Question: What is the right way to respond when a job description specifically says something like: "The department is especially interested in candidates committed to working with students of diverse backgrounds. Successful candidates will be expected to help sustain the college's emphases on multiculturalism, internationalism, and service. Interest in mentoring women and/or minority graduate students preferred."
Is it appropriate to address this directly in the cover letter? Would doing so be seen as pandering, or would not doing so suggest you had not read the ad clearly? Should you expect this question to arise in the interview? And if it does not arise, would it be beneficial to bring it up and assure the committee of your willingness to do such things?
It's very clear from my CV that I am a woman of color, with some previous experience in being a mentor for other women of color. Does this fact change the way I should respond? The impression I get is that academe assumes all people of color will work as mentors for students of color anyhow.
Answer: This is a great question. While it's always impossible to know from a job description how sincerely it is written (Does the department really value these things, or is the university insisting that they be added to all job descriptions?), it's always a good idea to address the qualifications required in the ad.
If you've been a mentor for women of color, by all means say so, because it's experience you have that they seem to want. It's not "pandering," it's emphasizing information the institution has indicated that it particularly values. If it does value these things, they will probably be addressed in an interview. If they aren't, it's appropriate to raise them if you wish, and you will learn something about the department from its response.
An important question to ask before taking such a job is, What are the specific requirements for tenure? Unfortunately, many minority faculty members find that they are expected to advise minority students, serve on diversity committees, and so forth, to such an extent that they may not have adequate time to do the research required for tenure. One would hope that a job requiring extra attention to students would value that activity come tenure time, but things don't always work out that way. However, that kind of questioning about the job can be deferred until after an offer has been made.
Question: I have just started an assistant professorship in the sciences at a major university. Soon after accepting the job, while still a postdoc, I started to do work for my new position -- i.e., I wrote a few grants, ordered equipment, etc. Now that I am on the job I have decided that I really do not like the big-time research environment. I enjoy teaching my classes but work here is very oriented towards research. I knew this coming in and thought I would like it, but it is much different than I thought.
I would like to start looking for other positions at smaller colleges or in industry and would hope to leave this position after a year, but I worry about how this will look. Is it better to leave a position you don't enjoy before you start taking students and spending all of the startup money, or is it better to stick it out for a few years?
And when should you tell the department head, once you have another job or as soon as you start looking? I wish I had been sure of my feelings when I was offered the job, but all of my advisers told me to go for the best offer, and I may have listened to them instead of myself. Any thoughts?
Answer: If the position is just a "bad match," it may be best for all concerned if you make your move as quickly as you can once that first year is completed. If you don't like the emphasis on research, you'll need to look very carefully at industry positions, since many of them will involve you in full-time research. You'll do best applying for jobs where you can honestly explain that you prefer a balance of responsibilities.
Telling your chair is the tricky part, because doing so does compromise your position there. However, a lot depends on the personality of the supervisor involved. A benign person will regret losing you but will appreciate your candor and be willing to help you make the move. A less benign person can make your life there most uncomfortable at a time when a generally tight job market means that it will generally take longer than usual to get a new position.
Another possibility is to have a frank conversation with the chair asking for advice about what is best for the department, given that you plan to leave within a matter of years. Your boss may well prefer to have you leave sooner, before you've spent all of your startup money and acquired students who will need to seek new advisers when you are gone. Or perhaps the chair will encourage you to stay long enough to obtain substantial results from the department's initial investment of time and money, and you may want to consider doing so. In any event, the fact that you're considering the department's needs as well as your own in making a decision will help to minimize potential bad feelings.
Until you decide to speak with the chair, ask everyone you contact to hold any job applications in confidence. There are no guarantees, but most hiring committees will understand and honor your request.
Question: I need your help. My girlfriend (whom I want to marry and spend the rest of my life with) is working on her Ph.D. and has entered the academic job market, applying for jobs in various places. The problem is this: I want to stay put in my town for family health issues; she wants a tenure-track position and says she needs to relocate. How do we resolve this? I want to propose to her but haven't because I'm scared of her getting a job out of the area. Isn't there any way of her obtaining a position locally without having to relocate?
Answer: It's sometimes difficult for people in other career fields to understand the way the academic market works. It's a "national" market, and candidates who aren't free to relocate within a fairly broad geographic area at or near the start of their careers run the risk of severely limiting their future options in academe. If you ask her not to move, you're asking her to reconfigure, perhaps drastically, a career for which she's spent years preparing.
You say you can't move, but you surely don't mean you can't ever move? Some couples would deal with a situation like this by having the academic partner take the best job he or she can get in a metropolitan area (where a good choice of employment is likely to be available for the nonacademic partner), commuting (on weekends, a few times a month, or whatever is practical) for a year or two, and then moving in together when it becomes feasible to do so. Another option is for the academic partner to take a less desirable job locally, with the clear understanding (on the part of both the partners and the student's advisers) that it was a temporary solution and would be followed by a broader search in a year or two. Increasingly, we hope, people who give recommendations do recognize that graduate students also have lives that are important to them.
This is a tough problem, but it can be dealt with if you both are willing to be flexible in discussing all of the options, and to be quite clear, if one partner makes a "sacrifice," that its extent is acknowledged by both people involved. If you're saying, in effect, "I want to marry you if you're willing to live here indefinitely," that's important information for her to have, and only the beginning of a conversation, so why not go ahead and tell her where things stand for you?
Question: When I first began seeking employment in higher education, it was difficult to get my foot in the door. When I did, it was at a small institution that valued teaching over research. Before I knew it, several years had passed, and while I had made my way up the ladder from assistant to associate and then to full professor, I really hadn't published many articles. By the standards of this institution, my productivity was quite good, averaging a paper a year and publication every other year, but the large teaching load and committee work kept me from accumulating a record that would be considered appropriate at larger institutions.
Recently, my college has suffered some severe budgetary problems and has shifted its emphasis away from the liberal arts. Affiliated with a specific religious tradition, the college has also renewed its emphasis on the importance of spiritual matters in general and its religious tradition in particular. As an agnostic committed to liberal-arts education, the institution and I appear to have irreconcilable differences. There have been no heated arguments or confrontations, but over the last two years, the president's new vision statement and subsequent strategic planning make it likely that several faculty will no longer feel welcome.
If I were to apply for a position at another institution that is seeking either an assistant or associate professor, will my application be taken seriously? On the one hand, taken cumulatively, my record of professional development would easily qualify me for one of those positions, as would my teaching experience and extensive committee service. On the other hand, wouldn't application from a tenured professor look odd and quickly be placed in the "thanks but no thanks" pile?
Answer: It's too bad that events have intervened to make your present position different from the one you once enjoyed. As you apply to other colleges, focus on teaching-oriented institutions. It would be a tough sell for you to land a job at colleges that stress research more than your current one. In your cover letter express flexibility in regard to rank and time to tenure at the new institution. For example, your background may place you at the associate rank, but college officials may want to hire you at the assistant level and put you up for promotion after a year or two. Indicating that you are open to this may help your candidacy.
If you decide to accept a tenure-track position, look extremely carefully at the financial health of the college and the department, to minimize the risk that you would be denied tenure for reasons beyond your control.
You might also consider applying to two-year institutions, which value highly both teaching and service. The tenure process is usually straightforward and promotion is usually reasonably assured after a short period of time, perhaps three years.