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Tips for finding a tenure-track faculty position

Randall F. Clemens

In July, just before my dissertation defense, I announced a new direction for my blogs, a focus on the life of an assistant professor. Since then, my wife and I—with MacDuff, our Australian Shepherd and co-navigator—drove across the country. While our stuff is not quite unpacked and our furniture not yet shipped, we made it to Brooklyn. And, as of a few days ago, I am a newly minted assistant professor at St. John’s University. 

Because the search to find a job is not always clear (or stress-free), I am writing to share my experiences. My job search began after I finished my dissertation proposal and started data collection. I set aside time at the end of each day to view postings, write cover letters, send emails, and submit applications. I kept a spreadsheet with faculty positions, links, requirements, dates, and contact information. The most postings occurred from October to January. 

To find openings, The Chronicle is a job-seekers best friend. I also subscribed to Academic Keys’ e-mails and routinely checked HigherEdJobs. Job searches begin with those websites but they certainly do not end there. Research organizations like ASHE and AERA—the Divisions, in particular—often send emails with job announcements. At the most basic level, universities and research centers advertise on their websites. Are you considering non-faculty positions? Check sites like Rand, SRI, and WestEd. Eduwonk is another good site for K-12-oriented job postings.

To apply, universities often require a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and either references or letters of reference. They may also ask for a one-page teaching philosophy, one-page statement of research interests, and/or writing samples. Before applying, you ought to have between three to five professors who have already agreed to write a letter for you. Before completing the cover letter and supplemental materials, ask colleagues for examples. Search committees receive hundreds of applications; carefully craft a cover letter that is logical, concise, and typo-free. When applying, make sure you send application materials to the correct recipient and address. It seems like an obvious statement, but information on job postings varies widely. Some search committees ask for materials to be submitted online; others require physical and digital copies; and, a few only accept physical copies.

Those are the first steps to getting a job. 

Here are a few final thoughts: First, the most important person during the job search is your advisor. From requesting letters of recommendation to preparing for a job talk, your advisor will provide invaluable guidance and feedback. Second, the supply of doctoral candidates and recent graduates exceeds the number of tenure-track faculty positions. Prepare accordingly. Apply to every opening. Apply to positions in related fields. Apply to postdocs. Accept every offer to interview—its good practice. And, create a back-up plan. Last but not least, relax. Don’t worry about the parts of the process that you have no control over; save your energy to complete the best possible dissertation.