Faculty Jobs: Applying for Academic Positions

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

If you're just starting out, you should probably read Resources for the Entire Assistant Professor Job Search first.

Applying for academic (i.e., professor) positions is tricky. Especially if you're a bit of a newbie, like myself. This post is just covering the finding opportunities and submitting of materials phase of the faculty job hunt. Interview experiences come later.

So, in the beginning of September, you should probably start working on your application materials. Deadlines start October 1 and tend to go through January 6, sometimes later. You want your materials in pretty good form by October. While you're workshopping your CV, research statement (4-5 pages), teaching statement (2-3 pages), cover letter (1 page), and diversity statement (1 page), ask your 4 reference letter writers to write you general letter. Specially, you should have 3 "research" letters, and 1 teaching letter (speaks mostly to your teaching). Liberal arts colleges often ask for a teaching letter, but teaching-oriented state schools also do this occasionally. Also, while you're working on your materials, you should start visiting the websites that host the faculty job postings, as well as visiting the websites of institutions you have heard of that you might like to be at.

Places to Look for Faculty Openings

  • Chronicle Vitae: (Chronicle of Higher Education) Search lots of job postings.
  • Higher Ed Jobs and Inside Higher Ed Careers: Similar to (and with lots of overlap with) Chronicle Vitae.
  • Academic Jobs Online: Most of these jobs are posted in the above websites, but Academic Jobs Online is also an application platform - you apply to the jobs through the AJO interface. More on that in a moment...
  • Professional Email Lists: Some professional societies have email lists and some of these email lists have job specific email lists. I found quite a few good postings on ' CHI-JOBS@listserv.acm.org' for my field.
  • Randomly Visiting School Websites: Search 'InstitutionName Faculty Openings'. That'll usually get you what you want. True story, I applied to Wesleyan University because Lin-Manuel Miranda went there. Their job postings did not show up in my line-by-line hunt of Chronicle Vitae.
As you compile a list of places you may wish to apply to, you're going to need to keep track of that list. I had a rather intense Google Spreadsheet where I kept track of the: deadline, position, department, school, state, application URL, teaching/research orientation, materials, application hosting website, and notes on important things like religious affiliations and preferred sub-specialties:

Applying Criteria

At some point I had to narrow down the options, so I used the following criteria, which are proxies for could I be happy and productive here?:
  • Less than 2-preps per semester teaching requirement.
  • Applications submitted through anything but email or snail mail.
  • Closer to the East coast.
  • Reasonable endowment.
  • For teaching-oriented schools, a sub-specialty match.
  • Hindsight addition: Departments with more than 2 instructors.
All originally listed schools remained in the spreadsheet, but I devised a color-coding scheme to indicate levels of priority. Grey font indicated some breech of the above criteria. A highlight color indicated members of a deadline wave to which I intended to apply. And strike-through, with highlight removed, indicated application submitted.

