Question: Which TT job should I apply for?

Sep 10 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers], LifeTrajectories

Answer: Every one you are qualified for.

Ms. PhD. has a post up right now in which she mentions her job application strategy.

A well-meaning former colleague sent me an ad for a faculty position in another city, at a school where I don't know anyone.


I said thank you. What's the point in explaining that I'm not going to waste my time and energy applying? I took it as a compliment that she seems to think I deserve a faculty position.

In the comments section, she answers PiT's question about the above statement with:

Well, it's possible that I don't know anyone there because they're not famous. But the practical issue is that it's nearly impossible to get an interview if you don't know anyone at the school, and in the long run, you'll never get any useful feedback if for some reason you have an interview but don't get the job. That's what happened to me last time. I got some bullshit explanation, which I couldn't (can't) address in future applications....

....So far as I can tell, there is no point in going through the stress and heartbreak again when the economy is only getting worse, especially in academia. I've literally seen maybe less than 10% of the ads there were last year, and last year was down to maybe 20% of the ads I had seen in previous years.

I don't think applying blindly to ads works in my field. You absolutely have to know people, preferably multiple people in the same department, who will ACT on your behalf. The departments are too big, and there are factions within them. Even if half the department wants you, if the other half wants someone else, you're very likely screwed.

Okay then. We'll assume that Ms. PhD. is right about her field and that it's not worth applying to a university unless you have someone pulling for you. I would suggest, however, that this is not the case for most fields (Ms. PhD did not claim it was, BTW, nor did she offer the above as advice to others, simply stated her situation). I didn't know anyone in the department that hired me, aside from being 'conference familiar*' with one individual.

I have had several postdocs I know ask me about applying for certain jobs and my advice is the same: send it in! If you don't apply, you are certain to not get the position. Worry about whether it is the perfect place for you after you have interviewed and after you have an offer. When I interviewed for jobs I would say that I was pleasantly surprised by one I thought would not be a good fit and came away with more questions than I expected from one I thought was perfect. But I never would have had that insight without applying.

Have two or three different application packets ready that you can send to the different types of jobs you qualify for and get them out there. If you have them already done up, the effort per application is not particularly high. Don't spam the world, but you should be able to find at least 10 positions a year (and many more in a good year) that you could fit into.

Don't assume you know anything about a department, university, city or part of the country without checking it out. The worst case scenario is that your suspicions are confirmed and you decline an offer. So what? You still had some interview experience and got your name out there.

I also often hear people say that they don't want to bother their letter of reference writers if they are not completely serious about a job. You know what, you LOR writers expect you are going to apply to a lot of places and, I hate to tell you, but they are just changing the address on the top and sending it off. You can pay than back when you have a job.

In the fields I am familiar with (and I'm sure there is lots of variation out there), either you are serious about finding a job and you get your apps out there or you are not. If you are not and you only send your application to a select few places, then you better have a back-up plan because you are stacking the odds against you. It also means that your first interview might be at your dream spot, and it's a good idea to have a little experience with the two day marathon you have to go through so you can have your routine down before you get to the one you really want.

Now go scour those listings and make yourself fit the descriptions. You and the committee might be pleasantly surprised by your interview.

*As in, talked to them briefly once at one conference and maybe saw them across the room at another.

24 responses so far

  • Odyssey says:

    I am in a department where I knew no one when I applied, in a university that wasn't on my radar, in a part of the country my wife and I were absolutely sure we did not want to live in. It's been ~14 years now and we couldn't be happier.

    I can only conclude that Ms. PhD is in an incredibly inbred field.

  • Heavy says:

    I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked a department in a part of the country in which I never imagined I would live. Opened my mind to other possibilities in that area. I knew no one in the department and none of them knew me. In fact, I haven't known anyone in any but one of the departments where I have successfully interviewed. At one place where I interviewed the person supposed ACTing on my behalf, was the one who sank my chances. So it goes.

    Applying everywhere you are qualified can be emotionally and intellectually draining, although one can get revved up for 10 apps in a year as PLS suggests. Applying for places that might be a stretch in some way can be fruitful.

  • This approach to the job market is like me bitching and moaning about not winning the lottery. The fact that I haven't bought a ticket in 20 years doesn't enter into the equation. I deserve to win it. But there's no point buying a ticket because I know it's rigged and I won't win.

    I applied for my current TT job when I sent out a gazillion applications to schools. I had never even heard of this department before applying but thought it was worth a shot. Love the school, love the location, love the students. There are some downsides, but I have a job and was able to leave my postdoc position.

