The job market in the various fields of English is highly competitive, and many newly minted Ph.D.s spend a few years in post-degree positions, visiting professorships or teaching as adjuncts before obtaining a tenure-track position. Some never do land a tenure-track job. M.A. students who plan to pursue Ph.D.s and all Ph.D. students who hope for careers in academia should begin preparing for the academic job market as soon as possible by participating in professional conferences, publishing in professional journals, applying for grants and awards, and gaining teaching experience.
Presenting papers in professional conferences indicates that a scholar has interesting ideas and can develop them for consideration by other scholars in the field. Professional conferences can also indicate a scholar’s ability to answer questions from other scholars and to moderate discussions by presiding over sessions. Master’s students and doctoral students should plan to develop one or two course papers each year into conference presentations. However, they should avoid presenting more than once a year or twice a year in order to allow sufficient time for their coursework and for revising papers to submit for publication. Having a CV full of presentations will be fruitless if your transcript is not equally impressive.
Publication in Professional Journals
Publication in a peer-reviewed professional journal demonstrates that a scholar’s research and ideas are sound and that the scholar is capable of expressing those ideas clearly, cogently, and persuasively. Publications are generally considered more important than conference presentations by hiring committees, since most journals employ a peer-review process that ensures that published papers meet professional standards of quality. One hears the good, the bad, and the ugly at conferences, but the peer-review process is supposed to weed out papers that employ poorly constructed arguments or provide unconvincing evidence. It is more important to invest time in publishing than in conference presentations and it is almost necessary to have one or more publications in peer-reviewed journals in order to be seriously considered for a tenure-track job at a university.
Grants and Awards
A number of grants, awards, and honors are offered by the department and the College of Graduate Studies. In addition, Ph.D. students may find a number of external grants available to support their participation in seminars or their dissertation research. The university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs provides information on finding appropriate grants. Students should be aware that grant-writing experience is considered a valuable asset for job-searchers—especially if the grant is obtained.
Students should obtain as much teaching experience as possible in both composition and literature. Most academic positions regularly require faculty to teach general education courses in composition and literature, so such experience is a valuable asset on the job market. The number of GTA positions is limited, so students without assistantships should consider teaching a course or two as an adjunct at a community college in order to gain additional experience.