What do you really know about your prospective employer?

After 25 years as a university professor, I’ve done my share of applying for faculty positions and seeing applicants visit my academic departments.  We generally follow the advice: apply for any and all academic positions, but do you ever wonder if some jobs simply aren’t worth applying for? Here is “food for thought” as you prepare application packets.

Do some real research on each department you hope to apply to.  For example, is your “academic pedigree” compatible with that of your prospective colleagues? Did you all earn your doctorates from similar types of universities and graduate programs?  How might that influence your motivation as a teacher and scholar relative to your prospective colleagues? If you’re highly motivated to do research, publish and write grant proposals, are you applying to an academic department where you wouldn’t be the only one engaged in such activity?  More importantly, what kind of infrastructure is in place within this academic department and the institution of higher education to positively and genuinely support such activity?

Ask about your prospective colleagues’ areas of expertise.  Could you genuinely collaborate with them, or would you be the only faculty member doing your area of work? Do you enjoy intellectual isolation?

Will you have sufficient opportunity to balance teaching and scholarly activity, or must you choose one role over the other? If you really prefer teaching to scholarship, perhaps applying to major research departments isn’t wise.  If you really want to be known for scholarly work, perhaps you shouldn’t apply to 2-year and 4-year teaching colleges.

Apply to jobs making most sense for YOUR academic careers, not for the sake of getting a job. If you apply for jobs for the sake of getting one, it probably won’t be THE RIGHT ONE.

Wheelchair Wisdom -- Insights about academic employment from a former chemistry and physics professor impacted by a spinal injury.

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