Advice for Entering the Profession as a Graduate Student

References and Letters of Recommendation

For the rest of your career, you will need a handful of scholars and professionals who are willing to write letters of recommendation on your behalf.  This begins at the very start of graduate school and continues until you retire. These referees will undoubtedly change, but you should begin thinking about this at the very start of graduate school.  In addition to your major professor, this can include the faculty member for whom you TA or grade, a professor that you are taking a class with, a minor field advisor, or the supervisor at your internship.

Some jobs, grants, funding requests, and other applications require a list of references. Normally they ask for three names and contact information. As much as possible, these references should always be academic or professional references that can speak to the specific type of position in question. One of the references should always be your major professor. The other two should be individuals who are knowledgeable about your research, teaching, or other applicable skills. You should always ask for permission to include someone as a general reference, but it is generally understood that advisors have this responsibility. It is important to let your references know what applications you have submitted, as it is not uncommon to get an unsolicited phone call asking for more information. It is a small academic world, and informal requests and conversations occur frequently. Your references may also have insight or information on various positions, so please reach out to them for advice even after you graduate from FSU.

Most jobs, grants, funding requests, and other applications require letters of reference (typically three) to be submitted separately from your application. Effective letters require time to prepare. Please give reference writers a few weeks to write them. If this is the first letter that a writer has prepared for you, or it has been quite a while since the referee has written on your behalf, this is a must. Good letters are more than lists of adjectives. They are closer to book reviews—they place one’s research into a larger context and describe one’s approach to and experience with teaching. They also speak to your applicability to the job (fellowship, etc.). If you are applying for a position with teaching responsibilities, it is in your best interest to have some of your referees observe you teach if you have your own class. If it is a research position, please make sure that your writer is up to date on your research topics, questions, and conclusions.

Prior to each application, please send your writers an electronic copy of your cover letter (letter of application, etc.), an updated c.v., the official description of the job/grant/fellowship, as well as the address to which the letter should be (e-)mailed. If there are other important parts of the application, it cannot hurt to give it to them as well. Finally, please feel free to remind your writers of impending deadlines.

Using Interfolio

You should consider putting together a file with Interfolio as you get deeper into the graduate program. This will be especially helpful when you are on the job market and may need dozens of sets of letters. Some jobs will even require that you use it.  Few letter writers will revise their letters for you for every job, so having a relatively recent one on file is always a good idea. You can also ask for a couple of different letters from each writer for your file—one that emphasizes teaching, one that emphasizes research; or one that is early American history and one that is Native American history. Don’t be greedy, but it is ok to ask for two different ones for a file. If you discover a job at the last moment, this will be a lifesaver. If you use Interfolio, please make sure that you have your letters updated periodically. They should be updated every six months to a year, or whenever your file undergoes a significant change. You do not want a letter commenting on you when you passed your exams a few years ago when you are defending a dissertation next month.

Presenting Papers at Conferences

Presenting research at conferences is an important part of becoming a professional historian. It is an opportunity to share your findings, obtain advice and feedback from peers and senior members of your field, and make connections in your field.

Organizing Panels for Conferences

Most conference panels consist of a few (normally three) papers and one or two commentators. There is often a chair who presides over it all. Most conferences are more likely to accept full panels that are proposed than individual papers. So please put in the extra work to get a panel together.  You can find panels being formed on various H-Net listservs, or you can organize them yourself. If you are putting a panel together for a conference, especially national ones, please let your major professor (and relevant committee members) know. They may be able to help arrange commentators, chairs, or fellow panelists. You should also be aware that most conferences are looking for diverse panels (race, gender, university, and rank). Do not submit panel of all FSU grads or all white, male, graduate students, etc.

Make sure that you make a good impression when you put in an application and when you ultimately present your paper. Conference papers should reflect original research, they should be practiced ahead of time, and they must adhere to the time limit. Think carefully about what you are presenting and how you present it. You cannot deliver an entire dissertation chapter in 20 minutes. For best results, practice ahead of time at FSU. Reserve a time in the conference or seminar room to present your paper. Invite your friends, faculty members, etc. and do a trial run. You should also have your major professor read your paper in advance.  Once again, give them advanced warning.  A week should be sufficient, but talk with your major professor about his/her expectations.

The Role of the Advisor

Please make sure that you let your advisor read or comment on anything that you plan on presenting at conferences or publishing beforehand. Again, check with your advisor, but two weeks for an article and one week for a conference paper or book review is a good guide. Every time you submit something, you are making a first impression.  There are no second first impressions.

Advisors also have the responsibility of reading drafts of dissertation/thesis chapters, drafts of your prospectus, etc. Once again, these tasks do not occur in an instant. Ask your advisor for a timetable, but two weeks or longer is normal.

The Role of Committee Members

Please make sure that you give ample time for your committee members to read your prospectus, dissertation/thesis, etc.  The department expects that faculty have a copy of the dissertation at least one month prior to a defense.  Once your have distributed the dissertation, do not make significant changes to it.  You can proofread and format, but you will need to defend the ideas and research they read. You should have the prospectus to your committee at least two weeks ahead of time, although the longer your committee has, the better their comments and advice will be.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.

Professor Andrew Frank

Professor Suzanne Sinke