I attended the Academic Job Search Panel (MC94), moderated by Warren Hearnes, with panelists Karmel S. Shehadeh, Thiago Serra, Opher Baron, Kejia Hu, Priyank Arora, and Haifeng Wang. Many of the panelists had recently been on the job market. They had excellent insights on both skills needed for the academic job market and the personal preparation needed by each applicant. My summary below focuses on the more unique or themed insights from the conversation. All comments are my best approximations on what the panelists said.
When it came to skills, one microtheme that caught my attention was the need to properly slice your application and preparation. For example, Shehadeh suggested that a job applicant prepare their materials as if they are presenting it to the busiest people in the world. Academics have little time to look at your materials, especially in the first round of application review. Serra recommended not overapplying to too many institutions (although the panel agreed that 10-15 applications was probably too few). It’s also important to practice a five, fifteen, and thirty minute research pitch (Arora), and think about how your interviewer(s) are applying the F-Test (Future test) to you as they mentally test whom you will become and be in the next 5 or 10 years (Hu). Wang also brought up the need to brush up on nonacademic skills that are a part of the process, such as table manners, writing emails, dressing properly, and other little rituals and requirements.
Another major theme of the discussion was the need to properly assess yourself before you go through the exhausting and exhaustive interview process. Arora reminded the potential applicants of the need to consider whether the people at the new institution are people you’d enjoy sitting next to you in faculty meetings and being your company at work. Baron also told the applicants that “You want to spend the next forty years of your life with nice people.” It’s not a big deal if you, say, aren’t a basketball fan (he is), but important to establish yourself as a relatable human being at the interview lunches and one-on-one chats.
Finally, Arora recommended that applicants dig deep and think of what they’ve accomplished and prioritized in the last decade. One should be well aware of who they are and why they should be hired before starting the interview circuit. Hu also made a good point about how interview questions show the priorities of the institution (e.g., a big emphasis on quality or quantity of papers), and that applicants should be wary of institutions whose priorities are a mismatch. In the end, the applicant should make the argument that they are a good fit to partner with what the professors and department is already doing (Serra).
After the discussion, I caught up with a few panelists on their thoughts on what job market trends may be increasing in the short-term, and also advice for students who are just starting PhD programs. Serra observed that diversity statements are becoming a more frequent part of a job application. Arora pointed out that even if you are modeling-focused, it is becoming increasingly important to have some exposure to data. In engineering, Wang noted that models are increasingly required to be applied in real time and implementable in practice. Hu suggested picking a research focus that the student truly would want to pursue for the next decade, and starting work on it as soon as possible (Year 1).