This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on preparing for life on sabbatical.

When you become a faculty member, your university will provide you with associated benefits in this role. One of the benefits is the opportunity for you to take sabbaticals (sometimes one semester or one year in length). These sabbaticals relieve you from your teaching and service responsibilities so that you can engage in research activity. At my university, I am fortunate that all tenure-track assistant professors have the opportunity to take pre-tenure research, which functions similarly to a sabbatical. I am returning to teaching this semester from the mentioned pre-tenure research leave, and so I thought it would be beneficial to share insights I have learned from my experience.

Preparation starts well before sabbatical

While university policies vary, there is often an application process involved with applying for a sabbatical. Thus, in most instances, you are preparing for your sabbatical 6-12 months in advance of taking it. With that in mind, it is important to always think ahead strategically while planning for sabbatical.

For example, is your sabbatical contingent upon earning a grant award? If so, you may want to take a calendar and plan out the timeline of when you would receive grant funds and when your sabbatical starts to ensure that you can begin your project on time. In this situation I would also recommend applying for several grants (if applicable) given the competitive nature of this type of funding.

Additionally, if you are conducting a research project involving other organizations, it is important to plan out the project so that you will have received institutional review board (IRB) approval for your project prior to your project and sabbatical start date. This way you can immediately begin your project once your leave begins.

Be flexible with your plans

I suspect that like many of you, I try to prepare for projects I am engaged in. Prior to taking my sabbatical, a colleague said to me:

“I know you have big plans for your leave with your research project, but from my experience, prepare for things to go slower than expected.”

At the time, I doubted this advice—but I must admit they were absolutely correct.

For example, approval from the research site took two months longer than planned for one of the projects I planned to engage in while on leave. As a result, my project timeline was pushed back. I learned from this experience that you should have a plan—with a timeline—that is feasible for the length of your leave. Additionally, you must be willing to be flexible with your plan. In my situation I worked on another writing project while I waited for research site approval.

Take time for yourself

As academics we are evaluated in many ways, one of which is how “productive” we are in terms of research quantity (and quality). Consequently, this push for productivity causes many of us to overwork ourselves. This can be exacerbated for junior faculty who are seeking tenure and promotion.

Therefore, I believe taking time for yourself during a sabbatical is a necessary, but undervalued aspect of the opportunity. Why not take that vacation out of the country that you have wanted to take? The Internet is now available in many places, so you can still stay connected and tackle your writing projects.

My hope for you, post-sabbatical, is that you return to your position not only having completed your project, but also refreshed from the time off.

For the readers who have taken a sabbatical, what did you do during your time? Do you have other suggestions for readers who are seeking to take a sabbatical? Please share them with me on Twitter!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on managing requests for letters of recommendation.

Happy end of the semester! While this time should be relaxing, I certainly know from experience how busy this time can be—especially with letters of recommendation coming due for various fellowships, graduate school applications, and faculty/staff/administrator positions. I can certainly imagine that many of you Smart Scholar series readers are getting inundated with requests for letters of recommendation. So, I want to provide two tips that I use that may help lighten your recommendation load.

Start and stay organized

One of the challenges I have faced when handling requests for letters of recommendation is knowing how to start and stay organized. I created a table (see below) with some suggested pieces of information to keep track of as you are writing the recommendation letter. Due date can often be the first item to come to mind, but I believe it is equally important to have information about the actual position or award that you are writing for. This is helpful to ensure you are writing the letter for the right audience.

Develop a recommendation letter template 

As busy higher education professionals, we have many competing tasks. It’s important to have a recommendation letter template that you can start from in order to speed up the writing process. In particular, here are some prompts that I use to guide my letter writing: 

  • Paragraph 1: Provide salutation and connect the recommendee’s work with an aspect of the position/fellowship description.
  • Paragraph 2-4: Explain my relationship to the applicant and go into detail about the impact of the applicant’s work.
  • Paragraph 5: Explain that I am recommending this applicant without reservation, reiterate why the applicant is a fit for the position, and provide contact information.

Additionally, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I often ask anyone who needs a letter from me to create an initial draft that I can then build upon. I also ask them to provide me with any particular accomplishments or comments that should be a part of the letter. Again, having this information helps to speed up my ability to turn around a letter of recommendation.

Do you have other strategies for handling multiple requests for letters of recommendation? Please reach out to me on Twitter to continue the conversation!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on preparing for and attending an academic conference.

