May and June, a year before you hope to graduate
Consult with your adviser and confirm that you’re making sufficient progress on the dissertation to go on the market in the upcoming academic year and defend and/or file your dissertation in the course of it. Be sure that each member of your committee—ideally, the entire department—knows about your plans, so that they may prepare to write letters and to spread your name around informally as they learn of new academic job openings over the summer and early fall.
At this stage, if it hasn’t come up in casual conversation already, consider asking your adviser whether it is appropriate to invite a faculty member from another university to sit on your committee. Their answer may be no, and that’s fine, but it’s worth asking. Getting a perspective from outside your home department can be useful, and search committees are generally impressed by job candidates who have support (i.e., letters of recommendation) from outside faculty. That said, though, it’s worth emphasizing that your home faculty are your first and best source of support.
Thanks to the efforts of many people in the SCS, you may now find extensive and very helpful advice on the job application process on the SCS website. Read their notes now.
Now is the time to begin to turn your thinking about jobs and careers outside the academy into some important decisions. Choose letter writers for non-academic jobs and narrow down the kinds of job for which you will apply.
Now is also the time to familiarize yourself with fellowship opportunities and the sometimes complex and lengthy applications they require. This means researching external grants and fellowships, especially post-doctoral fellowships—the latter being a great way to gain time to write before the tenure clock starts ticking. Deadlines fall as early as September/October and continue through the year, so move fast. Post-doctoral fellowships can be difficult to track down, but it’s well worth the effort, especially on those days when you’re making slow progress on your dissertation. Consult your graduate director, fellow students, and your graduate dean’s office for information about internal and external sources of funding. Remember to look beyond your university’s typical “dissertation fellowship fund” (if one exists) for competitive grants open to applicants from all over the university.
Sources for dissertation funding and post-doctoral fellowships are available in some predictable places: the Mellon Foundation, ACLS (note the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship), the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, the National Research Council, the Fulbright Program, the American Association of University Women. They pop up in less predictable places too: check publications like the Chronicle of Higher Ed for advertisements and do a few thorough searches on the internet. Keep a sharp eye out for fellowships offered at Humanities Centers and various specialized institutes. Mellon post-docs relevant to most classicists, historians, and archaeologists are offered through various universities and humanities centers, sometimes chosen according to a theme (“globalism,” “race,” “borders,” and so forth) which changes yearly or every two years. For now, you will have to hunt these down university by university. ACLS also sponsors Public Fellows, PhDs hired into non-academic positions in cultural institutions, presses, and the like.
Sign up for any and all services offered by your university notifying students of these opportunities. One useful resource is the IRIS database. Ask faculty where they and recent graduates have applied for post-doctoral support. Google “society of fellows” to learn more about opportunities at Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, and elsewhere. Read the grants and fellowships notices in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, the SCS newsletter, the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, LA Review of Books, and any relevant newsletter in other disciplines.
Be adventurous! A couple of days spent web-surfing and talking to the graduate dean’s office will uncover a wider range of opportunities than you might expect. The Spencer Foundation funds scholars of education; some political think tanks (oriented toward conservative, liberal, feminist, cultural, and religious issues) will fund classical scholarship; women’s organizations fund research into women’s history and feminist theory; arts organizations, while underfunded themselves, might add a welcome top-up to your funding.
July and August
Create a dossier in your department or Career or Placement office. Be sure you are familiar with their internal procedures and deadlines.
Solicit recommendation letters from faculty; remind them that your dossier must be complete no later than the first week of October. It may seem early to make the request, but they’ll appreciate being asked sooner rather than later. (Further information on recommendation letters appears below.)
Register yourself as a job candidate with the SCS (cheaper if you register by early in the fall). You may register on the Web at the address printed at the end of this booklet. Once you register, the SCS Placement Service will (a) provide you with up-to-date listings of job openings, and (b) include your CV in their candidate catalog sold to search committees (and any other interested parties). You may choose to receive the updated job listings via e-mail. In order to register for the Placement Service, you must be a member in good standing of the SCS, so be sure that your dues are paid in full. See their guidelines and advice. (Then follow their link back to this handbook.)
The WCC listserv also sends out notifications and reminders of many (not all) new positions as they are announced; a good reason to join!
Finish your application file. This normally includes a curriculum vitae; a cover letter; at least 3 letters of recommendation; and writing sample(s). On occasion, you will be asked to provide a separate description of your research and/or teaching interests, and many institutions now request teaching dossiers. Not every department will require a transcript, but be prepared to send out an official copy from both graduate and undergraduate institutions.
