News from the Front Lines of the Academic Job Market

The following article appeared in the Fall 1995 APAGS Newsletter, a publication of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students. Copyright 1995, all rights reserved.

News from the Front Lines of the Academic Job Market

Todd D. Nelson

California State University, Stanislaus

Ah, fall....and a senior grad student's thoughts turn to....getting an academic job! Yikes! Few tasks, including application to graduate school, are as mysterious as attempting to discover the ins-and-outs of applying for academic positions in psychology. Brems, Lampman, and Johnson (1995) reported that there are a tremendous number of errors professor applicants make in the process that are often serious enough toremove the applicant from further consideration. As one who has navigated the treacherous waters recently, I would like to convey my advice and experiences in the academic job market in psychology (I began applying in September 1994 and stopped in April 1995). I hope my advice and tips will help you in your quest to obtain a job in academia.


I recommend getting copies each month of the APA Monitor, the APS Observer, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. They all have the major and minor jobs in psychology listed and the Chronicle updates its listings each week. The Chronicle and the APS job listings are easily accessed via Gopher on the Internet. Start perusing the ads in the spring or summer prior to the fall when you will start applying in earnest.

Where to Apply

The cardinal rule is: Don't be selective. You are beginning and can not afford to be picky in your job search no matter how impressive you think your vita is. Apply to everything and anything even remotely connected to your area of interest, and apply to the small schools too. Trust me.....apply to all of these positions. Apply to the temporary positions, too. Often these can open up into tenure track positions after a year or two.

What to Send

First, carefully read the job advertisement, noting the following: the title of the position, the area of the position, qualifications required (and whether the committee will consider ABD graduate student applicants), specific information requested, the address (and name of contact person) where you will send your application, and the deadline. Then, in every application, regardless of whether the advertisement asks for these things, you should always include:

1. A one-page cover letter. Explain your interest in the position, give a very brief statement of research interests, teaching experience and interests, and deliver your statement (a few sentences only) on how you believe your abilities, interests, and experiences would compliment the department's existing emphases.

2. Statement of teaching interests (1-2 pages)

3. Statement of research interests (1-2 pages)

4. Curriculum vitae (for details on what to include in your vita, consult the references below, and examine the vitae of professors in your program)

5. Sample of teaching evaluations (I usually included xerox copies of the written comments side)

6. Reprints, preprints, and manuscripts under review (Note: only send convention presentations as a last resort, as they do not carry as much weight in the evaluation process as do regular journal articles)

Of course, you should also arrange for your letters of recommendation to be sent in a timely manner, preferably from those professors who are most familiar with your abilities as a researcher, scholar, and/or practitioner. I encourage you to employ my time-tested "trick" for ensuring the timely arrival of letters of recommendation: make a list of the official deadlines for receipt of application materials, and then when you give the preaddressed stamped envelopes to your letter writers, give them a list of the schools with deadlines that are two weeks earlier than the real deadline, so that if there is a problem with any letter-writers you are covered with the two-week buffer.


What gets you on the interview list? Publications. Even at small colleges, this is a primary criterion. But, many graduate students have an understandably light publication side to their vita. Therefore, my advice (which I believe worked for me as well as others who have used this technique) is to get as many things into review by the time you send your applications out, so that the committee still sees that you are highly productive when they review your vita. Again, pubs are a key, so it is in your best interest to crank out the manuscripts and send them in for review!

The Vita

You should definitely have a solid vita all around (pubs, teaching, etc.). Even large research-oriented universities want to see that you've had some teaching experience along with your four Psychological Review articles. Similarly, small teaching-oriented colleges and universities want to be sure that, in addition to keeping students in rapt attention with your dazzling lectures, you are a productive scholar, with a steady publishing record. When I applied last fall for positions, I had a sole author publication in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, three sole author manuscripts under review at top journals, and two other manuscripts under review at top journals. I had four conference presentations (three first author, one sole author) and had taught extensively (five times, three different courses). Sounds pretty decent? At least for the small places? WRONG. I was rejected from 84 places. The competition is fierce: even the small places had an average of 100 doctorates applying for the position!

The Good News

"What good news?" you may ask. Well, you can get a job - it is possible. I say this because at the end of my search (when I had heard from every place....around the end of April), I got a call from one of the places I had ranked highly, and they wanted me to come interview. I flew to California and interviewed from May 6-9, and am pleased to say that I am the new assistant professor of social psychology at California State University - Stanislaus (tenure track!).

In Summary

You should work hard and get your manuscripts under review, and apply to everything, regardless of whether it falls below your ideal position for what you would like to have. Beggars can't be choosers, and new doctorates are definitely beggars (regardless of the quality of one's vita). Many people on the market will end up not getting jobs, and will have to repeat the process the next year. Be prepared for this possibility. Jobs in academic psychology are there (hey, I applied to over 85 colleges that had professor openings), but in order to be competitive for these positions, you should begin preparing early in your graduate career to gain the sort of experiences and publication record that hiring committees want. The references below cover in greater detail the suggestions (and many others) that I have made in this article, and a careful examination of these references will give you a great "leg up" on your competition. If you have any questions about the process, or about my particular experiences on the recent job market feel free to contact me at the address below. Best of luck to you all!

Todd D. Nelson, Department of Psychology, California State University, Turlock, CA 95382; Phone (209) 667-3442.


Iacono, W.G. (1981). The academic job search: The experiences of a new Ph.D. on the job market. Canadian Psychology, 22(3), 217-227.

(Iacono's is the best single article I have ever seen on the experience of being a candidate on the interview process. It helped me a lot).

Darley, J. M., & Zanna, M. P. (1987). The hiring process in academia. In M. Zanna & J. Darley (Eds.), The compleat academic: A practical guide for the beginning social scientist. New York: Random House.

Brems, C., Lampman, C., & Johnson, M. E. (1995). Preparation of applications for academic positions in psychology. American Psychologist, 50(7), 533-537.