Karen Kelsky

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The Professor Is in: I Know What You Need to Do This Summer

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Image: N.Y. Nat'l Guard -- Camp Equipment, ca. 1910-15 (Library of Congress)

Want more advice from Karen Kelsky? Browse The Professor Is In archives or check out The Quick and Relatively Painless Guide to Your Academic Job Search.

What should I do over the summer to prepare for the academic job market in the fall?

Ideally, you should have started preparations in the spring if you plan to go on the job market this fall. So you’ll have to play a bit of catchup. In the next few months, you should aim to solidify all of the elements of your record that you can. That includes your dissertation if you are still A.B.D., as well as your publications, teaching, conferences, and references. Perhaps you might even do some initial research toward new projects.

If you are applying as an A.B.D. candidate, you will want to enter the academic job market this fall with your dissertation well on the way to completion, and with a defense date scheduled. You must be able to show that you will — beyond the shadow of a doubt — complete, defend, and deposit the dissertation by next spring. A more than half-written manuscript and a defense date will go far in establishing your credibility. So use these months to lay the groundwork for that outcome.

If you have already completed your Ph.D., you will want to spend the spring and summer months lining up some kind of temporary academic position for the coming year. That will not only provide you with much-needed income but also with a campus affiliation. It’s certainly possible to apply for teaching jobs as an independent scholar, or employed outside the academy, and people do it successfully. But in general a campus affiliation means your status will be more, shall we say, seamlessly legible with an academic position.

Beyond that, take a good hard look at your record, and use the summer to fill in any conspicuous gaps. If you have several publications, but have spent little time in the classroom, then your top priority should be gaining experience teaching a course that you have designed. Search for summer courses you might teach at nearby colleges and universities. Don’t fret too much about the status of the institution. Of course the ideal is to score a teaching gig at the kind of high-status place (an R1 or elite SLAC for example) where you dream of landing a job, but any sole-teaching experience at all, even at a community college, is better than none.

I am often asked about online teaching. For the purposes of the job market, online teaching is not a perfect substitute for face-to-face teaching. But if you have no other options, then it is worth pursuing.

The main task of your summer, however, should be research and publishing. A sole-authored (or first-authored, in some fields), refereed journal article remains the gold standard of the academic market, and you are extremely unlikely to get a tenure-track job without at least one such article. You probably need more than one.

Do not waste your time on any low-tier types of articles — book reviews, encyclopedia entries, conference proceedings, and the like. Those do nothing for your record for the purposes of the job search. Chapters in edited collections are better, but still lesser in status than sole- or first-authored journal articles. The reason lies in the level of peer review. A book chapter may undergo some degree of peer review but it will not be anywhere near as rigorous as a journal blind-review process. Everyone knows that. And therefore, at R1s and the like, book chapters “count” for only about half the value of a peer-reviewed article (in tenure cases where these things are actually tallied in a systematic and quantitative way).

So when you are just starting out and trying to generate an irrefutable record as fast as possible for the job search, focus your efforts on peer-reviewed journal articles. Try to publish in the highest-status journals you can reasonably attempt in the discipline of the job for which you are most likely to apply. Aim particularly at those journals with a reputation for efficient decisions.

Keep in mind, however: Articles that date from before your hire typically do not count toward your tenure case. Thus, while you are generating one or more articles this summer, be sure to also create a five-year-plan that lays out a research, writing, and publishing timeline that will carry you through a tenure case.

Things of secondary importance for you to pursue this summer include applying to new conferences (if those deadlines fall over the summer — they rarely do!) and continuing to promote your work by sharing it with scholars in other parts of the country (email is fine). If you’ve gotten to know any seniors scholars particularly well, summer is a good time to ask if they will write letters of recommendation on your behalf. Remember, they may have their own Ph.D.’s who are competing with you for tenure-track jobs, and they may decline for that reason even if they remain firmly supportive of your work.

Finally, if your dissertation research has already been published in articles and perhaps a book, but you are still looking for that first tenure-track job, then you will want to use the summer to solidify the research for your second major project. While it may be too early to publish that research as an article, but you can use it as the foundation for conference papers, or a grant application to support more substantial research later.

Do not feel that you need to accomplish all of the above in a single summer. Just choose the one or two things that you need the most, and focus on those.

Dear Readers: Have a question about the academic job market and/or professionalization? Send it to The Professor Is In! Karen welcomes any and all questions related to the job market, preparing for the job market while in graduate school, coping with the adjunct struggle, and assistant professorhood. Send questions to gettenure@gmail.com.

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