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Placement of Recent PhDs

The success of recent PhDs, especially in a constricted academic job market, is an important measure of the health of any graduate program.  We’re happy to share the results of job searches over the last several years, which confirm the robust vitality of our programs.

A general note on placement: the realities of the job search can be difficult to quantify, since some candidates restrict their searches geographically or turn down job offers based on personal circumstances.  As you consider the placement records published by various institutions, we encourage you to note what kind of information they include.

Although the 2008-2009 job market reflected steep job cutbacks and hiring freezes nationwide, all of our ten first-time jobseekers found full-time jobs as assistant professors, postdoctoral fellows or lecturers.  They received offers of tenure-track positions at the University of Colorado/ Denver, the University of Scranton, Roger Williams University, the University of Montevallo, the University of North Carolina/Pembroke, the University of Singapore, Duquesne University, St. Louis University and Kennesaw State University.  Two students accepted postdoctoral appointments, including a named three-year assistant professorship.  In the same year, we also had two PhD students returning to the job market who accepted tenure-track offers at Mary Washington University and Ohio State University/Newark.  

The 2009-2010 job market continued to reflect budgetary crisis and constraint.  Nonetheless, out of eleven jobseekers on the national academic job market, seven were offered tenure-track assistant professorships, at Central Michigan University, Longwood University, Northwest Missouri State University, Pepperdine University, Wayne State University, Wesleyan College, and University of Alabama-Huntsville.  One accepted a postdoctoral appointment at Wake Forest University; three took lectureships, at Rhode Island College, New York Institute of Technology, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham.  In addition, PhDs returning to the market in 2009-2010 accepted tenure-track positions at Rhode Island College, Simpson College and State University, and Yeshiva University. An additional returning jobseeker accepted a two-year postdoctoral appointment at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. 

In the latest job market, in 2010-2011, our jobseekers continued to have notable success in a straitened context.  Of our fifteen first-time jobseekers on the national market, ten were offered tenure-track assistant professorships at institutions including Butler University, the University of  California-Merced,  California State University-Northridge, High Point University, Hobart & William Smith University, Messiah College, Pueblo University, Salem State University, Syracuse University, University of the Bahamas;  two accepted multi-year postdoctoral positions at the University of Chicago and Georgia Tech respectively.  Of nine applicants returning to the job market, five accepted offers of tenure-track assistant professorships at Wake Forest, the University of Kansas, the University of Toledo, St. Louis University, and Portland State University, in one case preceded by a postdoctoral appointment at Princeton; two accepted Visiting Assistant Professor positions at the University of California-Davis and Oberlin College.  Although the market will undoubtedly remain difficult at best, we anticipate that our placement rates will remain strong.

Of critical interest beyond numbers are the kinds of institutions and programs that have made offers to our graduates and in which they begin their post-graduate careers.  These range widely, from large-scale to small, public to private, and rural to urban; they comprise liberal arts colleges, state universities, and major research centers.  Over the last five years, in addition to the institutions listed above, our PhDs have been offered jobs at the City University of New York, Detroit Mercy University, Florida International University, Fordham University, Harvard University, Hunter College, Kalamazoo College, New York University, Notre Dame, Rutgers-Camden, St. Martin’s University, St. Mary’s College (Indiana), the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and the University of Toronto.  Historically, Michigan’s placement rates in tenure-track appointments have been steady and high.  We remain committed to the vigorous support—intellectual, institutional, and financial—that will help insure the widest range of professional opportunities for our PhDs.

In order to give visitors to our site a fuller sense of our graduate programs, we offer below some first-hand accounts by recent PhDs of their job market experiences. For more information on placements, please visit our recent placement pages.

