I can't find a job advert in my field: what should I do?

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by Dr Catherine Armstrong

Due to the recession and the university funding crisis that is blighting Higher Education in the UK and the US, many people hoping to go into careers in academia are finding their options limited by a lack of job openings.

Of course, when a job does come up in your field, the best place to find it is here on www.jobs.ac.uk. But what should you do if you’re a newly completed doctoral candidate who simply cannot find any positions in your field? This article presents some tips on how to cope with the tightening job market.

1. Focus on publications

Unfortunately most people who have not published anything will struggle to find a permanent position. Depending on your field, the required publications could be a number of articles in scholarly journals or a full monograph. Therefore, while you are still writing your PhD you should be thinking about getting a publishing deal. If you are writing a monograph, ask your supervisor if he or she can recommend a publisher who will be interested in your work. You should get together a list of at least five companies. You will probably have to send off a few applications, so be prepared for some rejection letters.

If your PhD is not suitable for publication then think about conference papers you have presented. Could they be lengthened and sent to journals? You should have a strategy for attending conferences as many conference organisers publish their proceedings. If you can get a paper accepted and present a decent piece of work, you have a good chance of being published.

Would a more senior scholar be interested in publishing with you jointly, perhaps putting together an edited collection in your field, or publishing a piece of research with you? This is another good way to get your foot in the door when you are just starting out in your academic career.

If all else fails and you are getting nowhere with publishing your work, doing book reviews is a good way of getting your name known. You can contact journals in your field to offer your services and tell them what sort of books you’d like to review. You’ll probably find that free books start coming your way. A word of warning though: as with any scholarly activity, make yourself stand out from the crowd by meeting the deadlines set for submission of your work! A reputation for being prompt and reliable will be very valuable in your future career.

2. Broaden your teaching CV

As well as trying to get published, you need to broaden your teaching CV. The advantage to undertaking teaching work is that you can earn some money. You may sometimes have to travel long distances, which means you will spend a lot of your wages on travel fees if the institution is unwilling to fund your travel. Most of this teaching work will be on short-term part time contracts to cover someone on maternity or research leave, or to make up a shortfall in teaching by regular staff.

It is challenging to prepare lessons on a course that you have never taught before, so you will have a heavy workload. Because it is someone else’s course, you may not be familiar with every topic so the job might require reading up as well as lesson preparation. You also have to learn how a new institution works without any guarantee of being kept on in the longer term. It is a tough job, but getting teaching experience at a number of different universities will show your flexibility and dedication. Above all, when a permanent position does come up you will be considered ahead of those who have teaching experience at only one institution.

3. Think outside the box: portfolio careers

Earning some money is an important thing for those who have been a student for a number of years. If there are no jobs in the field you are looking for then think laterally. Are you willing to work in a support role in your subject area? Would you consider taking a part time job in another role, such as working in a library if you are an English literature postgraduate or working in a museum if you are a History postgraduate? How else can you use your skills? One avenue is offering your services as a private tutor, which can be very lucrative.

4. Get a supportive network

This could mean emotional or financial support! It is important to have family and friends around you who support you at this challenging time. Many people outside academia do not understand how someone can be so highly qualified in their field and still struggle to find work. Having people belittle your efforts is not going to help your confidence. Surrounding yourself with supportive, like-minded people is the secret to success.

Use your PhD colleagues as a sounding board. You are not alone and your experiences, sadly, are not unique. Make sure you share their coping strategies. Networking is also very important when it comes to finding a job so hone your skills.

5. Don’t give up!

The job market is tough for recent graduates at the moment, but please don’t give up! If working in academia is your dream job you will find a way to squeeze into it somehow. Part of the struggle is to stay positive, believe in yourself and try to put points 1 to 4 mentioned in this article into action, while struggling for money and fighting the worry that you will never be hired. Your time will come provided you do everything you can to stay in touch with academic life and display that, despite not getting paid for it, you are willing to further your research after completing your doctoral work.


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