Lately my social media timeline has been filled with various hashtags indicating colleagues in the field are attending their discipline’s academic conference. While conference season is a great opportunity to connect with friends from around the country who you have not seen in several months (or years), for some more introverted folks—including myself—academic conferences can be quite overwhelming. 

Nevertheless, academic conferences have great potential to provide professional development and networking opportunities. I believe you should have some strategy in mind to make the most of your conference attendance, and to help alleviate that overwhelming feeling. In this post, I provide three strategies on how to make the most of your conference attendance. 

Reach out to folks before the academic conference

Is there a scholar whose work has influenced yours whom you would like to chat with at the conference? If so, I would highly suggest that you reach out to this individual before the conference to inquire about their conference schedule and see if you can set up a 30-minute meeting at the conference. 

I think it is important to set meetings beforehand for two main reasons:

  • Top scholars may have a litany of responsibilities at a conference (presenter, discussant, organization officer, meeting with colleagues) that might leave them with small amounts of time at the conference to meet. Thus, if possible, getting on their schedule beforehand will ensure you have the opportunity to chat with them.
  • Attempting to engage in a conversation after the scholar’s presentation might be difficult, as you may be competing with other attendees who also want to talk with the individual about their presentation.

How do you make the most of your meeting time? I once met with a graduate student who came to our meeting with an agenda of the items she wanted to discuss. I found it very helpful as it guided our conversation and made sure she got the most out of the conversation. While you may not have a formal agenda, make sure you have some ideas about what you want to gain from the conversation so that the time with the scholar is fruitful.

Be strategic about what sessions you attend

Let’s face it: at most conferences, there are too many presentations and not enough time! And it seems the ones I want to attend always occupy the same slot in the schedule. Consequently, over the years I have had to be more strategic about the sessions I attend. Moreover, I have created a team of my colleagues who have similar interests. When presented with conflicting sessions, we each go to a different one, and then we have a conversation later on in the conference (or after) about what was presented in each session. I think this approach is useful for graduate students as you can all discuss with each other what you learned from attending various sessions.

Attend networking events at the academic conference

I am often reminded by my experience in academia that the networking and social events are just as important as the formal conference presentation sessions. At networking events you get to interact with individuals in a more relaxed environment than at a presentation. 

As a graduate student, I published my first peer-review journal article, and at a conference that same year, I attended a social gathering. I was able to meet three of the authors at the gathering whom I cited in my paper (and I did not know them previously!). To this day I still have a relationship with those individuals, but I believe it was fostered as a result of attending the social event.

For many, navigating networking and social events comes easily. However, for my more introverted readers, I truly understand how these events can feel overwhelming. To combat your apprehension, try to build a deeper connection with 3-5 folks rather than having surface level conversation with 20. To make the most of these conversations do more listening and see where there is a connection between you and the other individual. That connection can be related to aspects of your job (e.g., research interests), but that connection can also be forged based on your like for similar past times (e.g., traveling). 

What suggestions do you have on making the most out of conferences? Do you have a conference story to tell? Feel free to tweet me with your insights!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on three tips for candidates working with search firms.

As many of you are preparing for the upcoming semester, you (or colleagues you know) may begin to get calls from search firms about their interest in applying for faculty or administrative positions. I’ve had experience with search firms as a candidate and as a member of a search committee, so I want to focus my advice on engaging in search-firm-lead hiring processes. While I do not highlight each step of the process in this post, I share a few insights to consider as you all are on an upward career trajectory and may work with search firms.

Getting on a search firm’s radar

If a search firm is involved in hiring, they handle the initial screening of applicants. I have found that there are two possible routes to get on the shortlist for a potential position:

  1. Apply formally via the application submission portal
  2. Exist on a search firm’s vetted list of potential candidates

The first route is self-explanatory and just requires you to keep abreast of where jobs in your field are posted, as I described in a previous Smart Scholar post. The second route, however, is also important because some positions may not be widely advertised. Having a relationship with a search firm is advantageous to getting on a shortlist for positions.

In my experience, I have found that individuals can get on the radar of a search firm through various ways: 

  • Reach out to a firm via email, provide your resume/CV, and set up a time to talk with a representative from the firm.
  • Talk with your peers! You can be referred to the search firm by either a colleague already on their radar or the university search committee. 

