Recently graduated PhD students and early career scholars are constantly told that the academic job market is so competitive that they should be glad to have any job offer at all. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, as happened to Alexandra Lord who discussed her relocation nightmares here, taking a hasty decision to accept a ‘dream job’ meant that she became disillusioned and left academia altogether. So, what are the location-related issues to be aware of when applying for your first job?
1. Culture of the locale
If you are a city lover who likes a thriving nightlife and wants to be well connected with good transport links, going to a remote university near a small community is not best for you. Just as for school leavers considering their choice of university for undergraduate study, it is also important for jobseekers to consider the culture and vibe of the region when applying for a job.
2. Distance from your family/friends
Spending every weekend travelling long distances to see loved ones is a compromise that many academics make, but you may find that being a long way from your nearest and dearest affects the way that you perceive your job. You may feel isolated and become increasingly discontented at work. On the other hand a move away may provide a wonderful opportunity for you to make new friends.
The impact of a long distance move on your personal life cannot be underestimated and remember that your career is only a part of what makes up ‘you’. This may sound strange coming in a career advice article, but don’t prioritise your career to the detriment of the relationships and activities that comprise the rest of your life.
3. Type of university
Some recent PhDs who have come through the Russell Group or Ivy League systems are accused of snobbery for not wanting to take a job at other types of university, and indeed in this job climate it is a risky strategy for post-docs to limit themselves to only a small number of potential employers. Realising that there is a different sort of academic life to the one in which you were trained is important.
However, a decision to apply to work at a certain type of university is more complex than pure snobbery. If you are used to small group tutorial teaching, perhaps the idea of working at a university where you would routinely be in charge of 25 teenagers seems overwhelming. Equally, if you have been based at an institution where funding for your research has been easily available, going to another university where only external funding is on offer would be a bad move. Another example: if you want to write your book or article in the next few years, applying for jobs at institutions where the teaching loads are very high seems counter-productive.
Most experienced academics advise new recruits to be as flexible as possible. A broad range of experiences on your CV enhance your employment chances in the future, but you may also discover that you actually thrive in an environment that once filled you with dread. Taking a job strategically that you know you only want for 5 years is fine because your first job will often be only one step in a series of moves.
Of course, many jobseekers believe that having any academic job is better than having no job at all. These people might see the difficult first few years as a trial to be endured before moving on to a more desirable position. But be careful: going for every job that is advertised regardless of the impact it will have on you personally may make you unwilling to remain in academia at all.