Finding an Academic Job in Forensic Psychology: Part 2

To help guide you in the often soul-crushing experience of looking for an academic job in the seemingly over-saturated social sciences market, the EAPL-S has decided to offer some useful tips and sobering advice to help you along the way.

This article features useful information on finding an academic job in forensic psychology, and was written by Joseph Toomey. While some of the information presented in this post is specific to North American job searches, most of it is generally applicable wordwide.

Read part 1 of this article series here.

As others here have posted useful direction on where to go series, I will not repeat the descriptions of the sites they mention (i.e., Psychology Job Wiki, Chronicle of Higher Education, AP-LS job listings, and International resources; see part 1 of this series). I will, however, mention as it is the site where I located my first and current academic job. It is also important to routinely check the human resources or job opportunities websites of college and universities you are particularly interested in, as many do not post their openings to job search sites. I will also not get into how to navigate these sites because they are fairly self-explanatory.

Top 7 suggestions for navigating the academic job hunt

I would prefer (and I think you will find it more helpful) to discuss some of the necessary steps in preparing for the academic job hunt. Before I do, I would highly recommend that anyone looking for an academic job peruse former AP-LS president Brian Cutler’s recent brief column in the AP-LS newsletter.

In summary, Dr. Cutler highlights his top 7 suggestions for navigating the academic job hunt. Those suggestions include:

  1. Focus on maintaining a steady publication record,
  2. Take opportunities to teach a variety of classes using various platforms (including online courses – suggestion 5
  3. Cast a wide net when considering job location, in the current market one can ill-afford to be too geographically selective,
  4. Become involved in departmental service activities and committees,
  5. Online courses (see above),
  6. Put a great deal of thought and individual focus into your cover letter and CV presentation, and
  7. Persevere!

Dr. Cutler makes an excellent point when he insinuates that the first time job hunter be flexible with their standards in regards to their first academic job. Never underestimate the power of simply getting your foot in the door!

How do I Prepare?

Let’s be frank, the academic job market is brutal. Each and every one of you is applying for highly sought after jobs, and competing against a sea of applicants who are highly qualified. Let’s also remember that the faculty members holding these positions realize they have a great job, and are unlikely to give them up. For that reason, openings are generally scarce and highly specialized. So, beyond having a relative in the Dean’s office, how can one get a leg up on the competition? There is no simple “Tenure Track Faculty Jobs for Dummies” answer to this question. The simple fact of the matter is that you must dedicate yourself to this career path early and with vigor. In my humble opinion, the two most important areas to tackle hard and early are building your research/publication record and developing your teaching portfolio.

Getting Your Name on the Page

Dr. Cutler’s very first suggestion to students and early career academics is to PUBLISH! This was one of my earliest goals as a first-year doctoral student, and once I saw my name in black and white for the first time I was hooked. I spent many hours networking with other faculty in my department and researchers at other universities. I attended conferences and rubbed elbows with researchers who seemed like giants. This is essential. As productive as your adviser may be, their time and ideas are limited. Search out new collaborations that will benefit you and your lab. These connections will pay dividends when it comes to the length of your CV, seeking out references for the job hunt, and having connections at colleges/universities where jobs may open up.

Making connections and developing collaborative projects will also assist you in formulating your research agenda. For some students, their future research agenda is likely to be tied into their advisers work; for others, your interests may fluctuate throughout your graduate career. It is important that you eventually locate a general area of focus. It is not necessary that you choose to dedicate your career to “The cognitive functions of female rhesus monkeys while simultaneously stacking red blocks and listening to Mozart.” That level of specificity may actually be more harmful than helpful.

Search committees often advertise positions in Cognitive Development, Applied Clinical Psychology, Neuroscience, etc. Developing the ability to discuss your research in a broader context is essential. Being open to areas of research that are related, though not necessarily identical, to your interests can be helpful in forming collaborations and keeping you employed! When writing your research agenda, first describe your research successes before discussing your plans for the future. When addressing the latter, be specific discuss the granting agencies that are likely to fund your work, as well as the likely benefits to the university and student body. While it certainly deserves more discussion than a single sentence, it also does not hurt to start seeking out small grant opportunities for students available through APA , and/or AP-LS to name just a few. The ability to acquire funding for your research is highly attractive to most universities!

The Student Becomes the Teacher

Dr. Cutler’s second suggestion regarding teaching is also crucial. Of course, it is important that you show you are comfortable teaching a variety of courses within your discipline, but teaching a variety of courses also helps you to develop and prepare your personal teaching philosophy and gives you a track record of teaching effectiveness. If your department does not track student ratings of your performance, seek out information on departmental surveys and approach your department chair. Many search committees require that you submit information that measures your teaching ability. Regarding your teaching philosophy, the amount of time and energy you dedicate to your teaching philosophy will vary. Research focused universities (R1s) place a heavier emphasis on your publishing and research track record; whereas Liberal Arts and teaching oriented colleges place a higher emphasis on teaching and may offer a course load of five to seven courses a year. Full-time Instructor positions may offer as many as ten courses per year. It is important to be prepared to apply to a range of institutions with varying emphasis on teaching. Your discussion of your teaching philosophy should emphasize your personal philosophy of imparting knowledge on students, as well as the practical techniques you have found helpful. It is generally helpful to mention any novel approaches you have developed and how these approaches have been successful. There is no agreed upon recommendation for length when it comes to your teaching philosophy. However, I would consider the number of applications the search committee is likely to read, and how they may respond when they find your teaching philosophy is slightly shorter than your dissertation! Describe your philosophy and experience efficiently, and in a font that does not require a microscope to read.

On the Right Track

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to preparing for the job hunt in academia, but it should get you started on the right path. If you are already entering your third or fourth year and have not begun to consider the importance of publications and teaching experience, get started! Register for upcoming conferences in order to begin networking. Apply for small grants to fund your research projects. Contact your department and ask about opportunities to teach in the spring, or during summer sessions. By focusing on these two major areas, you will find that by the time the job hunt knocks on your door, you have the tools necessary to meet the challenge. When that day comes, we can discuss the dreaded application process, job talks, and negotiating a comfortable job package. Good luck to all of you, and I will see you on the playing field!

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