Saturday, December 15, 2007

Books on the Job Hunt

Now it's time for a post about something not computer related - the job hunt! As some who know me may know, I am in the middle of my job search. This has its ups and downs - there are stressful moments, entertaining moments, and moments of pure confusion. I've gotten a lot of really great advice from many friends, colleagues, and advisors, which has made things infinitely easier (and probably infinitely more successful, in the long run). But what do I do when my advisor doesn't want 20 phone calls a day about how to get started on writing this or that? A selection of handy books have been a real life-saver in this regard!

In this blog post, I'm going to discuss two books (and a website) that I've found especially handy in guiding my job search. They each have their pros and cons, and unique styles. Word of advice to fellow grad students: Read these books sooner rather than later - preferably at least six months in advance of when you plan your own search.

The Chicago Guide to Landing a Job in Academic Biology. By C. R. Chandler, L. M. Wolfe, and D. E. L. Promislow.
This book came out earlier this year. I first spotted it at the U of Chicago Press table at the SICB meetings, and knew I had to have it. Although the title says "Biology," it really would be of interest to most any paleontologist aiming for a job in higher education. The authors of this book lay out a nice and tidy sequence of events - both from the perspective of the applicant as well as from the perspective of the hiring department. As I've read through it, I've found myself nodding my head in agreement with most everything they have to say. The writing style is informal, like you're having a conversation over a beer after hours, and the book is filled with anecdotes laying out the do's and don'ts of the job search from people who have been at both sides of the equation. The example CV's and letters are generally quite helpful, although it might be nice to see a few more samples. Also, they bring up many points about interviewing skills, applications, etc., that I never would have thought of and never had thought to ask about. Two gaps in the books coverage might reduce its usefulness for some folks. First, it doesn't really cover academic jobs outside of the university system - i.e., museum curatorships and the like. Also, it probably won't be that helpful for people aiming for positions as collections managers or preparators. I don't know of any source, beyond chatting over a beer at SVP, that really offers this sort of advice. Second, much of it is geared for people in the North American system - I would be curious to learn from my non-North American colleagues how things work! Despite these gaps, if you buy only one book on the job hunt, "Finding a Job in Academic Biology" would be it.

The Academic Job Search Handbook (3rd Edition). By M. M. Heiberger and J. M. Vick.
This book, now in its third edition, is really intended to address all folks seeking work in academia - whether they're philosophers, paleontologists, or specialists in late 16th century Algerian literature. As such, there are many aspects of the book that aren't all that useful or relevant. The several pages of sample C.V.'s in the humanities and social sciences are usually just flipped through when I'm utilizing this. It has roughly the same content as the Chicago Guide, but offers more detail in certain areas (such as potential questions during an interview). The authors take themselves a little more seriously than the authors of the Chicago Guide, but that's ok too! The Academic Job Search Handbook is a good choice to round out your job hunting book collection.

Chronicle Careers
This website, from Chronicle of Higher Education, has some really nice forums and advice columns, which have been particularly helpful for me. They also have a yearly "CV Doctor," in which people send in their CV's for evaluation and comment. Of course, it covers all fields of academia (and all stages, from grad school to emeritus), but there really are some good things on this site. Ms. Mentor is always good for a chuckle, too.

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