While being referred by someone else presents you as a warm(er) lead, I am not opposed to reaching out to search firms directly and building relationships with their associates. This may not be immediately fruitful, but down the line, opportunities may come to you that would not have previously.

Develop your list of references early

If you are contacted by a search firm and decide to apply for a position, it’s critical to begin lining up your references. This may seem early in the process, but you want to get your list set up because when you are considered a finalist for a position, the search firm—in conjunction with the university search committee—will begin to engage your recommendation list. An important question, therefore, is: who should I list as a reference? 

While the committee itself will give (or likely suggest) this information, I’ve found that it’s good to have the following types of individuals prepared to serve as a reference:

  • A current supervisor
  • A former supervisor
  • A colleague or research collaborator—typically I’ve seen this for faculty or research center positions
  • A direct report— an individual who has reported to you in some capacity—if applicable
Clean up your social media

Now that you have developed a rapport with a search committee and prepared your references, you may well find yourself at the final stage in the hiring process. At this point, it’s likely that the search committee will do a formal background check—along with an informal background check, which includes searching through your social media.

We are in a social media age where sharing much of what happens in our lives is common. It is important, prior to applying for a search, to assess what your social media profiles say about you. My suggestion here would be to:

  • Do a Google search on your name and see what shows up 
  • Then clean up anything that would not represent you in a positive way

Unfortunately, I have heard from colleagues and have experienced as a committee member how a great candidate could lose a potential offer due to what a search firm and committee would deem a “problematic” social media post and/or image. Interpreting social media is subjective and often adversely impacts candidates of color. I believe doing a clean of your social media is beneficial to securing a future position. 

 

Have you had experiences with search firms? Please reach out to me on Twitter to continue the conversation!

 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

 

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on navigating the academic job market.

With the academic year in full swing, I am certain you have begun to see job openings across various universities. Whether you are currently in a position and looking to move to another institution or are finishing up graduate school and looking for your first job, I believe there are some aspects of the job search that are of particular importance for your success this job season. As you prepare to apply for and (hopefully) land your next job, below are a few areas to consider when looking for your next position.

Building your job resource list

First and foremost, it is important to know where you can find job postings. I have provided a list of higher education job databases below that may be of interest to you on your search. While this list does not capture every discipline represented in higher education, it can serve as a starting point. Also, in addition to using the resources below, consider looking at the human resource website of the university in which you are interested in applying. I provide this added suggestion as there have been several instances where a position is posted on the university’s website and for whatever reason may not make it on to the national job search engines.

Understanding the language of the job posting

Once you find a job listing you’re interested in, it is important to have a complete understanding of the job qualifications. With this understanding, you can evaluate your career to see if you are qualified before you apply. This approach saves you the time of preparing materials for a job that you are not a fit for, and it helps the search committee get applicants who have experiences that are directly tied to the open position. 

Also, as you begin looking at job postings, my advice is to read the article How to Read A Faculty Job Ad by Dr. Manya Whitaker. While this piece is focused on faculty job advertisements,many aspects can be helpful for other positions.

Advice from the field

My advice is presented from experience as a position-seeker, but I also think it is important to share perspectives of other individuals in academia, specifically advice, resources, and tips to succeed on the job market from individuals with different types of positions and who are at different points in their career.

“Learn as much as possible about the university, college/school, department along with co-workers, policies and practices that you can while applying to determine if the institution is a fit for you.” 

-Julius Davis, USM Wilson H. Elkins Associate Professor, Director of The Center for Research and Mentoring of Black Male Students and Teachers, Bowie State University

“Keep a spreadsheet of every job with all the details: title, school, location, link to application, date applied, application materials needed and any other pertinent information. Highlight spreadsheet by where one is in the process. No color is no update. Red was deny. Yellow was in progress. Green was offer!”

-Christopher Sewell, Ed.D., Associate Dean of the College, Williams College

“It’s important that candidates prioritize what it is important. Frequently, job seekers focus on the size of the institution without asking if the culture is healthy.”

-Larry J. Walker, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership,University of Central Florida

“I would recommend keeping your Resume/CV updated so that when you begin searching, you search roles that fit your skills, your potential, and your personal trajectory. In addition, research the market to find out who you can reach out to as a mentor or gatekeeper (get into the door for the interview), and to see if the job is a fit for you. Often we are trying to fit in with a place or job that does not fit us personally, professionally, or from a healthy place.”

