Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

I have talked about applying for jobs with a two-body problem previously (Two-BodyProblem Posts can be found in the Two-Body Problem Category, below). But, here, I am just going to focus on the mechanics of how to put together your packet and apply.

In General: First, off, as I have said before, ask other people for their successful examples. This means having a near peer mentor who has successfully landed a job. You might not have one of these, so you can ask your advisor for their packet, if they aren’t too old, they might still have it. Also, you can ask your advisor for advise, if they are a good advisor. If you are interdisciplinary and applying to a specific department, make sure you get a mentor in that type of department who can read the packet and give you advise. If you postdoc advisor isn’t in that type of department, seek out another mentor. For example, you are a chemical engineer currently working in a physics department, but want to go back to chemical engineering, you need to know how the game is played in chemical engineering. (I know chemical engineering is a particularly small group, and they have some weird rituals. If you are thinking of chemical engineering, you have to get a mentor to help guide you!) The goal of the packet is to get an interview, so make it work for you!

Cover Letter: The cover letter is a formality that makes sure the administrative assistant handling things knows which job you are applying to, and they know who to expect letter from, but the search committee will probably not read it. This is important to have the right information (which university/college, your name and full information, why search). You don’t want to go into the molecular biology search when you do evo/devo. Your cover letter should just be bare bones. Don’t make it too long. Don’t go into too many details. If you have a two body problem, don’t mention it in the cover letter (don’t give them a reason to not even interview you).

Your CV: I have had posts on your CV for getting tenure (CV), and the same basic stuff applies. It would be a full CV, with everything you did. You probably won’t have teaching or service sections. You probably won’t have mentoring or grants, but that is OK. Five pages is plenty.

Research Statement: All tenure-track jobs will ask for a research statement. This is a plan for what you want to do when you get to your new position. Depending on the type of science department, it will need to be more or less specific or look more or less like a grant proposal. It should only be about 3-5 pages long. Again, this is where you need to get examples. Mostly, you don’t want it to look too odd. Don’t write an NIH/R01 grant-style research statement for a department that is all NSF and DOE funded. The styles are very different. Don’t write a vague, sweeping and broadly open statement for a department that expects specific questions with specific techniques. Do use figures to illustrate your points. Do state the significance of the proposed work. Do point out places where the work you propose could intersect and collaborate with people in the department to which you are applying. Do say where you think you will be able to get funding (which agencies?). Don’t write the wrong school or department name! Each statement needs to be tailored to the school to which you are applying. In my experience on hiring committees the young faculty on the committee will read these statements with great interest and go into detail about what you propose. Make it exciting and sell it!

Teaching Statement: Not all tenure-track jobs will require a statement of teaching, but many will, especially small liberal arts colleges. Again, get examples from people who have successfully written these statements to land a job. At a research school, they are going to want something pretty standard. What types of classes are you interested in teaching? Will your use modern teaching techniques? Are there any specialty courses you are thinking of inventing for graduate students? Remember that mentoring in the lab is part of teaching, so you can mention what the composition of your lab will be like. How many graduate students do you think you will have? How many postdocs? Will you have a technician? Is that typical for your field? Will you take undergraduates? By mentioning mentoring, you will remind the committee of your research again. You can also mention that innovative teaching and student mentoring are important for broader impacts required by NSF proposals. Again, you are mentioning research in your teaching statement.

Letters of Recommendation: You will typically need 3-5 letters of recommendation from professors for your application packet. For most people, three letters is tough and five is a huge stretch! If you are applying to a tenure track job after your first postdoc, you will likely have had 2 advisors – your Ph.D. advisor and your postdoc advisor. The 3rd person is usually the weakest for most people. When you get to a postdoc, it is good to talk to other professors at your new place, so you will always have someone to act as that third writer. The letters of recommendation are the most important part of the packet for the older people on the hiring committee. Having big name letter writers is important for these guys, unfortunately. And this is one part of the packet you cannot control and also tends to favor men over women, since we know that scientists have significant gender bias.

Do you have suggestions for people going on the job market this fall? Post or comment!

Comments on: "Applying for Tenure-Track Jobs: Your Packet" (1)

  1. UntenuredJobCandidate said:

    I’d agree with most of this, but your advice about the cover letter goes against most other advice that I’ve heard. I saw this today, and this advice is more in line with what most people say: that the cover letter is THE MOST important part, aside from your cv (which you can’t do much about once you’re applying). This is the only chance to say something directly to the search committee. Here you can demonstrate “fit,” which may or may not be a myth. You can also explain things on your cv which may seem strange or unfitting, like a publication gap or projects in progress that are not published yet.

    One other word about “fit”: by mean fit, I mean the rejection line, “you didn’t get the job because we decided that you weren’t a good enough fit for our department/direction/plan.” I’d always figured it was a salve to sooth a sore ego and nothing more, but I’ve had a bunch of job interviews now, and a few offers, and one real job, and I have changed my mind (for the moment): I think fit is real, and I think the more you can do to demonstrate that you are the best fit for their department/direction/plan, the better. The cover letter is a great place to do this, especially if your proposed research is different from your grad and postdoc research, which for many people (me included) is true. Good luck out there, everyone!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: