“Get a job, Ken!” Part 4: Other Content

This blog posts continues my “Get a Job, Ken!” series. My last post focused on writing research proposals. This post describes the other pieces of the application package.

There isn’t a standard, one-size-fits-all set of application materials for all faculty job openings, but the majority ask for a cover letter, curriculum vitae (CV) and three letters of recommendation. A few universities also asked for additional items like a teaching statement, a diversity statement, copies of graduate school transcripts, and/or 4-5 publications.

Cover letter

I personalized the cover letter to each university. Yet, for my own sanity, I reused the same basic cover letter structure:

Paragraph one: I included a sentence that stated my general area of research. This is important, especially for general call job posts. When search committee chairs or their assistants start organizing applications one of their first goals is to identify the correct person to review it. They—and especially the candidate—want the proposals matched with a reviewer from a similar research domain. Including a sentence that clearly defines your area of research makes the alignment process easier and avoids, for example, having a biochemist assess an inorganic proposal or vice versa.

In the first paragraph I also made sure to note any faculty or consortia at the institution whose research aligned with mine in ways that could lead to possible collaborations. I included this to demonstrate how I could fit into the departments’ research theme and to hopefully get my proposals into the right hands.

Below is the cover letter I submitted to FSU.

CV

CVs vary greatly from one person to the next. I don’t know what the ‘right’ CV format is, but in case it’s helpful I am sharing, a copy of the CV (pdf) I submitted with all of my job application packages.

Letters of Recommendation

To help give my references time to prepare a recommendation letter, I emailed them a few months in advance (July and August). Then, a few weeks before the deadline, I sent a friendly reminder.

Other Requested Application Materials

Teaching Statement

Half of the openings I applied to asked for a Teaching Statement or, as some describe it, a Statement of Teaching Philosophy. But, if we are going to be perfectly honest, teaching statements are much more important when applying to primarily undergraduate institutions. Some of the faculty that I met with during interviews said they never saw my teaching statement or new I had submitted one. Regardless, in my teaching statement I mentioned my past experiences and the philosophies that shape my teaching style. While R1 institutions are more interested in research agendas, they are also looking to hire someone to fill any departmental teaching gaps. Acknowledging this, I explicitly listed classes I could teach. That way it is easier for the search committee to see how well I fit their needs. For example, I wrote:

Envisioning myself as a future chemistry professor, there are a number of courses that–given the opportunity–I would be very comfortable teaching. These courses include General Chemistry (105a/b, 115a/b), Inorganic Chemistry (453, 515) and Chemical Nanotechnology (455).

The teaching statement is also an opportunity to share a little bit about who you are as a person. The search committee is not just hiring a scientist and teacher, they’re also looking for a colleague and possible friend.

Diversity Statement

A diversity statement was only requested by University of California schools and served as an opportunity to express my awareness of and intention to help address the disproportionate involvement of female, African American, Hispanic, and Native American students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The diversity statement was the space to describe my current efforts to close this gap and how I plan to continue these efforts if hired.

While a diversity statement is currently only requested by University of California institutions, I would not be surprised if this request soon expands further. Increasing representation in STEM fields is a pressing issue. If these inequities are not addressed there will be a serious impact on the number of people prepared to enter STEM fields, especially as the demographics of the United States change. Recognizing this, the NSF has also increased the rigor necessary in the ‘broader impacts’ component of their proposals. It’s no longer acceptable to simply say “I’m going to go to a high school and give a talk” or “I am going to create a new graduate class.” Plans for expanding STEM representation are now expected to be more thought out and impactful. This is especially the case for career awards.

Rough Budget Proposal

One job application asked us to submit a rough budget proposal. This was a unique request and I am guessing the department had a limited budget and probably couldn’t support a $500,000 piece of equipment. This request, while unusual, seemed completely reasonable since departments want to optimize their time/money and only invite interviewees whose research they could support. This early request proved to be a convenience later since I had a rough budget proposal prepared before going into the interviews.

In my next post I’ll talk about the actual application submission process.

4 Comments

  1. First off, thanks for this series you’re doing. These posts are a great service to all prospective job applicants. I would have liked to have something like this to refer to when I applied to jobs.

    In all my applications, mostly to undergrad schools* in my case, I found that the importance of a teaching statement is slim to none. This is not to say you shouldn’t take it seriously or put significant thought and effort into it, but I went on several interviews where the majority of people I talked to had never seen my statement (and most didn’t care about it). I think this section of the application is an industry (so to speak) standard in academics, as they are likely much more valuable in searches for humanities and similar fields where research is not as important.

    For my undergrad applications I put the courses I could teach in my cover letter, to highlight my mad teaching skills right off the bat (I think of myself as fairly versatile, so I used that to market myself).

    * Most of these schools did expect an active undergraduate research program, however. Undergrad schools without a serious research component probably rely more on the teaching statement.

  2. Loving this series so far.

    Two comments about CVs: I’ve heard that some people don’t like seeing manuscripts in preparation as you’ve listed them in yours. It might give the appearance you are inflating your publication count. Clearly yours doesn’t need any.

    I also have started highlighting contributions from undergrads in my CV (publications + presentations). That shows the committee you are interested in undergrad research.

    • I have to second Joel, in preparation can mean the paper is still a glimmer in your eye. Submitted, accepted, in press is all fine, but not in preparation.

  3. Just wanted to say thanks. This series is incredibly helpful. It’s has already been a great benefit to me, and I’m sure it has been bookmarked by dozens of others who will start preparing applications this summer.

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