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Applying for Jobs in Communication Departments

Linguistic anthropologists sometimes think about applying for jobs in communication departments, which have their own sets of expectations for what a good job candidate looks like. Ilana Gershon interviews Zizi Papacharissi, professor and head of the Communication Department at University of Illinois, Chicago. She is also founding and current editor of the open access Sage journal Social Media and Society, and she has been on numerous job search committees.

Do you have general suggestions for how a recent anthropology PhD can signal to a communications job search
committee that they are a good fit?

The cover letter would be an ideal starting point. It is essential to explain how the candidate’s work aligns with the department mission and objectives, and the specific areas identified in the job description. Communication is an interdisciplinary field, and we welcome appointments that cross disciplinary boundaries. Much like with every cover letter, it is  essential for every candidate to study the job description and department they are applying to carefully. A thoughtful letter does not just describe the candidate’s work; it also explains how this work relates to the research faculty in the department are conducting. Beyond research, it is always a good idea to look at the courses offered and suggest specific courses that a recent anthropology PhD might be able to teach.

Are there conferences they should attend?

There are several, and we have a habit of attending our own conferences as much as we attend conferences hosted by colleagues in the social sciences, humanities, and social computational sciences. The International Communication Association conference provides a nice overview of what is happening in our field. I would recommend ICA preconferences in particular, because they are smaller and more intimate, and may provide more opportunities for contact for a new comer. Beyond ICA, there are smaller, specialized conferences that feature up and coming areas of research, and one of those is the Association of Internet Researchers conference. It is not as vast as ICA, so it is easier to meet and chat with people, and it is a favorite of both established and exciting new scholars, so the quality of presentations and interactions is up there.

What journals should they publish in?

New Media and Society (NM&S), the International Journal of Communication (iJOC) and Social Media and Society (SM&S) have published the work of anthropologists most extensively in the past. Depending on the focus of their work, journals focusing on journalism or political communication may also work.

What classes should they be prepared to teach?

It is good to be prepared to teach courses in one’s area of specialization (always be ready to suggest one or two new classes you might be able to add to the curriculum), but also one or two of the core courses the department offers. A general course in media, or communication theory, or newer media technologies, or research methods is always a safe bet.

When you advise your graduate students to examine a department’s website to see how to explain the ways in which they will be a good fit, what do you expect them to look for?

The following things: the mission statement and faculty profiles, with an emphasis on the profiles of tenure track or tenured faculty.
You can also figure out some of the tenure expectations a department has by seeing what recently tenured faculty have accomplished.

Zizi Papacharissi professor and head of the Communication Department at University of Illinois, Chicago.

Please send your comments, contributions, news and announcements to SLA Contributing Editors Summerson Carr(, Ilana Gershon (, and Amelia Tseng (

Cite as: Gershon, Ilana, and Zizi Papacharissi. 2018. “Applying for Jobs in Communication Departments.” Anthropology News website, August 13, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.896