In a job interview, the rhetorical approach you are looking for is “I can solve all your problems for you”: increase enrollments, raise the department’s research profile, advise the student club, pull in outside funding, the whole enchilada. (Can you really do all this? Of course you can! You now have a Ph.D., right?) Now is not the time for false modesty. Humility, however, is an essential part of your job search.
When the job list in your discipline comes out, there will be positions that don’t appeal to you. There will be schools you’ve never heard of, far off the academic lecture circuit, with no graduate programs and heavy undergraduate teaching loads. Maybe you will tell yourself–or you will imagine your adviser telling you–that your research is too important to consider a position like that. That voice is not only unhelpful, but actually destructive: the fewer positions you apply for, the lower your chances of beginning or continuiung an academic career. While there are jobs where you would be a poor fit, or where the salary is intolerably low, the work you would do at those places is not beneath you. You are not too good for the students you would teach.
But, you might say, what about my research? Whatâ€™s the point of a Ph.D. if I’ll be too busy teaching four sections of Comp 101 or Intro Lecture 100 per semester at Southwest Armpit State?
That voice is a combination of grad school myopia that can’t imagine life anywhere else, and pride, superbia, the idea that some people and places are insignificant compared to your profound ideas. Banish all traces of this attitude from your thoughts. The euphemisms are just as crass: “third-tier programs,” “schools not worth their salt,” “not a real university.” The people who work at such places have no patience for it.
The truth is that you can research, and publish, on a four-course load and without access to all the resources you’re used to at your graduate institution, although the kind of projects you can do will change. You will find colleagues just as smart as you are and who come from graduate programs every bit as good as yours and who are committed to being productive scholars. Think of it like this: would you keep the commandments wherever you were, or only if you taught at BYU and your job depended on it? Now ask yourself: are you so committed to your research that you would pursue it wherever you are, or only if your job depended on it?
So don’t forget about BYU because its focus is on undergraduate education. It has some great programs, and teaching there would give you the chance to work with some first-rate students [and continue your research with some first-rate colleagues]. It’s fine to aspire to work at a top-ranked research university with a manageable teaching load that supports and values research, but most positions will offer a combination of real opportunities and unavoidable challenges. Maybe you can tell in advance that you would be terribly unhappy working at a particular institution. Take a good hard look at any school you apply to–but never, ever, look down the end of your nose at any of them. You are not too good to teach there.
Sing with me now:
It may not be a job at the Y
Or off in the Ivy League,
It may not be a top-twenty SLAC,
Whoâ€™s willing to hire me…
How the song ends is up to you.
[Edited for clarity.]