The Top 5 Woes of Academic Job Searching

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Although I have a job now, the path to getting a job wasn’t paved with rubies or any other precious stone. I imagine many other job seekers went through trials and tribulations similar to what I experienced over the last year. So here are a couple of my top observations while applying for and finding a job.

1. There are actually a lot of jobs available. The biggest advice I got while job hunting was “it’s a numbers game. Just keep applying”, so you might think that having a lot of options would be great. It’s only great until you get rejected from all of them… then it’s not so great.

2. The job market is saturated with overqualified job seekers. It seems like in my field (i.e., recent PhD graduate in the sciences) there are an awful lot of people that are super qualified for the jobs that are available. I’m not referring to the good student that got out of graduate school with a paper or two and some really awesome connections (that’s me). I am referring to the people that had NSF pre-doctoral fellowships during grad school, finished grad school having 4 or 5 papers in the journals Science or Nature, have now completed a post-doc in a high performing lab with the top brain in their discipline, and have a half million grant to do cutting edge research in their future job. Now its great that super qualified candidates are getting jobs at universities, but how overqualified does one really have to be just to get a job teaching at a small liberal arts college? Pretty damn over-qualified apparently.

3. Communication from potential employers is almost nonexistent. Now that most job applications are submitted online or via email, it is a rarity that job seekers ever hear back from potential employers. Some applications I filled out didn’t even have a contact email or phone number for a representative that knew about the job. I guess the motto is “apply blindly and ask questions later”. Don’t get me wrong… It’s tough to hear back from a potential employer that your application was great but they found someone else. But when you start to tally up rejections and take bets on when someone will finally email you with news, it would be nice to hear something, anything.

4. Employers have not changed their application process to accomodate such large numbers of applicants. Although the job applying process has moved to the realm of the internet, a few aspects make it tough for both job seekers and potential employers. For job seekers, I found any application that requested actual recommendation letters instead of contact information for references particularly annoying. I think I asked my references to send upwards of 40 recommendation letters on my behalf. All that work of sending and then reviewing recommendation letters just isn’t necessary, especially when potential employers have so many applicants to sort through. I would suggest sorting through based on resumes and other additional documentation (teaching and research statements) and then request letters if the applicant makes it past that stage. The additional documentation also bogs down the system. I understand that if the job is a teaching job, that a teaching statement or a sample course syllabus would be helpful in judging the applicants’ merits, but when there are more than 100 applicants, it takes forever. I am still hearing rejections from jobs I applied to in the fall (yep, 5 months later). Having rounds of sorting applications or having the job advertisement open for only a short period of time might curb these issues.

5. In the end, it still really does matter who you know. I have a friend who knows someone whose aunt works at …. sounds like some kind of scam, right? Not so! It’s the way to get a job. Employers would much rather hire someone that is known to a current employee or comes with a recommendation from a friend. This is in fact how I got my job at Westminster. Big thanks need to go out to the frisbee community and all it’s wonderful teachers for passing the word along that I am awesome!

Hopefully I won’t have to deal with these issues again any time soon, but for those of you that are dealing with them, hang in there!

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Reflections on Communication

Communicating efficiently with other people is one of the hardest things to learn how to do. Language has so many nuances that are hard to interpret and convey. A simple conversation can be hard to have if two people come from different backgrounds or have different interpretations of life. Communicating can be difficult even when both parties are speaking the same language.

Communicating in a non-native language can be hard, full of misunderstandings, and fairly stressful. During our time in Uruguay, we knew that communication was hard, but we were learning, and it definitely got easier the more comfortable we became with the language. It wasn’t until we got home that we realized how stressed out we had become about communicating with people.

For months we had prepared for every conversation we needed to have with anyone. We prepared for new vocabulary. We prepared for “what ifs”. We prepared to sound as natural as possible. We did this for everyone, from the check-out lady at the grocery store to our land lady to people in retail stores. We combed the internet for phrases that might make sense in the situation we would be in. We reviewed what we would say, how we could explain things, how to ask questions. And we did this constantly.

When we got back to the states, Asa and I both found ourselves still mentally reviewing possible conversations with people in Spanish. One morning, Asa even decided not to get a haircut because it would be too difficult to explain the type of cut he wanted in Spanish… only realizing later that he wouldn’t be speaking Spanish with the lady at the barber shop. Doh! I even spoke to a waitress at the Miami airport in Spanish because I heard Spanish around me.

Once we finally convinced ourselves that speaking to people in English was easy, it was a pleasure to talk to people. More of a pleasure than we had ever realized it could be. Being able to communicate to someone exactly what we wanted, and do it easily was so gratifying. It was fun being able to talk to people. It was nice to not be stressed out about communicating with people. We no longer had to prepare for conversations, we could make last minute decisions.

Our time in Uruguay has made both of us appreciate communication in a whole new light. We commonly take communication for granted, forgetting that at some point when we were young we actually had to learn to communicate with others. The ability to communicate should not be taken for granted. It is our window to the world and without it, I imagine, we would be very lonely.

So the next time you’re at a restaurant or the check-out counter think about your ability to communicate, and do it with ease!