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Approaching the job search while employed: sometimes tenure-track isn’t enough

Ask a Candidate | Topics in Higher Education

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to step back into the academic job market.

You emerged from the academic job market with a position, you’re coming to the end of your first semester of your first tenure track-job, and… it’s just not working. Although the idea exhausts you to the core, you’re considering going on the market again. What should you do now, early in your first job, to prepare for your next search?

First, take time over the next year or so to make sure you’re thinking of leaving for the right reasons, and that those reasons are your own. Today’s academic job market is rough (understatement), and there are a lot of older academics out there watching their favorite students take jobs they consider subpar. Don’t leave a job you like on your mentor’s advice, because it’s not prestigious or doesn’t offer enough time for research. Maybe you’ve come to realize you don’t mind a perceived lack of shine, or you prefer teaching anyway.

As Eric Anthony Grollman advises in an essay on his own decision to stay in a job despite the expectations of others, you should try to keep an open mind in your first year and see how you feel. “Starting a new job is hard,” Grollman writes, and “the job market takes up a lot of time.”

That said, if you are truly dissatisfied—your partner or spouse doesn’t have a job, or any prospects of one; you are too far from family; your department is toxic; the conservative politics of the town you’ve ended up in make you feel unsafe—start making plans now.

Here are some tips for how you can approach the search when you already have a job.

Publish, publish, publish.

You may feel disillusioned and unmotivated, especially if finishing your dissertation was a slog, but keeping your publication record new and shiny will put you in the best position to leave. If you’re in a book-oriented field, get your book proposal in shape, and get going on finding a press.

Get teaching experience, and keep track of it.

Start thinking about your teaching as possible fodder for future job letters and teaching statements. Keep personal files of everything:

  • Good assignments you gave
  • Student evaluations
  • Syllabi

A couple times a semester, jot down some reflections on how the course is going. When it comes time to write applications again, you’ll have a much easier time of it with these documents to jog your memory.

Figure out when you’ll go on the market.

Most people do this in their third, fourth, or fifth years in their new jobs. Karen Kelsky advises that people with very good publication records and teaching experience can “consider leaving around the third year, from a position of strength.” In the fourth or fifth year, you probably have your dissertation book all tucked away in press, and you will be able to focus on looking for another job.

Try to suss out what your current department will think of your ambition to move.

Are you anxiously imagining that the department that hired you will hate you if they find out you want to leave? It might not be the case. Kelsky writes, “The important thing to realize here is that every department, and every departmental culture, is different.” Get the confidential advice of a senior mentor who can transmit the institutional memory of what happened in the past when people tried to leave, and operate accordingly.

Stay positive, and low-key.

In all of your communications with your department about your desire to move, give reasons that aren’t “I hate everyone here and I’m miserable in this town.” Foreground more neutral rationales—your partner’s need for a job, you yearn to be closer to your parents—even if you are secretly furious at every single one of your colleagues. It’s good practice, because when you do prepare job materials again, you’ll want to be similarly close-mouthed about anything negative concerning your first employer, sticking to the positive reasons why you want to jump ship to your second. If you must vent, cultivate a confidante completely outside of your department’s ecosystem—be they mother, partner, friend, or dog.

 

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.