Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#91 Matching Your Characteristics to the Institution


Unlike a position in industry, an academic appointment can often run for a life-time . It is important, therefore, to match your interests and capabilities with those of the department and institution to which you are applying. Here are some suggestions taken from an interesting book, Finding An Academic Job, by Katen Sowers-Hoag and Dianne F. Harrison, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, 1998, pp29-30. Sage publishes a number of small and useful books for graduate students and faculty through their Graduate Survival Skills, and Survival Skills for Scholars series.

UP NEXT: Making Trade-offs in The Use of Faculty Time

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Katen Sowers-Hoag
Dianne F. Harrison

So much time and preparation goes into the [academic job]search that you will want to do everything you can to ensure a good match. This is particularly true for tenure earning faculty positions that come with some sense of job security.

The employing institution invests a great deal of time and resources in the research process, and is intent on finding a good match for the position. Over the next several years, after the initial hiring, the institution will invest further dollars and resources into the position. In most cases, it is not to anyone?s advantage when a bad match is made and a position or job candidate does not work out. Therefore, it is extremely important that you be realistic in evaluating the type of institution where you will be able and willing to do what is necessary t obtain tenure.

Sharing your thoughts and asking for feedback from your faculty advisor or department chair can be very useful. Ask for candid assessment and advice and be prepared to hear what they have to say without becoming defensive. Assuming that they have worked with you and become familiar with your style and abilities, their guidance in helping you sort out the most comfortable, productive, and successful placement can be enormously helpful. At the same time, you must keep your own preferences in mind. For instance, although your advisor may find you to be a very talented researcher and scholar, you may recognize this aptitude but also realize that you dislike the drudgery and tediousness of the research process. Under these circumstances, you may have an excellent chance at a position at a major research institution, but accepting such a position would mean dedicating yourself to years of work you dislike. If you do best with formulized structures, then you may be more successful at a college that provides research review groups, writing groups, and formalized mentoring. Or, if you know you are self-motivated and enjoy working alone, you may find these types of structures bothersome and a waste of you time. Although you may not find a perfect match, it is important, that you consider elements that will help to ensure a good fit between you and the academic unit. What your dissertation chair or faculty advisor may want for you may be more a reflection of his or her own desires than your own. Having one?s student placed at a prestigious institution or successfully engaged in research attracting national attention is a reflection of one?s own accomplishments as a senior faculty mentoring young scholars. Be careful that you do not get caught up in the excitement or "honor" and lose sight of those thing that will provide you with the best Fit.

Many academic units have long histories, entrenched ways of doing things, and strong personalities that will change little after you arrival. Do not suppose that you can change the environment, personality, or values of the department when you arrive. Weigh what you perceive as the advantages and disadvantages very carefully. Follow your own instincts with respect to your comfort level, while keeping your professional goals clearly in mind.