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TA Corner: When should you start thinking about the job market?

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Teaching and being a grad student at the same time can be a tremendous juggling act (especially if you try to have a life outside of school at the same time!) Your first year, you should focus on your coursework, on getting into the right lab, on developing your research protocol, on passing your qualifying exams. Your second year, you should develop your dissertation research and network, and keep passing your classes. Your third year, you apply for grants, conduct your research… when do you have time to study? To write that article? To grade papers? To hold a review session? When do you have time to sleep, or go for a beer? Thinking about what will happen when you’re done with your degree and you’re ready to start that job? When is the right time to start planning for what comes next?

The answer is simple: Now. You should start thinking about the job market right now.

Whatever the trajectory is for someone in your program of study, you and your colleagues are all working towards that same goal: a degree, and (hopefully!) a job. What are you doing to distinguish yourself from the crowd? Excelling at your classes and performing innovative and excellent research are important, but they are only a start. Now is the time to start thinking about what the job market will look like when you defend your dissertation and, degree in hand, go out into the world.

Start by familiarizing yourself with the job market for your field. Subscribe to industry or discipline-specific journals and read the job postings. Read the Chronicle of Higher Education, learn what is available, and see what potential employers are looking for.

Then, build that skillset. One of the best things you can do for yourself while you are a graduate student is to make the most of every opportunity (and every responsibility) you are given: turn it into a marketable asset. Your role as a Teaching Assistant is invaluable in this regard, and gives you the opportunity to develop a secondary skillset which will complement your research skillset, round out your CV, and make you stand out from the crowd.

Seek out opportunities to hone your instructional skills. While you should be getting your content expertise from your coursework and the faculty mentors you cultivate in your area of expertise, you should also be seeking out training and mentors in teaching. Whether you go on to a career at a major research institution, a small liberal arts college, or an industry facility, your teaching experience is a valuable asset. For a position at any university, it is an important component of your job application. Training opportunities such as workshops in pedagogy (available free to Pitt graduate students: visit http://www.cidde.pitt.edu/workshops for more information and to register) and papers on the scholarship of teaching and learning should be taken advantage of, and should have a place on your CV.

Begin thinking critically about your teaching. Why do you teach the way that you do? What is it about teaching that you like best? Which aspects of teaching are the most tedious for you? The most challenging? Integrating your teaching responsibilities into your graduate studies can be a tremendous challenge, but can be very rewarding. Learning to teach effectively and efficiently will make your graduate experience less stressful and more rewarding. Leveraging your teaching experience to make you a more competitive candidate on the job market will go a long way towards making your post-graduate experience less stressful and more rewarding.

Start curating your teaching materials. Did you develop a quiz for the class you are a TA for this semester? Save a copy of it. Will you be a TA for the same class again in the future? Would you use the same quiz or make changes? Why or why not? These kinds of materials, and the rationale behind your use of them, are at the core of a well-developed teaching portfolio.

Prepare yourself for the job market by starting now: familiarize yourself with the job market and what it will take to be competitive. Begin to collect the expertise you will need to succeed by taking advantage of training opportunities and asking for faculty mentorship. Finally, start filing away the materials you will need to develop a competitive teaching portfolio someday, when you’re finally “on the market.”

By Lauren Herckis, Teaching Assistant Services Coordinator, CIDDE


MARCH 2014

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