Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grad students, postdocs learn strategies to further their careers

Nearly 250 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from 16 U-M schools and colleges learned about strategies and resources for success in academic careers at the 11th annual "Preparing Future Faculty" conference on Tuesday.

The conference, sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and Rackham Graduate School, took place two weeks earlier than usual this year to better serve academic job seekers, who often begin applying for positions early in the fall term.

Sara Blair, associate dean for academic programs and inititatives at the Rackham Graduate School, discusses the joys of faculty life in her opening remarks. (Photo by Pam Fisher, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching)  

With a program featuring more than two dozen faculty members from a wide range of colleges and universities, the intensive half-day gathering was designed to help graduate students learn about faculty life in its various forms, as well as help those pursuing academic careers transition successfully to a faculty role.

Ryan Watkins, a doctoral student in aerospace engineering, said he enjoyed the opportunity to hear from faculty "from diverse institutions, even those not in my field. I've been on the fence about the career path I want to pursue, and it helped me understand all of the options."

A popular session this year featured guest speakers discussing "Faculty Success Off the Tenure Track," a new panel responding to the fact that 68 percent of faculty appointments in 2012 were non-tenure track, according to the American Association of University Professors.

In another new session, "Pursuing a U.S. Academic Career: Strategies for International Students," faculty members born and educated outside the United States discussed their experiences developing their careers at U.S. institutions.

This year's faculty speakers included many who once were U-M graduate students themselves. These returning alums spoke of the transition from U-M to many kinds of institutions of higher education, including Albion College, Michigan State University, Kettering University, Macomb Community College and Wayne State University.

"I learned to be a scholar and teacher at U-M more than anywhere else, so it was a pleasure to come back and talk about the directions that graduate training has taken me over the past decade," said plenary panelist Douglas Rogers, who received his Ph.D. at U-M in 2004 and is now an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University.

Other sessions provided concrete guidance for successfully navigating a competitive academic job market.

The Rackham Professional Development Office and Career Center sponsored workshops on building professional networks as well as interviewing for academic positions. Other workshops for job seekers focused on developing a teaching philosophy, designing an effective teaching demonstration, and negotiating academic job offers.

Mozhgon Rajaee, a third-year Ph.D. student in environmental health sciences, appreciated how the conference offered "a foundation for the job search. It helped me to know what kinds of things I need to be thinking about. Many topics, such as articulating a teaching philosophy, will be useful on the job market but are also helpful for my teaching right now."

Plenary panel
Discussing "Life After Michigan: Adjusting to a New Institutional Context," are, from left, Douglas Rogers, associate professor of anthropology, Yale University; Anne Casper, assistant professor of biology, Eastern Michigan University; Dyron Dabney, assistant professor of political science, Albion College; and moderator Matt Kaplan, managing director of CRLT. (Photo by Pam Fisher, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching)