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Finding Your Place in Academia—Lessons From the Field

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We asked our Ilkmade Experts questions ranging from how they confront stressful situations in the workplace to how they position themselves in a competitive job market. Get real, honest feedback about what it’s like in the International Relations and Policy field. Jan Luedert, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction & Associate Professor at the School of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle, shares his insight on finding your place in academia. He has a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia.

The academic job market for recent graduate students is often described as dim with far greater numbers of applicants for an ever-decreasing number of coveted tenure track positions. Two strategies have helped me navigate this reality.

Be persistent

A key to working through this is to remain persistent. This entails continuously building out your research and publication record and to accept that not all submissions are going to be successful. Try again and improve on the feedback received. In addition, seek ways to add experiences in teaching and learning as well as those related to academic and administrative service. For instance, seeking out collaborations with colleagues working on the same research agenda, developing innovative curricula or joining conferences as a chair or discussant are all ways in which you can improve your expertise and marketability while concurrently expanding your network with your peers. Some of my most productive collaborations started by volunteering at large conferences or offering my help to colleagues.  

Understand your value

Second, in order to land an academic job in IR or any of the social sciences entails realizing your unique value. For some of us, this means to showcase our ability as a prolific writer and researcher, for others, it is to excel in teaching and learning. Yet again, you may strive to bridge policy and academic work by focusing on building your skills through consultancy or work in the public sector. By being authentic, realizing our strength, and establishing a clear vision for ourselves we are able to communicate our value and irrespective of whether it is in the university setting, international organizations, the non-governmental or public sector. In my own case, I have always enjoyed teaching IR and continuously work on becoming a better educator, which apart from training others in pedagogy, led me to work on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning research. As one of my mentors always used to say: “Onwards!”

Our take: 

When your goal is to devote your career to academic research, every single step of your studies should be seen as an opportunity to expand your CV and professional network. You might consider preparing an article to submit to a peer-reviewed journal early in your graduate studies in order to learn about the publishing process and begin to differentiate journals in your subfield. Attending conferences and workshops allows you to meet the top experts in your field of research and establish connections that can cement your reputation as an eager newcomer. Also, engaging with fellow classmates who focus on different areas may help you find a fresh and unique interdisciplinary perspective with which to analyze crucial issues.

Remember, however, that academics are specialists, therefore if there is something you are passionate about, try to focus on that specific issue early on in your current university assignments and extracurricular activities. By narrowing your focus, you will also be able to easily identify the key players and arenas (e.g. researchers, grants and institutions) that will support you in u your future academic career. 

Publishing research is essential for any academic and the number of publications in distinguished journals will always be a key component of your career advancement. Even if you have to take on additional roles during your career or if you feel forced to take a job outside of academia, always keep that in mind and be sure you can make time for your own writing and research.

Applying for jobs or want to discuss post-PhD options? Our Ilkmade Experts are here to help. From deciding on which programs are aligned with your goals to application review and interview prep, we’ve got you covered. Book a free 15-minute consultation here to see how we can support you through the tough decisions.

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