By: Kevin Kester; Assistant professor of International Education and Global Affairs at Keimyung University in South Korea
(This is Part 2 of a two part series)
I have the best job in the world (for me). I get to read, write, mentor young people, and contribute to science each day. I get to do this for the most part with the freedom to read and write when I want and where I want, and to travel to conferences and research sites throughout the year. I visited Austria, China, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Slovakia, Taiwan, Turkey, and the US this year. I presented my research to international audiences who asked thought-provoking questions. I published papers in high-impact journals. I won research funding; and I learned a great deal from my colleagues, students, and those who participated in my research. I am tremendously lucky.
This post is about the process of acquiring university faculty jobs. In a previous post, I outlined some of the things that new applicants should carefully consider when entering the academic job market for the first time. Now, I will detail what is often needed for new PhDs to obtain permanent faculty jobs.
Although the specifics are ultimately unique to the institution and department where the applicant is applying, there are some common characteristics across programs. First and foremost, to obtain these competitive jobs typically multiple publications in high-impact journals are required just to be considered. If the applicant does not have any publications it is likely futile to labor over the lengthy application, although there are certainly some exceptions.
The application packet often involves a thick set of documents that must be tailored to each position. Completing these packets may take up to 30 hours each. Once submitted, it is sadly the case that many applicants with numerous publications (and other qualifications) still will not be selected for the interview stage, much less offered the job. The over-production of PhDs in recent years has contributed in part to the competition and rise in non-tenure track and adjunct positions. Such positions unfortunately award only a fraction of the benefits of the tenure-track. This apartheid in higher education is well-documented elsewhere.
Thus, while publications do not guarantee an interview, much less an offer, they are almost certainly required just to be considered for the position. This cannot be emphasized enough. For advice on how to acquire publications during the PhD, see my earlier FERSA post on publishing frequently and well, and see Cora Xu’s post on managing your time during the PhD: balancing the thesis, writing for publications and gaining teaching experience.Teaching experience, membership of scholarly societies (which indicates service and contributions to the field), and personal savvy are also frequently necessary to acquire permanent positions.
What is the application process like? At the outset, it is common for tenure-track hiring committees to request the following:
- A cover letter (This should clearly and briefly outline how the candidate’s educational background and experience relates to the specific post.)
- A full academic CV emphasizing degrees, previous work experience, publications, conference presentations, conferences organized, awards, grant funding, courses taught, students supervised, etc. (Do not be modest here! Provide concrete numbers where possible, e.g., amount of research funding acquired; number of papers published; number of papers published in high-impact journals; number of citations received; number of papers presented at conferences; conferences organized; students supervised; courses taught, etc.)
- A complete copy of the PhD thesis (Multiple copies may be requested so that the hiring committee may read before the interview. Be prepared to summarize the research at the interview, and to detail its significance.)
- A copy of all publications within the previous three years, or representative samples (The committee is trying to gauge recent productivity to predict future productivity. They are also interested in whether the scholar is conceptually and theoretically focused.)
- A statement of the applicant’s research agenda (Highlight the 2-3 broad areas that the research focuses on, and indicate current/future directions to take.)
- A teaching statement (Should highlight the candidate’s philosophy of education, and provide details from experience of how the applicant has practiced this in the classroom. Show with examples, don’t tell; see this sample.)
- 2-3 letters of recommendation (One must be from the PhD supervisor!)
Sometimes copies of previous course evaluations are also requested (particularly for teaching-intensive schools). If all goes well in the initial review, the applicant may then be invited for a phone interview (although sometimes this step is skipped and/or completed at annual conferences for the discipline). This is usually followed by a campus visit. At the campus visit, the applicant pool has been significantly reduced, perhaps to 3-6 shortlisted candidates, so the applicant should be proud and take this as a positive sign to reach this stage. At this point, which may last 1-3 days on campus, applicants will be expected to engage in any variety of the following tasks:
An interview with the hiring committee (Often includes 4-6 faculty members querying the applicant. It was 12 in my case.)
- A job talk, which is a combination of a personal introduction and overview of one’s research agenda (I was asked to do a brief 10-15 minute talk combined with elements of a chalk talk.)
- A chalk talk, which is one’s plan for the future research agenda, including types of funding applications the applicant will apply to within five years (The more specific the better.)
- A possible teaching demonstration, and discussion with students
- A possible interview with the Dean of the College and/or President of the University (I had a formal meeting with both separately during my campus visit.)
- A campus tour and/or dinner with prospective colleagues (This is not an informal occasion; what happens here can still be used in the hiring decision. There is much advice elsewhere about how to deal with alcohol or special food needs during the campus visit.)
- Perhaps a tour of the town with a faculty member
- A possible meeting with HR, if the offer is given the same weekend (I met with HR at the end of my campus visit to discuss the formal offer. Some negotiating may begin at this stage. It is likely that a Faculty Senate will ultimately need to approve the final offer.)
As with most parts of academia, success is a collaborative effort. I suggest having several colleagues read over the application prior to submission (if it’s not too burdensome), and practice interviewing skills with trusted advisors. Finally, have as much fun as possible, and don’t take things too personally; it’s a very taxing process, and there are often internal politics and hidden agendas in the departments that are beyond any candidate’s control. But don’t despair too long if not offered the job; heed again the advice of others with experience, take all opportunities presented, and then, maybe then, balloons and confetti will fall from the sky and an offer will appear. And, if not, consider seriously an alt-ac job; never forget there are other options on the horizon.
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.