Career advice for would-be profs


Inside a second-floor Ida Noyes meeting room, Lesley Lundeen urged an audience of about 20 graduate students in baseball caps and blue jeans to do a little soul-searching. "Who are you?" she asked. "Where do you fit in?" An assistant director for the University's Career Advising & Planning Services, Lundeen led an hour-long information session Tuesday afternoon to help would-be future professors prepare for the academic job market. The presentation and others like it are part of several services CAPS offers to graduate students looking for jobs both inside and outside academia.

Applicants should start the process, Lundeen said, with some deliberation. At what kind of institution would they be happiest? In what type of city? Do students consider themselves researchers who teach, citizen scholars with an activist bent, or teachers who also do research? "It's all about the match," she said. "Often an applicant who looks like a shoo-in on paper doesn't end up getting the job, and almost always that's because the fit wasn't right."

Dispensing handouts and recommending guidebooks, Lundeen also offered immediate advice. First, she said, make sure your dissertation is nearly finished before embarking on applications—which can consume considerable hours over potentially a year. A good curriculum vitae, she said, is the "cornerstone" of the application, often the first thing selection committees read. Proofread carefully, she added, and don't pad: better to leave off academic-journal articles still "under review." In the cover letter—simultaneously a writing sample, personal statement, and critical argument—"any jargon has to go. If you didn't know a term before you got here, think about whether somebody else would either." The same goes for research statements. "Give it to someone completely outside your field," Lundeen said, "and then ask them to tell you what your research is about."

Finally, Lundeen reminded graduate students to stay abreast of their online presence. "Google yourself and Facebook yourself" to see what information turns up, she said. "If you keep a research blog, make sure it's honest, critical, that it's kept current, and not gossipy. ... Everything you do, even in the early stages of your application, is making an impression."


Photos: Despite taking place at the end of a workday during the spring quarter's final week, an information session on the academic job market drew a sizeable crowd of graduate students.

June 4, 2008