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MazeAshley Wiersma is a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Michigan State University. You can follow her on twitter at @throughthe_veil.

Many of us are preparing to enter the academic job market this fall and are wondering where to start and how to navigate this unfamiliar and intimidating terrain. In a recent professional development talk at Michigan State University, Dr. Sowande’ Mustakeem offered the following suggestions from her own successful experience on the job market:

Begin early:

  • How do you want to market yourself? Begin to think about this question early in your graduate career and fine-tune your answer along the way.
  • Start your job search early, generally the August before you plan to graduate.
  • Begin drafting cover letters, CV, teaching philosophy, and leadership statements the summer before you go on the market. Take the time to differentiate yourself from other candidates.

Stay in the loop:

Set firm submission deadlines

Keep your audience in mind

  • Know the school and get a sense of what they’re looking for in the job description, school motto/ mission statement, and department information

Delineate the value you offer the field and each school.

  • I am applying for this job, but here’s what else I can offer the department…

Prepare for the interview: Create 1-page “cheat sheets” about each school you will interview with. These should include:

  • List of people who will be involved in the interview process, keywords for each person (research interests, courses taught, etc.)
  • Department assessment
  • Courses you could/would like to teach, including some the department doesn’t currently offer (jot down 2-3 authors/course & how you would structure it)
  • Questions: Teaching load, expectations/responsibilities of the position, research support, mentoring policy, surrounding community and its relationship with the university/college

Finish your dissertation

  • This one should be obvious, but the application process is demanding, and so is writing your dissertation. Nevertheless, the dissertation needs to be completed.
  • Consider forming a writing group or finding an accountability partner who will help you stay on track to complete this final step in your program
  • Reduce distractions during the hours in which you need to be productive, but don’t forget to take some time to unwind.
  • Write every day.

Surround yourself with a supportive community

  • Share your successes and struggles with others via #phdchat and other communities of dissertators
  • Find or create a support group that encourages your efforts and helps you remain positive


What advice to you have for hose preparing for the job market? Let us know in the comments below.

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