Politely remind your letter-writers that you are indeed going on the market this year. Forewarn them that no later than the end of August, you will provide them with your CV, cover letter, and relevant writing samples or dissertation material. Ask them if they need anything else to write their letters (transcript, seminar paper, teaching evaluations).
The Application File
The SCS Placement Service is used by all job candidates and hiring committees. You are best advised to consult their website for up-to-date information.
Most applications require the following pieces:
Be sure that it is accurate, up to date, clear and easy to read, without a single error of grammar, spelling, or formatting. The APA website lists the data that must be included. The SCS version cannot be longer than 2 pages; you may wish to prepare two versions, one long and one short. There are plenty of online resources for CV-writing.
Special note on Teaching/Research Interests. This datum consists of a list of anywhere from three to six categories, normally appearing on the first page of the CV prior to the listings of your talks, publications if you have any, teaching experience and so on. Be aware that departmental committees receive scores of CVs, and that your statement of research/teaching interests is likely to classify you more narrowly than you might wish. With this in mind, frame your interests with care, implying breadth and focus simultaneously. You can do this, even though it sounds oxymoronic. Identify your special areas (diss topic, PhD exams, etc.) and then broadly contextualize them in terms of a chronological period, genre and/or your theoretical interests.
The importance of putting some thought into this is demonstrated by the following example. Department X wishes to hire in Greek Drama, but the committee is aware that senior scholar M, a Homerist, loves to teach Sophocles. To avoid stepping on M’s toes, the committee decides to focus their search on junior scholars who do not specialize in Sophocles. Candidate Z has written a dissertation on Sophocles and the polis, but is very eager to teach outside her dissertation area, and in fact is planning a major article on Aeschylus. She is fully prepared to explain this in her interview. Unfortunately, she lists her research interests as “Sophocles, ancient education, Seneca, performance theory”; the committee scans the list, looks at her dissertation title and abstract, and decides to put her file on hold. Needless to say, this is an extreme example, and of course there are bound to be committees here and there who desire narrow specialization above all. In general, however, describing yourself in generalized terms places you at lower risk for the kind of pigeon-holing that could adversely affect the fate of your application. Candidate Z would have been better off with a simple change: “Greek and Roman tragedy, ancient education, performance theory” (she might add up to two additional topics).
Other aspects of the job hunt are either beyond your control (such as letters of recommendation) or a done deal (your transcript and CV). By contrast, the cover letter offers you the sole opportunity to describe yourself in the manner you think best. Use it wisely. While, as Plutarch says, one should not exalt oneself as a young deity of academe, don’t be afraid to sing your own praises in a matter-of-fact way, describing your research interests and their significance in the field, publications if you have them, teaching successes, public lectures (including invited appearances at in-house courses and graduate student colloquia), and so on. You don’t have time to write a different letter for each job application. This is worth repeating: you don’t have time to write a different letter for each job application. You have a dissertation to finish! Instead write two different templates, one for research institutions and one for smaller colleges, and touch them up with a bit of personalization later on.
Nowadays, many departments maintain informative websites, and committees expect to see evidence in the cover letter and interview that applicants have visited their website and gained some familiarity with faculty, the student body, and departmental degree programs. If you are applying to more than 8 or 10 jobs, you will not have time to research all of them in detail; but try to work one or two small pieces of institution- or department-specific information into your letter. (At the stage of the on-campus interview, of course, you must familiarize yourself with the publication areas of your potential colleagues and the special strengths of the department before arriving on campus.) Be sure your information is current. Above all, do your best to express your enthusiasm for your dissertation topic and the field in general. Engage your readers! While they have dozens of files to read, they will take note of eloquent letters that communicate intellectual depth and personal verve.
Of course, you can take your stand in the cover letter using a much plainer structure and style than the one described below. Plenty of successful job applicants simply cover the basics and let the rest of the file speak for itself. If you feel uncomfortable with the idea that the letter is a textual extension of yourself, this is the route for you. Just be sure the letter is professional, polite, and well-edited, so that its brevity isn’t misinterpreted as lack of interest.
What to include: where you saw the ad; topic of dissertation and adviser; research and teaching interests, including plans for immediate future; assorted relevant information (in brief); formal request for interview. One full page can do it; stop before going over 1 1/2 pages.