Aaron J. Griffen, Ph.D., Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at DSST Public Schools

“Market yourself. Let your references and network know about your search and your interests. Share your recent accomplishments and CV with trusted colleagues for feedback and advocacy.”

Ceceilia Parnther, PhD Assistant Professor, St. John’s University

“[For faculty], do a “mock” campus visit with a local university. From meeting faculty of interest and asking questions, to giving a research talk to meeting doc students. I prepared like it was the real thing and learned so much. In addition to a “mock” campus visit, I practiced my job and chalk talk with tenured faculty to gain their perspectives. In addition, I attended Job talks that were being hosted on campus to see how folks prepared and presented their ideas.

-L. Trenton Marsh, PhD, Assistant Professor, Learning Science and Educational Research, University of Central Florida

What other tips, resources, or suggestions would you add? Please connect with me on Twitter as I’d love to share your thoughts and perspectives. 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on advice for getting published in an academic publication, like a peer-review venue-specific journal.

With the semester in full swing, I (like you) have been actively engaged in writing for publication. There’s an increased emphasis in higher education on publishing in well-respected peer-review venue-specific journals, so journals have seen a continuous increase of submitted manuscripts. 

While I, and many others before me, have talked about the technical aspect of writing for publication venues, I believe it is valuable to give you some insight from the editor’s perspective on the publishing process. Thus, as the current editor of the Journal of African American Males in Education—a journal devoted to advancing scholarship and practice on African American males in education—I would like to put my editor’s hat on for this piece and provide some insights for you on how to work with editors in getting your research published.

Review the aims and scope of journal before submission

Since most journals have an online submission process, information about each journal is readily available to you as an author. Thus, before you submit your paper to a journal, I would advise you to read the aims and scope of the journal to make sure your paper is a fit. This may seem like simple and self-explanatory advice, but given my experience as an editor of a journal that specifically focuses on Black males in education, you would be surprised at how many submissions we receive that do not exclusively focus on that topic. 

My advice here is that when in doubt, ask a trusted colleague in your discipline, and if for some reason you do not have that network, reach out to the editor to make sure your paper is the right topic for the journal. There is no need to waste your time or the time of the editor on a manuscript that is not the right fit. 

Put together a high-quality paper to limit desk rejects

At this point in time, you have reviewed the aims and scope of the journals and you’ve found one that is a fit. Now, it is critical that you put together a high-quality paper. To speed up the process for papers that are on-topic, journal editors will look to “desk reject” articles quickly that are not high quality (even though they will not tell you this). My goal is for you to never experience this!

I have received many papers over the years, in particular from graduate students, who in many cases were told by their professors that they should submit their paper for publication. However, in many of these instances, papers written for the class were not assigned with the intention to be published. If possible, I would advise graduate students to consult with their professor about ways to ensure their paper is ready for publication in a specific venue. 

Speaking as an editor, journals can get inundated with these types of “class written” papers and with papers from established writers who quickly threw together an article. Rushed papers or those written for the wrong reasons can cause a bottleneck during the review process. 

As I tell writers who I work with via my Done Dissertation Coaching Program, the goal when submitting your journal article is to put together a high-quality paper that can at least survive the review process (even if eventually rejected). Having feedback on your work gets you one step closer to your paper getting published.

The imbalance of submissions versus reviewers with niche expertise

While browsing Twitter, I have seen several threads that have shared unfortunate horror stories of a journal review process taking 2 years. I have experienced this first hand in my career. As an editor, the wait time between submission and publication is somewhat complicated. 

In particular, there can often be an imbalance of submissions versus reviewers, especially those with the time and expertise (content and methodological) to review papers. There have been several instances where I could not find a reviewer who had expertise on a particular methodology to review a paper, which dramatically slows down the publishing process. Additionally, editors can get reviews back that are not helpful to the author, and so we may send the paper back out for another review, which can slow things down again. 

I hope that editors are upfront about with you about this process if you send an email asking on your article status. If they are not forthcoming, know that the delay in the process is not a personal issue with you, but an unfortunate reality of the publication process, relying on the free labor of reviewers. 

Getting angry with the editor never works

Editors, like authors, want to have successful and smooth publication processes. Given the issues that impact the publication process noted above, we certainly understand your frustration when an article you need published in this venue for tenure and promotion is significantly delayed. However, there is a diplomatic way to go about inquiring about the status of your manuscript. And more importantly, if you want your piece to be published, it is in your best interest to be polite to an editor. 

