Monday, September 09, 2019

10 Tips on Academic Job Hunting

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Last week I had a conversation with a colleague that turned to how she got her current teaching job. Shortly after that, someone emailed me about advice on applying for a teaching job in biblical studies. Since we probably have a decent number of readers who are in PhDs or thinking about one, I thought it might be worth sharing what advice I have.

Disclaimers: I don’t have any particular expertise on this other than I got a job (for which I’m very thankful) and I have had a number of good friends also go through the ringer application process and get jobs. I can primarily speak from and for my own context of American evangelicalism. Jobs in U.S. state schools, research universities, non-confessional liberal arts schools, and overseas schools can be different animals and others are better equipped to talk about those. Finally, I don’t have any jobs to offer. Sorry.
  1. Identify your real competition. The job market can often feel daunting because there are so many well qualified applicants out there, especially in NT. But the reality is, you aren’t actually competing with everyone for every job. You also aren’t competing for every job. In some cases you won’t be competing at all! The sooner you realize who your real competition is, the better. This advice comes from John Stackhouse and it helped me when I was thinking about doing a a PhD. It gives some needed perspective.
  2. Expand your networks now. Go to ETS. Go to IBR. Go to SBL. Meet with people at those venues to connect about their research and yours. The more people who know you, your gifts, your research, etc., the better. Who you know matters far less than who knows you. Yes, networking can be crass and shallow, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn to do it well.
  3. Start applying now. It’s almost never too early. Even though many won’t consider you without a PhD in hand, it’s still helpful to get started on the process. It can be exhausting so starting early helps build up endurance for what may be a long haul.
  4. Publish now. This is tricky because you want to put most of your energy into writing a great dissertation. But I think it can be very helpful to have an article or two under your belt when you send out an application. At the very least, you should present your research in academic forums.
  5. Identify your “pluses.” This one comes from my boss and I think it’s increasingly true. Many schools today are looking for a professor+, someone who can teach plus do x, y, or z. That plus could be additional skill in marketing, enrollment, admin, advancement, online ed, library staffing, etc. The point is: think about what you have to offer beyond teaching. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to teach+, but more and more, teaching+ is going to be key.
  6. Read The Professor Is in: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. into a Job. It’s mostly geared at secular teaching jobs, but it’s still helpful. Especially the part on writing a cover letter.
  7. Know what matters in an interview. I know when I was job searching, I was most worried about whether I measured up academically. The reality is, if you get to the interview, they are probably not concerned at all about that; they want to know about your theology, your personality, your family, and a host of intangibles. I would also add, make sure that you interview your interviewers. You should be looking for red flags, rifts in the institution, financial woes, etc. If they ask if you have any questions for them, make sure you do. Read this from Mike Kruger for more on this.
  8. Identify the unwritten doctrinal statement. This can be tricky if you don’t know someone on the inside, but I always say there is the written doctrinal statement and the unwritten one. The unwritten one is where a school puts its theological emphasis. Ask if they have a separate teaching statement or set of white papers or any other kind of clarifications for their faculty that you need to be aware of. Many confessional schools do and it won’t hurt to ask. Even if they don’t, you can bet they have things they care about that aren’t on the homepage. Try to identify those as best you can before taking the job.
  9. Serve others. If you’ve finished a PhD, you’ve worked really hard and probably made a lot of sacrifices along the way. Especially if you did your degree to serve the Lord, it can be crushing not to get the teaching job you always wanted. If you’re not careful, it can make you bitter—at God, at the church, at your family. To avoid this, you need a robust theology of grace. God doesn’t owe any of us a job. It’s a gift that we have the ability, time, and resources to study. If we get a good job, that too is a gift (cf. 1 Cor 4.7). If your dream job is an undeserved gift, treat it that way now. In all this, be like Jesus: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45).
  10. What would you add?

10 comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. "Identify your real completion." Surely you mean "competition"?

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    1. 11. Avoid typos in your public writting.

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  3. Be the person whom God has called you to be. Ignore those who tell you to do what they did ten or twenty years ago. Usually, when you get advice, it's simply people telling you to repeat their decisions, as if their life is some sort of gold standard.

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  5. I wouldn't put worrying about the competition on this list at all. There is no point spending time worrying about them.

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  6. I also think that one of the big issues is that you probably don't "know what matters in the interview"! Most of the time you have to work with lots of uncertainties here and getting anxious about saying all the right things can be unproductive.

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  7. 11. Be prepared to teach in the Majority World, raising support if necessary! Check out Theologians Without Borders, or other mission organizations.

    12. Be prepared to be a pastor with a PhD, and cultivate ties within your denomination.

    Speaking from personal experience...

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