Takeaways from Early Career Faculty Alumni Panel

Are you curious about what it is like to teach and conduct research at a university outside of UConn? Expand Your Career Options (Spring 2023) included a panel of four doctoral program alumni nearing the end of their first year in faculty positions beyond UConn. They shared their gains and experience in their early faculty career and offered insightful perspectives on preparing for a career in academia.

Some of the key takeaways from the panel discussion are:

Navigating the First Year

  • Ask questions and get to know your colleagues. You may not have good opportunities to connect with people in your department, but you can always find other individuals who you can connect with and invite them to lunch to build your personal connections.
  • Brace yourself for an enormous amount of work in the first year and use your summer break for your non-academic life.
  • Time management skills matter, especially when dealing with a high volume of student emails. Also, try to say “no” and establish some boundaries as you get to know people.
  • Be willing to teach courses others do not want to teach.
  • Take advantage of new opportunities that are open to new faculty, such as training that can help progress your promotion.
  • Keep records of everything you are doing. It is a good habit that will pay off in the long run and is particularly helpful for annual reviews or a five-year review. 
  • Start creating a tenure file and document everything in relationship to moving toward tenure if that is the goal.

Time Allocation in a Faculty Role

  • Expect nearly half or above of your time spent on teaching and preparation of teaching depending on the requirements of different institutions. The rest is spent on research and services.
  • For the preparation of teaching, rely on your colleagues and friends in grad school who can be invited as guest speakers.
  • Actively engage with communities beyond the university.

Staying Productive

  • Join writing groups and then create a schedule for preparing for the week’s classes. The writing group can also be people outside your department or university, such as your grad school friends, people you met at UConn’s writing bootcamp, etc. It can also be just one person. Create a weekly Zoom meeting and secure two hours every week at the same time for writing, for example.
  • Protect your family time if you have a family. As children will be years older in no time and taking the time to prioritize family is important.
  • Find mentors in or outside of your department who can help and identify colleagues with similar roles.
  • Learn the art of networking through others who have successfully moved through academic positions.
  • Have some self-time and do anything that gives you joy such as a movie night.

Preparing for a Faculty Position

  • Publication matters. Start publishing early and make use of your summer to get an article submitted.
  • Ask your advisor if there might be any co-authorship opportunities.
  • Try to apply for awards.
  • It also matters where you publish and look at impact factors.
  • Know where you are going to be best aligned and what types of positions you want to apply to, for example, research or teaching.

Applying for Faculty Jobs

  • Create a chart to keep track of all the application components for each job such as timeline, due dates, and references.
  • Apply to multiple positions and find your strong fit.
  • Work with career coaches at the Center for Career Development to review your application materials and invite friends to provide feedback as well.
  • Seek out your advisor or other faculty members for a mock job interview if you receive an invitation to an on-campus job talk or teaching demonstration. 
  • Try to know upfront, before applying, the courses and level of students you will be teaching.
  • Negotiate salary at the beginning because once you are in the system it is hard to advocate for more salary.
  • Get to know the class size and a large class might count as two courses.
  • Also learn how the semester is scheduled.
  • Consider applying for fellowships, and don’t assume they are hard to get. Ask for feedback from the fellowship sponsor if not successful, while also preparing for no response and apply again for the fellowship.

Strategies for International Students to Stand Out (And useful advice for everyone)

  • Try and complete a dissertation chapter by the time of each annual conference you attend.
  • Engage in social media networks.
  • Have an academic timeline in grad school.
  • Take a membership role in your professional association, for example, graduate student board member for a national or international association.
  • Apply early for positions.
  • For research institutions, currency is publications.
  • Know the timeline. Applications start in fall, followed by the first round of interviews in late fall or November. More significant interviews then come between winter and spring. Talk with faculty in summer to start preparing for applications.
  • Getting a job speeds up your process to complete your degree.
  • Academia is committed to finding the best person regardless of job candidates’ origins.

Final Tips

  • Focus on knowing the jobs you want. Focus on fewer applications and be more strategic.
  • Tailor your documents and align them with the components of the job.
  • Keep trying and have some people around you that cheer you on.
  • Get sleep and find things that make you happy.
  • Don’t define yourself through your rejections.
  • We are often trained to think that tenure track at R1 institutions is the only path, and this can be demoralizing.

Recommended Books from Panelists

To prepare for your academic job search, meet with a career coach at the Center for Career Development and check out the resources on academic job application.

Stay tuned for the next Expand Your Career Options, an event series that occurs every semester and features graduate degree level alums who pursue various career fields.

By Damiao Zoe Xu
Damiao Zoe Xu Graduate Assistant, Graduate Student and Postdoc Career Programs and Services (She/Her/Hers)