Gearing up for the Academic Job Market: Don’t Dabble

10 August 2016, 1439 EDT

There are many things worth dabbling in: Pokeman Go!, the arts, alternative medicine, old films, astrology, gourmet cuisine….the list could go on and on.  I really like when people, including graduate students, tell me they are dabbling in these things or other hobbies.  It’s probably going to help both their productivity and their overall happiness.

As much as I like “dabblers” in those types of things, here’s one that I’m really tired of graduate students saying they’re dabbling in:

The Academic Job Market

Every year, I get students that contact me saying that they are planning to “dip their feet in” or “dabble” in the tenure-track academic job market this year. And, every year, I’m left wondering why the heck they would even bother.  This blog post is a sort of plea to graduate students: DON’T DABBLE IN THE JOB MARKET.[1]

There are typically two types of student-dabblers: (1) those that determine they are early in going on the job market but think they still have a shot at a job they want and (2) those that are worried about job market failure but are in a position where they could/should be on the market.  In both these cases, dabblers would like to apply to only 1-5 jobs that they have determined are ideal for them; they are not applying to all jobs they think are reasonable for their personal and professional goals.  They typically think they have a pretty good shot at getting a job and, if they don’t get a job this year, they then think they’ll go on the market “all the way” the next academic year.

I applaud dabblers for actually thinking about where they want to work.  However, I think this strategy is a giant waste of time for ABDs: if you are going to go on the job market at all, why not go on the market all the way? Going “all the way” on the job market does not mean you apply for every job listed on APSA eJobs: if you can’t see yourself taking the job if it was the only one offered to you, don’t apply.  As such, if you don’t want a teaching-focused job, you can still go all the way on the job market without applying for those jobs.  And, conversely, if you don’t want a research-focused job, you can still go all out on the job market without sending your job packet to research-heavy schools.  If you go on the market, I just think you should apply to all schools you think you would be reasonably happy with, not just the 1-5 schools you feel like dabbling with this particular year.

Going on the job market, even as just a dabbler, involves a lot of sunk costs. You’re going to have to sink a lot of time into coming up with your cover letter(s), CV, research statement, and other job materials.  You’re probably also going to have to convince 3-4 of your advisors to take a few hours each to write a letter of recommendation for you.  These are the most difficult steps in the job application process.  And, these steps basically take the same amount of time regardless of the number of jobs you are applying for.  After these things are done, the costs of throwing in an extra job application beyond the 1-5 jobs you were going to dabble with are fairly minimal, typically just involving 10-30 minutes of work filling out an application and uploading your materials to a university website. [2] The potential payoff, however, is pretty great.  And, in almost all cases, your odds of getting a job in year t+1 increase with every application sent out.

If you don’t go on the market this year (and haven’t sunk costs already coming up with job packet materials), you can use your non-dabbling time this year to work on publishing research projects.  You’ll get the added benefit of not having to deal with job market anxiety: if you don’t dabble, you don’t have to worry at all about whether you’ll get an interview or offer.  You know with certainty that you’ll not have a tenure-track job offer the next year.

Given all of this, I don’t think it’s worth it to dabble.  Go big or go home.  Either avoid the job market until the next year or attack it with all you are worth.[3]

[1] Disclaimer: Decisions about whether to be on the job market should be made with your advisors, not based on a blog post, especially this one.

[2] The extra application costs may be even lower if you use Interfolio or a related application service.

[3] At least, that’s my opinion.  I’d be interested in your opinion and in any arguments in favor of dabbling.  Please comment below!