Careers in Academia

Deciding on Your Goals – Faculty Position or Postdoctoral Fellowship?

Self-assessment can be a useful first step in determining the options for you whether you decide to pursue a tenure-track faculty position or a postdoctoral fellowship. Your choices are determined not only by your academic discipline, but also by your own short- and long-range goals. These goals are often directed by understanding the value of the strengths and accomplishments you have gained through graduate school. What are the experiences you have had that gave you the most satisfaction? Was it your teaching, your research, or your leadership involvement? Do you have geographic constraints or other requirements for your first position? Will you accept an Adjunct position or consider positions that are not your first choice?

Self-assessment is a life-long process. As your skills and abilities develop, your values and preferences change, and your experiences and knowledge broaden, your career may transition several times. Deciding whether to focus your search initially on a position with a strong research focus in a research university or one with a heavier teaching load in a smaller liberal arts college can be an easier decision after assessing your strengths and interest. This will also influence your decision to obtain additional experience via a postdoctoral position. Career Services can support you through this process.

Thinking about a Postdoctoral Fellowship

Postdoctoral fellowships (research appointments for a fixed length of time) continue to grow in emphasis as a prerequisite for faculty positions at Research 1 or top tier liberal arts institutions in many sciences and engineering fields. A postdoctoral fellowship offers you the opportunity to expand or deepen your research and may also offer you the chance to teach so that your teaching experiences can be broadened. Postdoctoral fellowships can range from one to three year commitments and are usually targeted in a university or setting other than your graduate institution. Settings also include government labs and offices, industry, and other settings.

The National Postdoctoral Association has a “Career” section which offers some useful information for graduate students thinking about postdoctoral fellowships.

When to Begin Your Search

At least 2 years prior to your job search, it is recommended that you take some time to assess your current progress toward degree completion, long-term goals, and requirements for personal and career satisfaction. Thinking about these issues not only helps you plan for the future by gaining additional experiences or skills that you will need, but it will also make you a stronger job candidate by allowing you to more persuasively express your interests and convictions in your cover letter, CV, or interview.

Tenure Track Positions

Unlike corporate positions or even academic administrative positions, there is a fairly standard calendar followed for most tenure track job searches. This is due to the academic calendar followed by most American institutions. The academic year begins in the fall, usually in late August, and most permanent positions will begin at this time. Institutions that operate on quarters will start about a month later, in late September. The hiring process begins much earlier, and most vacancies are announced during the fall semester one year prior to the beginning of the appointment. Most institutions engage in national searches for tenure track positions. Job postings often begin to appear in August and swell during the autumn months. Search committees may begin to review applications as early as September and October. The internal review process is often timed to enable conference interviews at major meetings of national societies that occur during the fall and winter months. Applicants may be contacted prior to a national meeting and asked to participate in a conference interview. Telephone and on-site interviews usually begin in the fall, although some occur during the spring term. Following the interviews, institutions will generally extend offers between late fall and mid-spring. Therefore, it is crucial that you have your entire application packet prepared and ready to submit during the summer prior to your Ph.D. completion.

Part-Time and Visiting Positions

Often, institutions are searching for a candidate to teach one or two courses on short notice. The search time for these positions is often compressed, and hiring for part-time and/or temporary positions may take place only a few weeks (or days) before the position is set to begin. These positions are often never formally announced, and are often filled quietly, without a search. Candidates may be informally interviewed by telephone or at local or national conferences. Often, candidates may be considered for part-time teaching positions because they previously contacted the department through an unsolicited letter of interest, indicating their availability to teach. Short-term, “visiting” positions of 1-3 years usually are posted, and these positions may follow the same search and hiring practices as a tenure track position.