Chris Blattman

Academic job market advice

UPDATE: The original post is below, but I have now moved my job market advice to a new page

Another invitation to job marketeers to send your research papers along.

In the meantime, I offer my thoughts on the economics and poli sci job markets. Expect this to be updated over the years as I gain actual experience and perspective. (Fortunately for you, a lack of either does not prevent me from having an opinion.)

Don’t underestimate the importance of the second question. The first is always, “tell me about your dissertation.” The second: “So what’s next?” The importance of your answer is, in my opinion, under-appreciated. My advice: talk about a mixture of imminent papers and medium term plans; show your (sincere) excitement, and make it infectious; talk about it as your research agenda–the big questions you plan to answer through a steady stream of inspired publications.

Have an elevator speech. You must have a compelling and interesting 30-second sound bite on your research. Also have a rehearsed (but not rehearsed-sounding) 2-minute, 5-minute, and 15 minute version.

Don’t sell some schools short. I’ve seen students sneeze at schools ranked below 50 (or even 20). These places offer brilliant colleagues and wonderful environments. Apply, visit, and see for yourself. Most of the academics that do the most interesting and meaningful work–the world’s expert on country X, or policy Y, or development problem Z–are not at highly ranked research universities.

Don’t go on a ‘limited’ market. Political scientists are famous for this, and I just don’t get it. You want 2 to 3 offers for a simple reason: bargaining power. Once you have a second offer, your salary can go up a quarter while your teaching goes down a quarter. Figure out the math for your discipline: to get 3 offers you need to do X fly-outs, which means you have to send Y applications. If Y is smaller than 50, check your math.

There are increasing returns to your main paper or chapter. Breadth is wonderful, but most of your potential employers will read one paper and see one presentation of yours only. If that. This may be the one time in your academic career where polishing your paper an extra 10 percent has 100 percent returns.

Narcissists and sycophants need not apply. Faculty are not simply looking for the cleverest choice, but a good colleague. So leave the personality disorders at home. Ask about your potential colleague’s work, and try to be intelligently helpful. Remember that colleagues like to hear solutions more than they like to hear problems.

One glass of wine at dinner. This should be self-explanatory.

Other sources of job market wisdom (in that, unlike me, they are actually wise):

All these advice columns are purely economics affairs. Where are the political science guides? These and other resources (and suggestions) are welcome from readers.

Update: My advice for economics PhDs thinking about the political science job market.

Why We Fight - Book Cover
Subscribe to Blog