Friday, July 08, 2005


Some notes on Academic Job Searching - 2

The ASEE Student Chapter Academic Job Search Handbook-- a Collection of Resources and Useful Information


The Job Search Procedure
Where the Jobs Are
How to Apply
Time Schedules for Academic Jobs
The Application Materials
The Curriculum Vitae
The Cover Letter
The Statement of Research and Educational Objectives
What Your Application Materials Should Say
The Search Committee and the Department Head
Where the Application Materials Go
The Faculty Search Committee
Application Review and the Search Committee
The Personal Interview and the Search Committee
The Department Head
The Interview
The ``Typical'' Academic Interview
The People You'll Meet
The Faculty in Your Area
The Faculty Outside Your Area
The Chair and the Dean
The Interview Seminar
The Applicant's Responsibilities
The Offer
The Offer Itself
The Non-Research-Oriented Negotiable Items
Research-Oriented Negotiable Items
Accepting the Offer
A Final Word...
General Summary
Sample Interview Questions
About this document ...

The Job Search Procedure
In this chapter, the procedure of applying for an academic position is discussed. We'll talk about where to find job postings, how to apply, and what happens to your application after you send it. The timing of a job search is critical, and we discuss that a bit also. The message to take from this chapter is the job search process is not easy. It requires diligence (check those postings weekly...), creativity, and most of all time. Sending out a few resumes here and there won't be enough. You've got to make the time to conduct a thorough search, and this search begins with job postings.

Where the Jobs Are
The obvious first step in the academic job search process is to determine where job openings exist. There are more than a few ways of doing this, and some of them may surprise you. A typical job posting is shown in Figure 1.1. Note that it includes the important information like: desired area, level of appointment, necessary background, teaching and research expectations, and approximate starting date. In this section, we talk about four important sources of information.

Figure 1.1: Sample Advertisement

The first excellent source of well-organized information about jobs in your discipline is your industry publications. For mechanical engineers, for example, this would include Mechanical Engineering. You should definitely subscribe to your field's trade publications, or at least consistently have one available to you. These are usually quite complete sources of job listings. Another non-discipline-specific publication is the ASEE Prism, a monthly magazine published by the American Society for Engineering Education. The classified ads in the Prism are also very thorough, and the magazine also contains alot of good information about teaching-related issues. Typical job postings look like the one in Figure 1.1. Note that it contains information on the school, the position, and some of the expectations. It also includes the name and address of the person to whom you should send your application materials.

Another great source of information and job postings is the internet. There are many world wide web sites which list jobs in academia. For example, the ASEE classified ads are on-line at Similarly, other trade publications have home pages on the internet. However, there are other sites dedicated to academic jobs, like Minnesota's Academic Positions Network (APN). This gopher site lists academic jobs by state (and country), and the list is fairly complete. There are a host of others, and a complete listing of the sites we've found so far is contained in Netscape bookmarks on the ASEE ecn account,

There are two other good sources of information that are not so generally accessible. The first is the faculty in your own department. Your major professor or other faculty in the department probably has contacts at other universities, and they may hear information relevant to your job search. The information may be as simple as: ``Hey, a colleague mentioned that a job at so-and-so university will be posted soon, so make sure to look for it...'' Or, the information may be more specific. The point is that the faculty in your department may be a great source of information and advice. The final good source of information is also one of limited access to most graduate students. Conferences and professional meetings are great places to make contacts at other universities and to meet prominent people in your field. Being active in your professional societies provides an excellent opportunity for networking, and making new contacts and establishing new colleagues is a great way to get a foot into academia.

Once you have found a job posting for a position that interests you, promptly submit your application materials. You never want to be late for an application deadline. So it's important not to be lazy! Let's briefly examine the application materials, and then the timing of the faculty search process.

How to Apply
Once you have identified a position, you should submit your application. This section will briefly explain what the application consists of. This topic is covered more fully in Chapter 2. The first, and very important, part of the application is the cover letter, detailed in Section 2.2. The cover letter should announce your interest in the position, but it is also a chance to describe certain things about yourself that are not reflected on your resume. For example, you might briefly highlight your research, explaining your diverse background and broad interests.

The next piece of the application is the academic resume, called the curriculum vitae, or c.v. for short. The c.v. is explained more fully in Section 2.1. It should contain all of your relevant education (degrees and where they are from), experience (educational and industrial), as well as publication, academic service experience, and references. This is a very important document, and you should therefore spend a great deal of time making sure that it frames your achievements in their most favorable light. You never want to sell yourself short!

The final section of the application should be your ``statement of educational objectives'', discussed in Section 2.3. This is your chance to explain your teaching and research objectives. You should explain your research plan, what topics you'd like to examine, and your ideas about funding. You should also list the classes that you'd like to teach (undergraduate and graduate level), the courses you'd like to develop, and your thoughts on teaching innovation, advising, or other related topics. This document, typically several pages in length, is your chance to explain your strengths, and how you will use them in your new faculty position. It is critical for you to have a plan before you begin your new career as a junior faculty.

