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APA Science Directorate and Tomorrow's Professors

The APA Science Directorate offers workshops oriented toward preparing advanced graduate students and post-doctoral fellows for the searches for their first academic faculty positions.

By Clare Porac

The APA Science Directorate offers workshops oriented toward preparing advanced graduate students and post-doctoral fellows for the searches for their first academic faculty positions. These workshops use a variety of discussion formats, from formal panels to informal lunch settings, but each format provides the opportunity for aspiring academics to interact with and question experienced faculty members about the good, the bad and the ugly of the faculty search process. An attempt is made to have participant faculty from a variety of university and college settings so that the differences between the search processes and the career demands at different types of institutions can be discussed and compared.

Recently, I had an opportunity to act as the moderator for two academic career workshops. The first was held at the meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) in Orlando, Florida in September, 2005. This workshop was organized with a panel of three faculty members who led the discussion and answered questions from approximately thirty graduate student attendees. The second workshop was held at the meeting of the Cognitive Development Society (CDS) in San Diego, California in October, 2005. This second event was organized as a luncheon with faculty participants at each lunch table fielding questions from the graduate and post-doctoral student attendees. In both instances, the faculty participants are members of the society that co-hosted the event with the APA Science Directorate.

The issues discussed at these workshops follow at least two thematic tracks. These tracks are independent of the workshop format and are influenced by the major concerns expressed by the student attendees themselves. First, students want to know what they need to do to make themselves competitive in a national search for an academic position. How can I make my application stand out from a field of a hundred other applicants? How many publications should I have? What types of publications are looked at favorably or unfavorably by search committees? Should I have teaching experience and, if so, how do I get teaching experience? How should I write the cover letter to my application? How do I convey my enthusiasm for my research and/or my teaching? How should I decide which faculty positions to apply for? These are among the many questions that center around the theme of the preparation needed for a competitive and successful search for a faculty position.

The second theme centers around the events and activities that make up the campus interview process when an application results in an invitation to make a campus visit. Students want to know what they will be asked to do when interviewed face-to-face by members of an academic department. How should I present myself? How should I prepare and present my job talk? What is the best way to interact with members of the search committee and other members of the department? What should I do when I talk to deans and other university administrators? How should I go about finding out what the department is really like? If I am offered the position, what items should I include when I negotiate the terms of my appointment?

The strength of these workshops lies in the fact that the faculty participants are frank and open about their own experiences and what each of them has seen transpire in the context of their own departments and universities. Given the diversity of the backgrounds and academic settings of the faculty participants, there is a surprising agreement among them about what is the best way to approach each of the questions posed by the students. Tomorrow’s professors are well-served by the honest and practical advice that forms the basis of the academic career workshops co-hosted by the Science Directorate and participating psychological organizations and societies.