to both undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing an academic career based on its great introduction to how the system works, the tips for planning your career, and the description on how to use mentorship to your advantage. I would also recommend this book to postdoctoral scholars and senior graduate students who are going on the job market within the next 24 months. However, I would remind this group of the limitations, and that it doesn’t replace the need for a valued mentor.

 

My final note: Remember that there is no checklist that guarantees you an academic position. Preparing yourself and your CV as thoroughly as possible is paramount, and this book will certainly help you on these fronts. You should always keep in mind that you are a unique individual, and you should represent your best self as you go through your job search. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned advice won’t work for you, and you need to recognize where your line stands. For me, I plan on ignoring the advice to always wear a jacket to an interview!

 

Lauren Drogos, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Calgary. She has an Alberta Innovates Health Research Fellowship for her work on stress hormones and cognition in healthy older adults, and is currently searching for an academic position at a research-intensive school.

 

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