A final thought on application materials, and this cannot be understated: your application materials must be free of spelling and grammatical errors. Take extra time, and let your friends and colleagues examine your application materials. The easiest way to get rejected for a faculty position is to demonstrate that you don't even care enough about the job to make sure you spelled everything correctly. There's alot more information about the application materials found in Chapter 2.

Time Schedules for Academic Jobs
The academic job search is inherently a time consuming process. This section explains why that is the case, and exactly how long you can expect to be involved. The underlying message of this section also cannot be understated: start early! Waiting until two months before you graduate to begin your faculty job search will severely limit your chances of finding the job you want!

The job search usually begins with the department announcing the opening through various formal outlets, like trade publications. The department also sets up a faculty search committee, which plays an important role in the search process. Typically, the search proceeds as follows. The department head or search committee chair collects applications for several weeks. Then, this person examines the applications and immediately discounts those applicants who are obviously unqualified. The rest of the applications are forwarded to the search committee, each member of which has a chance to look at the application materials. Because the search committee is composed of active faculty in the department to which you applied, they have a variety of other commitments, including teaching, research, and other forms of academic service. Therefore, their review of the first wave of applicants can take quite a long time. For the highest quality applicants, the search committee members typically gather letters of recommendation from the applicant's references, and based upon all the information available to them, they make a recommendation on who should be granted campus visits and personal interviews.

The interview itself typically consists of an entire day of meeting faculty, discussing teaching and research issues, and touring laboratories and other department resources (computer labs, for example). The day culminates in the applicant's seminar, in which the applicant describes current research issues. Following the seminar, an exit interview with the department head ends a long day. Interviewing candidates can take several weeks, considering scheduling problems, etc.

The final stage of the search process consists of the search committee deciding whom to offer the position to. They then recommend a candidate to the department head, who has the final decision on the matter (typically, the head agrees with the committee members). The head actually makes the offer to the candidate, who then has time to consider the offer and possibly negotiate.

Considering all of the different things happening in the faculty search process, you can certainly understand why it can take so long to fill a position. From the department's standpoint, they are making a 30-40 year commitment to someone (assuming the applicant remains happy at the university), and it pays them to take their time making that decision. So, you must start early when looking for a job! Understanding the process (and how much time it can take) is important for your success in finding a job; the job search process and the roles of the various people involved is discussed more thoroughly in Chapter 3.

The important points from this chapter can be summarized as follows:

1. There are many sources of available job information. Don't discount sources like the internet, and the academic grapevine.
2. Include your ``Statement of Educational Objectives'' with your application materials.
3. Start the job search process early. The time frame for a faculty search can be quite long, so don't wait until the last minute.

With this overview of the application process, we are now ready to examine more closely the details. In the next chapter, the components of the application are detailed, along with advice and guidelines from a variety of sources.

The Application Materials
The first means of evaluating an applicant's abilities is through the academic resume. This typically includes the c.v. itself, along with a Statement of Research and Educational Objectives, and a short cover letter explaining how the applicant is suitable for the advertised position. Because the decision to grant or deny a personal interview is based largely upon these three documents (although letters of recommendation also count), it is critical that they are clear, concise, and well organized. Of course, it also helps if you have lots of good credentials to discuss (including things like publications, academic service, and teaching experience). But it is still very important, whatever your level of achievement and experience, to frame your accomplishments in their best light. You can do yourself a great disservice by sending a mediocre application. Let's begin by looking at the first important part of the application materials, the c.v.

The Curriculum Vitae
The first step in the academic job hunt generally begins with development of a quality academic resume. It is advantageous to begin drafting a curriculum vitae early in your graduate career, as you are then able to identify areas that are in need of work. The c.v. will be a very important document in the application process. As it will be one of the first impressions on the search committee, make sure there are no typographical or grammatical errors in the c.v., as well as other documents you send! Competition for academic positions today is very stiff, and even relatively minor mistakes can lead to elimation of a candidate. (A university today will often receive up to 200 applications for an advertised position!)

In general, your c.v. should include your research and teaching interests, education, research and teaching experience, publications and presentations, honors/societies, and references (There are a number of sources dealing more specifically with content of the c.v.). Many faculty indicate that the first thing the search committee will look at is your background, research area of interest, advisor, publications (how many and what journals?), and university. Other items mentioned are industrial experience, the title of your dissertation, awards/fellowships/honors, activities, and ``personality''. The search committee may not agree on any hard limits for a minimum number of publications. While some may indicate a three publication minimum, others will look at the c.v. more subjectively. In general, the search committee looks for competence, leadership, maturity, and vision in your chosen field as expressed through excellent credentials. You should organize your c.v. in a logical manner, separating the main sections with headings like ``Educational Background'', ``Related Experience'', and ``Refereed Publications''. If you have any record of academic service (reviewing papers, or serving as an officer in a student organization, for example), list that also. Also included should be a section containing the names, addresses, and phone numbers (and even e-mail addresses!) of your referees. These are the people who will be called upon to write recommendations for you, so be sure to choose your recommender wisely.