Detailed advice on structure:
1) Opening Paragraph: keep it straightforward. Specify the job and where you saw the ad. Set the tone: for a research university, “I would like to apply for the tenure-track position in Greek history that was advertised on the APA website...” whereas for a small college you might try, “I was excited to see the advertisement for your teaching position in Latin.” Describe your main research and teaching interests in one dynamic sentence.
2) Paragraph on your Research Interests, featuring your dissertation as the star example. Cut this down to 2-4 sentences describing the high points: the texts you work with, the main argument/topic in 1 sentence, and your theoretical orientation if you want. If you’re concerned that you’re selling your dissertation short, and you simply must tell them more, then refer your reader to a 1 page abstract (please, no longer) that you can enclose with the rest of the application. In this paragraph, convey a sense of why your work needs doing. Don’t say “this study has never been done” but rather why it’s important to do now: if you think it should interest people who work on literary theory, ancient philosophy, science, now’s the time to say so. In the eyes of the committee, breadth and excitement about your research bode well for your teaching persona and collegial potential.
3) A Short “show-off” Paragraph, highlighting 1-2 things you’re proud of (special lecture for someone else’s class, conference presentation, an article). If you can spin this into a short gesture toward future research, all the better: e.g., “In my APA presentation on this topic I argued that... This talk, along with my dissertation chapter on Varro, is pointing the way to future work on...” If showing off makes you uncomfortable, then describe your next project. This is important: the committee will interpret this not only as a sign that you’re ready to hit the ground running in your research and near- future publication record, but as a hint about what you’re prepared to teach.
4) Paragraph on your Teaching Interests. As always, try to make a smooth transition from topic to topic. Show range, but think carefully before you let them see every eccentric angle of the real you (e.g. “I never teach Homer without getting students to fight mock battles in Bronze Age armor they make themselves”). Points like that make your letter stand out, but you may want to aim instead for a more conventional combination of solid and adventurous: “I’ve found that Hollywood westerns enrich my courses on mythology and epic.” Or: “In my Latin language classes I like to discuss Latin’s influence in the western tradition, usually by asking students to compare several adaptations of Ovid by Christopher Marlowe and Ted Hughes.” Incorporation of creative projects, web research, cross-disciplinary work, or an innovative approach to teaching grammar — say, by including a brief crash course on the Indo-European language family — will put your interests and skills center stage.
5) Extra Information. Your next project, if you haven’t already mentioned it; special reasons why you’re perfect for this job. For the latter, write 2 versions, one for small college, one for big university. If it's a job you especially want, you might mention the English department’s famous scholar of the classical tradition, or the school’s reputation if you can make it sound sincere; e.g. the core at Chicago or the intense small college atmosphere at the University of Puget Sound. Family connections to the area, including spousal/partner’s employment there, or a special desire to teach at the school (for a specific and plausible reason!) are fine, but don’t lay on the sentiment with a trowel. Don’t say that you’d like to have professor X as a colleague; it’s tacky and sounds like a graduate student application.
6) Closing. Interview contact information over the holidays.
This is the template for the big research university. You can certainly mix up the order of these paragraphs according to your taste, especially 3 and 4. For small colleges, you can make the “show-off” paragraph teaching-related, and stress how your teaching interests segue into your scholarship.
Letters of Recommendation
For SCS jobs, 3-5 letters is standard for applicants still in a graduate program. If you’re teaching in a temporary slot or doing a post-doc, solicit 1-2 additional letters from your chair and/or other supportive colleague at your current institution. For MLA jobs, 5 or more letters are the norm. For jobs in other fields, check with members of the relevant departments and the organizations’ official websites (some available at the end of this booklet). Your letter-writers should aim to cover both teaching and research. Most recommenders will welcome discussion with you on the direction their letters should take, in order to avoid duplicating their colleagues’ comments. Tell your recommenders who else is writing on your behalf. A letter from the chair is standard for European jobs, common but not required for positions in the US.
Gone are the days when faculty could simply ask the departmental administrator to mail copies of an all-purpose letter of recommendation. The brave new world of internet job applications is upon us, and it is neither organized nor consistent. It can be a nightmare for faculty writing on behalf of up to a dozen (and sometimes many more) students who may be applying to twenty or more posts. Depending on the institution, faculty may be asked to submit letters by traditional snail mail, by direct email to the job-search chair, or (worst of all) via a password-protected Human Resources website crammed with vacuous mini-questionnaires. Some students use the Interfolio service, which is convenient except when the faculty member wants to personalize a letter. And Interfolio is not free. How best to deal with this mess? Until a central secure database is established (don’t hold your breath), it is most helpful for faculty when you send each recommender a list that looks like this. Try to limit yourself to one list per month, and try to convey as much information as possible in long emails: don’t send a dozen short emails that scatter information up and down the faculty member’s inbox.