First-Hand Accounts

Laura Williamson Ambrose

Laura Williamson Ambrose

As a first time jobseeker, embarking on the job search process resembled both of a thrilling leap and a swift kick into a cold pool—usually not at the same time. At best, the process left me invigorated by the adrenaline-induced clarity it provided as I finally gave concrete language to years of thinking about “my work.” Synapses fired. Chapters of my dissertation began to cohere in my abstract drafts in ways that seemed (gasp!) almost deliberate. Verbs and adjectives appeared on the page as if divinely inspired. Simultaneously, though, I felt exhausted by the process’s demanding hunger for my time and energy. From mid-summer to the following April, my life took on a new shape: the small post office across the street began to dread the sight of me and my armload of applications, dissertation file boxes were literally and figuratively pushed aside to make room for the color-coded splendor of the job files, and the “job documents” folder on my computer grew so large I began to self-combust at the sight of file names such as “job letter 10-07 draft 1.3 b”. Job season had caught me in its clutches and would not let go for nine months.

The remarkable thing about such a bind, though, is that at Michigan it is a shared one. Certainly, the majority of my job search hours were spent alone or with my dedicated advisor as we considered the implications of using words like “epistemology” instead of “representation” or of sending a writing sample that had tenuous connections, at best, to the canon. But those struggles were not unique to me and, in fact, were shared by the dozen or so other graduate students on the market that season, the superhuman staff of the English Department, and a significant majority of the faculty who attended mock job talks, ran mock interviews, and stopped me in the hallway to simply ask how things were going. The shock of the overall process was buffered by the seasoned experience of this support system and the empathy of my comrades in jobseeking. Indeed, regular meetings with a jobseekers group, an informal panel with faculty on the interview process at MLA, “meta” conversations following my mock job talk, and email exchanges with the graduate chair and my committee gave me crucial opportunities to ask the “dumb” questions: What is a dossier? How strict is the 15-20 page limit for writing samples? What should I wear? Did I speak to quickly? What do I do if I don’t actually know the answer to a question? How do I negotiate??

Although hindsight is 20/20, my sense of Michigan’s strength in preparing graduate students for the job search is not a sudden realization. The moments before I sealed an application envelope, walked into my MLA interviews, and stepped up to the podium to deliver a job talk, I consciously and unconsciously pulled from the support network and the practice sessions that the Department provided me with in the months previous to calm my nerves, clear my head, and envision the job (and the sleep) to come. Now months later and despite mild warnings that job anxiety would quickly turn into a dash of first-year faculty stress, I'm still relishing in the novelty of my newfound status: employment. The word certainly does have a ring to it.


Keith Green

Keith Green
—Assistant Professor of English, University of Rutgers-Camden

I went on the job market last year for the first time, and I am fortunate enough to be writing this piece as a tenure-track professor.  While that experience may be atypical, as many people spend more than one year on the market, the way that people go about getting their jobs is probably quite similar.  So, here’s what I learned about snagging the big one. 

My first piece of advice would be to know what you want.  Are you more of a researcher or a teacher?  Do you feel more at home in the classroom or in the library?  Could you live without writing articles or books?  Or can you live with, and even feed off, the constant pressure to publish and produce?  Most of us need some balance of the two, but find a program that is as close as possible to your sensibilities.  For almost every kind of academic, there is a comparable institution (even if they are not hiring).

Once you have identified potential institutions, find out exactly what they want.  Writing an outstanding dissertation is a great thing.  But presenting your work and intelligence as solutions to a department’s needs is just as important.  Learn how to frame yourself in a way that complements your prospective department.  “I could add courses in X, Y, and Z,” you might say, “which you don’t currently offer.”  As one department chairperson told me, “Psych them out!”  Find out what their strengths and weaknesses are, and where you fit in.  Don’t think of yourself as an applicant, but as a problem solver. 

Laugh and smile during your interview.  Departments are not just looking for scholars, but colleagues – people who can laugh at a joke and, when appropriate, tell one.  I also found that when I was smiling and comfortable, my mind was better able to react to the unexpected.  If I was tense and stiff, then my responses were also tense and stiff.  Keep in mind that most good interviews are like conversations, not interrogations.  Yes, prepare the 2-minute, 5-minute, and (eek!) 20-minute versions of your research, but don’t just shove it down your interviewers’ throats.      

