+2 votes
asked ago in Job Market - Candidate Questions by (1.3k points)
Hi forum!
I am a job market candidate in one of the leading programs. Objectively, it is clear that any academic position has multiple dimensions (e.g., atmosphere among faculty, peers, students culture, teaching load, research budget, administrative burden/service, weather, cost of living, wage, crime, employment opportunities for spouses). Yet, I feel we are encouraged and implicitly hardwired to judge job market success almost entirely by a single attribute -- how highly ranked a school is.
This is to the extent that I feel that if I ask this question non-anonymously, some portions of "the market" will infer that I am not serious about research because I might actually care about my overall happiness.

My questions are --
1. What are the most crucial attributes of a first position?
2. How to learn about these dimensions during the job market process?
3. Any other advice about evaluating positions?

Thank you

6 Answers

+4 votes
answered ago by (3.3k points)
edited ago by
Best answer
So I'd just say rankings are not a rational way to make choices here.  For instance you could argue Harvard~MIT.  You could argue perhaps MIT~Chicago or Princeton.  And maybe Princeton~Northwestern.     Likewise further down in the rankings you could argue Univ Of Oregon~ Univ or Arizona.  But there's no way Harvard ~ Oregon.  So although the closely compared schools have nearly the same resources, and you might be indifferent, transitivity breaks down pretty quickly (kinda like adding watering down diet coke a bit in a bunch of adjacent cups).  

So I'd look for the following.  

1.  Who are your colleagues?  WIll they help you become a better researcher?  Having other smart people who care about your research questions (whether or not they work on them directly) helps a ton.  
2.  Are the assistant professors there successful?  That could mean internal tenure.  It could mean being poached at a higher paying/better job.  That's happened a fair amount at Oregon.  But we do a good job at helping our assistant professors either get to tenure here, or upgrade.  Beware of places where the assistant professors flame out consistently.  It could be they are tasked with a ton of annoying service normally saved for those who should be paying their tenure taxes.  
3.  Will you be happy?  This  a very general question about everything the community offers you.  Could be spousal/partner job opportunities, leisure, weather, or affordability.  
4.  Go in with an open mind.  I remember jobs I applied that I thought I would like, I didn't upon visiting the campus, and others, where I hadn't even heard of them, I ended up loving it upon visiting.  You can learn a ton if your mind is open.  

Good luck and don't fall in love too much with your potential jobs until you have an official offer :-)
+2 votes
answered ago by (530 points)
If you are in a highly-ranked graduate program, then obviously your advisors are self-selected to value being in such a program, so you should know that when evaluating their choices. For example, my classmates who went into industry seem to enjoy it a great deal, but you are less likely to hear from advisors who chose not to go into industry.
1. Find a place where you will be happy! Think about how well you get along with your colleagues, how much support is given to juniors, if you like the focus of the department, the location etc.
2. Ask your advisors and, if you know them, classmates who have graduated recently. When you get flyouts, you will learn A LOT from talking to people at the department as well, about the fit, the location, etc.
3. Try to enjoy the job market. It's strange, I know, but it might be possible.
+1 vote
answered ago by (3.5k points)
I am going to give a limited answer--I'm sure others will have more to say.

1. The answer is going to be different for different people. For example, job prospects for a spouse might be a deciding factor for some. For others, it will be irrelevant. So a first step is to know your own preferences/constraints.

2. If you aim for a high-end research career, then having colleagues to learn from is very important for most people. This is somewhat less so if you already have a good network.

3. Many people underestimate the probability of getting tenure at an initial appointment. (This does not apply to the very top schools.) The odds of spending a long time where you are first hired are quite high. So choosing a school which you feel is a good match and where you will be happy definitely deserves significant weight.

And while it is good to think about this, most people don't end up with multiple offers that are closely competitive. The choice set is often quite limited.
+4 votes
answered ago by (730 points)
My main advice if you are going on the market this fall is to not worry about that yet for now. Just apply to a ton of places. If and when you have multiple offers, then you can consider the pros and cons of the different options in a much more concrete way. For two reasons: a) That's much easier to do than to now think about it in the abstract. b) It doesn't distract you from what you should be doing at the moment: finishing your JMP, polishing your abstract and intro, and preparing your application materials.

That said, I agree with the other answers that it depends on the person which aspects you value. You'll also get a much better feel for this once you visit places during flyouts. In addition, many places will give you the opportunity to visit again after an offer to get more information. One thing you might do if you are concerned about this is to ask during flyouts how the process will be in case they give you an offer. If they make exploding offers, it's worth already starting to think about your priorities at the time of the flyout. If they don't, then you don't have to worry about that yet even at the flyout stage and can just focus on presenting your work and getting to know the potential future colleagues.
+1 vote
answered ago by (6.9k points)
I agree with the others who suggest that your first job is getting a job, and the hard work of deciding among them (or whether to broaden your search to other kinds of jobs) should come only after you see your offers.  (Of course it's an excellent idea to apply some broad filters to which jobs you will seek, but it sounds like you are focused on that already...)

I have worked at four universities, with significant differences among them, but they were all hard to leave when the time came, and there were times when a choice presented itself and we decided to stay where we were after thinking hard about it. Family reasons played a significant role in each decision. (Remember the iron law of marriage: you can't be happier than your spouse.  If you have kids, you're an even bigger committee...)  

And, if you are single, you might think about the marriage market where you take your first position.  (I'm using 'marriage' broadly here, not making  judgments...)  Matching is important, not only for jobs.

Even focusing just on your own academic productivity doesn't make decisions easy, unless you have more insight into your production function than I have had into mine. (So, every time we contemplated a move I worried whether I would remain productive at a different place, with a different combination of pluses and minuses, some unobservable.)  Given that uncertainty, other elements of the choices we had always played very large roles in our decisions.

We always were lucky enough to feel that we could happily remain where we were forever, although we haven't done that anywhere yet:-). (Forever is a long time, but opportunities to move have some  unpredictable similarity to Markov jump processes...)

That said, your academic productivity is likely to be an important component in your satisfaction, and will certainly play a role in setting the parameters of the Markov jump process that will present itself in your future.  

So good luck on the job market, and may you have some important decisions to focus on. If the choices are hard ones, you'll likely be fine whatever you choose.
commented ago by (6.9k points)
In that last sentence, I meant to say that if you have good alternatives that are hard to choose between, then you'll likely be fine whatever you choose. I know that job markets can be hard, and not all choices are good.  Good luck out there.
commented ago by (1.3k points)
Thank you.
Yes it was clear - a hard choice likely means indifference (sadly true also for a hard choice among bad outcomes).
+1 vote
answered ago by (230 points)
Just adding two questions that I always recommend students on the market ask. Both are for the flyout stage--no point in trying to cull much before then.

1.  Ask about teaching load, but just as important, ask about preps. Load is the number of classes you will be asked to teach per year or per semester. Preps are the different courses these need to cover. Four courses and four preps is way more work than four courses and two preps. You may also ask about whether you can choose to load, or bunch, your courses in one semester. Different schools may offer equivalent teaching loads in terms of number of courses, but the way preps and bunching are handled can make a huge difference in the total work level.

2. Ask if people come into the office. This is a big indicator of culture, and in my experience, schools answer this honestly. Places where people value location flexibility will tell you that no one comes in unless they are teaching or there's a seminar. Places that value face time with colleagues will tell you people come in. There is some sorting on this dimension according to different tastes, so try to find out in advance which one you are getting.