By: Kevin Kester; Assistant professor of International Education and Global Affairs at Keimyung University in South Korea

(This is Part 1 of a two-part series)

When I accepted my tenure-track (TT) job in December 2017 it was in part the culmination of five years of doctoral and postdoctoral work, and 10 years of publishing. I had completed my PhD (which I began with a TT job in mind), finished my postdoc, and published relentlessly. Yet I still knew that such jobs are increasingly rare. According to professional literature on the topic one is lucky to get a single TT offer throughout a career, much less multiple offers. They are coveted posts – signifying a successful start to an academic career – and the data on the costs of these posts, and who gets them, is a sobering read. Many scholars spend years and countless applications chasing this dream. So to have an offer in hand (in Korea; and a second offer in China) I was elated.

To get here, however, was tricky; one report suggests that only 7 in 200 PhDs will acquire a permanent faculty post. Of these, only one will become a full professor. So, in this short blog post, I hope to break down some of the things that new scholars should carefully consider when entering the academic job market for the first time: what should a recently minted PhD know when traversing the academic career landscape? First, some clarity on language is needed.

The TT system is specific to the US market and countries using that same system, such as Belgium, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Sweden. In the UK, as well as in France and Spain, the equivalent is a permanent employment contract. For the US system, TT jobs begin with an Assistant Professor title (the first 5-7 years after the PhD) followed by Associate Professor (mid-career, at which point the academic is typically tenured), and then Full Professor (advanced career). Other titles used are not TT (e.g., Instructor, Lecturer, Visiting Assistant Professor, Research Assistant Professor, Postdoc, Clinical Faculty, etc.). In the UK system, the titles are slightly different. Permanent employment begins with a Lecturer title followed by Senior Lecturer and/or Reader, and then Professor. Other academic titles are not permanent employment (e.g., Teaching Assistant, Teaching Associate, Research Associate, etc.). Applicants should be aware of these details.

So, for a new PhD, the immediate distinctions to gauge are between part-time or full-time work, tenure versus non-tenure, and type of institution for tenure-track offers. For the part-time options, these usually include adjunct lecturer or part-time research positions. They are identified as adjunct in the US market, or as a fraction of FTE (full-time employment) in the UK (e.g., 0.2 FTE, 0.5 FTE, 0.8 FTE). Thus, applicants should first identify whether the job is part-time or full-time, and which they prefer.

For the full-time non-TT options these include teaching associate posts, instructor posts, postdocs, visiting assistant professor, teaching assistant professor, or research assistant professor jobs. They go by many different names, but the common element of these positions is that they are longer-term contract work, also referred to as fixed-term, usually for a specified period of 1-3 years. They may or may not be renewable. This is where many new applicants become confused by the differences between contract work and permanent employment. But the differences are significant. So, the second thing an applicant should distinguish is whether the full-time post leads to permanent employment.

The third question the applicant should consider is the type of institution desired, that is, more teaching-oriented or research focused. There are three concurrent responsibilities for TT faculty: teaching, research and service; yet the percentage of each that a faculty member is engaged in depends on the type of institution the TT post is housed within. For example, a TT job at a community college or selective liberal arts institution will be more teaching focused, while a TT job at a research-intensive university will clearly emphasize research. There are as many variations on this as there are institutions; and although all are TT posts, the faculty experience, expectations, and access to resources will differ greatly by the type of institution.

Finally, applicants should seriously ask if a TT job is really what they want. Some scholars indeed prefer the mobility and freedom offered by the non-TT track. There is much debate about the desirability and tenability of permanent employment in higher education today.

Nevertheless, if a faculty job is what the applicant seeks after the PhD, these are some of the questions to consider when applying:

  • Will the position lead to permanent employment?
  • Is the position teaching or research intensive?
  • What is the teaching load?
  • Is teaching targeted toward undergraduates, postgraduates, or both?
  • What is the research and/or teaching focus of the department?
  • Do faculty supervise Master’s and PhD students?
  • Does the university provide start-up research funding?
  • Does the university have a research office to assist faculty in applying for external research grants?
  • Does the university provide conference and/or professional development funding?
  • What is the expected publication output for faculty in each review cycle?
  • How often do faculty receive sabbaticals?
  • What type and how much departmental and university service is expected?
  • What is expected on performance evaluations?
  • What contents are required for the tenure dossier?

It is my hope that this has provided some sense of how to navigate the academic career landscape, and some questions to ask in the process. For those who are entering this stage at the moment, I recommend the following job websites:

…and these are some blogs I suggest for tips on faculty employment and general career advice: The Professor is In, ProfHacker, Tenured Radical, and Patter. Good luck in this next stage of your academic career! In a follow-up post I will explain the detailed process of applying for new faculty positions.

Kevin Kester is assistant professor of International Education and Global Affairs at Keimyung University in South Korea, and a consultant to UNESCO. He is an educational sociologist who researches peace education, social justice, and education inside the United Nations. His second book, The United Nations and Higher Education: Reproduction, Peace and Epistemic Justice, will be published by Information Age Publishing as part of its Peace Education Series in 2019. He completed his PhD in the Cambridge Faculty of Education in 2017.

Posted by:fersacambridge

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