So what should you do? I suggest that after you send an inquiry to the editor about your manuscript and receive a response, you can then determine if you would like to continue the submission process with the journal. If you decide to remove your manuscript from consideration, send a cordial email to the editor letting them know you have decided to move your paper to another publication. Again, this is certainly not personal against an editor and they will certainly understand your decision.

For the readers that are journal editors, what other advice would you have for authors who submit their work to your journal? For the readers who have written for publication, what advice would you give to authors on working with editors? Feel free to share your thoughts with me via Twitter!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar,  on advice for doctoral students writing their dissertations.

With the beginning of the fall semester approaching (or beginning for some) this is an exciting time for doctoral students who are currently writing their dissertations. For those who are further along in the process, you are starting to plan potential dates for your proposal and complete dissertation defense. For those just starting out, now is the time to visit with your advisor and start to map out your dissertation journey. I have several years experience serving as a dissertation coach, so I wanted to provide some advice about how to navigate the dissertation process.

Create realistic timeframes

In my work supporting my Done Dissertation Coaching Program clients, we often discuss their experiences with receiving “timely” feedback. Our conversation usually leads to me asking them “Well, what is your definition of timely?” In one situation a student explained that 3-4 days should be sufficient time for their advisor to provide written feedback. My response was, “Did you write all 30 pages of your section in 3-4 days?” The student had an epiphany in this moment and realized that their expectation of this tight turnaround was unrealistic.

However, what should be a realistic timeline for receiving feedback? From my experience serving on dissertation committees and coaching private clients, I believe 3-4 weeks is an ample amount of time for receiving feedback. This allows your reader to sit with the document and provide detailed notes that will be thoughtful and will  influence your work moving forward. This timeframe also takes into account the other competing priorities (e.g., teaching classes, engaging in research, living life outside of the professoriate) of your advisor.

Your next thought might be, “What should I do in the 3-4 weeks while I wait for feedback?” In the next section I describe my recommendation for using   a “Submit-Write, Revise-Submit” workflow.

Develop a “Submit-Conceptualize-Write-Revise-Submit” workflow

In my students’ experience, the best method to completing a dissertation has been for them to consistently work on the dissertation, even when they are waiting on feedback from their advisor. The goal is to maintain momentum!I recommend my clients use a “Submit-Conceptualize-Write-Revise-Submit” workflow. Below is an example diagram of the process. 

Approaching your dissertation in this way is effective because you are consistently working on the next chapter while your advisor is reviewing the previous chapter. Additionally, this shows your advisor your commitment to finishing your dissertation, since you have a plan in place to approach each section of the work. 

Take breaks to avoid dissertation intoxication

For many doctoral students, completing the dissertation can become a stressful experience. You are managing your own expectations for the process while fielding that infamous question “When are you going to finish your dissertation?” from friends and family. While these expectations and questions may put pressure on you to constantly work on your dissertation, I recommend that you also take a day or two to step away from the project and avoid what I figuratively call “dissertation intoxication.” 

From my experience working with doctoral students, “dissertation intoxication” often is evidenced by the following behaviors:

  • Not engaging in sufficient amounts of sleep
  • Drastically decreasing time spent with friends and family

I point these two out because sleep and engagement with friends and family are critical to your success during the dissertation process (and in life). In particular, sleeping is important because recharging your body—given the heavy cognitive requirements of engaging in the knowledge generation process—is imperative to a successful dissertation. Furthermore,  questions like “When will you finish your dissertation?” are tough to bear, but spending time with family and friends is critical for your self-care. Remember, taking time for yourself is just as important as working on your dissertation!

Are you a student with more questions about the dissertation process? If so, tweet your questions to me and @Interfolio and I will create a video reply to your questions! 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar.

As a professor reaching the end of the spring semester, you probably have a lot on your plate. You might be grading finals and wrapping up all loose ends before summer approaches. Maybe your program is still in full swing, particularly if it operates in trimesters or quarters. No matter how this time of year affects your schedule, there’s one thing for certain: many of your students are applying for jobs, internships and graduate school. You may have been approached by a few students about writing their letters of recommendations to help them secure their first jobs. Perhaps some of your colleagues have even reached out to you, asking for a recommendation to help them secure a teaching fellowship or academic grant.

