Monday, February 7, 2011

The App Package (Part 2)

After the CV, the next two critical documents for your application package are the Statements of Teaching and Research. During my preparation, I received the whole gambit of advice from having short 1-page statements for each to having multi-year, elaborative exposés on your future plans. In practice, this usually gets sorted out based on the position for which you are applying.

For instance, if you’re looking for an assistant professorship, they aren’t going to expect you to have gobs of info on teaching. Thus, a lot of the places have a limit of 1 page each or 3 pages total. In those cases, you only have enough space for the core points in the SoT/SoR. For teaching, it helps to show you have a teaching philosophy. By now, you’re probably either an experimentalist or a theorist. But in engineering, you’ll need to be able to teach both. Also, you should have an idea about the core program classes that you can teach. These core classes should be pretty common in some shape or form in most engineering programs. Lastly, you should mention a few ideas about classes that you’d like to develop.

On the research side, when space is limited, I think there are only two things you need to get across. The first is that you have larger plan for where you want to be 5-10 years for now because you think the technology is headed in that direction. The second is that you have a series of projects already outlined which help you plan out that 5-10 year period. One thing that I learned (and was asked during an interview question) was “How is my future research different from my current group?” In my case, that was fairly easy to answer but for others, that may be difficult. If you’re not doing something new or there is a research group focused on that already, how are you going to get funding?

And speaking of funding, that bring me to topics that should be included in your SoT/SoR that should be considered if you have sufficient space. On the research side, in addition to outlining where you believe the technology is going and having projects which lead in that direction, you also have to show that you know how to get there. In academia, that’s via funding and group management. Naming key grants that you will go after during your tenure track period and defining how you will set up your group will go a long way to showing your future colleagues that you’re ready for this challenge. This includes the number of students and a rough idea of the cost per year of running such a group. Lastly, adding a section on your previous research can give an indication that you’ve already been trained for this type of research and you’re the right person to lead it in the future.

For the SoT, space permitting, having some good grandiose ideas about novel classes that would greatly add to the curriculum shows that you haven’t just focused on research. These should be treated differently than your suggested courses that you would add because these ideas should be a department or college initiative. This could be something like a minor or specialization within a degree or a course which would take some significant support from the department. Also, look for higher education teaching grants. This would show the department that you’re serious and that you think there are additional support mechanisms which would help you get this started.

The last piece of the puzzle is the Cover Letter. In general, the Cover Letter should be customized for each position. It should specifically draw connections from points in their advertisement to why you fit the position. This is where you can get specific about why you fit this exact position. The SoT/SoR should largely be independent per position for which you are applying. Some other considerations are that this should be addressed to the committee chair if it is publicly known but you should expect the rest of the committee to read your letter. Also, some people say a two page cover letter is fine but I think at this stage in your career, one page should be enough.

The last thing I’ll say on this is to be hopeful but don’t get your hopes up too high. I ended up applying for 10+ positions and received no reaction from almost all of them. All of those positions that I wasn’t successful for didn’t even have the common courtesy to have a form letter rejection saying they were “going in a different direction”. I think that’s a little improper, but that’s the world we live in. If a semester has past and you have followed up several times and you still haven’t heard anything, it’s not looking too good. This can be the most frustrating aspect (not officially knowing) but it takes persistence to get a position. Also, it [sometimes] helps to know someone on the faculty. More on that tomorrow.

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