I'm on the job market this fall (will earn my Ph.D. this spring), and have culled a list of open positions I would like to apply for. I'd like to talk to my advisor about this soon in regards to recommendation letters, as well as for their own information. I'm at a big US research university with an untenured advisor who would also like us all to be at an R1 school or doing research in industry when we graduate. However, my preference is for small teaching schools or lecturing positions, and my list reflects that. Additionally, I have a spouse with a Ph.D., and we will be prioritizing my spouse's job for personal reasons.

I'm among the first to graduate from my group this year. We've all been vague about our job aspirations in previous years, since we've learned that our preferences would often be discounted and it wasn't worth the argument. I don't anticipate anything drastic in this discussion, but I would like to be respectful in conveying the information while still getting across my point that I won't be applying to anywhere my advisor would be happy with.

Any recommendations on how to approach this discussion? Tips on how much to share on what's influencing my/our decisions would be helpful too.

  • 1
    This is tricky. I won't answer, since I'm not sure I have any advice about the discussion. But it is really important that you and your advisor (and your other letter writers) understand what sort of schools you are applying to, and can change their letter accordingly. Sep 25, 2014 at 1:31
  • In my field, you probably have to do a postdoc at an R1 to get the kind of job you want. So you may have no choice. Sep 25, 2014 at 3:14
  • 6
    A reasonable advisor should think that any successful placement reflects well on the advisor. Sep 25, 2014 at 3:15
  • 14
    Honestly. Directly. Like adults. It's your PhD and your life; don't let your advisor suggest otherwise.
    – JeffE
    Sep 25, 2014 at 4:22
  • 2
    @guest - I think the keyword there is "reasonable" :)
    – 299792458
    Sep 26, 2014 at 16:05

1 Answer 1


I think a lot of how to approach it depends on the reason that your advisor things you should be heading for a traditional research career. It's likely one of two things:

  1. Your advisor thinks very highly of your work and doesn't want to "lose" you from the research community.
  2. Your advisor is afraid that not placing students "highly" will reflect badly on their tenure case.

Neither of these is a good reason to choose a career path that you aren't interested in. If it's the first, maybe you can get your advisor to listen by explaining that you really do want to embrace a teaching career. If it's the second, then maybe you can explain that it will look a lot better on their tenure case to have an advisee placed at a well-respected teaching institution than dropping out of academia altogether. At the end of the day, though, it's your choice and not your advisor's.

In either case, however, I would strongly recommend also seeking out other faculty members or external colleagues who understand you better. If you can find such other allies, they will be important in helping back you for the career that you want, whether or not your advisor comes around.

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