The steps needed to prepare for an academic career will vary depending on the kind of institution you aim to work for, but most academic jobs will require you to demonstrate skills in research and publishing, teaching and mentoring, and service and equity. While you will develop some of the skills needed to succeed in an academic career during your graduate studies, it is important to intentionally take steps towards preparing for an academic career independently. As many of the steps important to preparing for an academic career can take years to accomplish, it is ideal to review these steps early in your time as a graduate student.

Steps You Can Take

Understand What Search Committees Are Looking For

Before deciding to conduct an academic job search, make sure you understand what is involved. For many students, the academic job search takes several years of active preparation. To learn about what search committees are looking for in tenure-track candidates, read “Part II: Getting Your Head in the Game” from the book The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky. To learn about what purpose postdoctoral fellowships serve, and what postdoc selection committees are looking for, read the chapter “The Postdoc Application: How it’s Different and Why”, also in the book The Professor Is In


Join Professional Organizations and Read Professional Publications

Most academic fields have their own professional organizations, such as the American Physical Society, the Modern Language Association, or the American Political Science Association. Many scholars belong to multiple such organizations (for instance, both the Modern Language Association and the Shakespeare Association of America). There are also even broader or multidisciplinary organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. Staying up to date on the major events and publications of professional associations is often an unspoken expectation in academic life. Even if you aren’t yet ready to attend an association’s conference or submit an article to its journal, looking at conference programs and browsing journal indices on a regular basis will help you be more prepared if and when you do want to join these conversations.

In addition to field-specific organizations, also consider staying aware of issues pertaining to higher education more generally, by reading publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Publish in your Field

In almost all academic fields, publishing is an important indicator of scholarly productivity, and a metric of your ability to contribute to the profession at the highest levels. It is increasingly the expectation that applicants to academic positions should have one or more scholarly publications accepted to peer-reviewed journals. For most junior faculty, publications also play an important role in the tenure review process. For this reason, it is wise to learn about the publishing conventions in your field as early as possible. 

Consider initiating conversations with your advisor or other mentors early on in your graduate studies about how and when you should publish during your program, particularly because publishing output expectations vary widely according to field. For instance, in many STEM disciplines, multi-authored publications are the currency of the realm, while this is less common in the humanities and social sciences. Some fields regard book reviews as a valuable contribution to the profession, while in other cases this is less true. For more important resources on writing and publishing, see the Writing and Communication competency in this guide. 

For a discussion of publishing expectations for graduate students and new faculty, see “Which Publications Matter at Which Stages of Your Career?,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2019). To learn the process of writing a journal article, consider reading the book “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing,” by Wendy Belcher. Explore workshops and other services offered by the Graduate Writing Center.


Participate in the Summer Institute for Preparing Future Faculty

The Graduate Division’s six-week Summer Institute for Preparing Future Faculty provides information about how universities and colleges of different kinds are organized and what to expect from employment in these different settings. The Institute will provide valuable guidance for navigating the academic profession, and will introduce you to the norms of academic publishing, teaching expectations, and paths to tenure. The Institute features weekly panels of faculty from community colleges, liberal arts colleges, master’s granting universities, and research universities, as well as elective courses on academic writing and developing a teaching portfolio.


Prepare for Academia as a BIPOC Scholar

Black, Indigenous, and POC voices are vital to the field of academia. Yet, BIPOC academics can be subjected to socialized white supremacy and racial injustice. Similarly, they can often face added pressure or expectations that they will address racism or cultural diversity concerns, especially if they are perceived as experts on these topics by their white peers.

Find resources specifically for students of color in the Equity and Inclusion competency of this guide, under “Set Healthy Boundaries and Practice Self-Care.” You can also see also the “Survival Guide for Black, Indigenous, and Other Women of Color in Academe” from the Chronicle of Higher Education (2020). To learn about the experiences of BIPOC academics, you might also wish to read Stories from the Front of the Room: How Higher Education Faculty of Color Overcome Challenges and Thrive in the Academy, available as an eBook at the University Library.


Undertake the Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

The Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education is designed to help you develop your classroom skills, to prepare for teaching as a future faculty member, and to professionally document your work as a teacher. The activities that are part of the certificate program include general and discipline-specific teaching skills such as developing a teaching portfolio, creating course syllabi, cultivating strategies for efficient and effective grading, and synthesizing and presenting feedback from student evaluations of your teaching.


Participate on an Academic Search Committee

Some departments include a graduate student on search committees for academic positions. Take advantage of such opportunities while you are a graduate student, as they will provide you with first-hand experience and an understanding of the academic job search from the perspective of a hiring committee. In addition to being invaluable for your own job search, serving on a search committee will prepare you for responsibilities you will assume as a future faculty member. To be selected as a student representative in a search committee, make sure to communicate your interest to relevant faculty and staff in your department. Should you not be able to participate on a search committee, be sure to attend job talks of candidates for positions in your department, and review candidate materials such as CVs and teaching statements that your department may make available.


Apply for an ORCID

ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) is a registry that associates a unique numeric code with your name. It provides a way to ensure that others will properly identify you as the author of published work, even under different versions and spellings of your name. While the ORCID community includes university-affiliated researchers, it also includes institutions such as national laboratories, commercial research organizations, research funders, publishers, national science agencies, data repositories, and international professional societies. To register for an ORCID number, visit their website.