Dr. Fabricio Tocco offers practical advice for succeeding in the competitive job market and explains how his graduate experience at UBC helped him land a position as Assistant Professor at the Australian National University.
“European universities don’t necessarily offer teaching experience to graduate students, so the ability to teach Spanish courses at UBC proved to be extremely useful for conducting mock classes in later job interviews.”
Fulfilling a decade-long dream of becoming a university professor
Becoming a university professor has been my aspiration for more than ten years, ever since I finished my undergraduate studies in Comparative Literature at the University of Barcelona. Growing up in a trilingual home where Spanish, Portuguese and Italian were spoken daily, I was interested in languages, as well as in reading and writing, ever since I was little. But it was especially after studying with my literature professors during my B.A. that I realized I wanted to be like them.
I am now happy to say that beginning January 2021, I will be starting a new position as Lecturer Level 2 of Spanish—the equivalent to the North American rank of Assistant Professor—at the Australian National University’s School of Literature, Language and Linguistics.
About the position
I love every aspect of this position. I will be teaching Spanish at all levels (Undergraduate, Honours, Masters and PhD), in addition to teaching Hispanic literature and culture courses (film, gender, music history) and supervising graduate students. I will be developing my research agenda on Latin American studies, and working on my first book on the history of the Latin American political thriller.
I have also been appointed as the department’s Convenor of Portuguese, so I am going to be working on the administration of that program. I will also be in charge of recruiting students for the Honours Program and Graduate Studies of Spanish.
The reality of job hunting
It took me almost 150 applications in the span of two years before I landed this position. It is no secret that the job market is especially hard these days, so I had to arm myself with lots of patience and to not take rejections personally.
It wasn’t a walk in the park; you must learn how to navigate the frustration, uncertainty and self-pressure. I did many interviews for jobs I didn’t get, but they helped me gain experience in presenting my candidacy. My interview with the Australian National University consisted of teaching a mock class and giving a research presentation, which is the standard hiring process for these positions.
It is hard to be taken seriously if your work hasn’t been read by others aside from your dissertation committee, so my advice is to get published!
It’s a competitive world, and one often applies to entry-level jobs against more experienced professors who want to switch to what they may consider to be more desirable locations. Since I was at an early stage of my career and could not compete with more experienced candidates, I had to get articles published in prestigious journals to show that I had potential, in addition to finishing my PhD.
Graduate Student Experience
Unique benefits of FHIS graduate programs
My experience at UBC was key. I was used to the way things were done in Europe, where supervisors can often be more hands-off and there is not such a defined structure as there is in North America.
European universities don’t necessarily offer teaching experience to graduate students, for instance, so the ability to teach Spanish 100- and 200-level courses at UBC proved to be extremely useful for conducting mock classes in later job interviews.
As for my graduate research at UBC, I especially liked having the chance to follow a particular path during my program: from choosing to write papers for graduate courses that were related to my dissertation topic to having the freedom to outline a reading list for my candidacy exam.
My advice for prospective graduate students is to make sure that your research interests match those of the department.
I immensely enjoyed the supervision of Associate Professor Jon Beasley-Murray, who taught me a great deal and inspired me throughout the four years of my program—and still does now.
There are many great things about Jon, but I would say that the best things about working with him were how approachable he was, and how hands-on and committed he was during my writing process. He was also very present: every time I read a paper, he came to see me (even in other countries!) and gave me encouragement and helpful feedback.
The FHIS community
The word “community” is often overused, but I don’t think that is the case with FHIS.
I love how much the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies (FHIS) felt like a community. For the more than five years that I lived in Canada, I felt like I was part of a group of people who worked on similar interests and goals, and liked to share it with their peers. That is a meaningful driving force to get you going.
I am also thankful to the department for their constant support. The generous Four Year Doctoral Fellowship allowed me to go to conferences, conduct research in South America and focus on my dissertation full-time.