Thriving in the PhD Job Market

By Heather Krasna

If you have a doctorate, or are pursuing one, you may already know about the two different job search processes for PhDs: academic and non-academic. Many people who pursue a PhD, especially in disciplines that have less of an established track record in industry, assume they will become tenured professors. As more universities hire adjunct faculty and lecturers, though, it is increasingly important to understand both types of search.

Academic Job Search

Academic search varies by subject matter, but generally follows this process:

1.       Universities submit position openings to boutique job boards focused on higher education, listserves for specific professional associations, and emails to the Deans or Department Chairs of PhD programs around the country. Positions are listed as early as summer or early fall for the following academic year. You should also present papers or poster sessions at major conferences to improve your reputation and try to land initial interviews.

2.       PhD students in their final year; and potentially recent graduates conducting post-docs apply for these positions. Unlike in most other job searches, you must submit specific materials including an academic CV—formatted differently from a regular resume, emphasizing publications, research and teaching and not limited to 1-2 pages—as well confidential, sealed letters of reference from faculty, and possibly statements of research interests, writing samples or publications, or teaching portfolios. References and reputation are extremely important in faculty searches. In some PhD programs, faculty will want to know every position you apply for so they can give you a good reference.

3.       If selected, you may have an initial phone interview or be interviewed at a professional conference. If you are selected as a semi-finalist, you are usually flown to the university for a 1-2 day interview process including individual interviews, panel interviews, meals with faculty and possibly students, and a “job talk” in which you present research.

4.      If you are actually selected for the job, you then have to prove yourself through research and teaching for six years, then be voted on by a committee of faculty to determine if you will receive tenure.

Non-Academic Job Search

Outside academia, the job search varies by industry or sub-sector; generally speaking, the closer the industry “follows” the academic market, and the more recent PhDs they hire, the more the job search will resemble the academic job search described above. For example, for PhDs in public policy, the job search for think tanks and research institutes might take place slightly later in the year compared with academic job search; but you might be interviewed at the same research conferences as you would for academic positions (such as the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management conference). You would still apply for positions, but perhaps not send the volume of materials as you would for academic roles; and you would still be interviewed and cross-examined on your research methods. Industries that hire recent PhDs along with experienced hires may do “just in time” hiring, a month or two before the job start date.



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