grad skool rulz #25.2: what jobs should i apply for? what about post-docs?

The grad skool rulz

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A question that often comes up with graduate students on the market is: what jobs should I apply for? I think there is a fairly simple way to figure this one out:

  1. Go to the job announcement web site/publication of your discipline. Write down every job that you are even remotely qualified for.
  2. Do the same for related disciplines. For example, in my case, I’d be qualified for sociology, but I’m also qualified for management, education or policy (if it’s orgtheory related).
  3. When I say “anything,” I mean “anything,” unless it’s clearly nutty. For example, my job was advertised, I believe, as “social psychology” and “culture.” On the other hand, there are clear lines around some specialties. I could never plausibly be a demographer or an ethnographer, so I’d never submit an application.
  4. Then set a minimal level of happiness for yourself and cross off schools that don’t make it above the bar. For example, if you like research and dislike teaching, cross off liberal arts colleges. If you don’t think you’ll be happy competing for constant journal publication, cross of the R1 schools. And so forth.

This is a time for complete self-honesty. The average job candidate gets one or two job offers and there is no predicting where you will get that offer. So don’t put anything on the list where you suspect that you will be really, really unhappy.

At the same time, don’t be too picky. For example, there are about 200 research oriented universities in the US and each of those has multiple programs that might employ you. If you say “bleh, I hate the Midwest,” then you will miss a lot of great schools. Even if the school where you get a job isn’t as fancy as you had hoped, you can move up if you work hard and maintain a strong scholarly publication record. In the end, more schools are better. Unless you live in some hyper defined niche, you should be applying to dozens and dozens of schools.

What about post-docs? I get asked that a lot. Here’s my view:

  1. First, figure out if your field requires post-docs. In sociology, you can get an Ivy League position right out of grad school. But in biology, it’s really, really hard, nearly impossible.
  2. Then, figure out if your family can tolerate moving around a lot. Don’t make your life miserable in pursuit of the perfect post-doc. How many of us are willing to risk divorce over an extra year of funding? Work hard, but respect your family.
  3. If you can tolerate moving and they exist in your field, then post-docs can be good. But you have to be careful.
  4. Some post-docs are glorified research assistants. In some fields, you are required to do that sort of work. But in others, you should avoid these post-docs unless you really have no other choice. Sure, your CV may have an extra publication, but as author #10 you won’t get much credit.
  5. The bottom line is that in post-doc optional fields, some post-docs are worse than assistant professor positions. So be very careful about where you go. The best post-docs are light on teaching and give you some autonomy for your own research.
  6. To get good post-docs, read the CV’s of successful people in your field. You can also network. A good buddy gave me an excellent reference for a very good fellowship I got. Bug your friends about it.

If you have other questions about selecting schools and post-docs, put them in the comments.


Written by fabiorojas

November 29, 2010 at 12:36 am

Posted in fabio, grad school rulz

2 Responses

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  1. to amplify your points B4-B6, it’s worth noting that there’s a huge variance in the desirability of postdocs, which range from “senior RA” or “lecturer euphemism” to “R1 assistant professor w/o teaching.” some of the latter (most notably in sociology, the RWJ program) can be very prestigious and competitive.



    November 29, 2010 at 5:02 pm

  2. Yes, there are all kinds of postdocs, and some of them are very worth your while. Many are two years, so there is not necessarily that much moving around. I was lucky enough to have postdocs that did not involve any teaching — just 100% time for writing and research — and it made a huge difference for me. If you don’t have strong publications coming out of grad school, getting a postdoc and having some time to publish can boost you into a higher tier of the market. It can help to broaden your networks, which is also very important. And if you are lucky, you may get some of the mentoring you didn’t get in grad school. But as Gabriel said, good postdocs are very competitive. The difference with jobs is that postdocs are often fairly specific as to field or area of study, so you may get lucky and find one that is a close fit.



    November 29, 2010 at 9:04 pm

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