Lastly, nail the job talk.  If you get that far, they already think you are hirable.  But the way (in my experience) to separate yourself is not to play it safe (reading with your head down for 30 minutes), but to be courageous.  For the first five minutes of my job talk, I didn't read the paper I was presenting, but summarized the book project I was working on that would hopefully get me tenure.  When I began to read my paper, they understood how it fit within a larger project that would change my field and add worth to their department.  So, interact with the room and own it. 


Gavin Hollis

Gavin Hollis
—Assistant Professor of English, City University of New York (CUNY)

The job market. Three words that strike dread into the hearts of every PhD student. But my experience on the job market was a positive one, and not just because I was offered a tenure-track position at Hunter College, CUNY.

For starters, being on the job market actually helped my dissertation. To be sure, applying for jobs takes a great deal of time, and sometimes you can lose momentum on the day-to-day research and writing. Nevertheless, having to summarize my project in a paragraph of two in my job letter and in a dissertation abstract, and having to condense it into a two-minute sound-bite for the inevitable first interview question (“so, tell us about your project”), helped me give shape to the larger project and also make me see where its inconsistencies lay.

Secondly, it also helped me mentally take the step up as a professional academic. This is something I’ve only realized after my first year of employment, but having to present myself as employable in the job-search process has aided that transition. If you get interviews, it’s a great feeling to have people want to talk about your work and take you seriously; if you get a fly-back interview the feeling is even better. It gives an enormous fillip just at the point in your dissertation when you know that the whole thing should be coming together (and at a point where maybe you are wondering if it ever will).

Thirdly, the experience was positive because of the Michigan community. I have met quite a few non-Michigan job seekers, and while a great number have been excellent candidates, I have been surprised by several whose preparation for the process seemed lacking: they’ve been uncertain how to describe their teaching methods; they’ve framed their dissertation awkwardly or unclearly; they’ve gabbled their job-talks, giving the impression that they’ve never spoken their material out-loud to an audience before. Michigan grad students are by contrast very well prepared. The English Department, from the administrative staff to the my committee to the Director of Graduate Studies, did a splendid job guiding us and providing us with support, and the graduate community of job-seekers was invaluable. Feedback on job-letters, teaching statements, and the opportunity to practice both interviews and job-talks was immensely useful. So many of the pieces of advice I was given seem obvious now: for example, if you are interviewed, check out the department and the university first (and not just in terms of “could I live there?”); if you are asked to do a job-talk, practice it, and be sure to tailor your talk to their requirements and not just rattle off what you want to say. But as I mentioned earlier, many job candidates do not seem to have been given much advice (or if they have, they haven’t absorbed it). Being well-prepared makes us stand out from the crowd; it can give us an edge (and perhaps just as important it can make us feel like we have an edge); it makes us look like ready-made professionals (even if inside that’s the last thing we feel we are).

But, just in case I seem as if I’m remembering my job-search through rose-tinted glasses, I would not for a moment suggest that the process is all sunshine and candyfloss, It is a lengthy, exhausting, and often stressful process: the job list comes out in the early Fall, the deadlines are around November, then you have to send additional materials, then you have to prepare for interview, then you go to MLA, then you wait to see what happens. And if you get called back, you have to spend two days with strangers and be “on” the whole time. I was dazed for about a month after I got my offer from Hunter College, and it was something of scramble to finish my PhD after the highs and lows (but mostly highs) of successfully completing the job-search marathon.  But it is do-able; you don’t have to sacrifice your dissertation (although inevitably it is harder to produce as much work); you don’t have to flagellate yourself (I did leave the house, and not just to the post-office to mail off applications); you don’t have to let it wreck you (even if it doesn’t work out, there is always next time, and you will invariably be a better candidate for the experience). And while the process is lengthy, exhausting, and often stressful, it is also energizing.

I was of course lucky; I managed to get a position at a school that suits me well, and I was also lucky enough to be applying at a point just before the economy collapsed. But I think that even if you don’t get a position first time around, then the process of applying, of working out what your project is, and defining your voice as a scholar, as a teacher, and as a colleague, can be rewarding, and can set you up well for the next go around, whenever that may be.


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