Although you’re likely writing many letters, you should try your hardest to make the piece stand out to improve your student or colleague’s chances of reaching their goal. Follow these letter of recommendation tips to create the most compelling argument possible.

1. Know when to say no

When a student or colleague asks you to write a recommendation on their behalf, it’s important that you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know this colleague or student well enough to write a convincing letter?
  • Do I have the time to write the letter?
  • Am I the best fit as a letter writer for this candidate?

If you’ve said no to any of these questions, it may be best to decline the request to write a letter of recommendation. Even though saying no feels like you’re letting your student or colleague down, you’re really helping them in the long run. A hiring manager or scholarship committee can see right through a letter from a recommender who does not have a close relationship with the applicant. Likewise, you’re less likely to produce a convincing letter if you have to rush through it. This is unfortunate for the candidate because there may have been a better letter writer who could speak with more conviction about their qualifications for the award, job or university admittance.

When you politely decline, explain your reasoning to the student or colleague. They may feel the stress of having to find a new contact to write a letter on their behalf, but they will likely understand where you’re coming from and may even thank you in the end.

2. Create a timeline

The application process can be stressful and intense for individuals who are looking to advance their careers or education. For that reason, they may not have stayed on top of their own scheduling goals, causing them to leave a great deal of their work to the last minute. You may have a colleague or student reach out to you about writing a letter of recommendation with an unrealistic window of time to complete it. In order to set yourself (and the applicant) up for success, we suggest sharing the following timeline with anyone looking for a reference letter:

  • I will need two to three weeks to write the letter.
  • After writing the letter, I will need one or two weeks to edit the letter.
  • After editing the letter, I will need one week to either submit the letter electronically or mail the letter to the appropriate person.

Having a transparent, realistic timeline will give you more than enough time to complete the task, while providing yourself some wiggle room in case you get caught up with other tasks. More importantly, it helps the applicant know how much time they will need to give you before the application deadline. It’s important to be straightforward and honest in this type of situation so that everyone is clear about how long it will take for you to write the letter of recommendation.

3. Decide what to put in the letter

In order to write an effective reference letter, you’ll need to determine exactly what information should go into it. Here are some important components to include when you are writing a recommendation letter:

  • A compelling opening
  • Your relationship to the candidate
  • Personal qualities about the candidate
  • Candidate’s problem-solving skills
  • Candidate’s understanding of a related subject area
  • Information about their communication and interpersonal skills
  • A closing that ties together all the reasons you believe the candidate is qualified

Don’t forget to include some basic information about yourself as well for credibility. Here are additional pieces you’ll want to add about yourself:

  • Full name
  • Job title
  • Years in the profession
  • Contact information, such as your phone number and email address

4. Ask for a draft template

Whether or not you’ve written letters of recommendation related directly to your students’ or colleagues’ academic and career pursuits before, you may want to work from a sample letter. Request that the applicant send along a draft template related to the program or job title they are applying for. Not only can this help you in the letter writing process, it can ensure that you write the best piece possible on their behalf. With a draft to guide you through the letter writing process, you’ll know the proper angle to take that speaks to the requirements and expectations of the school, job position or award the applicant is seeking. In addition, it can cut down on the amount of time it takes you to write the letter, as you’ll have a good jumping-off point to work from.

5. Request specific information

Even though you’ll be the major player responsible for drafting and sending the letter of recommendation, it’s crucial that the person requesting the letter meets you (at least) halfway, providing you with adequate information about the role itself. Your letter focus should be about the candidate, naturally, but you’ll need some details about their goals and aspirations, as well as how they connect with the desired role.

Ask that your student or colleague send along their resume, cover letter or personal statement, academic transcript and information about the graduate school, award or job itself. Request a copy of the program or job description; that way, you can see exactly what the organization or admissions officers are looking for from ideal applicants. This can help you craft the right narrative, highlighting the candidate’s strengths that relate directly to the expectations of the role or program.

6. Make it personal

A reference that only touches on technical characteristics of the applicant – such as academic performance and work experience – doesn’t create a compelling argument for the candidate. Since a majority of this information likely appears on the candidate’s resume, you’re likely regurgitating what is already clear. What their resume, cover letter, statement of purpose and other documents do not reveal, however, is what it’s like to work with them. As a recommender, you can reveal information that a graduate school or potential employer wouldn’t know about the applicant from reading their cover letter and resume alone. Feel free to divulge observations of their work ethic, character strengths and other personal qualities that make them a compelling candidate. Something that many recommenders shy away from is revealing speed bumps the applicant faced. However, a graduate school or employer may be interested in seeing how the candidate dealt with failure or difficulty and what they did to work through their struggles.

