Monday, December 3, 2007

The Academic Job Process

Right now I'm deep in the middle of job application season. Deadlines for jobs I'm interested in have stretched (so far) from the first one due on October 10th, to ones due on New Years Eve. I have 4 more applications to send in this year which I plan to do soon (before the Christmas break). All in all by the end of the year I will have applied for a relatively modest 19 jobs (3 postdocs, 15 junior faculty positions and 1 very cool sounding public outreach job). So far I've been doing OK at not getting too stressed out by all this. I'll admit to my moments, but in general I've been doing OK. I decided earlier in the year that my daughter was more important than any job, so that while I would like to continue in astronomy I wasn't going to kill myself over job applications to the detriment of my short term sanity. We'll see how this all pans out! I sometimes wonder how many applications I would have put in if I had not had a baby this year - I think definitely there would have been more postdoc jobs in there. I also sometimes muse on the "urban legends" I hear about every job in astronomy (or at least the faculty postings) getting one or two hundred applications! Does that mean I need to apply to one to two hundred jobs to be sure of getting one. And where do all these hundreds of applications come from anyway?

This all makes me wonder too how much of a big waste of time this is for the field as a whole. Most of the time references are asked for up front, so for most of these jobs my recommenders have to send in a letter even if my application will never be seriously considered. I'm sure it's not that much effort once they've written the first letter, but it still has to be addressed correctly and sent in - so it must take some time. And the conventional wisdom seems to be to apply for more jobs - even ones which you don't think you have much chance of getting - on a sort of "just try it and see" basis. Now I don't have any brilliant ideas for reform, but it just seems to me that this isn't an efficient use of time either for the applicants, or their referees. Must be a lot of work for the job search committees too...