Monday, July 28, 2008

Faculty Proposals

Last year around this time my time was pretty much fully occupied with writing my proposals for faculty positions. So, since the next generation (if I can presume to claim a generation gap) of prospective faculty applicants is currently engaging in the same activity I thought I would share some advice (for better or worse).

Each field is different - engineering vs. biology vs. chemistry vs. etc. So, a proposal that is great in one field is not great for another. Chemistry proposals will be long (5+ pages) whereas engineering proposals will be short (2-3 pages). Therefore, if you have a friend read your proposal (and definitely do this), make sure they keep this in mind.

Don't send the same application to every position. Make sure you point out why that school should hire you, and name the school in the application. Yes, this will take more time, but it will "speak" to the committee. Point out things like (and I'm just hypothesizing here) how the school's new microscopy facility will enable your research or the fact that the school has an interdisciplinary center will attract students interested in your research topic.

Similarly, don't send the same teaching statement. It is important to explain how your teaching interests align with the school's interests and every school is unique. Read over the school's/dept's curriculum. See if there is a place that you could contribute a new course or if there is an existing course you are particularly excited about or if they do something (senior thesis, specialty minors) that you really like and comment on it. Again, this requires more time, but it shows the committee that you are applying to their school.

Find out who the chair of the committee is and address your cover letter to her/him and the search committee. This information may or may not be posted in the listing. But, call the department secretary. If she/he is hesitant to give out the information (job applicants can often be seen as pests), simply explain why you want the information and state that you will not call or in any way directly contact the professor. They will most likely give you the professor's name. This will personalize your application.

In your actual write-up (proposal of your research), assume that the committee has a very, very broad background. There will most likely be theorists and experimentalists on the committee. Sometimes, there is also an out of department person. Make sure to put the research in context. Include pictures.

Apply to a lot of schools. And make sure to attend a lot of conferences and department seminars this year. If you see someone at a conference who is a professor at a school you applied to, introduce yourself, your research, and mention you applied to the open position - even if it isn't in their department. Practice this introduction - it should be 3 minutes or less (called an elevator speech) and contain all of the important information about you concisely.

As far as departments go, don't limit yourself to your department. Apply to positions where your research fits, not where you got your PhD. Departments usually are looking to hire in a given area. This is very true for engineering. Chem/Phys/Bio departments primarily hire people with Chem/Phys/Bio PhD's.

Follow up on reference letters - specifically, make sure that the schools received them. Professors forget to send them, they get lost in the mail, they get lost at the school, etc. Don't let your application not get reviewed because it was lacking a reference letter.

Finally, save a copy of each application packet. When you get an interview, it will be handy to be able to go back and review what you sent them.

I'll continue this train of thought later this week - with either more information on proposals or information on interviewing.

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