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By: Jonathan Foland

Fall semester is underway, and for many doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars, so is the academic job search. Hundreds of doctoral candidates and postdoctoral scholars at UNC are busy applying for academic faculty positions, hoping to find the right one. Whether writing and finalizing a dissertation, preparing for comprehensive exams, or progressing through coursework, doctoral students at some point must face an important question: “How do I get a job?” This question and many others were at the center of last week’s Academic Faculty Job Search Panel.


On Tuesday, September 20, two faculty panels convened at University Career Services to answer graduate students’ questions about finding academic faculty positions. The panels were concurrent, with one session for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences and the other for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Attendance for both panels exceeded organizers’ expectations and included graduate students and postdocs at all stages of their doctoral development. Faculty panelists, representing a range of faculty positions and academic institutions, arrived eager to answer questions and share details about their own career journeys.


The humanities and social sciences faculty panel consisted of Dr. Dawn Harvel, a faculty member in Human Services Technology at Wake Technical Community College; Dr. Anna Krome-Lukens, Lecturer and Director of Experiential Education, and Interim Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Honors Program in Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill; Dr. Ram Neta, Professor and Director of Placement in the Department of Philosophy at UNC-Chapel Hill; and Dr. Garry Walton, Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Professor of English at Meredith College. The session was moderated by Jonathan Foland, Graduate Assistant for University Career Services and doctoral student in the Department of Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill.


Panelists shared their stories of job searches and career growth. Dr. Harvel expressed the importance of networking and building professional connections. Even a brief interaction with a person could, later on, lead to a new career. Dr. Krome-Lukens explained the differences between a lecturer and a professorial position, including the lack of tenure for the former. Panelists also spoke about having a passion for their jobs. Dr. Neta expressed joy for publishing and being a part of an ongoing scholarly conversation. Dr. Walton, likewise, related his pleasure for undergraduate teaching and described how his research informs his pedagogy.


With panelists coming from different types of institutions, the session was an opportunity to compare the diversity of full-time faculty positions and the different requirements for promotion. At a community college like Wake Tech, tenure is not an option; instead, faculty work closely with students as both instructors and advisers. For a doctoral student seeking a position with a community college, the passion must be in education and student services–not research and publication. Dr. Walton made similar observations about the promotion process at Meredith College. Although faculty at Meredith can earn tenure, their tenure requirements place a premium on excellence in undergraduate instruction and mentoring.


Even UNC-Chapel Hill, a research-intensive institution, offers different types of academic faculty positions. Dr. Neta represented the path taken by many Ph.D.s: a tenure-track career built on scholarly publication, disciplinary and university service, and classroom instruction. Dr. Krome-Lukens demystified the role and career path for a lecturer. Unlike a professor, a lecturer’s focus is instruction, not research. Like a professor, a lecturer can earn promotion and move up the ranks to become a senior lecturer.


Members of the audience raised important questions as the session drew to a close. One asked the panel about striking a balance between work and personal life. Another asked about balancing work obligations while also caring for a family. For some faculty, including Dr. Krome-Lukens, working in a position with minimal or no research requirements can make it easier to leave work at the office and enjoy evenings and weekends. For others, including Drs. Neta and Walton, pursuing an advanced degree and then a faculty career often required negotiation with partners, children, family, and friends. Still, the life of an academic has many perks, and Dr. Harvel reminded the audience that a faculty member’s daily schedule affords flexibility that many other career paths do not. However, all the panelists concurred; there is no easy solution to the sometimes competing needs of work and personal life.


An academic job search often is a long, complex process. Institutions and faculty positions vary, and as the faculty panelists made clear, it is important for doctoral students to not only be aware of these differences, but to also be mindful of what their own goals are for a rewarding career. Graduate and professional students at UNC do not need face the job search process alone. Throughout the year University Career Services sponsors events, including workshops and career fairs, designed for graduate and professional students’ needs. UCS counselors are also happy to meet one-on-one with graduate and professional students seeking career development advice. UCS and other resources at UNC-Chapel Hill are available to ensure that when graduate and professional students confront the question, “how do I get a job?”, they will be able to answer confidently.


By: Jonathan Foland, Graduate Career Services Assistant and Doctoral Student in the Department of Communication,


The Academic Faculty Job Search Panel was co-hosted by the Graduate School; the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs; Training Initiatives in Biological and Biomedical Science (TIBBS); University Career Services; and student groups, Academic and Research Intensive Career Association (ARIC) and Future Science Educators (FuSE).


To stay informed about career development workshops and special events, follow University Career Services on Twitter: @unc_ucs (all students), and @UNC_GPSCareers (graduate and professional students)

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