Documenting the Academic Job Search – Part II

(Read Part I here.)

In a recent descent into a web-browsing shame spiral, I discovered a simple piece of advice on the Chronicle Forums:

Apply for the dang job!

The number and variety of postings on MathJobs makes it easy to be overtaken by doubt. Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Will people like me? It may be comforting to sift through fifteen browser tabs for the answers to these questions, but instead go apply for some jobs! Remember that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” (Gretzky/Scott).

And if you’re done applying for jobs, consider some of these tips to keep busy for these next few stressful weeks of waiting.

Tips for the Post-Application Doldrums

If you have any social media accounts, you may want to double check their privacy settings. I recently realized that many of my old Facebook posts were publicly available. I hadn’t posted anything particularly incriminating, but I also didn’t expect potential employers to have access to those comments. I followed these steps from Gizmodo to lock down old posts.

At tea a few weeks ago, a fellow job seeker mentioned a a cold calling technique I hadn’t previously considered. For those jobs for which you’re particularly interested, write a short note saying as much. Do your research in order to direct the message to the correct person. I would imagine that the head of the search committee is probably the last person who wants to hear from applicants outside of the approved channels. Instead, look for any personal or research connections to the faculty; try to warm up that cold call. The person who suggested this tactic said that it netted them a handful of speaking invitations.

To lessen the job search anxiety, try to have some well-defined research tasks scheduled. I find collaboration the easiest way to stay on track. I currently have a weekly Skype meeting with my advisor’s previous student, as well as an email conversation with another. I would be much less productive without this correspondence. Moreover, the Skype discussion doubles as a mentoring session as the other person has a tenure-track position and shares timely advice about the hiring process. If you don’t have any collaborators, find some! The blog post Building Your Research Army contains links to many programs which support small groups of researchers. And don’t forget to make the most of the Joint Meetings by emailing researchers closely “related” to you. Suggest a meeting to discuss potential projects (which you should have just written about for your research statement).

My next suggestion is to prepare your job talk. Once the interviews start rolling in, you will find yourself visiting a new campus, giving a talk in front of a very important audience (in terms of your future employment). The AMS Sectional Meetings provide a proving ground for you to test your presentation skills. I wasn’t aware that there are two levels of talks: special sessions and contributed talks. You should submit for a 20 minute talk in a special session, but you will be considered for a 10 minute contributed talk if the session is full. Ideally, you would attend the Sectional Meeting in the region to which you’re applying for jobs, though this may not be possible. Giving a talk is a great way to get invited to give more talks, which is a great way to get your job application on the top of the stack.

There’s plenty of job talk advice floating around, so I will only link to this article and another, in addition to this essay of Paul Halmos. Ok and this excellent slide deck of advice. Remember to practice early and often. You may gather all of the soon-to-be graduates in your department for a “Job Talk Seminar”. Invite everyone to view the talks and distribute a grading rubric so attendees may provide anonymous feedback to the speaker.

Finally, you need to prepare for upcoming screening interviews, both over the phone/Skype and at the Joint Meetings. There are a number of questions you can expect to be asked (see here and here), so open up a new notebook and start writing down answers. Of course you don’t want to sound robotically rehearsed, but it’s not a bad idea to think of yourself as a campaigning for an election versus applying for a job. I actually already had a phone interview and was asked to explain my research to a non-math person in twenty seconds or less. Twenty seconds! I had prepared a 2-3 minute explanation and was able to condense it down, but it would have been disastrous had I not prepared anything at all! Afterwards, I immediately recorded a debrief in my notebook to help improve my responses. If, like me, you haven’t had a phone interview recently, let me remind you how grueling they can be. Especially panel-type interviews where the interviewees are situated around a conference table dishing out questions. But stay positive and remember that if you made it this far, you’re hirable on paper!

About Derek Smith

Former weather dude and scientific software developer. In the upcoming 2015-16 year I will complete my PhD at UCSB in nonlinear dispersive equations. I enjoy spending time with my two young daughters and running.
This entry was posted in Advice, Interview, Interviews, Jobs. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Documenting the Academic Job Search – Part II

  1. vikash kumar says:

    Great post

    Especially your point about genuinely showing how much you value the influencers, and providing value to them – they’re ones I’ll follow down to the T. 🙂

  2. Kane says:

    Screening interview is ok if it is done with physical presence of everyone. But a Texty candidate will definitely feel uncomfortable, as it is tough to face such kind of interviews.

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