How To Get a Good Job in
Muhammad Adeel Javaid
• Graduate school (4-7 years?)
• Postdoc (optional?) (0-5 years)
• Assistant Professor (6-7 years)
• Associate Professor (tenured)
• Full Professor
Note: it is hard to move “up”: pick your postdoc
and assistant professor positions carefully!
Different types of academic
jobs have different criteria
• Top-tier research department
• Research department, not top-tier
• Other universities
• Top-tier liberal arts (e.g., Swarthmore,
• Other liberal arts colleges
All academic jobs are difficult to get, and tenure
isn’t necessarily easier in a lower-tier
department than a higher-tier one. Don’t aim
“low” because you think it’ll be an easier life.
Typical life of an assistant
• Proposals-R-US, teaching, committee work,
• No social life, not enough sleep, no time for
exercise, and very little time for research
• And then, in 6 years you come up for tenure,
and have to have made a reputation as one
of the top people in the world in your area.
• Be prepared before you start!
Why do this?
• The reason to subject yourself to being an
assistant professor is that you are passionate
about your research!
• But if you do love research, it’s worth it (in my
opinion): you get to pursue questions that
interest you greatly, and after tenure you’ll
have an autonomy that you can treasure -- it
does get better after tenure!
Timing, timing, timing
• Your first faculty position is not necessarily
your last faculty position! But it’s hard to move
*up* in academia, so get the best first job you
• Don’t go on the academic job market until you
have a great file: strong vita, excellent letters,
and a great job talk prepared!
• Sometimes your can improve your job
possibilities by postponing graduating, or by
taking a postdoctoral position.
Benefits of a good
• Time to explore new problems, gain new
skills, perhaps begin to work in a distinctly
• Improve your vita: publish, publish, publish!
• Improve your social connections through an
influential postdoctoral adviser (and also
• Learn to teach!
Will you want to postdoc?
• Some disciplines require postdocs, others
find them optional, and some even
discourage them (or consider them evidence
of poor graduate training). Find out what’s
true for you!
• If a postdoctoral fellowship is appropriate for
you, realize that the postdoctoral training
could be absolutely key to your getting a
Issues to consider
• Amount of time spent in a postdoc: you may be
less desirable as a candidate for an assistant
professor position after just a short period (one to
two years for some, more for others).
• Your vita must improve during the postdoc, so
don’t slack off!
• Even so, a prestigious and productive postdoc
can strengthen your file and make you a much
more attractive candidate for a faculty position.
• You will need to network to get a good
Applying for a faculty position
The dossier determines whether you are interviewed:
• Publication record (number and quality of your
• Recommendation letters (best if all your letter
writers are very respected, and can write
enthusiastic and detailed letters). You will need
from 3-5 letters, at most one of which will be just
• Your research and teaching statements: make
them interesting, but understandable to a broad
Your vita and letters will (hopefully) get
you a job interview. But then you must
also do well:
• Give a great talk!
• Answer questions well
• Ask questions
• Have a research agenda
• Know about the academic life
• The most important part of the application is
your publication record, your letters, and the
reputation of your department and your
• Every discipline has its own criteria, and
“normal” progress can differ from field to field
- so most advice you’ll get is discipline-
specific and may not apply to your own
situation. However, some advice is good for
Graduate student life
• Initially: try to know yourself well, have a
good sense of the kind of career you
want. At the same time, you should be
open to change and realize that your
intellectual strengths will change and
grow. Find out if you love research! If
you don’t love it, then academic life may
involve too many sacrifices.
Picking an advisor
• Advisors are different and have different styles.
Pick an advisor that you can work well with!
• The reputation of your advisor will impact your
job search, so pick someone who has excellent
credentials as a researcher (and hopefully
someone whose students have gotten good jobs,
• Make sure you have the skills and inclination for
the kind of research that your advisor does.
Your relationship with your
• The advisor-advisee relationship is
tremendously important, and (like all
significant relationships) it can sometimes be
difficult. Avoid unnecessary conflict by talking
with your advisor, and finding out your
• Trust your advisor, too. Your advisor
probably has insights and can give you good
• In some fields, no publishing is done before
graduating - while in others, a lot of
publishing is expected of the top students.
Find out what is true of the “best” students at
the top departments in your field! (Don’t base
your expectations on hearsay.)
• Examples: in CS, top students can have 10
publications in high quality conferences and
journals when they apply for faculty positions.
Publishing - cont.
• Don’t publish poor papers, just to have
• Also, don’t wait for everything to be done
before publishing - you may be scooped.
• Aim high for your publication venues, as
sometimes it’s just as hard to get into a lesser
conference or journal as a better one. But
make sure you submit a high quality paper
(strong result and well written) before you
submit. Never submit a badly written paper!
Learning to write well
• You should have as high a standard for the writing as
you have for the results you are reporting. Your
reputation as a researcher will suffer if your writing is
poor - and it will go up if your writing is excellent.
Learning to write well
• NEVER: submit a paper with spelling mistakes, grammatical
errors, etc. If English is not your native language, have
someone who is a native English speaker read your papers
before you submit. Even your dissertation should be written
• DO: learn to write well. The best technical writing is easy to
understand - especially by non-specialists. Get as much
feedback as you can about your writing. Give your drafts to your
friends for feedback (about everything) before submitting them.
Learn to speak well
• The talks that you give at conferences and at your job
interview could determine whether you get a job offer
or not. Have the same standards for your talks as
you have for your writing and your research!
Learn to speak well
• Basic challenge: speaking to non-specialists. What
are the most important points? Why is this important?
What difference does this make? Be able to give a 3
minute overview of what you are doing, and why -
and make it compelling!
• Good talks, like good publications, are clear, provide
the “right” amount of detail, balance between
depth/breadth, while also allowing you to display your
enthusiasm for your work.
• Prepare very seriously for each talk you give! In my
own research group, a 20 minute conference talk
includes weeks of preparation, until the talk cannot
Learning to teach well
• Teaching well is not the same thing as giving
good research presentations. Do TA while
you are a graduate student or postdoc! Teach
• If you will apply for positions at a school
which emphasizes teaching (e.g., a liberal
arts college), you must have a record of
strong teaching, and letters which can attest
to your excellence as a teacher. Take this
Develop a research program:
• Initially you will likely work on problems posed
by your advisor.
• Try to understand why these are good
problems, and how answers to these
problems help answer some bigger problem.
• Think about the next 5 to 10 years -- where
could all this lead that would be really
interesting, and potentially change things!
• Find and apply for grants (pre-doctoral,
travel grants, summer research
• Attend conferences to learn the culture,
get exposed to new problems, and
meet people. Be friendly but have
something interesting to say!
Other stuff, cont.
• Be able to give a compelling 3 minute
statement about your research,
understandable by anyone in your
department - which would explain why
what you were doing was important and
fascinating, and also how it compares
to what others have done.
The application procedure
• Your list of places to apply should be large
(not everyone will agree with this), but need
not include any place you are completely sure
you’d refuse to go to (e.g., the University of
Alaska if you have seasonal affective
disorder). You may find places to be more
appealing than you expect them to be.
• If you are offered an interview, find out about
the department and school before you go.
• Feel free to contact me with questions: