The Catholic University of America

Careers in Academia

Many classicists who earn PhDs spend part or all of their careers in higher education, whether as full- or part-time faculty, academic librarians, or administrators. Here, we provide an introduction to the academic employment process for new (and soon-to-be) PhDs in classics and affiliated fields who will be seeking faculty positions at colleges and universities.

Introduction: the basics

In many ways, classicists are especially fortunate when it comes to the logistics of job-seeking. Our two largest North American professional organizations, the Society for Classical Studies (formerly the American Philological Association) and the Archaeological Institute of America, hold a joint annual meeting.  For literary classicists in particular and for the general field as well, the SCS Placement Service acts as the main clearinghouse for the academic employment process in the US, and for many positions in Canada as well. Not all hiring of classicists takes place through the SCS, but much of it does, particularly for positions at four-year colleges and research universities.

The Placement Service facilitates the job-seeking process in many ways. It registers institutions and candidates and provides guidance and oversight for the interactions between them. It collects and disseminates advertisements for positions, releasing a fresh bulletin every month (with updates every two weeks at the height of the "season"). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it facilitates the initial round of job interviews held at the joint Annual Meeting of the SCS/AIA each January. Institutions and candidates can therefore generally leave the planning to the Placement Service; as long as both parties are registered and communicate their schedules to the Service, their interviews will be set up for them.

Does this mean that you will never need to look outside the Placement Service for classics positions? Not entirely: if you are interested in working (for example) in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, or elsewhere in the world, you will need to cast your net more widely to look for positions for which you can apply, and you would do well to join and communicate with the professional organizations in your proposed destination country. If you plan to apply for positions at two-year, junior, and community colleges, you should know that very few of these schools tend to advertise with the SCS. If your academic background is particularly diverse--so much so that you might be able to consider employment, for example, in a department of art, comparative literature, or modern languages--you will need to venture into those fields to explore their job listings as well. Finally, ancient historians should be aware that many history departments will advertise with, and interview through, the AHA (the American Historical Association) rather than the SCS or AIA.

For most new PhDs seeking employment in classics departments, however, the SCS is the umbrella under which the majority of your job-seeking efforts will be localized. As such, you should plan to attend the entire Annual Meeting of the SCS/AIA in any year in which you are on the job market. The conference is large and extensive (it lasts for the better part of four days), follows closely upon the winter holidays, typically ends just before many people's second semesters begin, and moves to a different city every year. For many graduate students, attending the SCS/AIA may be a financial and logistical burden--but it is a worthwhile one. If you do not attend, you will be unavailable for many first-round interviews, and may therefore be left out of the running for positions that interest you.

The general curve of the application process for classicists typically moves through three major stages, especially if the position is advertised through the SCS Placement Service:

  • Paper or electronic application.
  • First-round or preliminary interview, often at the SCS/AIA Annual Meeting.
  • On-campus or finalist interview.

Institutions that choose not to interview candidates at the Annual Meeting may handle their first-round selections via (for example) telephone or Skype interviews.

Assembling a professional portfolio for academic job applications

The paper or electronic application represents a candidate's first response to an advertised job opening. In classics, the precise anatomy of this response will vary slightly from position to position. Some institutions, for example, require an online application in addition to the submission of supplementary materials; others ask for a very basic initial submission and prefer to request additional information later in the process. (To learn more about finding jobs to apply for, skip down to the "Professional associations and job listings" section, below.)

In order to be ready, therefore, to respond to the diverse application requirements you may encounter, you should ideally have the following items polished and ready to photocopy/upload and send out (in any combination) by the beginning of the fall semester in which you are planning to start your job search.

  • Cover letter draft or template. This will need to be altered, even rewritten, for each position you apply for, but you should still begin organizing your "talking points" and overall presentation. One and one-half to two pages is a reasonable length for a finished letter, but no longer. The cover letter is one of the most critical parts of your job application; it is essentially the "essay" in which you present a coherent summary of your career to date and outline your qualifications for the opening you are seeking. It is also the easiest part of your application for search committee members to digest quickly, and so it needs to present you at your very best.
  • Academic curriculum vitae (not a resume). The Chronicle of Higher Education provides some useful guidance on the preparation of your CV, but you would also do well to consult the CVs of current and former mentors to learn more about presentation within our specific discipline.
  • Publication offprints (or clean manuscript copies of publications in progress). You may not produce any publications while you are in graduate school (this is a fairly normal situation in this field). If you do not yet have any publications, make sure that your dissertation materials (see below) are in excellent shape and present your research to its best advantage.
  • Dissertation chapter (even better, two chapters) that demonstrates both breadth and depth of technique. This chapter should be fully complete, with no gaps, omissions, or typos; it will serve as your primary writing sample unless you have already published extensively. The second dissertation chapter will provide additional information if any institutions ask for further evidence of your work (or of your dissertation progress to date).
  • Syllabi of courses you have taught. Ideally, these should be courses you designed yourself and taught alone, rather than courses for which you served as a TA. If the latter are all that you have, you should also gather and polish some supplementary course materials that you yourself created, such as review sheets or handouts.
  • Course evaluations. The summary sheets that many universities generate are useful, but you should also have ready any comment sheets that record remarks from your students, and a brief covering summary for each course, generated by you, that lists the final enrollment and the percentage of students who actually submitted evaluations. You might also use your cover summary to offer a one-paragraph description of the course itself and the demographic from which it drew its students (e.g. majors, non-majors, freshmen, upperclassmen, etc.).
  • Letters of recommendation from academic faculty. You should solicit letters from about 4 individuals; most job applications will require about 3 letters, and you may be able to ask specific faculty to address particular features of your career.