Faculty Application Materials

Get examples of successful materials, from all kinds of institutions, from all kinds of disciplines. Working from examples is really the only way to go here. The Professor Is In Blog has slightly redacted posts on the cover letter, Research Statement, Teaching Statement, the CV, but look elsewhere for advice on the oft optional Diversity Statement (mostly just for California schools). This is a case where you may really want to purchase Dr. Karen Kelsky's 'The Professor Is In' book. It'll be worth the $12. I generally had two versions of most of my materials, including the CV: a research-oriented one and a teaching-oriented one. I had a "base" version of each, with yellow highlights for spots that needed customization (mostly just replacing department/university names, courses of interest offered at the school, and a few sentences in the cover letter for position/mission-statement-tailoring). So, 2 CVs, 2 base cover letters, 2 base research statements, 1 base teaching statement, and 1 diversity statement. Once I had the base materials reviewed by my advisors, the writing & speaking center, and the PhD career coach, I started submitting applications. Each institution's packet ended up taking 30-60 minutes each to customize. My CV is 7 pages, cover letters are 1 page, research statement is 3 pages, teaching statement is 2 pages, and diversity statement is 1 page, although these page numbers vary by discipline. I felt pretty good about the conciseness of my materials. I had about a 50% positive return rate on my materials, which also made me feel pretty good. Just be very mindful that not every institution wants the cover letter, research statement, and teaching statement in separate files. Some want varying combinations of these put into 2 pages. Since your materials get 2.5 minutes max, schools wanting you to reduce materials is no surprise. So, a list of materials you may or may not need, depending on all your applications:
  1. Curriculum Vitae
    • "Teaching Experience" before "Research Experience" for liberal arts colleges.
  2. "Heavily" Tailored Cover Letter
    • 2+ sentences alluding to the school's mission statement, requirements in the job ad, or potential within-department collaborations
    • This is essentially a 5 paragraph essay: (1) introduce where you are/were, (2) Summarize dissertation research, (3) Summarize future research plans, (4) Describe teaching philosophy, and (5) Conclusions with "Please feel free to contact me...I look forward to hearing from you." See The Professor Is In for more insight into writing your cover letter.
  3. Lightly Tailored Research Statement
    • Include future publication plans ("in process", "submitted to").
    • Number your future project plans (2+).
    • For liberal arts colleges, also state how undergraduates can get involved with each of your future project plans. Options: (1) "I've worked with undergraduates on preliminary work in this vein", (2) "Junior undergraduates can start using X method while they build X capacities that contribute to longer lines of question formation", (3) etc. etc.
    • (optional) Mention departments or projects you wish to collaborate with.
  4. Lightly Tailored Teaching Statement
  5. (optional) Diversity Statement
  6. (optional) ~3 Peer-reviewed Publications
  7. (optional) Teaching Evaluations
    • If you ever TA/teach a class, always get formative mid-semester evaluations from your students.
  8. 3-4 Confidential Recommendation Letters
In a way, all these materials are optional, so read the job ad carefully!

Submitting Reference Letters

The trickiest bit of all this is keeping track of those reference letters! Every institution uses a different system. Some want a PDF with the reference names in them, some have you type directly into the system. Academic Jobs Online and Interfolio store and submit general letters on your behalf. Some systems email your reference writers upon submission, some wait until you pass a certain vetting by the search committee. There is no way to track any of this. Don't stress too much about it. However, there is a way to somewhat manage the reference letter portion of the process:
  1. Create an Interfolio Account ($20?).
  2. Request a generic letter from each of your 4 letter writers through Interfolio. Provide a deadline before your first application deadline. The first reference letter is the hardest to write!
  3. Create an Academic Jobs Online Account (free)
  4. Request a generic letter from each of your 4 letter writers through AJO. Be sure to press that green arrow, or the system will never send the email! (Alternatively, you can have AJO request a generic letter from the stored one you have in Interfolio, if you're willing to pay $4/letter. Interfolio has instructions, here).
If you follow the procedure for Interfolio, you will be able to send confidential recommendation letters to any institution without asking your letter writers! It will cost $4/letter to send to an external application, so I recommend doing in that way sparingly. Maybe only for letter writers who tend to lose their emails ;) Academic Jobs Online is a real beast to use with an unintuitive interface, but plenty of institutions use it as an application management platform, so it's worth at least remembering to hit that green arrow to request a letter from your writer!
Here's my basic ecosystem for applying to faculty positions:
So, basically, my teaching letter writer only submitted one letter (to Interfolio) and I paid $4 every time I applied to a school that required a teaching letter. Some faculty members write over 100 reference letters in the fall semester, so this is a good back-up plan.

Due to some confusion with AJO, I also paid 4*$4 to have all my generic Interfolio letters stored on AJO as well. For the other ~3 letter writers, when applying to a university that did not use AJO nor Interfolio, I had the system send them a request. Occasionally, I'd realize I had a remote interview while still missing reference letters and would hunt those down with follow-up emails. As the above image suggests, there's a lot to track and it's pretty much impossible to really keep an eye on everything.

At least missing reference letters shouldn't keep you from getting the remote interview.

BYOV Posts on the Faculty Job Search
  1. Overview of the Assistant Professor Job Search
  2. Applying for Academic Positions
  3. Remote Interviews
  4. Packing for On-Campus Interviews
  5. On-Campus Interview Lessons Learned
  6. Sample Assistant Professor Job Hunt Timeline
  7. Reflections on Negotiation
  8. Descriptive Statistics of my Job Search
  9. Deciding Research or Liberal Arts


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