Friday, February 4, 2011

The App Package (Part 1)

Let’s face it, academia is a tough world. But if you’re that good and you present yourself as being that good, someone will take a chance on you even if you didn’t come from the best lab/university/professor. Presenting yourself as being that good is as important as your technical ability because you’ll eventually need those skills for commanding a conference hall, a classroom on a daily basis, and you have to inspire your students. Underneath all of this research and teaching is a business. A Tier 1 research university, on some levels, in nothing more than a business. It’s your job to bring in money so you can play in the lab and the university can function (and give you a lab in which to play). If you’re good but not good at showing people how your research relates or how efficient your research group is, you’re not going to succeed.

The most important way to get this across is your application package and, if you are lucky, your interview and presentation. For now, I’ll stick with the application package and discuss interview stuff over the next few days. The app package usually consists of four items: CV, cover letter, statement of teaching (SoT), and a statement of research (SoR). If you’re good at graphics, then make a fancy (but tasteful) cover with an explanation of what it shows. They don’t want to see abstract art, but if you have a few pictures or drawings that summarize your research, then do it.

Let’s start with the CV. Critically assess your CV. If you’re looking at academic jobs, you have to know you’re good enough. If you have a few publications in OK journals for your field, then it’s looking dicey. The easiest way to check is find the newest assistant prof in your department and ask them how many papers they had when they were higher. If you’re equal or greater, then you’re off to a good start. Also, NEVER have a “papers in prep” section. That’s basically saying “Yeah, I was going to do that but I never got around to it”. It screams of saying you’re not a closer. At the very least, don’t give them a reason think poorly of you.

Another good tip for papers is to separate journal publications and conference proceedings. Most reviewers will try to divvy them up anyway, so they’ll thank you for helping them out. Putting them together is a lose-lose proposition. Assuming you have only one or two journal papers and you hide them with 8 conference proceedings, it is going to look like you’re hiding the fact that you didn’t publish enough. Even if you had 8 journal papers and you intersperse them with a bunch of conference proceedings, they’re going to say “Wow, this person has done a lot of work, but why not accent that you know how the publishing game is played” (More on the politics of publishing later).

As for the rest of the resume, make sure to keep an accurate employment history and remember important dates for everything. Since I did not have postdoc experience while applying, I left everything research or academia related in my resume since about the middle of my undergrad. Make sure to have all of your sections concise and not spread out over a page break but do list everything. Aside from research/employment, education, journals, and conferences, list any patents, presentations at conferences, companies, and/or universities, mentoring, key skills for your research, academic service, conference volunteering, professional associations, awards, grants, everything including the kitchen sink. You're supposed to stand out, not blend in.

Another tip I got was to make a website of projects. Your future colleagues probably don’t want to go through all of your papers but if you had a website with some good photos and schematics, that will work wonders. Have a short description, keeping the high-line of the research focusing on “What’s the main purpose” and “Why is this project successful”. No more than a paragraph or two. That can really give reviews a good perspective.

On Monday, I’ll tackle the SoT, SoR, and cover letter. Any other tips/tricks that I didn’t mention are greatly appreciated.

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