Round #1: September 22, 2017
Letters submitted by US Mail:
University of X Full address Deadline
Letters submitted by email:
University of X Email address Deadline
Letters submitted on the internet: you will receive an email with a link *
University of X Deadline
* Keep in mind that the email requesting a letter of reference will not be sent until you activate your application, and in some cases, go through a specific reference-request process. This means: activate your application as soon as possible.
As jobs are posted, your list will change. Keep your lists of rounds separate, and number them, so that faculty can easily track which places they’ve already sent letters to.
Round #2: October 14, 2012
[same format as above, but do not duplicate institutions] Round #3: November 1, 2012
And so on...
Some schools will ask for a writing sample up front in mid-autumn. Others will request it at the time they decide on their initial interview list. Ideally, you should have at least two chapters of your dissertation approved by your committee, proofread, polished, and ready to go out as writing samples by mid-October. If not, all is not lost. First send the completed chapter(s); when that source is exhausted, send a copy of your best seminar paper, with the dates and course information removed. If you like, you may write a brief note explaining that the paper represents your research interests beyond the dissertation. Some departments ask for two or more writing samples: simply send more seminar papers (and rush to get the next chapter finished!). Do NOT include an unfinished chapter in your initial application: on this first sweep, they are interested only in polished work. If and when a department asks to see the entire dissertation as it stands (which may happen in late December or January), that is the time to confer with your director, deciding along with him or her which chunks of writing to send and how best to contextualize them.
This having been said, you should be aware that search committees will infer from your choice to send seminar papers as writing samples that your dissertation is not finished. Meet this problem head on. Write the paragraph of your cover letter that describes your dissertation in a highly authoritative and organized fashion; send an abstract of the dissertation, with clear chapter divisions, with the rest of your materials; and if you get to the interview stage, be ready to answer the
skeptical question, “So how close to completion is your dissertation?” with aplomb. Of course, you may indeed have only one or two chapters finished at the time of the interview: in this case, be honest, but be sure to express confidently (and in detail) the degree to which you have researched and planned the remaining chapters.
Increasingly, institutions demand personalized responses to questions. Follow their directions. But you are well served by preparing a basic “teaching dossier” in summer or early fall that will provide the backbone for individual applications. This should include:
1) A two to three page statement incorporating the following:
x a brief, 1 to 2 sentence survey of your teaching experience, keeping in mind that readers can always consult the CV for specifics.
x Your “teaching philosophy” (a declaration along these lines is sometimes explicitly requested in the job advertisement). Try to avoid sounding too cheerleaderish or vague. You might try to convey some substance to your statement by answering the question: “I believe an education in Classics/the liberal arts should aim to...” or “the single thing most important in teaching to me is...” NB: You may be tempted to highlight your personal experience (“I was originally drawn to Classics by an inspiring high school Latin teacher, whom I’ve tried to emulate by...”). Beware: this approach can come off as amateurish and cheesy. I recommend against it, but you know your own style best.
x A few specifics on how you encourage student participation, creativity, etc. By the way, this is good prep for variants of the interview question “what exactly about your teaching style best helps students learn?”
x A short (1 paragraph) description of your methods of evaluation, both evaluation of the students (do you prefer papers to exams? do you incorporate oral exams or presentations into classes?) and self- evaluation. If you’ve used informal assessments in your past teaching, note that and include them in the folder.
x Another short account (1-2 paragraphs) of what excites you most about your teaching, past and future: think of this as a summary of your accomplishments and what you hope to achieve. Alternatively, explain what distinguishes you from other teachers (use of music or the web, cross-disciplinary projects, and so on).
Along with the statement, you should include:
1. 1-2 syllabuses you’ve used in the past or syllabuses for courses you’ve planned but not yet taught.
2. Summaries of student evaluations and a half page of representative comments from students. If your university does not make summaries available, you don’t want to load the committee with dozens of xeroxed pages of evaluations, so type out a page of representative comments from students. If you have no evidence of your teaching at all, consult with your adviser: you may wish to solicit a few letters from students.
3. Typical final exams you have written (don’t send exams written by faculty with whom you have worked as a TA) or assignments or handouts that worked particularly well (no more than 3-4 of these).
