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October SPSPotlight: Job Market Memoirs

Job Market Memoirs

 By Nick Brown, GSC President, and Sara Andrews, GSC Vice President

Where have we been spending a lot of our time lately? Aside from preparing job materials (more on that in the next paragraph), most days are spent refreshing the Psych Academic Job Search Wiki (http://psychjobsearch.wikidot.com/), hoping that a brand new job ad will post. Some days it is fairly bleak and there aren’t any new ads, while other days a bunch pop up. The Wiki isn’t necessarily an exhaustive listing of all jobs, so we usually make our rounds to other useful sites such as SPSP’s Job Search page (http://my.spsp.org/jobs_search.asp), Inside Higher Ed (https://careers.insidehighered.com), Higher Ed Jobs (https://www.higheredjobs.com), the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (http://main.hercjobs.org/jobs), APA Careers (http://www.apa.org/careers), The Chronicle (https://chroniclevitae.com/job_search/new), and APS’ Employment Network (http://aps.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/employment). If you are on the market like us, we can’t stress the importance of bookmarking these sites enough. Finally, don’t discount the power of personal connections. Let people know you’re on the market, and share information where appropriate. Word-of-mouth has helped many people land jobs they might have never learned about otherwise.

When we’re not refreshing the Psych Job Wiki or scouring the Internet for more ads, we’re constantly perfecting our cover letters, CVs, research and teaching statements, not to mention professional websites and LinkedIn profiles. As you prepare and refine your materials, be sure to look at samples from friends, lab mates, and recent hires to get a sense of what works (and what doesn’t) for different types of positions. Once you have drafts of your statements, cover letter, and any other documents ready to go, ask as many people as possible to look over your materials and provide your with honest feedback, especially if they have served on a hiring committee – now is not the time to be shy! The same goes for your job talk. If you have not yet made plans to present in front of an audience of colleagues who can provide useful critiques, reserve a room and send out an invitation in the next few days.

You also need to be sure your materials are tailored to each university and department. While it is tempting to just send out the same teaching and research statements, not all job ads emphasize the same things. That seems relatively intuitive: if the job ad is for a small liberal arts college (SLAC), then you probably shouldn’t say things like, “I look forward to mentoring graduate students” in your cover letter. When discussing what courses you can teach, we’ve heard that search committees love it when you refer to their course numbers. This really shows that you’ve done your homework and are serious about coming to their university. In all, really spend time crafting your job materials. It’s OK to start with a basic template you’ve created, but then make sure to tell the search committee why their university is the perfect fit for you.

Once you have submitted your applications, the mental gymnastics of waiting begin. In a recent study following law graduates over the 4-month waiting period between taking the bar exam and receiving their results (Sweeny, Reynolds, Falkenstein, Andrews, & Dooley, 2015), we found the most common strategies that people use don’t appear to consistently reduce anxiety or rumination over the course of an extended waiting period and some even backfire (e.g., suppressing your feelings). So far the jury is out on an easy fix for the distress many of us will experience in the coming weeks and months, but embracing some measure of hope and optimism does not hurt and bracing for potentially bad news as you approach a specific outcome can be protective.

Because we can’t yet offer best practices advice for how to “wait well” (though practices like mindfulness offer some promise), here are a few tips from recent hires for keeping your stress in check while you’re on the job market:

  • Check the jobs wiki only once a week to preserve your mental health…[but if that’s not possible, consider limiting yourself to once a day – we get it].
  • Be patient, but celebrate your little victories.
  • Stay focused on what you love about your work and share that joy instead of focusing on the competitive aspect of landing a job. Try to look at applications, interviews, and job talks as an opportunity to share this passion and connect.
  • Buy the book The Professor is In ($8). All the advice is good.
  • If you slim down your CV or convert it to a résumé, be sure to highlight responsibilities that translate to industry, as few recruiters will be aware of all it entails (e.g., leading and managing concurrent projects, supervising multiple assistants, data analysis and visualization).
  • Now is a good time to get out and move – take the dance class you’ve been putting off, throw some big tires around at CrossFit, or try power yoga. Take a break from applications to go for a jog or a walk outside. Exercise can do wonders for burning off nervous energy and helping you focus again.
  • You aren't ever going to know if a place is your "dream institution" until you get there, so don't close your mind to places you haven't heard of or areas you don't think you want to live.
  • Treat getting a job as a job. You have to spend time looking at websites, finding ways to connect with them personally via your cover letter. You should strive to get more rejections than anyone else. All you need is one yes. You have plenty of people to tell you no, don't be one of them. 
  • Know your worth; be ready to address your limitations and to sell your strengths. The most helpful thing I've heard from my senior mentors is not advice but rather, "You’ve got this!"

Although we don’t recommend adding any additional stressors to your life at this time (as if you need them), it may be a comfort to know that the law grads in our study who had a more difficult time awaiting their bar results actually benefited from the experience in the end: Good news was an even more welcome relief, whereas bad news was less devastating, leaving people better prepared to move forward.

And in case you need more evidence that life after grad school is pretty good (academic or otherwise), here are some benefits to being on the other side of a PhD:

  • Paycheck!
  • The office space at my post-doc has a FREE espresso machine. Press lever, get espresso. Now I get why rats like levers so much!
  • Having more money is awesome. Is that too shallow? Not taking an exams of any sort.
  • Reading for fun, a fairly normal sleep schedule, and not having to face the glare of a Microsoft Word document (with all the scary red track changes).
  • Most days I leave the office (or turn off my computer and walk into my living room) and think, "I love my job.” I don't feel guilty when I want to hang out with my husband. I sometimes spend 13 hours on campus and sometimes I spend a day out riding horses. I look forward to reunions at conferences. It's an awesome life and if I had ended up in another career path (or don't get tenure and have to find another way), I'm certain I'd still find meaning, fulfillment, and awesome things in that life too.
  • The majority of weekends, I do no work at all and it’s amazing.
  • What's on the other side? I teach 4 courses, I have a lab with 9 RAs, and I spend about 12 hours a week coaching volleyball with the college team. It's pretty much a whole lot of fun! Although I don't make much money, I make plenty for what we need.
  • EVERYTHING about post-grad life is better! I love post-doc life. My mentors are successful, yet have balanced lives and are totally chill. They're excellent role models who demonstrate that an academic lifestyle is doable and fulfilling. I get to work full-time on my research, unlike students and faculty. Overall, this has been a period of intense learning, collaboration, growth, and establishing myself as an independent investigator. The paychecks, flexible work hours, great colleagues, and having nights and weekends free are all awesome too.
  • I have a car that runs, I can afford my loan payments, I have a budget for research, my dissertation is finished…did I mention my dissertation was finished? Also, my dissertation is finished.