Joshua Pepper is starting a position as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Physics Department at Lehigh University, after working as a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University for the past five years. His research centers on exoplanets and small telescope surveys, primarily with the KELT project. Upon embarking on his search for a faculty position over the past two years, he realized that he did not understand several aspect of the faculty search process.
The career of an astronomer typically involves a number of job changes. The so-called “traditional” path includes transitioning from undergrad to grad school, grad school to postdoc, then postdoc to professor. Other AstroBetter posts have looked at elements of that sequence. Also Astrobites has also posted advice for various stages in the astronomy career sequence.
For a postdoc seeking a tenure-track academic job, the process can be mysterious, confusing, and sometimes terrifying (at least it was for me). The level of competition is known to be extreme, and there are a number of steps, including the selection of letter writers, the decision where to apply, how to craft your application essays and how to conduct interviews. There can be long-term consequences of how you approach early steps in the sequence, so it is useful to know ahead of time all the relevant steps in the application process and to start thinking critically and making some decisions.
I have put together on a wiki page what I have learned about the job search process: Navigating the Faculty Job Search. This is primarily based on what I learned when moving through the process myself, along with discussions with other postdocs, and also junior and senior faculty. Any essay like this will necessarily involve a number of generalizations, and exceptions can be found to almost every “rule” or recommendation I have included. However, I hope this essay will provide at least a framework for postdocs preparing to apply for faculty jobs. I am sure my experience was different from other people, and I encourage others to provide feedback and comments about this essay. But since so much of this process seems to be unspoken, getting out a written description seems useful. Please take a look, and if you see anything especially good, bad, or missing from the essay, please comment below and together we can craft it into a useful resource for all proto-professors!