These materials, taken together, will comprise your "credentials file" or "job file." You may be able to deposit most of the file at your department, at your university's placement center, or at a third-party provider and simply request that copies be sent out on your behalf (at CUA, this is often done through Interfolio, a third-party provider used by many universities), you may have to prepare all of your applications individually, or you may find yourself somewhere between these positions. At a minimum, however, you will need to submit your own separate, up-to-date cover letter and CV for each position you apply for.

If you have the option to maintain your file at your university, it will make the process much easier on your recommenders, who will only need to submit their letters once, no matter how many applications you may choose to send out--and you should send out as many as possible.

Professional associations and job listings

The sub-disciplines of most classicists (broadly defined) are covered by the following professional organizations and associations. As suggested above, if you are seeking a position in a classics department, it is likely that most of the process will be handled for you through the Placement Service of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS).

If, however, your areas of specialization are sufficiently interdisciplinary (e.g. you could also qualify for a position in a medieval studies program or a religion department), you may want to join more than one of these organizations, monitor their positions listings, and attend their annual conferences, particularly if they maintain their own interviewing processes (as, e.g., the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association do).

To see how your portfolio materials align with the requirements for academic job applications, it is recommended that you begin your explorations at the SCS Placement Service. You can then learn about the other professional organizations using some of the other links below. The final link, to the "Careers" section of the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education, contains broader, more general advice about academic job-seeking and professional life.

Advice on job-seeking for the humanities in general--and for classics in particular

The academic job-seeking process is complicated, and much useful advice has been composed to assist candidates in negotiating the various steps and stages. The two links at the top of the grouping below address the concerns of classicists in particular, and discuss the process of "going on the market" (Connolly's title) at the annual SCS/AIA conference each January. They contain timeframes, step-by-step guidelines, and checklists for each phase of job-seeking.

Note that ADE = "Association of Departments of English"; ADFL = "Association of Departments of Foreign Languages"; both associations incorporate commentary of significant interest to classicists.

Enhancing your experience

As you explore this information, you may find yourself wondering how best to prepare your professional portfolio for the job market. One piece of advice that seems almost universal in North American classics nowadays is the recommendation that graduate students work to become as diverse and flexible as possible. Classics departments in both the US and Canada (with a few notable exceptions) tend to be on the small side, and so their faculty members generally need to be prepared to teach a wide variety of courses: ancient languages at all levels, literature in translation, mythology, history, material culture. Faculty also need to be able to collaborate, both with one another and with colleagues in other departments and programs and even at other institutions, to keep programs energized, to design new endeavors that will continue to attract students, and to enhance opportunities to pursue their own research.

As a graduate student, then, one of your goals should be to train yourself in more than one subfield by selecting courses, paper topics, exam specializations, reading list entries, and summer experiences that comprise a coherent narrative of your developing expertise. At least one of your subfields should be in an area that is significantly removed from your dissertation topic, and your teaching experience should ideally reflect this diversity as well. If you are a specialist in language or literature, teaching a course in history or even mythology will strengthen your portfolio; if you are an archaeologist, teaching Greek and Latin courses can be an opportunity for you to highlight your language skills.

Apply for as many special opportunities as are feasible for you: summer institutes, conferences, excavations, study abroad, research assistantships, dissertation fellowships, and awards demonstrate not only the quality of your work as a student, but the potential you may hold as a professional. If you are able to publish while you are in graduate school, this can also be a positive sign for job search committees, but it will nevertheless comprise only one part of the criteria on which you will be evaluated.

Finally, no matter what the topic of your dissertation is, it should be something that you can stay focused upon for a long period of time; excite others about; discuss with confidence, conviction, and passion; and point to as the foundation for future research projects. Choose your dissertation carefully--it will be a part of your life and your career for a long time to come!--and in consultation with trusted advisers. If possible, select a topic that can demonstrate your breadth as well as your depth, and that touches upon multiple different areas within the wider discipline.