Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Conference offers tips for those embarking on academic careers

More than 300 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars found resources and practical tips for facing life after graduate school on Wednesday at the eighth annual “Preparing Future Faculty Conference: Getting Ready for an Academic Career.”

  More than 300 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars attended Tuesday'sconference to help future faculty prepare for their careers. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, Photo Services)

Designed for those on the cusp of entering a highly competitive academic job market, the half-day conference offered an intensive introduction to faculty work life and tenure processes across different types of higher education institutions.

As plenary panelist Steven Volk of Oberlin College noted, “What’s important for this generation of graduate students is to understand that the field of higher education has never been more unstable. It’s an environment under a lot of pressure, both financial and political. It’s key for the new generation of scholars and teachers to understand what awaits them.”

The lineup of nearly 30 speakers was recruited not only from research universities, but also from liberal arts and master’s institutions like Oberlin and Grand Valley State University. Diverse arrays of panelists in plenary and concurrent sessions addressed such topics as adjusting to a new institutional context, being a postdoctoral researcher, and starting and running a research lab.

Other concurrent sessions over the course of the afternoon provided useful advice for successfully handling the many components of the search for an academic job, including CVs, cover letters, interviewing and writing a statement of teaching philosophy.

“Getting answers about when to bring up the dual-career issue” was particularly useful, one participant currently in the job market wrote in evaluating the sessions. Other attendees praised “all of the great ideas for questions to ask potential employers” during interviews.

Separate sessions on negotiating job offers reflected the different needs of Ph.D. candidates in the humanities or social sciences and those in science, technology, math and engineering fields. Similarly, the International Center devoted a session to academic job search strategies for international students.

Conference materials, including video of selected presentations, may be viewed online at

The conference is sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, Rackham Graduate School, and the Career Center.