As a doctoral student, or a prospective student planning to pursue a PhD, preparing for the job market is an essential part of your academic journey. For students who aspire to a career in the academy, it is important to consider your personal approach to practicing the academic “Big Three”: research, teaching, and service. This milestone guide will walk you through tools and resources you can use to develop a strategy for your career, from defining and refining your research to building scholarly connections.
Define & Refine Research
When you applied to the PhD program, you submitted a goals statement that can serve as the scaffolding for your dissertation. At the end of each academic year, review, revise, and expand the statement with the help of your advisor and other faculty. The statement should include potential research questions, faculty with whom you may work, research methods you might explore, and relevant literature in your fields.
Further refine your topic area by reading and better understanding that field of research. Check out the Mason Libraries Infoguide for policy, government, and international affairs.
Develop your Research Question
Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and writing process. Mason's Writing Center provides a guide on how to create a research question that is clear, focused, concise, complex, and arguable.
Consider the Theoretical Foundation of your Dissertation and Develop your Research Methodology
The academic job market will favor candidates familiar with a wide range of research methods as well as those with expertise in key methodologies of the field. Beyond the requirements of your program, you may take additional methods courses through the Schar School, other Mason departments, or the consortium. Offerings like GIS, econometrics, survey methods, agent-based modeling, large database construction, and advanced statistical analysis are available throughout the academic year.
Find summaries, book chapters, and case studies on research methods (quantitative, qualitative, and mixed) with Sage Research Methods.
Building Scholarly Relationships
One of the best ways to identify opportunities and positions in higher education is to connect with peers, faculty, thought leaders, and researchers. Connections made both in-person and virtually are valuable; the key is having tools for both approaches, being flexible, and finding out what works best for the people you are trying to connect with.
Use Similar Research Interests to Build a Relevant Connection
Attending conferences will familiarize you with the latest findings in your field, provide you feedback on your research, and allow you to build your scholarly network. In the first year of your PhD, plan on attending conferences or meetings of the academic associations related to your field. Volunteer, observe, make connections, learn. By your second year, you should begin submitting papers (co-written or solo authored) for presentation.
First-Year PhD students can apply for grants to support conference attendance without presenting, though awards are limited.
The Office of the Provost has funds available for student travel to professional conferences, both domestic and overseas. Please see the Graduate Student Travel Fund for more information and an application.
Teaching is an integral part of an academic career, but how much teaching experience do you need? Ultimately, you want to be able to discuss your teaching philosophy and speak to your experiences in designing curriculum and working with students.
Strive to design and implement your own course: As an advanced student, teaching as an adjunct at an area university or community college provides opportunities to expand teaching skills and repertoire.
Funding through fellowships and grants can help you practice within your field and expand your research experience and scholarly network. When you develop and submit grant applications while in graduate school, you strengthen your CV for the academic job market. Developing the habit of pursing grants and fellowship can open up pathways for funding and research opportunities while working on the degree, and lead to post-doc fellowships after graduation.
Search for Fellowships and Grants and Identify Your Eligibility
Network and conduct an informational interview with previously successful candidates.
Make contacts within the organization to learn more about the project you’re interested in applying.
Attend information sessions.
Use Your Campus Resources
Engage with faculty advisors when planning a research project or applying for a fellowship. Fostering relationships with faculty not only helps you develop your ideas, it enables faculty to be able to attest to your skills and interests when serving as recommenders.
Reach out to Schar School Career Development with questions about crafting CVs/resumes, interviewing, and writing proposals.
Journal publication enables you to share your research, and publication in peer reviewed journals demonstrates to the academy your skills and contributions to your field. Below you will find information on how to plan your writing process and convert existing material into journal-quality work. Additionally, here you can explore avenues for publication and learn how to make your article submission competitive.
Are there faculty members or other researchers that share research interests with you? Reach out to them for advice, or explore their CVs for insight into what journals are available.
Academic Job Market
The academic job market can be complex and overwhelming. Approaching the process with a multi-step plan can help mitigate the complexity and uncertainty inherent in the search process. The following are some guidelines for preparing your plan for tackling the academic job market.
Tips on Constructing your CV
A CV (curriculum vitae) is different from a resume in format, purpose, and length. It lays out the full history of your academic credentials. Start by looking at the CVs of assistant professors in your field and those of recent graduates who have secured tenure-track positions. Their CVs can serve as models.
Higher Ed Jobs: Not every University will use this resource. That said, if you have an idea of where you would like to end up, Higher Ed Jobs will help you narrow your search by learning which universities are in that area.
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