Image: “Rapala lures 1,” by Fanny Schertzer

Context and audience matter in understanding a foreign language. The same is true of academia’s “career lingo.” Comprehending the nuances of job-market terms can help you with your application materials, presentations, and interviews — indeed, with every aspect of your candidacy.

So far in this series we’ve defined “required” versus “preferred” qualifications and the meaning of “degree completed by.” Now we turn to a phrase seen in many a job advertisement: “in related field” (or “related discipline”). For example, an ad might state that a position requires candidates to have a “Ph.D. in Geology or in related field.”

Seems pretty straightforward, right? But as usual the words and descriptions used in job ads often have variants and complexities that need unpacking.

First off, this particular phrase in an ad does not mean: “We don’t care what field your Ph.D. is in.” Neither does it mean: “All disciplines are pretty much the same to us; anyone with any terminal degree is welcome.”

I was very fortunate to get my undergraduate and master’s degrees from a school of communications that valued — and had the funds to hire — Ph.D.’s “in related fields.” Among the faculty were people with degrees in psychology, anthropology, sociology, and film studies. That variety provided superb intellectual rounding in my graduate-school training. And even today, my field of communications is one of those that will genuinely consider hiring people with degrees in those “related” fields … sometimes.

But times have changed since I was in grad school. The competition for tenure-track positions is ferocious, especially in the humanities. With so many unemployed or underemployed Ph.D.’s in your discipline, you might be reluctant to invite “outsiders” into the hiring pool.

Meanwhile, super-specialization permeates the sciences. Certainly there are lots of jobs in “chemistry” — especially general teaching positions. But research-heavy departments may want a particular specialist of a particular kind with a particular pedigree. Their job ads may include the phrase “in related field,” but it has a much narrower operational definition than is the case when, say, a sociology department is open to hiring an anthropologist. A science department seeking to hire a Ph.D. in a specific subarea of biology may consider applicants in narrowly related subfields but would not even bother to consider a candidate whose Ph.D. is outside of biology. So “in related field” there really means “in related subfields.”

The type of institution offering the job may also affect how flexible it can be on this front. A small history department at a small liberal-arts college would be intensely concerned about teaching coverage — that is, the number and kinds of courses a new hire can plausibly teach. It would advertise in a specific subfield but would likely consider candidates from a broad range of related subfields to fill the post. In contrast, a research university with a large history department already has a wide range of subfields covered and, thus, would be far more particular about hiring someone in the stated subfield.

But “related field” doesn’t always imply an afterthought — i.e., a field that maybe, possibly, might be acceptable for the job. The phrase can have a positive message, too: It might mean a department is reaching out to candidates in diverse fields and you should pay hopeful attention. For example, more than ever at research institutions, departments are looking for scholars who can collaborate on multidisciplinary research teams and may well be seeking to hire a bridge-builder. Likewise, many institutions are consolidating programs. What was once a stand-alone department of German might now be part of a larger “culture and languages” unit, and that larger unit may be sincerely and actively seeking candidates from German and related fields.

It is also no secret that enrollments in a number of disciplines — most prominently in core humanities fields — are down. Departments are quite rightly trying to conceive of new ways to attract majors. Hiring someone outside the pool of usual suspects might be one way a department is hoping to liven up its mix of course offerings. For instance, I know of an English department that recently hired a new communications Ph.D. who studies digital gaming.

Sometimes a department really is looking to hire in a related discipline — either because its need is narrow or because it’s worried about not being able to find someone in its own discipline. As of this writing (spring 2015) my college has a tenure-track opening in Hispanic media. There are simply not a plentitude of scholars — yet — in this booming area in communications so we are certainly open to looking at applicants from related fields.

And sometimes the phrase “in related fields” can be both narrowly and broadly defined — at the same time for the same job. A good example is an ad I saw posted by the University of Puget Sound for a visiting assistant professor. Here were the degree qualifications listed: “Ph.D. (A.B.D. considered) with strong background both in Religious Studies and in Gender & Queer Studies and/or feminist thought. Candidates in Queer Studies particularly welcomed. In Religious Studies, candidates who can complement the department’s existing strengths would be welcomed, particularly those specializing in Biblical studies, religion in Africa or the United States, American religious history, Jewish studies, environmental ethics, or religion and the environment.” A plethora of menu choices, indeed!
In short, like much of the career lingo in academia, the phrase “in related field” can mean different things in different searches. It is crucial for you to gain as much intel as you can about the aspirations of the hiring department (or institution). The more you can find out about its motivations and intentions, the better your application and candidacy will be.

– See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/943-career-lingo-in-related-field#sthash.tw9LryoE.dpuf

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