Lately I have received a flurry of questions about the job market for PhD students who wish to teach in a university or seminary. Here are some questions I have received and my reflections.
WHAT IS THE JOB MARKET LIKE?
It has always been bad odds for PhD candidates, but because of the ‘economic crisis’ in America, it has gotten much worse. For one of the positions I applied for, there were over 100 candidates and it was not even a high-profile school. So, for those early on in the process, I suggest you really explore your calling and be ready for the challenges ahead. If you are unsure about doing a PhD and are jumping into it with a wishy-washy attitude, do the rest of us a favor and bow out!
NB: New TEstament is always a more flooded area than any other because it gets so much attention in Seminary curricula and also from the pulpit. At Durham, the NT people outnumber the OT 2:1 (if not more). In my latter years in seminary I was considering switching over to OT for the job prospects. I just did not find Ugaritic that interesting…
HOW MANY ARTICLES SHOULD ONE AIM TO WRITE IN THEIR PHD AS FAR AS IMPRESSING POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS?
That is a difficult question to answer for many reasons. First of all, it depends on the kind of institution in which you want to teach. Obviously it is quite critical for a research university (like Duke or U. of Chicago), but it matters less to a teaching-intensive institution (as seminaries are mostly classified). Also, the key to finishing your PhD and getting a job is completing your dissertation and you should not take on too many projects that would distract you from that. Finally, though it can be a time-saver to pre-publish as articles portions of your thesis, some PhD programs prohibit or strongly discourage this. Do your homework to know if this is even feasible. Having said all of that, I advise NT students to aim for having at least 1 article published in a respected, credible peer-reviewed journal (JBL, NTS, NovT, JSNT, CBQ, etc..). It is ideal to have three articles published by the time you are interviewing (IMHO).
WHEN IT COMES TO FACTORS FOR GETTING HIRED, HOW MUCH DOES THE INSTITUTION MATTER?
This is also a challenging question because it varies from one search committee to another. Look at the institutions where you want to teach and see where their profs got their Phds. That is the best indicator of their preferences. When push comes to shove and they have 1oo applications, it can’t hurt to be at Cambridge or Princeton. In many ways, though, the recommendation from a good, well-respected supervisor, even from a non-ivy-league institution, can go a long way.
HOW RECOGNIZABLE ARE THE UK SCHOOLS (OTHER THAN OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE) TO AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS THAT ARE HIRING?
If the American institution where you are applying to teach has a biblical studies department, then they have professors who hopefully stay current in the field and will recognize that Loveday Alexander taught at Sheffield, that John Barclay is at Durham and that Bruce Longenecker is/was at St. Andrews. If you are in more of a comparative religions situation at a smaller liberal arts college, that may be more of a challenge. Evangelical seminaries usually are fine with the UK schools because so many American evangelical academics study at Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and Durham.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE ON FUNDING NOW THAT THE ORS IS BEING PHASED OUT?
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR GETTING HIRED?
The challenge is that each search committee is going to be different and it depends on the overall quality of the applications. The honest-to-goodness best way to get hired is to (1) have a good PhD institution, (2) publish some , (3) teach some, (4) have impeccable recommendations, (5) do some administrative work (sitting on committees), (6) do some paper presenting, (7) keep up contacts from your undergrad and Masters institutions, and (8) write an original and thought-provoking dissertation, and (9) impress the search committee with your communication skills, ready-at-hand knowledge, down-to-earthness, other-centeredness, and interdisciplinary. Oh, and that you are both a team player and an independent researcher.
Ok, I guess I was being a little facetious. I would prioritize, institution, publications, and networking. Good luck!