What You Can Do as a Second Year Grad Student
It is never too early to start thinking about the academic job search. No matter how tight the market is in your particular field, someone has to get the jobs that do exist. But luck, as Einstein used to say, favors the prepared.
As a second year graduate student who is just starting to learn the layout of your discipline and the way it is divided into the various sub-fields, it is useful to wander into the departmental office and introduce yourself to the graduate assistant who helps with placement. Look through the job listings, and learn how jobs in your discipline are defined. What sub-fields are commonly linked? Positions in comparative politics, for example, are almost always linked to a specific geographical area (e.g., East Asia, Latin America) and one or more theoretical domains (political economy or democratic theory). In political science qualifying exams cover three sub-fields. The choice of your first and second qualifying exams is usually very easy to make based on your course work and interests. The choice of the third is often more of a flip of a coin between two or more possibilities. Seeing how jobs are defined can help you make that choice in a way that has a positive impact on your later job search.
Fads come and go. And the idea is not to structure your graduate education around your perceptions of where the job market might be when you finish, rather it is to tinker about the margins in a way that will benefit your professional development when you become an ex-graduate student. If your main area of interest is in a particularly competitive sub-field or one that has fewer openings than the norm (which you learn by talking to the faculty placement advisor and graduate assistant, and scanning the job listings), think about trying to gain experience through courses and TA-ships in a more target-rich environment. Again using political science as an example, there are many times more annual openings in American politics than political theory. The ability to teach in areas of high demand or low supply can help separate you, especially in small departments, from other viable candidates.
In a similar vein, begin to attend workshops offered by your department and the Career Center. Since you are so far removed from being on the market, you can listen and evaluate without the immediate pressure and panic that comes from learning about the process for the first time when it counts for real.
As you begin to produce seminar papers, from time to time, a professor may comment that you should think about presenting it at a regional or national conference, or submit it to a journal. These are rarely idle remarks. While you may view yourself as a mere graduate student, and a beginning one at that, if she/he is sufficiently impressed by your work to make the suggestion, you should take it seriously. Ask the professor for advice both in terms of how to improve it and where to submit it, and send it off. The gap between graduate student and professional scholar may seem huge, but you will need to close that gap by the time you present yourself as a viable job candidate.
If you have a paper you believe is particularly good, search the "calls for papers" section of your field's professional newsletter or website, and send it off to an appropriate conference. What have you got to lose? Many of the presenters at regional conferences are graduate students, and giving a paper provides you with the opportunity to meet people working in your area of interest outside of Berkeley and the chance to practice making a scholarly presentation at a time and place where you don't feel as if your future is on the line.
Another step you can take that can advance your professional development is to work part-time for a research center/institute or journal/press. If your department is hosting national and/or regional meetings of your field's professional association, volunteer or seek work as paid staff. These kinds of positions help you develop professional contacts, meet faculty from other institutions, and learn skills (e.g., program development, editorial) that are useful for academic positions and can also be of use should you decide to pursue other career opportunities at some point in the future, for example, in order to stay in the Bay Area.
If you enjoy working in a college or university environment but have reason to believe that you may not finish or may have restrictions that limit where you can look for an academic position, consider working part-time in financial aid, admissions, grants administration, student residential life & counseling etc. They are tasks common to all institutions of higher education and many are governed by federal and state regulations that are widely applicable. Academic administration can provide an alternative means of remaining within an academic setting in a manner that allows you to satisfy many of the values that made graduate school attractive in the first place.
Working part-time at Berkeley can help pay the bills, expose you to other facets of university operations, and provide you with the experience and resume necessary to pursue other career paths within higher education. Part-time, campus positions are often listed in Callisto (use the filter to limit your search to campus jobs). Professional staff openings (full and part-time) in areas such as student services, professional/budget/personnel, and senior management/executives are posted weekly on the Berkeley Employment website. For more information on career opportunities in academic administration, visit the Jobs section of the Chronicle of Higher Education website and the Administration by Function section of Academic360.com.
When you go out on the job market, one of the elements of your application dossier will be some form of teaching portfolio. Make sure you keep copies of syllabi, exam questions and paper assignments (especially ones you created and/or thought were particularly effective), and student evaluations.
If you feel ready, think about asking if you can deliver a lecture with the professor present. If you have a very good section that is lively and responsive, think about asking either the professor or your advisor to sit in and observe. These kinds of experiences will allow them to write a more effective letter on your behalf regarding your teaching abilities. Too often advanced ABDs on the job market (who are unlikely to get more TA-ships) are asked to supply evidence of their effectiveness as a teacher, only to realize that there is no one around who can attest to their teaching abilities.
If your professor gives you a compliment on some aspect of your teaching performance (e.g., "I was very impressed by the quality of the papers written by your students" or "That was the best grad student lecture I've heard in years."), write it down. Three years later when you're ready to ask him/her for a letter, you can use their comment to jog their memory, and remind them that you deserve more than a few lines of pedestrian, boiler-plate prose.