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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School has started

School has started for many people, which means that it is time to get started thinking about applying for jobs for next year. This can be a daunting prospect in the current job market. But there are steps to take that can make the beginning easier.

Step 1: What kind of job do you really want – mainly teaching, an emphasis on research, industry, government, business? Decide what will make YOU happy, not what will make someone else happy, as you need to do the job.

Step 2: What preparation do I need for the job in step 1? If you want a mostly research job other than NSA, then you might want to consider a post-doctoral position somewhere. If you don’t want academe, are your programming skills up to date? Caveat: There are more people seeking post-doctoral positions than there are positions, so plan on applying to other types of jobs as well. This is actually good advice for everyone – you may not get your dream job so apply to a variety of types of jobs.

Step 3. Talk with people. Talk with your advisor or post-doctoral mentor. Talk with your department chair or boss. Talk with people who have the kind of job you think you want. Talk with significant others as to their needs in term of moving, jobs for them, time commitment in your job, etc. Email questions to this blog. I’ll try to answer.

Step 4. Look for employers who are offering jobs that interest you. is a good place to start, especially for academic jobs. is also a good resource for more applied jobs.

Step 5. Consider geographic limitations that your situation demands, if any. Do you need to rethink any of the above steps as a result?

Step 6. Investigate the places to which you intend to apply both to be sure that you are interested and so that you can make the best application you can.

That’s it for getting started. Next time will deal with the application process.


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Preparing to Teach

One of the anxiety producing parts of a new job is getting the teaching right for that school. There are a number of things you can do.

1. Find out your schedule and what books are used for the courses you are going to teach.

2. Ask who has taught the course(s) well recently.

3. Contact that person and ask for advice on pacing, homework, tests, grading policy, attendance policy, and what is required to be handed out the first day.

4. Use the information from 3 to plan the semester so that the material is covered at a reasonable rate while leaving time for answering questions, reviewing, and giving and going over tests.

5. Have the homework for the first few weeks, or the semester, chosen before you start.

6. Find out if there are rules as to the use of blue books that they buy or copying tests onto paper on which the students work.

7. Find out if there are standard paragraphs that have to be on a first day handout.

8. Even if not required, have a first day handout that includes how to reach you, your office number and building, your office hours, the required book(s) for the course, and any policies you want to have.
This handout can be put on your website as a .pdf file if your school’s budget is tight on paper usage.

9. Have at least your first two lectures prepared before school starts.

This is not a comprehensive list but a start. Feel free to post questions and other suggestions.

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Housing for a New Job

This is the time of year that many people are getting ready to move to a
new, sometimes first, job.  This can be quite anxiety producing due to
the many details and expenses.  But relax; it is possible to do without
going off the deep end.
Continue reading

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On The Market is a job search blog for the mathematical sciences community by the Joint Committee on Employment Opportunities

Moderator: Sue Geller, Professor
Texas A&M University

Welcome!  The Joint Committee on Employment Opportunities has decided to
try to be of more help for mathematical scientists on the job market,
especially for first timers.  The blogs topics will come out of our
experience mentoring job seekers, especially at the Joint Mathematics
Meeting in January each year.

Our idea is to take a job seeker through the process, from deciding
where to apply, to applying, to interviewing via phone or at meetings or
at the workplace, to handling an offer, to negotiating, and maybe even
to beginning that first job.  We will also try to have blogs on topics
that people write in and ask about.

At this time of year, some people have accepted jobs, others are
debating offers, and others are waiting to hear.  My tip for this first
blog is to be sure to call places in which you are interested after you
receive an offer from another place.  Simply tell them you have an offer
and ask them when you are likely to hear from them.  This gives them the
opportunity to speed up the process lest they lose you.  Be aware that
most places will tell you either you are no longer in the running or
they’ve filled their positions.  But that is okay because you will know
whether or not to ask for more time to decide on your offer.  I received
my current job by calling to inform them of another offer, which made
them look at me more carefully and more quickly.  So I know such a call
can be worthwhile.

Until next time.

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