In Case You Missed It… The View from the Search Committee’s Top 10 Takeaways

The FAS Office of Career Services was delighted to host a panel on October 25, 2022, in which faculty revealed valuable insights into navigating the academic job search based on their experiences serving on search committees. With an introduction by GSAS Dean Emma Dench, panelists included:

headshots of four panelists who spoke on the View from the Search Committee panel

  • Eric Beerbohm, Professor of Government and Chair of the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, Harvard University
  • Evelynn M. Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science, Professor of African and African American Studies, & Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University
  • Antonio Arraiza Rivera, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Wellesley College
  • Ashley R. Wolf, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and Center for Computational Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Panelists packed the virtual roundtable with actionable and empowering advice for graduate students and postdocs pursuing academic careers. Below are their top 10 pieces of advice.

  1. Surround yourself with good people who are supportive of you. Your advisors, friends, and family. You need them. Talk frankly to them. They want you to succeed. Students going on the job market should think about how the search can help you finalize your work. You will learn a lot about yourself throughout the process. Don’t regard academic job market progress as proof of whether you’re good. There’s a heck of a lot of luck involved.
  2. In a post-pandemic landscape, departments are smaller, and fewer faculty are expected to teach a broader set of classes. There is a greater focus on the diversity of courses in the social sciences, for instance. Syllabi might include a graduate section, which is happening more and more in the humanities. Signal that you are flexible in your teaching and present evidence of how service-focused you’ll be. Consider how you are positioning yourself as a provider for the public good.
  3. We are all being asked at a moment’s notice to adjust our teaching – recognize that flexibility is something people will be looking for. How comfortable are you moving from zoom setting to the stage setting – this wasn’t a reality of our working lives five years ago. Talk to people who have just come out of this period that we are in and have landed jobs. Talk to them about what they might have done differently and what helped them land the job.
  4. Preparation for an academic job is serious. Begin to talk to your own faculty about what they think the market is like in your field before you go on the job market. When the search committee provides strict parameters for the interview process… believe them! Understand their expectations of you when you go to the campus you’ve been invited to. For example, stay strictly within the time allotted for your job talk, and take the lead to ensure you are not late for different meetings with faculty, etc.
  5. We, as search committee members, have more materials to review than we’ve ever had. Think of someone who is under-caffeinated going through a lot of files, what is the hook about you? The single sentence that captures you. If you had to unify your research arch, how could you capture it and how much does your cover letter succeed in doing that?
  6. In reviewing applications, we emphasize quality over quantity, and this is especially true for an open-rank position. We try to pro-rate our evaluations based on candidates’ level of experience, and we’re willing to go on a promissory note if you show promise and have done exciting work. So don’t assume we just count publications – show evidence of your productivity in the breadth of your work in research and publications, but also in your teaching, advising, and other interesting engagements such as museum work or public outreach. View your website as a parallel application. Many committee members may look at the broader pipeline, and your website may be as important as the submitted documents so keep that up to date.
  7. Do your homework when meeting individually with faculty. Connect your research to theirs – it’s a natural way to draw bridges. You should know who you are talking to and what their work is about. Exhibit curiosity about who is in the department and what kinds of themes and concerns are being expressed. They want to know what kind of colleague will you be… both interesting and interested?
  8. When engaging with students and administrative leadership in interviews, consider your audience. Be curious and willing to engage with each constituency. With undergrads, ask about what they find most interesting about their classes, and what they would love to learn more about. With graduate students, like faculty, ask about their research, be interested, and make connections with your own. With a dean, you might ask: What do you expect from first-time tenure track faculty, and what do you want to see going forward? What are the metrics for evaluating tenure? You will not have long, maybe 10 minutes of their time. Take that moment to say something that differentiates you, to help them remember who you are.
  9. Be ready to discuss your experience in and plans to foster inclusion and belonging, in the classroom and beyond. Be specific, sincere, and authentic in writing your Diversity Statement…no platitudes. As you prepare for your campus interview, it’s important to ask the chair of the search committee about what they are looking for to help build inclusivity in their community.
  10. Consider how you will build community if hired. We’re looking for collaborators and contributors. Ask about co-teaching, contributing to another faculty member’s seminar, organizing a lecture series, and contributing to a research or community center on campus. Gauge the culture of the place you’re applying to: small liberal arts, women’s college, a historically black college, a Catholic university? Even if you don’t identify in those ways, you need to sit down and articulate why you’re applying and how the mission aligns with your professional aspirations and expectations.

For more help with your academic job search (and all your career questions), GSAS students should reach out to OCS, as well as to the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, the GSAS Fellowships and Writing Center, the Academic Resource Center and their own academic departments and networks. Learn more about the different ways these offices can support you!

 

 

By Caroline Rende
Caroline Rende Assistant Director, Graduate Career Services