It’s never too early to think about the future. Academia, industry or something else? Teaching, research, both, or neither? Same field, neighbouring field, or different field? The questions are countless, and if on the one hand we don’t have to have clear, immutable answers, on the other hand many graduate degrees are meant to train future academics, and thus it makes sense to know something more about job search in the academic field. We might dream of becoming a Professor and then realize, once we have some more information, that that route does not match with our personality. Or, on the contrary, we might instinctively feel eager to bring our knowledge and skills outside the Ivory Tower, and later realize that academia offers the kind of challenges we are looking for. These are some of the thoughts I had when I saw, in one of the newsletters of the McGill Career Planning Service (CaPS), that there were a couple of workshops titled Organize Your Academic Job Search. Needless to say, I decided to go.
The first thing I realized at the workshop was that it was, in fact, a bit too early for me: I am a PhD student not about to graduate yet, and the room was filled with postdocs and very-much-about-to-graduate PhD students.
The second thing I realized was that I had misunderstood, at least a bit, the meaning of “Academic Job Search”: I thought it included any job in academia, including postdoc positions, while instead the workshop was mostly focused on more stable academic positions, which apparently have a different, more articulated hiring process than postdocs. This meant, once again, that it was early for me to attend this workshop, but in fact it was not: If I didn’t attend it, now I wouldn’t know about this difference between postdocs and other academic positions, and I would have no idea of how articulated the hiring process becomes later in the career.
The third thing I learnt concerned the timing: Unlike many positions in the industry, most academic hiring processes follow a relatively regular calendar, with job postings appearing in the Fall, and the interview and shortlisting steps in the Winter-Spring (at least in Canada).
Then, of course, there were those pieces of advice dictated by common sense, such as do networking, dress professionally, and check the internet connection if your interview is made via skype… common sense, but a reminder is always useful and appreciated. However, not every question can be solved by common sense, and this leads to what was, in my opinion, the best part of the workshop: The Questions and Answers part—in which, by the way, questions about postdocs were welcome too. Simply, there are things you can’t figure out just reasoning by yourself, like should I apply for positions in a neighbouring field, or would it be a waste of time both for me and for the hiring committee?, or should I inform a university, if meanwhile I have received an offer from another institution? In cases like these ones, where neither option is clearly more sensible than the other, it’s useful to ask for an opinion to the experts who hold these workshops, and to listen to the other PhD students’ and postdocs’ experiences.
In the end, I clearly recommend attending these workshops, or any career-related workshop that might suit your aspirations, or simply your curiosity. Chances are you will hear presentations and questions about issues you didn’t even know existed, but that are likely to become relevant to you, at some point in your career. For more information about future events, have a look here, and check your McGill email!