my advice

I’ve finished my first week as a newly-minted PhD in a new position as an assistant professor. And I already have advice! Well, this is more advice to those who are in their last year of graduate school, on the job market, and getting ready to head out into the wild world of academia as a full-time employee.

If there is one thing I’d recommend above all others, it would be to treat the job search like a job. Don’t do it halfway. I was up every morning at 6:30am searching the job listings to see what had popped up (this includes listservs, the various higher ed job searches, the academic jobs wiki, and the MLA JIL (when I had access to it — but good news! MLA is making it available to everyone now with a non-member sign up!). I had prepared a job packet (cover letter, CV, 3 letters of recommendation, writing sample, sample syllabi, and evals), but I continuously refined all of these to make them specific to the job. I made sure that I was able to apply for the jobs (some jobs require access to different things like Interfolio and Academic Jobs Online). I made a spreadsheet to know what was due when, to whom, if I had received confirmation, and when interviews were scheduled (and what types — phone, video, campus, etc.). I also printed out the job listings so I could keep track offline with dates of entry, username/passwords, etc. for the various submissions. It is a process. Treat it with the same kind of care and respect you give to your other writing processes.

Save money. This is a biggie. As a grad student, you probably don’t have lots of spending money, but what you do have, you should save. First, you will be traveling to campuses — that may or may not reimburse you for that travel. You will have to decide if that job is the right one for you to spend the money on. Some will pay for your travel upfront, while others will reimburse you, while others will just not pay at all. In addition, job applications are not always done online. Some still require paper applications. Print on GOOD paper with laser printers. This will cost a lot of money, but it is worth it (especially for those who do visual research — my printing was often in the $100s because 4-color printing is EXPENSIVE, but looks great when done well).

Those expenses are nothing compared to what it costs to get through graduation (regalia), completion (different fees, printing of the diss, etc.), and moving. Not all schools can pay your moving costs. Some are restricted by state laws, while others don’t have moving allowances built into their budgets. You should plan for the possibility of having to pay for everything. Don’t just figure the moving truck into your moving expenses, but gas, tolls (this about killed me), food along the way, getting help moving, things you may need in the new home, etc.).

And then there is the possibility that your first paycheck from your new job won’t happen until a few weeks into the semester. That means you are paying rent (or mortgage if you’re lucky) before you even get paid. This doesn’t even include all of the new sign-up fees that gas, electric, Internet, etc. will charge you for moving into your new home.

I know I’m harping on expenses, but that’s probably because that is what has been the most stressful for me. I know I picked the right job. I know I’m in the right place. But it is insanely stressful to be so far in debt as I wait for that first paycheck to come. And I think this is especially true for non-traditional students or those who do not have other financial means to help cover costs. Save your money.

Enjoy being a student while you can. You’re almost done. Nurture those relationships and build goodwill with your fellow students. You will all be colleagues for a very long time to come, and it bodes well to be able to visit with them at conferences. I know I’m looking forward to seeing my fellow grad students next year.

Finally, enter into the new job with an expectation that things will not be perfect. My job is nearly perfect for me, but there are a few things that come up. I don’t have a computer at my position yet (this was just a communication snafu). So knowing that I can use mine, and that it’s in fairly new shape, makes me less stressed about not having my set up yet. Be ready for things to not happen as you expected and roll with the punches. It will be better for you, your students, and your colleagues.

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