August 15, 2017
Ask a candidate: a great dossier isn’t built in a day
Interfolio's Dossier | Topics in Higher Education
This is one of a series of infrequent posts by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on the job market.
You might have entered grad school feeling like a professional in your field already. Or you may have come in with little idea of what you wanted to do at the end of your program. Either way, your eventual job market experience will be much easier if you start building your portfolio of application materials sooner, rather than later. So ask your mentors, the faculty in your program, and any recent alumni willing to trade intel for a beer what kinds of documents your field tends to require in applications for jobs and fellowships. Then, act like a magpie and start collecting.
You’ll want a way to organize your materials digitally—one that will help you visualize how they’ll work for you on the market. Interfolio’s Dossier, for example, lets you group letters, writing samples, and CVs thematically. That way, you can put everything that might help you get a faculty job in one document collection; syllabi and course reviews to use to apply to teaching positions, in another; and writing samples that could work as part of applications for research fellowships, in a third.
Build, build, build
At first, you might only have a few items in your Dossier account: a really good seminar paper you might want to mine for a writing sample later; a PDF of a book review; the syllabus of a class you taught. As you move along, your collection will grow. Dare we suggest, the process of document collection might even be fun? Through building a Dossier, you can see how your grad school work has resulted in real progress and results. As you go through the process of filing documents away in your Dossier, you’ll get closer and closer to thinking of those applications as a real end result of all the late nights, library trips, and awkward conference interactions.
You can also use your Dossier as a way to compile letters of recommendation from professors you work with along the way, rather than waiting until the last minute to ask an annoyed faculty member for a rush job. For long-term mentors like your dissertation advisor, you’ll want to wait until you go on the job market to ask them for a letter, so they have the most up-to-date info. But for recommenders you’ve worked with for a semester (say, as a graduate assistant), it’s a good idea to get them to write a letter right after you finish your collaboration, when your contribution is fresh on their mind.
When you do go on the market, the Dossier you’ve been building bit-by-bit will change even more. The process of writing applications is a grind (no getting around that), but each completed application will give you new insight into how you might frame your work to fit different kinds of opportunities. As you go along meeting deadlines, you’ll generate more documents: a CV tailored to a digital humanities opening; another that you revised for that interdisciplinary science studies job. You can arrange them in collections in your Dossier tailored to different career scenarios, so that the next time you see a similar opening, you’ll have a set of documents ready to be pruned and edited into your new application.
With a little bit of forethought you can not only avoid a last-minute freakout, but also arrive at your first job-market autumn with a better sense of how the materials you’ve collected over your time in school can help you make your case.