Question: I'm planning an academic career and I need some advice. But I'm not sure where to turn. It seems like the career-services office on my campus caters to undergraduates, not doctoral students. Can you help? And if not, where can I find some good advice?
Mary: The first thing you need to do is think carefully about the type of help you need. If you are unsure of your career options or how to present yourself effectively for a position, or you want a second opinion on anything from a career direction to the appearance of your CV, a career counselor is probably your best option.
If you already know what you want and need to do, but procrastinate to such an extent that it interferes with your job search, then perhaps a few sessions with a psychologist would be the most effective. If depression or anxiety about the search is getting in the way of your conducting it, here, too, a psychologist or therapist is your best bet.
If you are concerned with how to balance your work and life responsibilities, or how to handle an ordinary degree of procrastination, you might consult a personal coach. Coaches specialize in helping clients identify and meet goals in all areas of life. There are several organizations that certify these professionals, such as the International Coach Federation.
Julie: If you want to talk about how to resolve a dual-career issue, then you and your significant other may want to meet with a couples counselor. However, it's often true that the skill and compatibility of a counselor is more important than the exact title they use.
Mary: If you're looking for career counseling, don't assume that no help is available on the campus where you earned, or are still earning, your Ph.D. An encouraging development in recent years has been the large number of universities adding career services specifically for doctoral students and postdocs. Some of these career centers offer services to alumni at little or no cost. They will even schedule telephone appointments so you don't need to be in the same area.
Services for doctoral students are often based in career centers, but may also be found in the graduate dean's office or graduate-student centers. Services for postdocs are usually offered by career centers and offices of postdoctoral programs. We hope you can find assistance on your campus. If you can't, particularly if you're a current student, this is a good issue to take up with the graduate administration.
Julie: Don't hesitate to draw on the experience of your adviser as well as other faculty members in your department and anyone else on campus you may have met who has broad experience with faculty job searches. This is true after you graduate, as well as before.
Mary: Should your quest for guidance at your own university turn up nothing, one way to find a career counselor is to contact a career-services office at another university -- ideally one near you -- and ask if the folks there can recommend a counselor. Many career offices will be able to give you one or two names because they have been asked this question before. Make it clear that you need someone who has experience working with Ph.D.'s. Some public libraries have job-hunting resources and services, including contact information on local career counselors. And of course you can check the Web, although the amount of information retrieved is often either too massive or too incomplete to help you determine if you've found a good match.
Julie: We suggest you look for several things in a career counselor. Good counselors will be willing to tell you the extent and range of their previous experience with faculty-job searches. They won't promise you the search will be easy. Talking with a good career counselor, even if some of what you hear is discouraging, should leave you feeling respected, and like a competent person who has something to offer employers.
On the other hand, you should also feel that you're dealing with someone who will not hesitate to tell you the truth. For instance, if a counselor strongly suspects, from experience, that age discrimination will be an issue in your search, they will do you more good by telling you that and working with you on ways to address it than by pretending it doesn't exist.
Finally, we suggest that you deal with someone who charges by the hour, rather than someone who charges a package rate paid up front. That way you can decide as you go whether the service is worth its cost. What should it cost? Usually the going rate will be somewhat less than the rate for a psychological consultation in your area.
Mary: Ideally you and a counselor would be able to meet in person, but a lot of career counseling today proceeds successfully via telephone and e-mail communication.
Julie: Whether or not you work with a career counselor, take advantage of the many informational resources available on faculty careers. Check with your scholarly association to see what career assistance it provides. At a minimum, it probably offers at least a few career sessions at conferences and some Web-based information. In some cases, it will offer a much wider array of services, and perhaps the person responsible for them will be able to recommend an individual counselor.
Mary: If you're reading this, you already know about The Chronicle's Career Network. Many other Web sites now provide career assistance to doctoral students. The most obvious ones are the Web sites of career-services centers that cater to doctoral students and Ph.D.'s at major universities. In addition to providing counseling and programming, these centers post a lot of helpful information on their Web sites. While some of it requires a password, most of it can be viewed by anyone. Certainly these centers design their Web sites for the doctoral students on their own campus, but the advice given and material provided is usually general enough to be helpful.
Studying and improving the doctoral experience, including the job market situation, is of concern to some higher-education research groups, including the University of Washington's Re-Envisioning the Ph.D. It offers links to resources on job hunting, finding grant support, and other related topics. If you're a Ph.D. in the humanities, the Web site of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is particularly useful.
Julie: If you're in the sciences, a superb source of assistance is Science's Next Wave, a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Access to the full site requires a subscription (your campus may have one), but some of the career content is free.