X. Professional Development and Career Planning

Strange as it may seem, it is wise for students to begin thinking about life after the PhD almost as soon as they enter the program, since the choices one makes early on in the degree will inevitably have important implications down the road. To assist in this regard, the university and the department provide a range of opportunities to prepare in practical ways for an academic career. Bear in mind, of course, that in this, as in so many other ways, the most valuable resource for information and advice will likely be your own PhD advisor.

More than can reasonably be covered in this handbook goes into the foundation of a successful career and job search. A good general guide to professional development and the academic job search process is the GSAS publication “Scholarly Pursuits.”

Finding a Job

The successful job search normally proceeds in four stages: identifying likely employment opportunities (see below); submission of application materials; conference interview (e.g., at the MLA, AAR, or AHA); and campus interview (“fly-back”). After the campus interview, the successful applicant is contacted with an offer of a position, but there is no expectation of an answer at this point. Only when an offer has been made in writing must you respond (yes, no, maybe). Negotiations (over salary, teaching load, leave, etc.) are sometimes needed and these take time, too. The entire process ordinarily lasts at least four months and sometimes much longer.

Looking for a job can be stressful and time-consuming, and there is no guarantee that you will land a job the first time out. The good news is that the department has an extraordinarily strong record of placing its graduates in tenure-track positions within 1-3 years of completion of the degree. Students who are not successful in finding tenure-track jobs often find it worthwhile to take temporary positions as replacement faculty at an institution while they carry out another search the following year. Though not ideal, teaching in a temporary job offers the chance to strengthen one’s CV and build up one’s teaching record – not to mention that it pays better than remaining on as a TF.

Job Listings

The search for a job begins, of course, by locating job openings and finding those for which you are qualified. Announcements for jobs of interest to EALC and HEAL candidates may be found in a number of publications, including (but not limited to) the newsletters and job postings web pages of the Association for Asian Studies, the Modern Language Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Historical Association. Note that in most cases, online job listing information is restricted to members of the scholarly association. If you do not already belong, now is the time to join.

Sometimes departments with vacancies will announce them on their own websites and by circulating letters or flyers to other departments around the country. Any such announcements the department receives will be sent to students by email from the Graduate Coordinator. Students should also check with advisors for news of job openings.

Announcements for tenure-track jobs tend to be most numerous during the summer and fall. Pay close attention to deadlines, job descriptions, and application requirements. Much depends on the strength of the initial application.

Post-Doctoral Fellowships

At the same time as they apply for teaching positions, many students submit applications for post-doctoral fellowships (“post-docs”). A post-doc is a salaried research position, usually held for one year, but sometimes longer, at a university, college, or foundation. Teaching, if any is called for, is usually minimal. Rather, the post-doctoral fellow is expected to contribute to the intellectual community of the awarding institute or center, either by presenting a lecture, organizing a workshop or conference, and interacting with graduate students and faculty colleagues. Most post-docs include an office; some also provide career development assistance.

A post-doc is considered by many students to be highly desirable because it affords the fellow a chance to work in a concentrated fashion, with minimal outside obligations. In some cases, post-docs are awarded to fellows who are beginning new projects, or who are completing smaller, non-thesis projects. Many post-doctoral fellowships are awarded to enable the fellow to bring a doctoral thesis into publishable shape. In those cases, it is sometimes a condition of the fellowship that the fellow offer right of first refusal on the resulting manuscript to the awarding institution’s university press.

The materials needed to apply for a post-doctoral fellowship are in many regards similar to those used in the job application, and announcements about post-doctoral fellowships often appear together with job listings. Eligibility periods for application to post-docs vary, but most allow for receipt of the PhD within the last five years.

Career Workshops

For students entering the job market, and for those who are contemplating doing so, the department sponsors two different career-related workshops in the fall. The first, held in late September, covers the ins and outs of searching for an academic job: CVs, cover letters, letters of recommendation, etc. The second, held in early December, takes the form of a mock conference interview (an earlier mock interview may be scheduled for students planning to attend the AAR annual meeting).

A third kind of event, a mock job talk, may be organized for any EALC or HEAL student who has been invited for an on-campus interview. These are often very useful for job candidates who want to do a dry run of the job talk in a critical, yet supportive, environment. Mock job talks can be arranged at the last minute with the assistance of the Graduate Coordinator.

Apart from these department events, the Office of Career Services (OCS) sponsors a series of related events in the fall, including workshops on CVs and cover letters, which interested students are welcome to attend.

Building a CV

A CV (“Curriculum Vitae”) is the academic’s equivalent of a résumé. It contains essential information on your education, training (including language skills), scholarly achievements (including your dissertation, plus any publications and talks), teaching record, contact information, and references. You will need a CV to apply for jobs and post-docs and also to apply to give papers at major conferences. Many funding agencies also ask for a CV. Thus even G1 students should begin to give some thought to putting together a CV.

Opinions differ as to what makes a good CV, but all would agree on a couple of points: a) an academic CV should not look like a business résumé and b) a CV should be clear, easy-to-read, and free of errors. For most students, a CV of between 2-4 pages (excluding the Teaching Portfolio, discussed in Section VIII) is sufficient. General guidelines may be found at the OCS website, but more detailed guidance on CVs may be gained by attending one of their graduate student workshops, by scheduling an appointment with an OCS staff person, or by speaking with your advisor.

Should I Be Publishing Already?

In writing a CV, one of the most common sources of anxiety for students is the blank space following the rubric, “Publications.” One often hears that the threshold for getting a job (or even a job interview) is determined by the strength of one’s publication record prior to completion of the PhD. It is undeniably true that graduate students publish much more, and much more commonly, than they did a generation ago. It is also undeniably an advantage to the prospective job candidate to have published a good article in a refereed journal. But to prepare an article for publication is a major commitment of time, and that is bound to be time taken away from research and writing on the dissertation. Since it is less clear if publishing something just for the sake of having a publication is worth the time and trouble involved, students are urged to consider carefully the pros and cons before tying up valuable time that could be used to get closer to completion on the PhD.

Ultimately, the question of when, what, and where to publish is one that each student must settle for her/himself in consultation with advisors and peers. The Department takes no position, and merely notes that many graduates with little in the way of publications routinely find good jobs at good schools.

Conference Presentations

Even if you don’t publish, it is likely that you will have the chance to present some of your work at an academic conference before you file the thesis. Such activity also belongs on your CV. If no one invites you to join an Annual Meeting panel, you may want to consider organizing one on your own.

Students who are traveling out of the Boston area to attend an academic conference may apply to the Graduate Student Council for financial assistance.

The department is sometimes able to provide limited financial aid, depending on the availability of funds. Some academic societies provide financial assistance to graduate students attending meetings and conferences.