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Applying to the Academic Music Job, Part I: The Resources

"Alma Mater," a sculpture of the goddess Athena, by Daniel Chester French, located at Columbia University

I won’t sugar coat it: the academic job market is tough. Statistically, most musicians seeking a position in academia won't find one. The problem has nothing to do with the quality of the applicants. The problem is that there are exponentially more graduates coming out of masters and doctoral programs than there are jobs for them. Heated words fly on every side of the issue about how to fix a system that is perceived as broken. There appears to be no solution in sight for now, maybe ever. In the meantime, despite the bleak prospects, vacancies continue to arise (though in smaller numbers), and people are needed to fill them. Thus, those intent on pursuing an academic career path need guidance and resources. In the end, they may still not find a position, but at least they can say they did everything within their control, a philosophy consistent with being an entrepreneurial musician.

When I began applying to academic positions, I did a lot of research. Along with classes I had taken during my doctorate that emphasized higher education, I devoured as much content about the academic job market as I could find. Most of it was in the form of informational websites and blogs, but I also picked the brain of anyone I knew who was currently or formerly in a full-time academic position. I also hired an academic career counselor.

I learned a ton.

In turn, I’d like to share some of this information with you for the following reasons:

1. Musicians— even college-educated ones— are often clueless (I was) about the norms of applying to a college teaching position, because…

2. This type of information is not always taught in a music degree program.

3. Your lack of knowledge about applying to a college teaching position can hurt your chances for getting a job, whereas…

4. Your understanding of applying to a college teaching position can increase your chances of getting a job.

This is definitely not a scientific report, but I believe the information in this series represents a reality that’s out there. And though it packs a lot of information, the series is only the tip of the iceberg. But at least now you know there’s an iceberg. So beyond this blog, I recommend exploring additional resources and talking with a range of higher education professionals to continue educating yourself. While there is no guarantee that you will be hired in this hyper-competitive market, careful attention to the processes of applying to an academic music position may strengthen your chances.

This first part of the series is intended to familiarize you with resources to inform yourself about the issues surrounding the academic job market. There is a sizable body of Internet-based literature addressing it, too much, in fact. It’s overwhelming. So I’m winnowing it down to a handful of prominent sites to bring you up to speed. Links galore within each of these sites will then surely lead you down many paths in exploring the broader and sub-issues in higher education. Future posts in this series will deal with the broad issues individually, and I’ll likely intersperse an academic music job post with other types of posts every few weeks.

Part I: Resources About The Academic Job Market

The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE). A daily online (formerly hard copy for years) newspaper addressing issues in higher education. It is probably the most well-known and traditional source of higher education news, and since it is completely devoted to higher ed, it covers a wide swath. There is a paid version and a free version with limited content, called Academe Today.

CHE also offers other information portals, including Forums, which features a bulging Career section. There are no moderators, only readers. Some have been treading the forums for years and identify themselves as tenure-track or tenured professors. Others have recently entered the academic job market and are seeking advice from senior academics or solidarity with fellow job seekers. Perusing these discussions can provide insight on the roller coaster ride that is applying to the academic job. But be forewarned, without moderators, the discussions can become surprisingly caustic. Thus, enter into one at your own risk, and take the Forums in general with a grain of salt.

Vitae. A free service of the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE), essentially a suite of online services and advice for the academic job seeker. This includes a job listing site and a series of columns about various aspects of the academy and the academic job market. Most of the authors are current or former academics and offer valuable commentary from a variety of higher ed perspectives.

Inside Higher Ed. A news journal similar to CHE with the notable exception that all content is free. Some people prefer the journalistic style of Inside Higher Ed over CHE. The stories can overlap with CHE, but Inside Higher Ed also reports unique content.

The Professor is In (TPII). An academic career consulting web-business founded by Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor. Her tagline: “I’m the available and career-savvy adviser you need, that you should already have, but probably don’t…” Karen appears to have found an untapped market, because her business is booming. Her voice rings throughout the higher ed community, as she writes a column for Vitae and for other higher ed sites and speaks regularly at conferences. She is unapologetically blunt, and some people find her arrogant. Others, however, seem to appreciate her directness. Most of Karen’s services are paid, and some may be expensive for recent graduates with a mountain of debt. She does, however, offer potential discounts for those with limited financial resources. Her blog, on the other hand, is free and is a good place to start. It addresses many broad and niche issues of the academic job market, and the discussions are often as enlightening as the posts themselves.

Eastman School of Music’s Securing An Academic Job In Music. A 16-page document compiled by Eastman School of Music’s Office of Career Services. The latest revision is 10/03, so some of the material may be outdated. Overall, though, it offers much practical guidance on applying to academic jobs specifically for musicians, including information on creating cover letters and CVs. It also includes a large listing of links for finding academic music jobs (though some may be defunct).

In the next installment of this series, I'll discuss where to find academic music job listings.

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