How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia Series, Part 1: Be Observed

When you get into your 3rd year of grad school, you probably have completed all of your course work, chosen an advisor, and started teaching classes.


This is also the time where you start to decide if you love learning so much that you want to do it forever!  Or you decide that when you finish, you want to take the money and run (get an industry job).


If you are in the former group like I was, you’ve realized that either teaching or research is your passion!  Or maybe you are passionate about both teaching and research.  In any case, you’ve found your passion and there is nothing else you’d rather do as your career.  Well, that means you probably want to go into academia and be a professor at a college or university.


So that means, in the fall (or spring) semester of your final year of grad school you, will start to apply for jobs in academia.


But…one does not simply click on a job posting, fill out an application, and hope for the best.  Oh no, my friend.  It takes careful planning and preparation to even complete an application, let alone stand out enough to get an interview!


That’s why I started this blog!  I hated that there wasn’t a roadmap for successfully going through the application process to land your dream job in academia.


I was pretty successful during my job search with the process that I made for myself so I wanted to share it with you!  You have enough on your plate with teaching, research, presentations, seminars, and writing your dissertation.  Let me do the heavy lifting for you.


This series, How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia will walk you through the steps you need to take before filling out a job application.  There are 3 parts in this series:

Part 1:  Be Observed

Part 2:  Observe

Part 3:  Roadmap to Success


How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia, Part 1: Be Observed | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Part 1:  Be Observed Teaching

Depending on the type of school you want to work at (liberal arts, R1, community college), teaching may or may not be a huge component of your appointment.  But you will have to teach.


And the schools you will apply for will need evidence of your teaching skills, practices, and experience.  Every application will ask for a teaching statement or philosophy, teaching evaluations, and a recommendation letters that will give proof that you know what you are doing in a classroom.


And how will someone know how well you are doing in the classroom?


They will only know if they have seen you teach.


So the first step to prepare to apply for an academic job is to be observed teaching.  And not just once.


You should be observed when you first start teaching and after you become a “pro”.  And it would be super helpful if the same person observed you at the beginning and end of your grad school teaching experience.


So yes, it’s great to ask your advisor to observe you teaching.  But note:  they will be the one faculty member that knows the most about your research.  So their reference letter will focus more on that.


You need to find at least two faculty members to write letters for you that are ALL about your experience in the classroom.


So how do you find who to ask to observe you?


I’m glad you asked!  Find the best teachers in your department.  And don’t think that they must have a Ph.D. to be great letter writers for you.  Instructors are great faculty members to ask to observe your teaching!  If their only job is to teach, they probably know the most about teaching.


So choose two people to observe your classes.  Remember, they will need to do it more than once.  Preferably once at the beginning of your teaching experience and once at the end of your program.


There will probably be years between those observation times.  How will they remember your teaching skills and experience?  They have classes and students of their own to think about.


Make it easy on them!


Create a worksheet or form that is easy for them to fill out while they observe you!  And then you both keep copies that they can refer back to when you ask them to write their reference letter for you.


So how do you create a good form?  Well, your department may already have some created.  But if not, I’ve created one for you!


You’re welcome!


Download the Teaching Observation Form!

As you can probably guess that, to get a good teaching reference letter, you need to plan.  Years in advance!  And being observed multiple times will give your letter writer plenty of personalized and detailed material that is bound to help you stand out among the mass of other applicants.


Not only is it important to be observed.  It’s tremendously helpful to observe others’ teaching styles and practices as well.


That’s what I cover in Part 2 of the How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia series.  You can find that post here!

Don’t forget to download the Teaching Observation Form!  You can get it below!