I want to pick up from Anna’s last post (hence the homage in my title!), and talk ‘knowing yourself’ as an academic job hunter. Academics are good at self-criticism (I won’t touch on the point that helpful critique can easily turn sinister, but there are some resources below) and we are usually keen to receive quality, constructive feedback.* But, I get it – getting feedback is scary. It’s confronting and awkward to face up to your own (perceived) ‘failings’, but this is the path to improvement! Or so I have been told. So, this year, I’m embracing being open, looking at my values, and being clear about my identity as it relates to my job hunt!
Perhaps the easiest of all my resolutions, but no less confronting. Being open just means not being secretive, which is an easy thing to become as a freshly-minted PhD on the job market. Your whole PhD peer-support network is now your direct competition! But once you realise that there’s no harm in being open then you get your support network back. Honestly, if you’ve found a job ad it’s likely that everyone you know has found it too. They all subscribe to your discipline’s listserv, and get their daily digest from jobs.ac.uk (by the way, you can sign up for emails of relevant positions really easily by clicking on the ‘Jobs by Email’ tab at the top!). Also, be open with your mentors and other senior academics. Ask if they will read your cover letter, take their feedback on board – they are the ones who are doing the hiring, so trust that they know what they’re looking for!
One of the things that Anna mentioned in her post was looking at your core values. This is an exercise that I’ve done as well, and found useful for thinking about the kind of place I want to be (both physically and metaphorically). Although it’s difficult to visualise how to put this into practice when you’re in the ‘honestly I just want a job’ mindset. So, I wrote a series of five-year plans. They all have the same end-point, but it’s allowed me to see how different starts (e.g. a teaching-only contract, a research-only contract, etc.) can lead me to the same place, and put me in a position to follow my values more completely. I feel more confident in my ability to manoeuvre myself into that position now – and, I also have a clear idea of what I want to accomplish over the next five years.
And, My Identity…
One thing I have found really fun (dare I say it!) about job-hunting is the process of consciously deciding what kind of academic I want to be (and, on a more micro-level, what kind of ancient historian I want to be). I haven’t ever had the chance to stop and think at length about this – I went straight from my Bachelors, to Masters, to PhD (I submitted my MA thesis, got on a plane the next day, and started my PhD two days after that, so… really no break!). This past year has been a wonderful chance for me to discover myself – as a researcher and an educator, and to really cement the kind of broad research I want to do over the next five years (at least!). So, some of the things I did were:
- Finalised my doctoral research. Since finishing my PhD I have planned the major publications I wanted out of it, and they are now all submitted. Although I will, no doubt, have to return to them in time, it means that I am can now start thinking about – and doing! – new research!
- Spent time thinking about, and writing a (detailed) plan for, my next big project – and how it fits with my previous research. My PhD was relatively focused, but what came out of it was a need to look at a bigger picture. There are a lot of new and exciting things going on in my sub-discipline (ancient Greek religion) and I realised that I have thoughts about those things, especially about theoretical approaches prevalent in the scholarship. I also conceptualised the way that my PhD research got me to the new project, and I feel confident that I actually do have the knowledge and skills to undertake a big research project on my own (i.e. without my supervisor to fall back on!).
- I applied for Associate Fellowship to the HEA (well, am applying for…), through a teaching recognition programme. This helped me to focus on what kind of teacher I want to be. I also got to plan some pretty cool activities for the class I taught last year, that I’m not sure I would have been confident enough to undertake in previous years. In the process of writing the AFHEA application form, I read about pedagogy and figured out not only what kinds of teaching and learning theories I already used but the kinds I wanted to embrace. So, now I know that I’m the kind of teacher who values research-based and research-oriented teaching, and I know how to effectively demonstrate that.
I’ve outlined the ways that I thought about my identity not as a ‘how to’ guide, but to give you a sense of what things I found useful. I began the process by simply writing down a few sentences about what I thought I was currently like as an academic, and what I thought a ‘perfect’ academic in my field was like. Then I moved on to specifics from there. There are some good exercises for thinking about these things in the two e-books I’ve linked to below.
One piece of advice that seems to come up repeatedly in academic job application advice articles is having a clear sense of who you are and how you fit into the (prospective) department. You can’t do that unless you actually have a clear sense of your identity as a researcher and educator. Knowing what kind of research you want to do over the next x-number of years will make it easier to conceptualise (and write about!) how you fit into a department, how your work fits into your discipline and sub-discipline, and you’ll be able to easily answer the dreaded ‘NEXT REF’ question. So, it just makes sense to spend some time working on getting a clear picture of these things in your own mind before you try and convince anyone else.
Finally! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this, or if you have any suggestions for becoming a self-reflexive and self-knowledgeable academic job-hunter leave a comment below!
Here’s Some Resources You Can Use!
I don’t want to rabbit on too much about the jobs.ac.uk resources – but there are some that are very helpful, here’s a brief list of e-books with activities in them that you might find useful in the self-reflexivity…
And some Mental Health resources:
If you are having difficulties, and feel you cannot reach out to your supervisor or doctor, Mind is an incredible organisation with lots of resources and support outlets.
(Even if you are not personally having troubles then…) Please go and read this anonymous post on Competition and the PhD, this article by Nadine Muller on Mental Health in Academia, and browse through this entire on Academia and Mental Health series (hosted by Nadine).
* For those who don’t know, this involves citing concrete examples of ways to improve, and commenting on things that were done well. For feedback on job applications and interviews it also includes not involving another person in the feedback (someone else did XYZ better than you), and being truthful about institutional fit (particularly where that was the deciding factor).