Question: I am just finishing a four-year postdoctoral program. At the same time, I have been, and still am, custodial parent of a teenage daughter diagnosed with leukemia. The downtime spent taking care of her has slowed me down, careerwise. How do I deal with that during job interviews?
Answer: It's very likely that you would have more publications or presentations on your CV if you hadn't had a child to care for, and search-committee members may wonder about those low numbers. We would suggest that in your cover letter you mention -- not at the beginning -- that your research had been slowed down due to caring for a seriously ill family member.
You might also enlist the aid of a sympathetic adviser who could make a phone call or send an e-mail message on your behalf to the departments where you have applied. That adviser might also address the situation in a recommendation letter for you.
During an interview, focus as much as possible on your professional achievements. After all, that is what hiring committees are most interested in hearing about you. Be able to talk with enthusiasm about your work and future research plans. However, if a search committee has been alerted to your situation in advance, be prepared for inquiries, some perhaps out of genuine concern, others with less kind motives.
The reality is that some interviewers will be sympathetic while others may have no way to relate to your situation. In a recent First Person column, a job candidate with a parent undergoing a transplant wrote that some of her professors just didn't seem to understand what was involved in the care of a seriously ill family member.
Your question reminds all of us -- job applicants and search committee members -- that no matter how much time and energy we put into managing our careers, life happens and we have to stop and take care of it. I'm sure that your experience with your daughter's illness has changed you profoundly and that if you ever encounter a fellow faculty member, employee, or potential employee in a similar predicament, you will be a more understanding colleague, mentor, or potential employer.
Question: I have been an adjunct for eight years and applied recently for a tenure-track position at a community college. But when college officials called to offer me the job, the position they offered was a one-year appointment. I practically had to pull it out of them that they were not hiring me for the tenure-track position and planned to reopen the search next spring. Then, after I accepted the offer, I met a tenure-track faculty member hired by the college a year ago who told me that she was still completing her master's degree.
Should I be angry that they didn't offer me the tenure-track position when their last tenure-track hire was less academically qualified than I, had less experience in the classroom, and hasn't been professionally certified as long I have?
Or should I take the chip off my shoulder, suck it up, make the best of my year there, and do everything possible to get the tenure-track position next year?
Answer: You just answered your own question. You should indeed make the very best of your year there, and get ready to go on the market again.
It's always frustrating when what seems like a good job prospect goes inexplicably awry, but it happens to many good candidates. There may be several possible reasons why you were not offered the position that was originally posted. Perhaps the money for the tenure-track position was not guaranteed; that is a fairly common occurrence. Perhaps you were not the department's first choice. You don't mention what field you are in, but perhaps you weren't exactly the right fit for the department's needs.
You may be able to talk about what happened with your new department head, but be gentle and professional in your inquiries. Keep in mind that you may never find out exactly what happened. Getting angry, and comparing yourself to other colleagues, though understandable, will not serve you well in accomplishing your goals.
You mention that you had previously been an adjunct for about eight years. If you've been searching for permanent academic employment for that long, it can be hard not to get caught up in a cycle of frustration and anger. Perhaps that is more perceptible than you realize.
As hard as it may be to give up the dream of being an academic, you might begin to think about doing something else. How else can you use your skills? What other types of positions might you enjoy? This year might be a good time to do some research on your career options and possibly gain a bit of part-time experience.
If you're committed to working in academe, be sure to touch base again with your advisers and former Ph.D. colleagues. Send your updated CV to your recommenders, and ask them to update their letters to reflect your recent accomplishments. Ask for candid feedback about your job materials and job prospects. Be honest with yourself about your prospects, and plan accordingly.
Question: I just got an offer of an assistant professorship from College A. However, I am still waiting for the interview results from College B. In fact, I prefer B to A, in terms of academic prestige and funding. However, College A is probably more collegial and friendly to me. I wonder whether I should e-mail College B about my job offer. Will it jeopardize my chances at B? Or should I just simply ask its interviewing progress, without mentioning my offer?
Answer: Many job seekers will encounter that conundrum during their search. You should definitely let members of the hiring committee at College B know about your job offer and ask about their time frame for making a decision.
But before you do, decide whether you are comfortable revealing the name of College A to College B. If you aren't, and are asked for details about the offer, you might say something like, "It's from an excellent institution, and I'm certainly interested in the offer; however, I'm very excited about the possibilities for me at your institution as well."
If College A is less prestigious than B, as you mention, revealing the name might not pressure B to make a decision. Perhaps College B will assume that you will wait. However, having another offer will certainly make you look like a good "catch," and knowing that might encourage B to speed up its decision.
Wherever you end up, be aware that you may work there for years and possibly even the rest of your life. It's important to like the people with whom you will work. Ask yourself questions about College A such as: "Are members of the department excited by the work they are doing?" "Do they like being on the campus?" "Are there people here with whom I can collaborate on research or teaching?"
If the answer to those questions is yes, then you have already determined an important area of comparison should you get an offer from College B. But maybe College A wants you to make a decision by a specific date, and College B tells you it won't have an answer by then. So, ask College A for more time.
A former dean we know advises you to simply let College B know that you have another offer and you wanted members of the hiring committee to know. Then leave it to them to decide what to do. Chances are good that they will speed up their hiring process. If they don't, you may have to make a decision with what you know.
It's stressful to make a decision without knowing all of your options, but that can happen even in a well-planned job search. All you can do is follow your instincts.
Julie Miller Vick is associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania. Jennifer S. Furlong is a graduate career counselor at the university. Vick is co-author of The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press), along with Mary Morris Heiberger, who was associate director of career services at Penn.
You can order their book directly from the University of Pennsylvania Press or from either of the online booksellers below.