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How to Navigate the Academic Job Search Experience: Advice From Graduating Scheller Ph.D. Students

This month, select Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business graduating Ph.D. students shared their academic job search experiences at a workshop organized and facilitated by Thomas R. Williams Chair in Management Dong Liu and sponsored by the Center for International Business Education and Research.

Ph.D. students Qing Gong (Organizational Behavior), Elizabeth Han (IT Management), Wenqian Hu (Accounting) Katsiaryna Siamionava (IT Management), and Suyun Wu (Accounting) have all successfully secured academic roles after graduation and shared their lessons learned throughout the process during the session.

Here are their top recommendations and tips.

Preparation

Siamionava, who is headed to Arizona State University, and Wu, who is headed to the University of Texas at El Paso, mentioned the importance of starting to think about the job search at the beginning of your PhD program. What research do you want to publish? What kind of job do you want? How are you going to brand yourself by the end of this program? It is never too early to start thinking about these questions and planning accordingly.

For example, Samionava said that having this type of forethought will help you identify skills to develop or conferences to attend throughout your program to meet that end goal. Additionally, according to Wu, attending conferences can open doors down the line for the job search.

Applications

When it comes time to apply, Gong, who is headed to Boise State University, and Han, who is headed to McGill University, said spending time being mindful about the positions you will apply to is critical. What kind of position will make you happy? What schools are a good fit for you personally? This type of specificity will remove the unnecessary positions and information, making the job search process less overwhelming. This strategy will produce fewer but more polished applications with fewer errors and a greater likelihood of success.

Finding the right places to look is also essential. Siamionava advises asking your committee for positions they know might be a good fit and making sure you are a part of groups where positions of interest are posted.

Furthermore, Gong and Siamionava recommend keeping basic templates that speak to your personal brand or “selling points” for application documents and adjusting accordingly based on position details and department/institution priorities. Templates save time. Gong said she used a spreadsheet to keep track of all potential positions, requirements, and progress on her applications. Keeping your references informed and up to date can help not only during the application process but yields beneficial contacts from your references’ connections and network.

Interviews, Visit, and Job Talks

According to Gong, interviews can vary in length, format, and number of interviewers. Be prepared for all! Hu, who is heading to the University of Waterloo, said a good mic and a good suit are must-haves, especially today, when interviews are likely virtual. Most importantly, doing your homework is something all panelists emphasized. Knowing the position details, requirements, and department faculty and their research will demonstrate your preparedness and interest in the position. This knowledge will also help you find something in common with the interviewers as individuals, to “break the ice,” in conversations.

Han went above and beyond department research and stood out in her interviews by commenting on unique departmental attributes, such as the junior to senior faculty ratio. Even when she found herself in an interview where she did not have research overlap with a faculty member in the department, she positioned herself as someone who would bring a new perspective and research diversity to the table, which could enhance the creativity and collaboration of the department as a whole.

Lastly, Gong and Siamionava remind us to never forget the thank you note after the interview. Personalizing the note to mention something you discussed with that person is a plus.

Another key component of interviews and job talks are questions. When it comes to answering questions, Gong makes the interviewer feel appreciated by using their name, making eye contact, asking for clarification, and even taking notes. In giving answers, she suggests showing your way of thinking, even if you don’t have the perfect response by using phrases such as, “I never thought of this, but…” It is also essential to have good answers to the basic questions: “Tell me about yourself” and “Why this school?”

When it comes to asking questions, Siamionava said you should know what questions to ask to whom. For example, don’t ask a junior faculty member about how the department has changed over the last decade—that question is better suited for someone with more tenure. In addition, Gong said it is helpful to prepare a pool of genuine questions that demonstrate your excitement. Hu and Siamionava said you should listen closely to and be grateful for the answers given.

In job talks, Han reminds you to relax—the interviewers are not trying to disprove your dissertation, they are simply trying to figure out if they want you as a future colleague. Because the individuals in the room are usually not familiar with your work, Gong and Han suggest prioritizing entertaining your audience by telling the story of your research and avoid getting into the nitty gritty of it. In addition, Siamionava said it is important to accept all critiques with gratitude. You never know if they will be your future reviewers!

Health and Morale

All panelists touched on the importance of maintaining health and a positive morale throughout the job search process. According to Han and Siamionava, being positive, confident, and believing in yourself and your research is important. After all, you are the person who knows your research best, and displaying this confidence will make you credible.

Han adds that managing your energy well throughout the process will promote efficiency. The amount of energy you can spend on the job search depends on your personality and personal limits. For example, scheduling three interviews in one day was too much for Han—and she learned from that experience. Siamionava suggests minimizing the physical effects of stress by exercising. Another way to manage stress is to not attribute negative outcomes to yourself. Hu said market conditions play a significant role in job placements despite one’s effort and preparedness. Nevertheless, she recommends working hard on your research in the early years of your Ph.D. and on your dissertation in the later years of your Ph.D. This hard work will pay off with a strong CV, which is foundational in the job search.

In the face of adversity, Wu reminds us that crises are the mother of opportunities. When she offered last minute to cover for a colleague and present someone else’s research due to an emergency, she was contacted a few months later with a potential job opportunity. As evidenced by the stories and experiences shared by the panelists, the job search in academia is not for the faint of heart, but a positive attitude and perseverance pay off!

Since 2017, Liu has organized 11 Ph.D. workshops, where over 45 panelists provided academic career advice in areas such as working with journal reviewers, discovering interesting research ideas, teaching classes effectively, and landing a great academic job. These Ph.D. workshops have attracted over 350 participants from Georgia Tech, Emory, and Georgia State. In Fall 2022, Liu will organize the 12th Scheller Ph.D. workshop and invite faculty members to share their insights on how to develop a strong research pipeline.

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