  • sciwo says:

    Count me as another who didn't know anyone in her department, and in fact, had never even heard of the school, before deciding to apply for (and, eventually, getting) the job. Oh, and I didn't think I wanted to live in this part of the country. But it turns out that I have a great group of colleagues, a fantastic group of students, a lot of flexibility in what and when I teach, and I'm finding some fruitful new research topics that I wouldn't have found if I weren't here now.

  • AmoebaMike says:

    Completely agree with you on this. I'm not in the same field, but it's a common act amongst a lot of people across different industries.

    I ended up in Indiana... a place I would have never guessed that I wanted to go to never mind move to. And we both love it. Best decision of our life.

  • CoR says:

    Yup, agree with the above. I knew absolutely no one at my current TT university. In my field the jobs seem to be recovering a little -- when I was on the market jobs were advertised and then approximately 1/2 of the ones I applied to (20 total) were pulled due to lack of funds. I still managed a jorb, and I am not the best of the best out there. So don't be silly -- if you want a job, apply everywhere that fits your profile.

  • Dr Becca says:

    For the record, I'm planning on spamming the world.

    I don't know if the economy is recovering in my field or if departments are posting earlier or what, but I've already found way more jobs to apply for than I had at this time last year. Hopefully this is a good sign!

  • I mean what does it hurt to spread your academic seed out there? You can't hit a home run unless you get the bat off your shoulder. Yeah your LOR writers may have to write some extra letters but if its the difference between you getting a TT job or languishing in postdoc purgatory, then its worth it.

  • Karen says:

    I was very selective about where I applied when I got my current job, but I could afford to be -- I was already employed. When I was unemployed, I applied everywhere I could picture myself working. But keep in mind that Ms. PhD and others who feel like she does may be depressed. The perception that the world is rigged against you and that there's no point in even applying to jobs that you would be really good at: that reeks of depression, at least of my experience of the condition. So try to think kind thoughts about her -- and enjoy the fact that there will be one less person competing with you for jobs.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Drug Monkey and anisogamy, ScientopiaBlogs. ScientopiaBlogs said: Question: Which TT job should I apply for? [...]

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Karen, I think I made it clear in my post that I am not attacking Ms. PhD, simply offering a counter point from the field I am familiar with. I don't know what she works on and can't comment on her experience.

    Just as an aside, a number of comments are getting held up by our spam filters that were reset in the move to the .info site. As I continue to manually approve comments the filter will get a better feel for bad vs. good.

  • John Hawks says:

    Ms. PhD has her own unique situation (as do all of us) so the usual advice may not apply to her.

    But quite frankly, if a mentor was telling her students that they shouldn't apply for jobs where they don't have personal ties, I would consider it not only irresponsible and wrong, but borderline criminal. Whoever gave her that advice needs a refresher course on the job market.

    We're talking about the assistant prof level, with a bunch of applicants who've had two or three years of trying, because the job market has been crap. In a stack of 200 applications, one or two might stand out, for whatever reason -- maybe more publications, maybe a high-profile topic, maybe they've got the right connections.

    Beyond that, if you're level with the rest of your peers, you've got a shot at the short list. Write a focused letter, emphasizing your fit with their resources and current faculty. Describe how your plans fit their mission.

    If you make the short list, it doesn't matter if your competitors are stars on paper. This is your chance to show them you're the one they want passing in the hallway every day.

    Get ready for heartbreak. This is science.

  • jc says:

    I left this comment over at MsPhD too.

    MsPhD is spot on for what's happening in my field. I can name several postdoc men off the top of my head who got hired in the last few years as assistant profs because they had NSF funding. The money set them apart from the pack of postdocs. Hiring, tenure, promotion comes down to money. Full Stop. How did these POSTDOC men get NSF funding you ask, you know, since postdocs aren't allowed to apply for funding outside the NSF postdoc fellowships? They were included on large grants as Co-PIs with their male postdoc advisors. The postdocs had very few first author papers, they had low impact factor papers, maybe one major paper in their field, little to no teaching experience outside TAing, certainly not "adjunct lecturer" experience. With hundreds of applications, the selection factor is money, and ability to get money now. The boys club force is strong, and men *always* have Potential. Their papers had name after name after name of their buddies wink wink nudge nudge who have funding. Someone who knew someone who knew someone else was in the hiring department. The roots run deep, and into deep pockets. Did these postdocs *know* anyone in the dept when they applied? Maybe, maybe not.

