In this blog post—the fifth in my eight-part “Get a job, Ken!” series—I share my experience submitting job application materials. This includes the research proposal (Part 3) and other materials like a cover letter, CV, and letters of recommendation (Part 4).
Job opening notifications for chemistry faculty positions began appearing in July and August. C&E News, indeed.com (search ‘chemistry professor’), Science magazine, and Inside Higher Education were my favorite places to watch for advertisements. I also regularly checked the chemistry department websites of the universities I was especially interested in. Many chemistry departments will advertise openings directly on their home page.
Most, if not all, job opening advertisements say something like:
The Department of Chemistry at X University invites applications for a tenure-track faculty position in Y Chemistry. Candidates must have a Ph.D. in one of the chemical sciences and a demonstrated ability or potential for a recognized program of excellence in both teaching and research in Y chemistry.
The ‘Y’ (inorganic, organic, physical, etc.) in the advertisement usually indicates the hole a department is looking to fill in their teaching schedule or research agenda. Other Universities post open calls for all chemistry disciplines because they’re looking to hire the best of the best and don’t necessarily have to hire someone based on need.
One very important thing I was told was not to pigeonhole myself into one flavor of chemistry. So I looked for and applied to any position that used key words relevant to my area of research (like inorganic, energy, and materials). Some job posts, like energy-related organic or bioinorganic chemistry, were slightly outside of my domain of expertise but I applied anyway. I decided to let the search committees decide if I fit into their department’s needs. I rationalized that spending 20 minutes on a personalized teaching statement and cover letter for each almost-but-not-quite-aligned job opening was worth the time considering the potential return on investment.
The Aspiring Professors Support Group was also really helpful in the search for job openings. We created a shared Google Document Spreadsheet and when someone found a new advertisement he or she added it to the growing list. In addition to the university’s name, we noted its U.S. News rank, discipline of interest, requirements, deadline, and a link to the job description. Sometimes members of the group also added inside information, such as the flavor of research a department’s open call might actually be searching for or if a senior hire has already been identified for the position. Here is an excerpt from our spreadsheet:
The actual submission process was surprisingly painful because it varied from one institution to the next. Ultimately, the submission methods fell within four varieties:
- Department-based websites
- University-standard employment websites
- Third party websites
Email submissions were relatively convenient and less time consuming than the others. Email submission guidelines were typically noted in the job post and included a list of requested materials and the email address to send them to. Some asked that the materials be sent as individual attachments or compiled in one master pdf (with a specific order). Reference letters were also sent to the same email address but directly from the recommender (upon the request from the applicant).
Submissions through departmental and university websites were similar. Both required me to first type in personal information (name, address, undergrad/grad institutions, names of references, etc.) before uploading my application materials. These submission systems usually sent an email to my references with instructions for submitting their letters.
Six or seven of the positions I applied to employed a third party website, like academicjobsonline.org, to manage their submission process. These websites were convenient because I could upload a my CV and proposal as well as individualized documents (cover letters, teaching statements, etc.) for each opening. I could also simply list my references’ contact information (name, email, university, etc.) and the service would send out an automated email to request letters. My references could then upload a generic letter for all openings or a tailored letter for each university.
Regardless of the submission format, I was sure to always follow two rules. First, before submitting, I created a folder for each university to hold a stand-alone copy of each application component. I then checked and rechecked the contents to make sure they were correct. Some of the submission sites wouldn’t let me return and view the documents after uploading, so I was sure to add a lot of structure and rechecks into the material management process.
Second, I submitted as early as possible. This allowed: 1) extra time for committee members to look at my application (chances are they spend more time on early applications then those submitted en-masse at the deadline), 2) extra time for references to submit recommendation letters, and 3) extra time for me to double-check with each department to make sure they received all materials before the deadline. Most applications are considered incomplete until everything is submitted—recommendation letters included—and “will not receive full consideration until they are complete.”
Letters of Recommendation
I sent my references an excel spreadsheet (shown below) listing the universities I applied to, application deadlines, reference letter submission method (email vs. website), and whether or not their letter had been received and confirmed. Showing a reference where he or she was falling behind in comparison to others seemed to help prod them into action.
After everything is submitted, the waiting starts. This is simultaneously a thrilling and difficult thing to do. On the best days I was overwhelmingly optimistic and my imagination ran wild creating long lists of all the universities that would offer me interviews. The worst days were depressing for me and my significant other as we struggled with the uncertainty about our future. Without knowing anything about where I might receive an interview (or even if I would receive any interviews at all) we were in holding-pattern purgatory where we couldn’t really plan for our future and just had to hope for the best.
One piece of advice I received was to not wait passively. I started to prepare my presentations and budget proposals right after submission. If I received a phone call offering an interview I’d only have a few weeks to prepare. I wanted to have my presentations done so that I could spend those few weeks researching the university and department.
Unfortunately, there are only two formal methods for learning whether or not I was in the running for a job interview. I would receive a call offering an interview or a rejection letter. Thankfully, there is an alternative method: I watched seminar schedules on departmental websites. Sometimes chemistry departments openly list seminar speakers as “faculty candidates.” Others will name speakers as Dr. instead of Prof. and a quick google search will reveal if the speaker is a post doc. One shortcoming to this method is that many chemistry seminar calendars either are not kept up-to-date or don’t include speaker’s names. In these instances I was left relying on formal announcements or snippets of information from people I knew.
Monitoring seminar schedules also showed me who I was competing with, both for interviews and in the job search in general. It is common for the same group of 4 or 5 individuals to interview at a dozen or so top tier schools (I was not one of these people).
In the next post I’ll describe my own interview experiences.