This year, the academic job market is tighter than ever. At the Office of Career Services (OCS), advisors are helping graduate students think about how to maximize their candidacy for available faculty and postdoctoral positions. They got some help recently from Dean Emma Dench and an all-star panel of Harvard faculty at “Job Search in Challenging Times: Academic Market,” a virtual event cohosted by OCS and the GSAS. Below are the participants’ top 10 tips to students preparing for an academic career after graduation.

  1. Be concise. Refine the three or four essential conclusions from your dissertation or past work and explain them. Get feedback on those conclusions from others. You will put off the search committee if it seems as though you're just talking to "fill the air."
  2. Empathize with the search committee members who are always under time pressure and notoriously overworked. Offer your portfolio and intellectual contributions in a way that is interesting and compelling.
  3. Put quality over quantity. Focus, impact, and rigor matter more than a multitude of citations in shallow publications. This also holds for your CV and for the energy you invest in applications. Present evidence that 1) you are not scattered and get things done, 2) your research is reproducible, 3) you have diverse sets of passions and interests outside of work, 4) you and your work have an impact on society, 5) you have the ability to communicate effectively, 6) you have a sense of humility and respect, 7) you value the principles of inclusion and belonging.
  4. Convey a sense of yourself as a colleague and future mentor in interviews by talking about life outside of the classroom. Find a way to convey your authentic personality. Acknowledge that it is difficult to do so on Zoom and mention how much you look forward to the in-person life. Ask about what life is like—restaurants, museums, etc.,—to show interest in the institution's community and culture.
  5. Ask for a pre-meeting to prepare all the logistics for your job talk and/or teaching demonstration. Make sure the protocol and roles are clear (e.g. who will monitor and moderate the chat). Leave nothing up to chance on the day of the interview.
  6. Be prepared to talk about what you have taught, what you can teach, and what issues are important to you. Do your research on the teaching expectations at the institution where you are interviewing. Have succinct comments about your teaching, successes, and failures while teaching online, the skills developed while teaching online, and how you could apply them. This is a time when many fields are reflecting on which topics are actually important to teach. Even after the COVID pandemic is over, many courses may still have an online component.
  7. Tell stories. Draw on anecdotes—funny, embarrassing, vivid—about things that differentiate you and that you’d like to emulate or avoid in your teaching, research, and advising.
  8. View the COVID crisis as an opportunity to do something different, even during graduate school. The pandemic has opened up many opportunities, especially for science communications, for newspapers and magazines, and for writers who can lucidly cover the world of science and medicine while also speaking to its impact on society and culture.
  9. Stay engaged and be creative. Not having a formal academic position doesn't make you less scholarly. Be open to all kinds of opportunities and to different possibilities. Remember that the division is not always clear between the academic and the non-academic path. Moreover, career success is not a question of doors opening or closing, but rather of evaluating the circumstances, making the most of opportunities, and building experience.
  10. Be who you are. Show your deep personal engagement with knowledge and materials in your field. Show who you will be as a person, colleague, and friend, not just as a new academic in a department. Prospective colleagues are looking for a “spark,” and if they see it, they will take you seriously.

Faculty panelists who participated in this event included Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population and Data Science; Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science, and Professor of African and African American Studies; Venkatesh Murthy, Raymond Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology; Stephanie Sandler, Ernest E. Monrad Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. A special thanks to current GSAS students Josh Shutter, Bo Yun Park, Mariya Chokova, So Yeon Shin, and Jonas Manuel Ruegg for their notetaking that allowed us to share these takeaways with the broader GSAS community.

Job Search in Challenging Times