Today’s highly competitive faculty job market can be challenging to navigate for aspiring academics, particularly those from underrepresented communities. But one Stanford fellowship program is guiding doctoral students through that process and helping them land faculty jobs at colleges and universities across the nation and abroad.

Photo left to right: Greses Pérez, Eduardo Valle, Matthew Clarke, and Melissa Mesinas

DARE Fellows Greses Pérez, Eduardo Valle, Matthew Clarke, and Melissa Mesinas at the annual welcome reception for incoming fellows, faculty advisors, administrative partners, and guests. (Image credit: Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education)

The Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence Doctoral Fellowship Program, or DARE, is for advanced Stanford PhD students who are interested in exploring and preparing for faculty careers. In addition to funding, DARE provides mentorship, courses, workshops and visits to local colleges and universities. Many fellows are the first in their families to attend college, are from underrepresented backgrounds or bring diversity to their field and academia in a multitude of ways. All fellows benefit from the support and guidance the program provides.

“There’s a lot that students don’t know about preparing for a faculty career,” said Anika Green, assistant vice provost for graduate education and director of the program. “DARE is meant to demystify the process.”

DARE was launched in 2008 as a pilot program by the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education (VPGE) with funding from the Office of the Provost, which continues to fund it today. 

“Designed and championed by VPGE’s inaugural vice provost, Patricia J. Gumport, DARE is truly a visionary program,” said Stacey F. Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs. “Patti successfully secured support from former and current Provosts John Etchemendy and Persis Drell, both of whom admire the DARE fellows as much as we do in VPGE.”

DARE fellows join annually in cohorts, which enables them to connect with other students––a key component of the fellowship. They come from all departments across the university in all seven schools and are U.S. citizens, international students and permanent residents. The program’s emphasis on building inclusive environments for students of all backgrounds, experiences and identities is closely aligned with the university’s IDEAL initiative

“The PhD experience can be isolating,” said Green. “For many fellows, DARE is their first time in a community of scholars who share similar career goals and are committed to advancing diversity.”

Demystifying the professoriate

The path to a teaching job in higher education is unlike the career trajectories in other fields or industries. According to Dr. anthony lising antonio, associate professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, a call for a faculty position is usually a national search for one person with a specific expertise.

“It’s very competitive to get one of those jobs,” said antonio. “Given the individualized nature of faculty positions, the job market is also unpredictable from year to year. Layer on top of this the variegated nature of the higher education landscape – community colleges, research universities, comprehensive colleges, liberal arts colleges that are public, private, small and large with differing missions, constituencies and student populations – and you have a fairly complex and confusing job market to navigate.”

During their first year in the program, fellows participate in a three-quarter class sequence. This includes the fall quarter course that covers the role of faculty. In the winter quarter, fellows visit local campuses to learn about faculty roles and responsibilities at different types of higher education institutions. In the spring, fellows learn about the nuts and bolts of the faculty job application process. The second year focuses on supporting fellows as they complete their thesis while managing the job application, interview and negotiation process. 

DARE relies heavily on the support of campus partners like the Center for Teaching and Learning, as well as Stanford faculty, many of whom serve as advisors to fellows. antonio, who is a DARE faculty advisor, said this role-modeling is extremely important in opening the possibility of a faculty position for students from diverse backgrounds.

“As institutions that create knowledge and educate students, colleges and universities are best served by faculty and a student body with diverse backgrounds and experiences,” antonio said. “Such an educational environment is vital for fostering critical thinking, innovation, and – in the applied sciences – socially productive knowledge.”

Where are they now?

Since the inception of DARE, 280 students have been named fellows. Most of the 218 alumni are working in the academic sector, with 88 in tenure-line positions and 27 working as postdoctoral scholars. They are working across the country and abroad, in numerous fields at research-intensive institutions, teaching-focused universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. DARE alumni are currently working at Stanford, Bryn Mawr College, Harvard, San Jose State University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Texas, among other institutions.

Chelsey Simmons is a DARE alum who earned her PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford in 2013 and is now an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Florida. She said the visits to local campuses gave her a more nuanced understanding of the differences in higher education institutions and greatly informed her career choices. She also praised the one-on-one support she received in the program.

“The DARE staff are amazing…they absolutely impacted the trajectory of my career.”

“The DARE staff are amazing,” said Simmons. “Anika Green and Chris Golde (former associate vice provost who co-designed DARE and teaches the first-year curriculum) were such valuable resources as I went through my job search. They served as a sounding board, gave advice on negotiating offers and startup packages, and helped edit my application materials. They absolutely impacted the trajectory of my career.”

DARE alum Tristan Ivory, who completed his PhD in sociology at Stanford in 2015 and is now an assistant professor of international and comparative labor at Cornell University, said that the academic job market has become increasingly competitive. For example, in recent years, postdoctoral fellowships have become a standard requirement for faculty positions in many fields. He said the ability to connect with recent DARE alumni who can advise on the rapidly changing industry is crucial.

“DARE has a large alumni network of folks who are fairly close in age and stage to some of the more recent cohorts, so there’s generally going to be someone that fellows can reach out to with questions about the academic job market,” said Ivory. “Having people that are going through the same experience and can serve as points of reference as you persist further in your career is a great benefit of the program that I am very fortunate to have. I am still in contact with a number of DARE alumni.”

DARE applications for the 2022-2023 academic year are now open. More information is available on the DARE website.