    If you don't have money in my field, don't bother applying, because it means that the PIs you know and work with weren't willing to put you on as a co-PI on their grants. The women postdocs, meanwhile, are being ghost writers and page assemblers for grants they are NOT Co-PIs on, and adjuncting into oblivion so they can get their teaching experience that they are told by male PIs is so critical for hiring (women). The moneyless women are getting hired into teaching heavy positions at lower tier schools. They are kissing their research good bye with every 4/4 load they get.

    To the women postdocs and adjunct lecturers who are reading this, please please please do NOT ghostwrite grants for your PIs. Write your own grants, ask THEM to co-PI with YOU, but Do Not give them the proposal. Watch your backs. Share your ideas with people who you trust, who will support YOU and your career. Think big, go for the big money and big projects, don't take the same routes you see around you. Reach out to new groups of people. There are women and men out there who will help you. You don't have to rely on the same ole group of people. Also, you can poke around and ask who is on the hiring committee, because if there is one woman, then it's a bad sign. If they are willing to tokenize women on their committee, they are showing you straight up what life's like in that dept. Go to their webpages.

    When someone sends me a job ad telling me to apply, I usually write back to that person asking if they know anyone in that dept and if they were told to contact me directly about the position. I know many people who get prompted wink wink to apply. I'm glad colleagues send job ads around, but the excitement of open positions kinda wore off years ago.

  • pika says:

    I don't know what field MsPhD and jc are in, but this is totally different from my experience. Maybe it's a US thing (I am in Europe)? Not only I work at a university where I didn't know anyone before applying and that I never heard of before, I am also in a country that I never visited before applying here and certainly had no idea that I would ever be living in. Yet I am now here for ~4 years and enjoying it very much. And when I was looking for a job, this was one of I think ten or so different countries that I applied to.

  • pika says:

    Oh, and btw and completely off topic: the RSS feeds of scientopia blogs don't seem to work anymore since you've had the IT comment problem the other day (both on bloglines and in Google reader) - not sure if that's related to your comment problem?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I think it is safe to say that there is huge variation between fields.

    The feeds are an issue, but it may only require you regrabbing the feed for the .info site. Hopefully it is that simple.

  • GMP says:

    When I was applying, one of my letter writers complained about the number of letters he needed to send and said he didn't think the shotgun approach (me applying everywhere) was the right way to go. In retrospect, WTF?! It's a little inconvenience for him vs unemployment for me. Some places where I thought I would get interviews I didn't, but several other places I didn't know much about I got interviews and subsequently offers. My family and I are now in one of the universities where I knew no one, and it's been great. My family loves it here and I really enjoy my collaborators. Apply everywhere, you never know what a given department is looking for (job advertisements are terse and can be misleading) or how you will like it.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I can't really get into the discussion because I met lots of people in my field while a graduate student. (We didn't have post docs back then) and knew the chair of the department where I ended up.

  • In the biomedical sciences, ten applications is way too few (unless you are some kind of magical wagical superstar with multiple CNS papers and a Nobel Prize-winning mentor). I sent out over fifty when I applied for my first tenure-track position.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I wasn't suggesting sending out 10 apps, only that 10 would be the minimum I would send per year (assuming you don't land your dream position in the first year of applying). I sent out roughly 35 over two years and a couple more early on, when I wasn't quite ready to be on the market, but for jobs that looked particularly interesting.

  • BugDoc says:

    Ten applications would certainly be plenty in a good job market, but these days there's no reason to limit yourself to that. I also think that it can be fruitful to ask people at conferences if they know of positions that may be coming up that are not advertised yet, especially in departments you might like to be in. This is a good way to get some inside info and network with people even before the job ad is out.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    My professional organization regularly posts relevant job openings on the Internet.

  • Joseph says:

    I knew a couple of former students from my current department but met the faculty for the first time when I interviewed. In my experience (in my field), whether somebody is known to the members of the search committee appears to have little effect on the decision to interview. Solid CVs and interesting research areas are way more important.

  • I was in Karen's position--fairly selective because I already had a job at a National Lab. I still sent out like 35 applications both years I was on the market (although some were to multiple departments at the same U, so it was more like 20-30 places). One year, I got 2 interviews. The next I got 11 with mostly the same materials. There is a lot of randomness involved, so it is best to increase your chances by applying widely (see this for my experience on the other side of the job search).

    I didn't know anyone personally at most of the places I applied. I didn't have portable funding, but I did have a track record of successfully pulling in funds at National Lab, so I can't speak to jc's comment. I agree that Ms PhD's field sounds really inbred. It really sucks if you are in the outgroup in a field like that after years of training because as an undergrad you didn't realize how inbred your field was.

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