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Jenny Baker
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Academics’ Forum: On What We Wish We Knew While on the Academic Job Market

Cindy Maupin, Binghamton University, and Rachel Williamson Smith, Georgia Southern University

It’s that time of the year that is the most exciting (and intimidating) for academic-focused I-O psychology PhD candidates: The “Academic Job Market” has officially begun! In my experience, the plethora of opportunities can also bring up even more questions: What kind of job do I want? What kinds of programs might want me? How do I know if it’s a good fit?

I was reminiscing the other day with my great friend, Rachel Williamson Smith (assistant professor at Georgia Southern University), about these questions and more from when we were on the market, and we quickly realized how differently we think about “what matters” in an academic job now as assistant professors versus how we thought of everything while we were newbies to the academic world. So for today’s column, I’m honored to have Rachel join me as a guest author, so we can discuss important considerations and nuances that “we wish we knew” to help demystify the process of the academic job market.

First, it is important to note that your academic job search is a deeply personal journey. A job that may be a perfect fit for one person might be a terrible fit for another, even if they have comparable experience and credentials. Keep in mind that you are the one who will be in this job (not your cohort mates, not your advisor, and not that one person you met that one time at a conference), so ultimately you have to be the one who likes what it has to offer. Second, there may not be a “one perfect job” (or even if you think there is, they may not be hiring the year you are on the market), so job candidates need to contemplate and balance a number of considerations about a potential academic job when determining their fit with an opportunity. We encourage job seekers to think carefully about the following:

1.  What kind of department do you want to join?

One of the benefits of an I-O psychology PhD is the versatility of your knowledge and how it might be applied in a university setting. Many I-O students know about options for joining either psychology departments or business schools, but there are many other program options for which an I-O psychologist might be a fit too (depending on your experience and research areas). For instance, you might find a good fit with a quantitative-methods or data-analytics program, a communications program, an occupational health program, and more. Of course, this means that your future colleagues may be from different disciplines than you, but that might be something you find exciting (see Aguinis et al., 2014, for further discussion on this topic).

2.  Where do you want to live?

This can be a challenging one because there are many aspects that factor into this question. For example, is there a particular region of the US you prefer (or even a different country)? Do you want/need to be close to family? Do you want/need to be in a city? What is the cost of living? What are your options for housing? Do you have a partner and/or other family members who need to be able to find a job in this new location too? All of these questions can help you to determine whether a particular job opportunity is a good fit for you and the lifestyle you hope to lead.

3.  What is your preferred balance between research and teaching?

The expectations a program has for research productivity do not necessarily align with the university’s research ranking (e.g., research productivity expectations are much more dependent on a specific program’s culture and goals, and not just whether they are an R1 or R2). Thus, a better metric to use to disentangle the degree to which a job is “research focused,” “teaching focused,” or “balanced” between the two is the teaching load expectation. For instance, research-focused jobs might offer a 3–0 (i.e., you teach 3 classes in the fall, 0 classes in the spring) or 2–2 teaching load, whereas balanced jobs might offer a 3–2 or a 3–3 teaching load, and teaching-focused jobs might offer a 4–4 or higher teaching load. This can be an important metric for evaluating potential positions (i.e., if you value research the most, don’t aim for 4–4 schools; if you value teaching the most, don’t aim for 3–0 schools). Additionally, an under-considered aspect beyond the teaching load is the number of new “preps” per year (i.e., the number of unique courses you teach per year). For instance, having a 2–2 teaching load that requires teaching 4 unique preps may be similar or perhaps even more of a teaching effort than a 3–3 teaching load with only 1–2 preps (i.e., teaching multiple sections of the same course). Typically, the number of preps is not listed within job ads, so be sure to ask about this during your interviews.

4.  Who will your future colleagues be?

Most people consider this question from a “personality” and “fit” perspective (which you definitely still should!), but there are a few extra pieces to consider that we’ve found particularly important as junior academics. For instance, it can be incredibly helpful to have other assistant professors in your same program, and especially ones who are a year or two ahead of you in the tenure process. This means you have someone facing similar career stages and challenges as you, and you can learn from and support one another. However, it’s also extremely beneficial to join a program with people who are already tenured at the associate professor and the full professor levels. Faculty members with seniority can protect you from additional service requirements, connect you to important opportunities, and even give you advice about the field more broadly (Shout out to Fran Yammarino and Shelley Dionne at Binghamton University for being amazing about all of these things!). Thus, the range of experience levels for the faculty members of a particular program is a nontrivial component to keep in mind during your job search.

5.  Who will your future students be?

No matter your university, you will be expected in some way to interact with, teach, and/or mentor students. What kind of students would you be expected to work with in your role (e.g., undergrads, MBAs, master’s or PhD students, or all of the above)? Additionally, it’s important to think about the type of students you will interact with depending on the department you are in (e.g., psychology or management) and the type of mentoring they will need as a result. For example, on the one hand, if you work within a psychology department, it is likely that your PhD students could be preparing for a career in academia or in the applied sector. On the other hand, most management departments prepare their PhD students solely for academic careers. Similarly, mentoring psychology majors often involves preparing them for graduate school, whereas many business majors intend on pursuing an internship or full-time job immediately after graduation. Thus, carefully consider the students you will be expected to work with, and then make sure that type of activity aligns with your preferred student–mentorship model.

6.  What are your potential tenure expectations (and what do those really mean)?

Different types of programs will have different expectations for teaching and research, and thus, different tenure expectations. However, there can be much more nuance here than you might initially think. For example, if the expectation is “2 A publications and 6 other publications,” what counts as an “A publication” and as an “other publication” for that program? Are these outlets journals you already target for publishing your work, or would they be too narrow? Is there any flexibility in the list, or not? Certain programs may also place more of an emphasis on nuanced aspects of publishing, such as the impact factor of the journal, the percentage of your publications in which you are the first author, and the number of coauthors on your publications. Another important tenure-evaluation consideration is the degree to which you are or aren’t encouraged to pursue grant funding as part of your tenure evaluation. If it is encouraged, what counts as being “grant active” for your program (i.e., is applying enough, or must you be awarded a major federal grant)? Are there special benefits associated with receiving grant funding (e.g., can you “buy-out” of teaching responsibilities, or does a grant count as an “A pub” for your research evaluations)? Getting publications and pursuing external funding are both highly challenging endeavors, so be sure the programs you consider joining have a reward structure that aligns with your own professional goals.

There is no doubt that the academic job market is both exciting and challenging. However, through our experiences, Rachel and I have found that if you’re true to yourself and your needs when searching for a future academic home, it’ll pay dividends for your future career satisfaction and success!


Aguinis, H., Bradley, K. H., & Brodersen, A. (2014). Industrial-organizational psychologists in business schools: Brain drain or eye opener? Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 7, 284–303.


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