A Word to the Wise
Oversight. Show each item in your file to at least one faculty member (normally the chair of your dissertation committee or the graduate adviser), who may catch unseen errors and generally give you good advice. In most departments, this person (or the DGS) will also willingly vet letters of recommendation, to check for full and fair coverage of your career and accomplishments.
October and early November
Register to attend the SCS Annual Meeting and make necessary travel plans, including reservations at the official hotel. Staying nearby with friends or family might seem like a good option at first, but once the APA gets going you will probably appreciate having your own place on the spot to relax between talks, interviews, and parties. In any case, try to stay within walking or very short cab distance from the hotel.
Arrange a mock interview at your home campus. Ideally, you will do both an in-person and a Skype/Zoom mock interview. The latter is becoming more common as universities balk at sending teams of faculty to interview at the annual meeting. If by some accident you can’t pull enough faculty together to do this for you, request help from market-experienced friends.
Late November and December
Now is the ideal time to settle on the topic of your job talk and to begin a draft. Opinions differ on the competing merits of presenting a dissertation chapter or something entirely unrelated. Your deep knowledge of your dissertation area can be of genuine assistance in the stressful atmosphere of a job talk, boding well for your performance in the Q&A. On the other hand, if you want to show your range and you have a well-developed thesis on hand, think carefully about that option. Be aware that moving far beyond the committee’s job description (e.g., by giving a paper on Alcman when the slot is Roman Prose) is rarely advisable.
At this early stage it’s important to remind yourself -- hopefully not for the first time -- that the job market is tight, and even very good candidates can end up empty-handed the first or second or third time around. If you’ve followed the steps here, you already have another set of jobs in your sights. You may wish to keep looking into opportunities for teaching inside and outside your home department. Many universities need TAs for courses in General Education, “Great Books,” “western civilization,” or composition. Chairs and graduate advisers, especially if they are new to the post and/or worried about keeping up your morale, won’t always bring up these opportunities of their own accord, and sometimes they delay until the last minute, when it’s too late. This kind of extra-departmental interdisciplinary teaching, while challenging, can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your early career. So ask around, look through the undergraduate course guide, or contact your graduate dean for information. If you’re not sure whether this kind of teaching is right for you, seek out fellow students who have done it. Once you decide, make certain that your adviser and graduate chair know that you’re interested.
Look outside your home university too: ask faculty for advice about local departments and part-time opportunities that have been available in the past. Teaching high school is an immensely rewarding and financially stabilizing option. It is also immersive. Discuss this path with someone who has pursued it.
The final deadlines for the majority of first-round job applications have come and gone by December 1, and interviews by internet and at the Annual Meeting (also called “the SCS” or “the convention”) loom ahead. Commonly asked questions appear below.
Committees will telephone or email you with the welcome news of an interview. Read up on the internet on the pitfalls of Zoom/Skype interviewing and use your common sense. Ensure as clear a connection as you can in a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted. Use headphones. If you must use your bedroom, clean the space and place your head and shoulders in the center of the screen – whatever you can do to avoid distracting your interviewers with your belongings. I won’t soon forget the bright blue pajamas hanging on the hook on the back of one candidate’s bedroom door, which he had obviously neglected to notice were visible until it was too late.
If the interview is to occur at the Annual Meeting, it’s up to the SCS Placement Service to arrange your available slots. If you’re giving a paper, remember to avoid scheduling interviews during the panel session. Be patient with the Placement Service, but if you know you have interviews and you haven’t received a schedule by the end of December, contact the SCS directly and ask for help.
The Annual Meeting usually falls during the first Thurs-Sun in January. Whether you must console loving family members who hate to see you leave post-New Year celebrations, or soothe students disgruntled at your departure from campus at the beginning of term, it makes no difference. You should attend the meeting from the evening it begins to the late afternoon it ends. Thumb-twiddling at the hotel or airport on the final day is better than missing an unexpected interview because you tried to make an early escape from the scene.
Some funding for attending the Meeting is made available to graduate students by the SCS: be sure to apply for it. Your own university may also have resources for which you may apply.
If you’re planning to visit family or friends over the holidays, include in your application (at the end of your cover letter or on a separate page, if your plans are complicated) your temporary contact information, with dates of travel and phone numbers clearly marked. If your plans change at the last minute, call or send an e-mail to the chair of the search committee, including those who have not contacted you to ask for an interview: they may simply be running late in their interview decisions. Tell your young relatives to answer the telephone politely and write down messages on paper, not Play-Doh.