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Careers Café

The value of imagining the long term


If you are successful in your search for a tenure-track job, you are going to be with that institution for a long time. Your potential employer knows it.

What are you telling a potential employer about what you’ll do once you get past the doorway?

Try this exercise: Imagine you are successful

What will you be doing in 10 years? 20 years?

What research would you like to be working on? Will you be doing that research mostly on your own? Or will you be collaborating with others?

Will you have graduate students? What might they be working on under your supervision?

What do you imagine your teaching to be like? Will you develop new things every few years or do you see yourself establishing a clear specialism that you continue to deliver?

Are you involved in campus life beyond your department? How?

What do you do on your sabbatical? What conferences do you attend? How do you develop professionally?

Let yourself dream. Take some notes on what that dream might entail. They will be useful.

Modify your dream to the dream that might be possible if you got this job.

Make your imagining specific. Then bring some of that imagining into your application materials.

Don’t just talk about your dissertation. Show how the dissertation is the first step of the research element of your career. Sketch out the road you want to take. Show the hiring committee what you will do if they hire you.

Imagine your teaching in relation to the standard load. Check the balance of 1st & 2nd year, 3rd & 4th year, and graduate classes that faculty seem to teach and speak to your contributions at each level.

If there are no graduate programs, imagine how your research and mentorship would work with senior undergraduates. If they teach some courses in very large groups, speak to how you work with very large groups in your teaching statement.

Be confident without being arrogant.

Your plans will change. For all kinds of reasons, including reasons intrinsic to the research or teaching area.

Your plan might include layers of work so it is clear that you will do research even if you don’t secure funding right away while giving a vision for what you would apply for funding for and how the program could expand.

You need to be adaptable without appearing like that bad ex-girlfriend who will be anything you want her to be if only you don’t break up with her.

The school you are applying to might not hire you. But the chances they’ll hire (and tenure) someone who is trying to be whoever they want and doesn’t have a core sense of their own academic goals are much slimmer.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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