This semester, we’re profiling two of our graduate students who have done the seemingly impossible: finished the program and moved on to amazing careers! Join us as we pick the brains of Lori Reeder and Valerie Chepp about academic training, the job market, and what they most look forward to AG (after grad school).
Where are you heading in the fall?
LR: The Survey Improvement Research Branch in the Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division at the U.S. Census Bureau.
VC: I’ll be joining the Sociology Department as an Assistant Professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN, where I’ll also be directing the Social Justice Program that is housed in Sociology.
What brought you to pursue/accept the position you’ll be starting in the Fall?
LR: I knew I wasn’t ready to pursue the academic job market, so I wanted a position that would not hurt my chances of pursuing an academic job down the road. I applied to predominantly research positions that each allow for the opportunity to also engage in independent research.
VC: At the beginning of my job search (and at the helpful suggestion of Dr. Rashawn Ray), I identified a set of employment criteria that were important to me. I prioritized these criteria into primary (i.e., “must haves”) and secondary (i.e., “it would be nice but not necessary”) categories. This exercise helped me to identify my ideal job: a tenure-track Assistant Professor position at a high quality liberal arts college in a large urban area, preferably in the Midwest or East Coast, with smart, friendly colleagues and engaged students. This was important knowledge for me to tap into during the job application process, since it’s easy to get swept up in the momentum of the job search. Before you know it, you could find yourself applying to every job out there with the hopes that you’ll land something…anything! Casting a wide net is an understandable strategy, and I applied to several positions that didn’t meet every criterion of my ideal job. However, I didn’t apply to jobs that strayed too far from my ideal. This helped to provide structure and logic to my job search. In the end, I was incredibly fortunate to accept the position at Hamline, since it fits all the criteria of my ideal job!
Can you talk a bit about the process of deciding on a certain type of position (e.g. research vs. teaching)?
LR: I chose a research position because my research experience far outweighs my teaching skills and comfort in the classroom. A non-academic research position still allows for a chance to publish and to adjunct to acquire classroom experience, if necessary.
VC: I think it’s useful to remember that there are many different types of positions out there. While we often use a teaching/research binary as a quick heuristic device for categorizing jobs, this method isn’t always accurate or helpful. I find teaching to be incredibly rewarding, intellectually stimulating, creative, and fun, but it also helps me to think through my ongoing research questions and projects. That said, I’ve invested a lot of time and energy in honing my teaching abilities. I wanted to work at an institution that valued my teaching talents, and that provided institutional support and creative flexibility for teaching, such as smaller class sizes and an appreciation for active learning. I was also interested in an institution that would value my research and scholarly activity centered on teaching and learning, such as my teaching website The Sociological Cinema (which I created with Lester Andrist and Paul Dean) and my publications in the field of teaching and learning.
What types of obstacles did you face in pursuing this job? What advice would you give to new grad students on the same path?
LR: One small obstacle was finding and waiting for research positions to become available. Another was rewriting my resume to highlight my research skills and technical skills more than my substantive research.
VC: Like many academic job seekers, I faced obstacles related to the time-consuming nature of the job search. It was a challenge to keep so many balls in the air: jobs applications, the dissertation, journal articles, an R&R, preparing for phone/campus interviews, and maintaining The Sociological Cinema, among other obligations. The advice I would give grad students is to be strategic about your job search. Have your application materials (e.g., teaching portfolio, cover letter templates, CVs, writing samples) polished and ready to go before job season begins. Ask colleagues to provide feedback on these materials and talk to others who already went through the process. Also, take the time to identify what type of job you really want, and realize (and be comfortable with the fact) that this may not map onto the positions that are most highly valued and deemed “dream jobs” in our discipline. Think about what you like to do on a day-to-day basis. Conduct research? Present research? Write? Publish in academic journals? Publish in more popular, public sociology formats? Mentor? Teach? Write grants? Program development? Course development? Collaboration? Work with community organizations? Work with public policy organizations? Explore new technologies in the classroom? The list goes on. But identify what you like and then pursue jobs that allow you to do this work and institutions that reward this work.
What was your experience applying to jobs? [Did you apply for multiple types of positions? How did you narrow down (or expand) your options? At what point in the dissertation process did you begin looking?]
LR: I began searching for jobs last fall (fall of 5th year) after defending my dissertation proposal. I applied to a handful of permanent positions and a couple of postdocs. I focused on jobs that would be autonomous enough to allow for independent research and that have had a history of employees transitioning to academic institutions. I received two offers.
What aspects of your experience at UMD were most important in securing the position you accepted?
LR: Many faculty maintain professional relationships with UMD alumni who nowwork at various agencies throughout the region. I think that this influences the culture of our department and sends the message that going into a research position that is not strictly academic is still a good choice. Faculty members were generally supportive of my pursuit of research-oriented jobs, particularly because I was applying to organizations that are conducive to transitioning to positions at research universities.
VC: Numerous teaching and research experiences at UMD helped me to secure my position at Hamline University. The fact that I independently taught several different courses, including developing my own ethnography course, set me apart from other candidates who had either only served as teaching assistants or never taught at all. I think it’s important for grad students to have a variety of different courses under their belt by the time they go on the market. The Sociological Cinema, which I developed with Lester and Paul at UMD with the support of the Sociology Department and the Center for Teaching Excellence, also set me apart from other candidates. The hiring committee at Hamline told me that other applicants actually cited The Sociological Cinema in their application materials as evidence of their teaching effectiveness! At Hamline, I will also be directing the interdisciplinary Social Justice Program. My dissertation research on spoken word poetry and social justice cuts across different disciplinary bodies of literature and was pivotal in demonstrating my ability and interest in directing this program.
Looking back, what was the most useful advice you got about the job market?
LR: I can’t recall any specific advice, so I’ll instead say what was helpful to me. In my first couple of years of graduate school, I attended every job talk, every seminar, and every brown bag I could. In addition, I often attended the graduate student meetings with guest speakers. Attending these types of functions were great career development opportunities. By attending these, you can meet people from a wide range of universities, and agencies. These events provide the opportunity to meet people across a wide spectrum of roles with a variety of responsibilities, which can help you get a feel for the type of work you would be most content doing.
What are you most looking forward to about your new position and/or place of residence?
LR: I’m most looking forward to the collaborative research opportunities available at the Census. The Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division is increasingly focused on scholarly research as part of its mission, so it’s an exciting time to be joining that division.
VC: I’m most excited about working with Hamline students and my new faculty colleagues. During my campus visit, I was completely energized and impressed by the students I met: they were passionate, curious, smart, and very engaged in their education and their communities. The warm welcome and friendly emails that I have already received from Hamline faculty—and I haven’t even arrived yet!—have also been exciting. I’m looking forward to working with colleagues within Sociology and across disciplines in various research and teaching collaborations. Finally, I’m super excited about moving to the Twin Cities (and crossing my fingers for no more polar vortexes)!