7. Follow through with your role as a mentor

Since your student or colleague has requested that you write a letter of recommendation on their behalf, it’s evident that they look up to you as a leader and role model. This should be an honor, as their respect for you has compelled them to ask you for assistance on a crucial aspect of the application process. After you’ve completed your letter, don’t hesitate to ask the student or colleague if they need any assistance or guidance throughout the other elements of the application process. Perhaps they need to interview for a role or program and would like some help preparing for this meeting. If they get into the program or are offered the role, don’t let this be the last time they hear from you. Offer yourself as an ongoing mentor, providing them with an advisor, confidante and networking contact that they can utilize throughout the duration of their career.

There are plenty of resources you can turn to when looking for teaching inspiration. Most of these sources will advise you to make and maintain efficient working relationships with students and colleagues. Positive results that can benefit from relationship building include improved workplace and classroom culture, ongoing networking opportunities and increased respect and authority within your field.

8. Submit the letter the right way

Once you’ve created an effective letter of recommendation, you can take a deep breath. You’ve finished the toughest part of the process. Now you’ll need to think about how you’ll submit your reference. Maybe you think it’s the best idea to send the letter directly to your student or colleague; that way, they can do what they like with it. They may also prefer you to send it directly to the graduate school or organization and notify them when you’ve turned it in.

Perhaps you’d rather send the reference letter to the graduate institution or organization confidentially, without the applicant having immediate access to it. You might prefer the sense of freedom this style of submission gives you, as it takes away the pressure of a student or colleague nitpicking your word choice. You can submit a letter confidentially in any of the following ways:

  • Mail it directly to schools or organizations
  • Utilize Interfolio’s Dossier Delivery system

If you’ve never utilized Interfolio’s technologies before when writing and asking for recommendation letters, you might consider implementing this platform into your process. When you choose to work with Interfolio, you can experience the following benefits:

  • A place to store past letters to candidates
  • Guaranteed letter confidentiality, if you’d prefer the privacy
  • A customer service team that’s ready to act on your requests
  • A quality control check that makes sure the letters you’re turning in have all the required components, such as an official letterhead, signature and relevant contact information

Whether you choose to submit your letter of recommendation through “snail mail” or Interfolio’s seamless technology, follow these letter of recommendation tips to help your student or colleague stand out among the other candidates. The right content, details and mixture of personal details and academic or professional skills can create a compelling argument that sets your contact up for success when applying for graduate school or career opportunities.

What other strategies do you have when writing a letter of recommendation? Please feel free to share with me on Twitter (@ramongoings).

In addition to an online platform for universities to manage faculty reviews, 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.

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. As a writing coach and editor, Dr. Goings enjoys supporting the scholarly development of doctoral students and professors in higher education. For more information about Dr. Goings, please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings).

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on preparing for the academic job market.

The months of May and June are an exciting time for colleges and universities as students are preparing for graduation and our higher education colleagues make announcements of their new positions. Bearing in mind the summer shuffle of individuals in higher education and slew of new graduates, it is important to be prepared for the academic job market—especially because it is extremely competitive.

However, where do you begin? In this post I provide three suggestions on best preparing yourself to enter the academic market.

Update your job materials

While the summer time is typically slow for open positions in higher education, it is the perfect time to update your materials such as:

For instance, have you had any experiences over the past year that would position you as a vital candidate in your field? If so, update your materials so that when search committees come across your documents, they have the opportunity to see these new experiences. Also, if you have had some gaps in your higher education employment, I would suggest you update your cover letter to explain why this was the case. This is helpful for search committees who may first see your resume and have questions about your gaps. I always believe setting the narrative for yourself as the candidate is better than leaving it up to the discretion of the individuals reading your materials.

Subscribing to the job forums in your field

Part of the work of entering the job market is keeping abreast of the job opportunities. As a result, it is helpful to subscribe to the various job forums in your field so that you know when positions of interest are open. As I described in a previous post, you should continue to keep a spreadsheet of the various jobs you are applying for and their due dates (more on due dates below). This will ensure you get letters of recommendation and other materials completed prior to the job posting deadline.

