On the Tenure Track: Alexandrea J. Ravenelle (Ph.D. '18, Sociology)
She just landed a full-time faculty position at a top university and shared advice on standing out in a competitive field.
Alexandrea J. Ravenelle
This has been an eventful year for Alexandrea J. Ravenelle (Ph.D.’18, Sociology). She published her first book — the timely Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy — based on the research she completed for her thesis. And she has just accepted a position as an assistant professor in sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
It’s her second tenure-track role, as she was previously an assistant professor at Mercy College. She is also a visiting scholar at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge.
On the verge of many life changes — in addition to starting a new job and moving 500 miles south, Ravenelle recently had her second child — she took time to talk to The Graduate Center about her career choices and shared tips for starting on the tenure track.
The Graduate Center: What is your advice for students and recent graduates who are looking for tenure-track positions?
Ravenelle: You should ask to see the application materials of someone who recently got a tenure-track position, so you can see what has recently been working on the job market in your field. After I did that, I realized the importance of emphasizing that I was teaching a heavy course load and was still research-productive. I also put a little more focus on what my newest publications were and what was coming through the pipeline.
Also, we typically think of R1 job postings — at the research-heavy universities — as being posted in August, September, and October. But I think we’re starting to see tenure-track postings getting posted through December and even into January. So keep an eye out.
And Twitter: I’d recommend that students begin following more senior scholars and those who research their areas of interest. A number of academics have started posting links to openings in their departments, and that can also be a good entry point for networking on jobs. UNC wasn’t on my radar at all — I found out about the job when I scholar I follow posted about it, and it seemed so perfect I just had to apply.
Finally, I had hoped to stay in New York. But sometimes applying for a position outside your geographic area is worth it.
GC: What do you think made you stand out in a competitive field?
Ravenelle: My adviser, Barbara Katz Rothman, often talks about the importance of being strategic in your academic career. One of the people who blurbed my book was Arne Kalleberg, a very distinguished professor at UNC. When I applied, I included a sample book chapter, and also the book flier that included his quote. I think it made me less of an unknown entity.
I also never gave up on my research goals, even though I was at a teaching-focused college. While I was at Mercy College, I received a multi-year Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Knowledge Challenge grant that will fund my next project. My tenure home will be in UNC’s sociology department, but I’ll also be teaching a class each year in the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship. It’s the only entrepreneurship program in the country that’s part of a college of arts and sciences.
I think what set me apart for the position was the book, but also that I was studying something that is a bit more unusual for sociologists: entrepreneurship and the gig economy. So sometimes taking on a research project that is a bit more unusual can work out in the end.
GC: What are you working on now?
Ravenelle: I’m looking at high-status gig work: what I call McKinsey meets the gig economy. These individuals are using the gig economy to do strategic planning or develop marketing plans, and they’re making $150 to $250 an hour. It’s very different from Uber/TaskRabbit gig work.
I’m also looking at the impact of sudden closures in the gig economy on workers and entrepreneurship. One of the platforms that I studied for my dissertation and for my book was Kitchensurfing, which was an on-demand chef platform. It closed as I was studying it. Now I’m looking at the impact on those workers. Were they able to start their own businesses, and use Kitchensurfing as a stepping-stone to full entrepreneurship? Or did they find that the platform provided a lot of the backend and marketing that they were not prepared to do?
GC: How did The Graduate Center help prepare you for your career?
Ravenelle: The biggest preparation offered by The Graduate Center was one I didn’t even realize I was getting: an amazing network of people — both alums and faculty — who truly want to see you succeed. When UNC asked me to interview, Colin Jerolmack (Ph.D.’09, Sociology), Phil Kasinitz gave me interview tips, and John Torpey came in during spring break to listen to my job talk and provide suggestions. Then, after the offer was made, Robert Turner (Ph.D.’10, Sociology), a former UNC post-doc, helped with my decision-making, and CalvinJohn Smiley (Ph.D.’14, Sociology) has been my deadline buddy. My Graduate Center degree has given me access to an amazing community of mentors.
And, of course, my adviser, Barbara Katz Rothman, has truly taught me the meaning of tenacity and the importance of finding a mentor. Any time I wonder if I should apply for a grant or an opportunity, I hear her voice in my head reminding me that if I don't apply, I definitely won’t get it.