What Does a Successful Academic Job Search Look Like?

“I knew from the start of the academic year 2021-22 that I would defend my dissertation sometime in the spring,” says recent Ph.D. graduate Jennifer Easler. “I drafted my application materials early in the fall semester and had several faculty members help me edit them right away.” From October through the winter, she applied for academic jobs. Easler’s March 2022 defense was quickly followed by an April tenure-track job offer at the University of Providence (Montana), which she accepted. She started this fall. 

With a background in classics and medieval studies, Easler’s primary interest is classical reception in medieval English. Her dissertation, “The Futility of Prophecy: Prophecy and Poetry in English Narratives of Troy,” discusses the intersections of prophecy, poetry, and translation in English narratives of the Trojan War. “I applied for (almost) every medievalist job that came open, as well as some early modernist and rhetoric/composition jobs,” says Easler, “but with my personality and background, I felt most confident in applying to jobs at small colleges.”

The recipient of a Department of English Klaeber Dissertation Completion Fellowship in 2021-22, Easler kindly agreed to answer some questions about the academic job search experience.

What academic job search preparation(s) (activity, advice, experience) provided by the English department proved most helpful? 

I attended a few Zoom sessions related to the job search in the fall; these were immensely helpful. Several faculty members looked over my application materials and met with me to discuss the process, and I had a mock phone interview a few days before my actual phone interview with the University of Providence.

What if anything about your academic training in the English department helped you to be successful in your job search? 

Throughout my six years at UMN, I was repeatedly told to go to conferences, submit articles for publication, etc.—and I’m glad I did. I also think the opportunity to teach both writing courses and literature courses was a large part of what got me this particular job. When it came to the job search itself, my advisor, Andy Scheil, gave me loads of advice and encouragement throughout the process. Katherine Scheil was also incredibly supportive, Amit Yahav looked over all my application materials, and Lianna Farber was invaluable as a reference. I’m extremely grateful for the other members of my cohort and for my fellow medievalist graduate students, both in English and in other departments, for their encouragement (and for offering a place to vent when the process was overwhelming).

What advice do you have for other English Ph.D. candidates who plan on entering the academic job market? 

Subscribe to Higher Ed Jobs (they’ll send you an email full of job openings every morning—it made the process of searching for jobs so much easier). Apply for any job that interests you, even if you think it’s a long shot (I’m a medievalist who got a job in rhetoric and composition), and have backup plans in alt-ac (for your sanity’s sake, if nothing else). Keep in mind that jobs will keep opening up throughout the year; don’t give up if you don’t get anything you apply for in the fall. Get a list of potential interview questions and drill them (I used Quizlet to randomize the questions and then practiced them every day). Most importantly, have people who will support you both professionally and personally throughout the process; it’s emotionally draining, to say the least (schools can take months to get back to you if they get back to you at all), and the advice and encouragement of your mentors and colleagues will make a huge difference.

What was the most surprising part of this search for you?

How much my background as a middle school Latin teacher came into play throughout the process—I ended up referring to those experiences as often as I referred to my experiences teaching in a university setting.