Applications for Academic Jobs

Job hunting for academic and non-academic jobs have many similarities but are enough different that I’m going to separate them for the purpose of this blog.

Each job ad will have information about submitting applications. Many are the same but there are some with special requirements. Before submitting an application, be sure you meet the requirements. I know this seems basic but I also know that many people don’t notice or assume these requirements don’t apply to them. Since you may want to apply some day to that school when they have a job that you are qualified for, I suggest not annoying them with an application that doesn’t meet their specifications now.

Most academic jobs require
1. A cover letter
2. A curriculum vitae (CV)
3. A research statement
4. A teaching statement
5. At least three letters of recommendation.

Sometimes they also require a statement on service.

Cover letter: Many schools ask for the AMS standard cover letter. Be sure to fill it out completely. In addition to the standard letter, I recommend writing an individual cover letter for each school. Do your research about the school and let them know what it is that attracts you to that school. Yes, this is time consuming, but simply blitzing every job listed on Math Jobs and in the EIMS (Employment Information in the Mathematical Sciences) is not recommended. Most schools get a lot of applications so you need something to make yours stand out immediately as well as make it clear that you want that particular job.

CV: Be sure to list what you’ve done lately. Your future employer is not interested in your high school or undergraduate achievements except for papers published or some national achievement such as a Goldwater Scholarship as an undergraduate.

Be sure to order your CV so that the items near the front are the ones of interest to the particular school. I’d put research first for a post-doc or a research school and teaching first for the others as those are the most important. For all schools, service should be last. Remember to list things in order, probably reverse chronological order for publications, and use plenty of white space. Be sure to have someone senior to you look it over and make suggestions.

Research Statement: Probably the hardest part about your research statement is making it comprehensible to mathematical people in other specialties while still showing how good you are. It is not true that being terse and obtuse will make you look better. It is fine for people to understand what you are saying. To make it look important, I recommend using the technique of putting the theorem(s) you proved in context. “My main theorem solved a 30 year old conjecture of …” will be sufficient to impress. If you then explain it comprehensibly, your readers will be even more impressed and think well of you as a possible teacher. So remember to communicate well.

This should be read by at least two people, your advisor or someone in your field and a good mathematician not in your field. That way you’ll get feedback as to how to explain why what you did is important as well as feedback on comprehensibility.

Teaching Statement: It is not enough to say that you like to teach or are good at it, but including those, especially with evidence to back up the good-at-it claim are appropriate. What is needed is more of a philosophy of teaching. How do you see your students? How do you interact with them? How do you deal with a diverse class that has a wide range of backgrounds? Again, having people look at it, especially senior people, is a good idea.

Letters of Recommendation: One of the letters should be about your teaching, preferably from someone who has observed you teaching. If you are reading this a year before you will be on the job market, find out who at your school writes good teaching letters and ask them to visit your classes so they can write for you. If you are applying for a teaching position, it would be good to have more than one good teaching letter.

This is not to say that the research letter(s) isn’t (aren’t) important, especially if you are applying for a research position. Even if you are applying for a teaching position, it is good to have someone write about your scholarship. If you are a new Ph.D, your advisor should be a letter writer. If you need more than one, pick someone familiar with your work. A letter from someone who had you in class will not help your application.

I continue to invite questions for me to answer. Good luck getting your materials written.


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