This year’s Academic Job Search Series, an annual set of workshops with the objective of preparing Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral students to enter the academic job market and become professors, has undergone a change in leadership, resulting in double the number of events that were offered last year.
The 12-part series began in September and is a joint effort of the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Career Strategy and Postdoctoral Career Services. The program consists of seven workshops and five panels, many of which are led by distinguished Yale professors and alumni, as well as members of the CTL and Postdoctoral Career Services. The workshops cover a range of topics from the development of a CV and cover letter to interview strategies, and they are aimed at graduate and postgraduate students looking to work in academia.
Lorna MacEachern, the new director of Postdoctoral Career Services, said she was responsible for this year’s expansion of the series and the choice of new topics.
“Being new here, I got a little overambitious,” MacEachern said. “I was like hey, let’s make this a whole series over two months and double it in size.”
MacEachern said she wanted this year’s series to be a mixture of discussion panels and interactive, how-to workshops. While the workshops actually provide step-by-step explanations of how to do things like prepare a teaching statement or for an interview to teach in the humanities, the panels expose students to more real-life examples. In the past, professors and lecturers who led the panels have always presented both the positive and negative experiences they had in their academic work, she said.
Large academic departments across the country — including economics, history and political science — hire very early on in the year, Dames said. Students attend large conferences in the first few months of fall, where they present themselves and do several interviews. Smaller departments, on the other hand, tend to hire as late as the spring. The goal of the series is to give people a solid foundation for job applications in all departments before recruitment begins, she said. This way, Dames added, students will be prepared regardless of when their desired department actually begins its search.
A recent survey conducted by Postdoctoral Career Services found that 70 percent of Yale postdoctoral students aspire to a career in academia. Current statistics indicate that only about 20 percent of these students will be successful, MacEachern said.
“The big controversy is that [Ph.D. programs] are preparing people for jobs that aren’t there,” MacEachern said. “A lot of [students] end up in these kind of adjunct positions for a long period of time, which for their level of qualifications, are extremely underpaid.”
Despite these discouraging numbers, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have shown great interest in the series, MacEachern said. The first two events were oversubscribed and organizers had to turn people away — the room they were held in only seats 100 people, and 170 students registered for the first talk while 120 registered for the second. More specific lectures, such as “Women in Academia” and “Academic Job Search and Preparing the Cover Letter in the Humanities” saw fewer attendees, Sodi said.
Two postdoctoral students said they attended the workshops, which were full of valuable information for those interested in entering academia.
Christal Sohl, a postdoctoral student in the pharmacology department said she already attended several workshops this semester, as well as many of the workshops offered in the past. Although some of the topics covered were exactly the same as last year’s, the workshops are not repetitive because the process of entering the academic job search is so complex and daunting.
“It’s really nice to have a lot of different perspectives to let you know what the expectations are, what a successful application looks like, and what experiences you might expect to have,” Sohl said. “It takes a lot of the mystery out, which is really comforting.”
Hans Aerni, a postdoctoral student in cellular and molecular p hysiology, said he does not believe that postdoctoral students receive as much attention from the University as graduate students do. The series, he said, is a good example of one of the ways in which Yale does effectively cater to its postdoctoral students. Still, Aerni added that it would be helpful if the workshops were offered in different locations across campus, such as West Campus.
However, six Graduate School of Arts and Sciences students interviewed said they had heard about the workshops but did not consider attending.
CTL Associate Director Risa Sodi said that in the past, workshops were always the result of a strong collaborative partnership between Graduate Career Services, YTC, Postdoctoral Career Services and the Center for Scientific Teaching. This summer, the GCS was absorbed into OCS at the same time that the YTC and CST were absorbed into the CTL. But despite these structural changes, the commitment to collaboration remains strong across offices.
“Having OCS, including its graduate career services unit, and Jeanine Dames, director of Career Services, as our interlocutors brought additional resources and manpower to the table,” said Sodi.
There are currently 6,501 graduate and professional students at Yale.