Read postings carefully for job material deadlines

While this may seem common sense, it is critical that you read job descriptions and specifically take note of the deadlines. For instance, does the posting state a “priority deadline” and also that the job will remain open until filled? My advice here would be to make sure your materials are submitted by the priority deadline as that may be when the search committee will actually begin to review materials. If for some reason you miss the priority deadline, reach out to the chair of the search committee who can provide insight into the status of the search and if submitting your materials would be a viable option at that point in the process.

What advice do you all have on preparing for the academic job market? Please share them with me on Twitter (@ramongoings).

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.

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. As a writing coach and editor, Dr. Goings enjoys supporting the scholarly development of doctoral students and professors in higher education. For more information about Dr. Goings, please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings).

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar.

One of the hallmarks of being a higher education professional is leading and serving on hiring committees. While this work is important to university life, how do you decide if you should serve on a hiring committee? What should your strategy be on selecting members to serve on a hiring committee when you are leading a search? These questions can be difficult to answer as they are nuances based on the position. However, I believe there are some things you should consider when leading and being asked to serve on a hiring committee. While this post does not capture the depth and nuance of hiring committees, below are my more topical tips and suggestions.

Be prepared for a significant time commitment

After serving on several hiring committees and having conversations with colleagues in the field, I have come to the conclusion that serving as the chair of a search committee is a significant time commitment. Not only are you responsible for selecting search committee members, you are also responsible for:

  • Serving as main contact for potential candidates with questions
  • Coordinating phone/Skype interview times for candidates and committee members
  • Coordinating travel for finalist interviews
  • Managing personalities of the search committee during candidate deliberations

With the above responsibilities in mind, it is critical to understand and embrace the significant time commitment before agreeing to serve as the leader of a search committee.

I have often been approached to lead and serve on committees unexpectedly. At the beginning of my career, I would often say yes on the spot. However, I was provided sage advice from mentors who explained the benefit of not saying yes right away. The advice given to me (which I pass along to you) is that when offered the opportunity to serve on a hiring committee, communicate to the requestor that you need time to review your schedule to ensure you will have ample time to commit to the search. Taking this approach will buy you a little time to evaluate the time commitment and value-add of serving on a hiring committee.

Establish a diverse hiring committee

Many higher education scholars have pointed out that who serves on search committees determines who is ultimately hired. In many examples, scholars point to the fact that higher education hires do not often reflect the diversity of the country—and this is due to search committees lacking diversity, specifically racial diversity. Thus, when thinking about establishing a search committee, it is important to ensure committee members come from various backgrounds, so your search develops a heterogeneous pool of candidates. Moreover, candidates from different backgrounds can use their networks to get the word out about the search.

Ensure positions are advertised widely

Part of the work of the search committee should be to advertise the position in a way that  creates a diverse hiring pool. Search committees do not often get diverse candidates because they do not advertise positions in places where those candidates fellowship. For instance, does your human resource office use the university’s Instagram and Facebook pages to target their hiring advertisements to spaces where diverse candidates spend their time online? Is your search committee reaching out directly to scholars of color to apply for positions? I would argue that institutions search far and wide for athletes, and I believe the same approach should be taken when recruiting higher education professionals. While there are several places to find higher education jobs (which I’ve discussed in a previous Smart Scholar series post), it is critical to find candidates in the spaces they frequent most.

Ensure the search process is ethical

It is important to ensure that the search process is approached ethically, for example adhering to a search process committee where members maintain confidentiality throughout. This prevents candidates who have personal or professional relationships with the search committee members from gaining an advantage in the job search. Moreover, in situations where there are internal candidates applying for a position, this is even more important, as having an ethical process will prevent external candidates from seeking legal action against the institution for a discriminatory hiring process. In response to instances of discrimination and racism on campus, institutions have developed equity and inclusion offices. I would suggest if your institution has such an office, have them talk to the search committee about ensuring an equitable hiring process. If your institution does not have an equity and inclusion office, there are some best practices in the text Diversifying the Faculty: A Guidebook for Search Committees by Dr. Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner.

What have your experiences been on leading and serving on search committees? Feel free to tweet me @ramongoings with your suggestions!

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.

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. As a writing coach and editor, Dr. Goings enjoys supporting the scholarly development of doctoral students and professors in higher education. For more information about Dr. Goings, please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings).