The Costs of the Academic Job Market

While completing the dissertation and making that last tuition payment can feel like the final financial component  of the long journey to PhD, there are actually a number of costs associated with being on the academic job market. This post outlines what they are and how you can prepare for them in advance so you can focus on the important part—getting the job. 

It’s campus interview time, which means PhD candidates, postdocs, and other aspiring academics are visiting campuses in hopes of landing one of those illusive and oh-so-coveted tenure-track jobs. If you’re going through this process–or have been through it already–you won’t need me to tell you that it’s time-consuming and exhausting, but also pretty exciting too. But if you’ve already been through this process, this post isn’t so much for you. This article is for any grad student or postdoc who expects to go on the academic job market in the future and wants some insights on how to handle the financial aspects of the job search.

Again, this article does not explicate how to get the job. There are abundant fantastic resources for learning how to compose the perfect cover letter, how to impress in the first-round phone/Skype interview, and how to master the perfect job talk. Having recently gone through this process myself, I felt adequately prepared for all of those things after making my way thorough many articles, participating in webinars, reading a few highly-reviewed books, and talking to faculty mentors from throughout my academic journey. But there was one component of the interview process that took me somewhat off-guard—the financial costs of being on the academic job market.

After years of scraping by on a meager research or teaching stipend, and/or trying to live modestly to off-set the ever-growing student loan balance, academic job seekers will find that this last step interviewing to secure a faculty position can come with one last substantial price tag. Below, I outline some of the potential costs that faculty candidates may incur through the job-search process, and then I make some recommendations for how to make sure you don’t find yourself under-prepared for the financial components of what is already a demanding and stressful process. There may be no way to avoid stressing out about the two-day campus interview, but by planning ahead, you can avoid additional stress from not being prepared for the financial costs.

1. Document & Interview Coaching

Depending on your field, the academic job market can be brutally competitive. If you are in a field where the balance of qualified candidates and tenure-track positions is highly-skewed, you may need every possible edge you can possibly get in order to even have a chance at securing the type of position you want. Other PhD candidates find that their advisors either don’t have the time, or possibly don’t have the (updated) skills, to help them successfully navigate the job-search process. There are many articles and free online resources out there, but many academics find that they are willing to pay for individualized coaching on the application and interview processes. These services are frequently between $100 and $200 per hour of coaching. This means getting job documents reviewed or receiving feedback on your job talk could easily cost $500 or more. If you expect you will want to utilize these kinds of services, plan for the costs ahead of time.

2. Interview Attire

There is no uniform for faculty members. Some professors will go to work every day of their career in a pristine suit, while others show up to class in dated sweatshirts and raggedy jeans. However, there is a fairly rigid expectation for how an interview candidate should dress for their campus interview. Chances are, you will need a suit. And it will need to be tailored to fit you. You do not necessarily need a very expensive suit in order to look professional and polished—a visit to a thrift or consignment store may leave you with a variety of high-quality options for a lot less than a brand new suit from a high-end department store. Plan ahead if you plan to go this route, however, because you may need to visit several stores to find one that has enough of a selection to fit your needs.

Personally, I recently opted for a new suit from a department store, and was fortunate enough to find a suit that fit me very well and needed very little altering. I was lucky, and this helped mitigate costs, but absolutely do not skip on alterations that you really need in order to look your best. And know that alterations can add up. In addition to my interview suit, I also recently bought a wedding dress. (Yes, life is crazy busy for me right now!) The first quote I received for alterations on my dress was actually more than I had paid for the dress! This might not come as a surprise to many of you, but it certainly caught me off-guard. So for those of you who don’t regularly get clothes altered, plan to do so for your interview suit. You need to look polished.

3. Travel Costs

The last potential cost of going on the academic job market is travel. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to multiple campuses for job interviews, you may find yourself booking a lot of flights. Some institutions and departments will book all of your travel for you, so in these cases you won’t be expected to cover anything at all. But others will prefer that you book your own flight and submit receipts for reimbursement after your campus interview. In 2017, I found that having the candidate book their own travel seems to be the method preferred by the majority of institutions. Additionally, while air travel will almost certainly be reimbursed, other expenses like parking, ride share services to and from the airport, or food while you are en route may or may not be covered. In the case where you are visiting a campus that is not close to a major airport, if the committee is unable to take the time to get you to and from the airport, you may find that they will request that you rent a car to get to campus. A flight and a rental car can add up!

If you are prepared for the expenses outlined above, they do not need to be a major hardship or inconvenience for you. I recommend planning ahead and putting some money aside for the job search process. A suit can easily be a few hundred dollars or more, and I personally am awaiting reimbursements for about $1,000 of interview-related travel expenses. Given that I have a healthy emergency fund to cover periods of high unusual expenditures, I am comfortable waiting on those reimbursements to come in, and am happy to have been able to take advantage of credit card rewards points in the meantime. But I am only comfortable with these expenditures because I have money in savings.

My advice to academic job-seekers is to start saving early. A year or so before you plan to go on the academic job market, set up an automatic transfer into your savings each month. Consider that money off-limits for anything except job-search expenses. This might not be as exciting as setting up a savings account for that beachy island vacation you want to take to reward yourself for finally finishing that PhD. But I guarantee you’ll be happy you have spared yourself one of the many possible stresses of the academic job market. If you’re an introvert like me, preparing to survive a 48-hour interview is more than enough to worry about. So do yourself a favor and mitigate the financial stresses by being savvy and preparing for those in advance. If you can finish a PhD, I promise, you can organize your finances for your job search too.


NOTE: While there are many great academic job search resources out there, I have found that the most comprehensive is The Professor Is In. For advice on cover letters, teaching and research statements, interview procedures, job talks, and more, I recommend checking them out.

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