This post is dedicated to S.L. at Harvard who is looking for her first faculty position and asked for a few posts about the job hunt. Good luck S.L.!
I previously posted on the details about applying to an assistant professor position. This post focuses on specific advice for your application materials.
Probably as you approach the end of your PhD studies, it will be natural to start thinking about finding a position. Although it varies from year to year, even at the best of times this will be a competitive process. It’s worth spending some time thinking about what you want to do if you don’t find a position. I would recommend thinking about a career outside of academia (if you plan to leave if you don’t find a position) or a postdoc (if you plan to stay if you don’t find a position) as a backup.
Working Your Network
You’ll need 3 references to apply for faculty positions, and these should hopefully be people who 1) know your work, 2) think it’s good, 3) like you and 4) will give you a good recommendation. If you don’t have 3 people you are confident will fulfill these needs, this will be a major problem and you should start thinking about how you can find them. You will probably need to use your PhD supervisor (and postdoc supervisor if you’re applying from a postdoc), as their absence will be conspicuous.
The IDEAL reference is a known, respected member of your research area who isn’t affiliated with your school whom you have never co-authored a paper with.
Jobs that you hear about through your network are gold! If you’re applying to a school where you know a faculty member, you should invest as much as possible in the application, as having a local champion will make it far more likely that you get the offer. In the search committee I was on, if any one member had strongly advocated for a particular applicant, we’d probably have made them an offer.
It should go without saying, if a department specifically invites you to apply, there is a very good chance they’ll offer you an job – or at the very least an interview.
My original research statement was a revamped version of what I used to apply for scholarships, and basically outlined what research I wanted to do. I had a single page of text. Based on the advice of a junior faculty member on my committee, I revamped this and went to multiple pages, with images. I outlined the evolution of my research, and discussed how various projects tied in to the overall development and concluded with future directions. I thought the final version was FAR stronger than the original.
Keep in mind that it’s doubtful that any of the people reading your research statement are in your field. Write it so that they can understand what you’re doing and why it’s exciting!
If you do any sort of teacher training during your PhD, they will probably be able to help you develop this. For the most part, teaching statements can be distilled to “Gosh I love teaching and all my student!!!”. You want to express enthusiasm (and ideally experience) for educational technology and pedagogical approaches – especially anything the school is doing.
The school I was at had a large online component (both fully online and blended courses). One applicant said she doesn’t like online teaching. I don’t know what she was thinking.
You should already have an academic CV, if you’ve ever applied for anything during your graduate studies. If you don’t Google “academic CV” and read about what it should look like. Look at the webpages for junior faculty in your field and see what their CVs look like.
Update it. Proofread it and improve any parts possible. Get feedback from friends.
For my cover letter, I would include it as a separate documents attached to the e-mail (or uploaded to their system), NOT as the body of the e-mail I sent. The e-mail body would look like:
Attached please find a cover letter, a curriculum vitae, a description of research and teaching interests.
Letters of recommendation should follow from:
Dr. John Smith – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Jane Jones – email@example.com
Dr. Pat Prof – firstname.lastname@example.org
For the cover letter, I would use a standard template which I would then personalize to each department. In the first paragraph I briefly mentioned the position I was applying for. In the second paragraph I discussed my research, highlighting elements from my CV. In the third paragraph, I discussed teaching experience and which courses from their course calendar I’d feel comfortable teaching, in the 4th paragraph I discussed enthusiasm for service, past academic volunteer experience and specific initiatives I was interested in. I’d wrap up mentioning my career experiences prior to getting my PhD – and how they would be useful in the position.
You want to put this on university letterhead, ESPECIALLY if you’ve done a PhD or postdoc somewhere particularly prestigious. Sadly, I think my letterhead was what got the most interest from search committees the last time I was interviewing.
What have you struggled with while preparing materials to apply for an academic position? For those who have been successful in their job search, is there anything you did with your materials that you think gave you a leg up?