The Academic Job Market and Tools


There isn’t much about the academic job or postdoc market that it’s appropriate to post publicly. I won’t mention where I’m applying, or who has listed jobs that sound exciting. Suffice it to say: there’s a market, and I’m on it.

The Problem

What I am noticing is what a complicated administrative endeavor being on the market is. I remember when I was in high school hearing of one or two students here and there who only applied to schools that would accept the common application. They filled out one application, applied to plenty of schools, and chose from among them. Unfortunately for, well, for all of us job-seekers, the academic job market is not very similar to the undergraduate admissions cycle. Ruling out places to apply because their requirements are non-standard is simply not an option. But it leaves me tracking lists like this:

Course proposals:

  • School 1:  (undergraduate 2pgs ea.)
  • School 2:  (1 course, 500 words)
  • School 3: (2 courses, one an undergraduate seminar)
  • School 4: (2 UG courses)
  • School 5: (1 UG course)

Statement of Research

  • School A: (2000 words)
  • School B: (4 pages)
  • School C: (1500 words)
  • School D: (no guideline)
  • School E: (1000 words)
  • School F: (no guideline)
  • School G:  (700-1000 words)
  • School H: (1,000-3,000 words)
  • School I: (no guideline)
  • School J:  (5 pages)
  • School K: (1500 words)

That is of course in addition to tracking the research on which departments and programs have which resources and people in order to make cover letters and proposals as detailed and personalized as possible. Of course there’s also tracking which places want 2, 3, 4, 5 letters of recommendation, which places want transcripts, how long a dissertation abstract they want, how long a writing sample, and the variables go on.

The Solutions Tools

As soon as I realized the scope of the work, I had a sudden overwhelming desire for a year between now and the deadlines to craft the perfect job application tool. I think it would be a MySQL backed database. I’d craft import filters from the various job lists I search. I’d standardize the fields for the different forms of information they request. I’d create elaborate “mail merge” type documents for inserting customized information into my materials. Alas, I don’t have anywhere near this application development skill (now!) and it quickly became clear that in the time allotted I could either craft a tool for this task or simply do the task.

(Ah “simply” that most misleading of words. Editing my dissertation, I learned to search for words like “simply,” “clearly,” and “obviously,” because wherever such words appeared, it usually signaled that I had no idea what I was writing in that moment. Something in my has a desire to adverbialize my way out of ambiguity. If I tell you it is simple, you will believe me. Never did work out that way.)

Taking the advice of the eminently wise people at ProfHacker, I first signed up for an Interfolio account. They will act as my dossier service, about which I’m excited–though I confess I would be more excited if two or three of the places I’m applying didn’t specifically say that they don’t accept materials from dossier services. However, once I have aggregated things there, I feel like it will streamline some of this process.

However, there’s still the question of what-all needs aggregating. In case I have never been clear in this space before, I have an abiding hatred for (almost) all things Microsoft, but until this year I had still been maintaining my CV in .doc format. I finally got frustrated with having to open Word for nothing in the world except editing my CV and copied it all into Mellel which is my primary word processor.

Word processing didn’t seem quite the right thing for these variably-lengthed but similarly themed writing projects, so I’m drafting my materials in Scrivener. Scrivener’s comfort with modularity allows me to construct documents as from legos… Include this clarification in a longer version, include this other paragraph only when I need extra conciseness. Scrivener exports lovely RTF documents, which import cleanly into Mellel for polishing. Mellel in turn will produce lovely PDFs which are ideal for delivery, printing, and uploading.

Of course, that still leaves me with the question of deadlines. It’s lovely to work as if polishing these documents were all that was important, but having them in on time counts for quite a lot as well! I have set up a separate project in Omnifocus for each job or postdoc I’m applying to. Each project has each type of material required as a separate task. I’m not 100% satisfied with this, because I’d like some better way to indicate the lists above. The same CV, for example, can often be sent to each program, whereas the cover letter is always different. So “CV” as a task represents a much different investment of time and energy than “cover letter.”

Lastly, I’m not applying in a vacuum. I am fortunate, or at least it feels fortunate to me, that my dissertation director is also our job market coordinator this year. I need to send her a list of applications and update it regularly. She does not need to see all the details of whether this position requires a 1000 or a 2000 word statement, so I dumped the tasks from Omnifocus into an Excel file (the one exception to my hatred of things Microsoft). This dump is not clean, and I’m really dissatisfied with it. I had to do a lot of editing to make the spreadsheet readable. The spreadsheet only contains: School, department, position, deadline, and URL of the listing. Unfortunately, while my director is entirely Excel savvy, she needs to have it in a format yet more people read, and thus, I found myself back to word, converting the Excel spreadsheet into a Word table. Frankly, I’m tired just looking at my process.

Shout Out

To the recent ProfHacker post about keeping track of job postings, which was one of the inspirations for this post. To the best of my knowledge, no one has written a post about the project management dilemma that is the job market, though, and so I humbly submit my contribution.

How are you tracking/have you tracked job market materials?