The Cover Letter
The cover letter to accompany your c.v. should briefly and formally state your interest in the position. You should include an anticipated completion data for your degree. Without going into too much detail, or repeating verbatim items contained in the c.v., describe how your qualifications and interest match those of the advertised position. In the letter, try to highlight particular aspects of the c.v. that you want noticed (`` interdisciplinary training in solid mechanics and heat transfer...''); also show your excellent writing ability. The letter should be concise, so try to keep it to one page. The search committee members will be reading many of these cover letters, so contain only the important information; don't try to impress the committee with your verbosity. Most faculty agree that a wisely-conceived and well-written cover letter is crucial to your success as an applicant. It may be a good idea to prepare three generic cover letters, one for schools with advertised positions within your area, one to schools with an open position that may not exactly match your qualifications, and one to schools with no current opening. When you send out a letter, it should then be personalized by naming the school and position. For example, "I was pleased to read of a faculty position open in the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota...". Convince the school that you are worthy of consideration.

The Statement of Research and Educational Objectives
Along with the c.v. and cover letter it is often suggested to include a research plan, or "5-year plan". The plan may include descriptions of your graduate research, post-doctoral research, direction you intend to pursue in your new research, and possible extensions of your research to date. Remember that your current research is regarded as the intellectual property of your advisor, so you want to branch out somewhat. It is advised, however, not to branch out too far, as getting tenure in 5 years working in a new field will be quite difficult! In the 5-year plan, the search committee will evaluate your research vision. It is important to retain some degree of flexibility, as you don't want to eliminate yourself from possible positions. Your plan should address where you want to go with research, and why those topics are particularly important. It has been suggested to identify areas in need of research, not necessarily with specific applications in mind. When summarizing research interests and direction, it is important to include possible funding sources. Try to be specific will funding possibilities, for example, ``Companies such as Johnson and Johnson Professional will be...'', or ``The National Science Foundation is...''. It may also be advantageous to keep in mind (but not necessarily on your research plan!) what type of funding and lab space you will need in a start-up package.

What Your Application Materials Should Say
When applying for an academic position, there is no substitute for good credentials. However, presentation of those credentials is nearly as important. The actual words on your c.v. and research plan will be different from everyone else's. However, the tone of your application materials is very important. You are trying to demonstrate to the department head and the search committee that have not only developed the necessary skills for successful teaching and research (as revealed in your c.v.), but that you have also developed some vision as to where your career as a scientist will take you. For this reason, it is critical that you demonstrate that vision in the form of a well-organized and concise research and teaching plan.

When looking for new faculty members, it does not pay the department to hire someone who doesn't know what they are getting into. If they were to hire someone who is naive about the expectations, then that person will not be and immediate asset to the department. The search committee and the department chair are looking for someone with vision, someone who is knowledgeable about academic careers and their expectations, and who can hit the ground running. Remember:

It is very easy to write a standard cover letter or research plan which requires little thought and reveals little concrete information about your future plans. Writing a naive cover letter or research plan is an easy way to be discounted from consideration. Instead, write your future plans and goals with enough detail to reveal how much thought you've put into them.
The research plan does not need to be etched in stone, but it should be specific enough to answer the following questions:

1. What areas are in need of research? You don't necessarily need to mention specific applications, but certainly discuss the overall relevance.
2. Why are these areas important? How do these problems fit into the big picture?
3. Who is interested in these areas? What are the primary funding sources for this research? You don't necessarily need to mention specific companies; rather, just say ``...the research has obvious automotive applications, and I will seek support from the Big Three auto makers...''
4. What facilities will you need to get started? Will you need a large lab or high-powered computational resources?
5. What equipment is necessary to perform the research? How much will an initial experimental set-up cost?

These are all questions to keep in mind when writing your research plan. Try to address these issues in your plan, and also discuss other items directly related to your work. You need to sound like you've given these topics a great deal of thought, as they are the building blocks of your academic career. A great way to impress the search committee and the department head is to demonstrate excellent vision.

In this chapter we have briefly examined the application materials and what should be included. The main points to remember are:

1. Your c.v. should be a concise and well-organized description of your accomplishments thus far. It should include all related experience, your thesis title and advisor, your publications, and any other relevant experience (academic service, for example). Also include any fellowships or awards.
2. Your Statement of Research and Educational Objectives should include a clear description of your future research plans. These plans should include not only research directions, but also potential funding sources. You should describe why the work you'll study is important, and who will be interested in it.
3. Your cover letter should be a short description of how your credentials make you qualified for the advertised job. It should include the position title, where you saw the ad, and the fact that you are indeed applying for the job.
4. Your application materials should reveal you to be a mature, thoughtful, and well-prepared researcher and teacher who possesses an appreciation for excellence and strong vision.

The Search Committee and the Department Head
In this chapter, the key players in the job search process are discussed. Obviously, the applicant plays a big role in the process, but there are two other parties involved. The faculty search committee and the department head are the people who examine the c.v.'s and evaluate the credentials of all the applicants. While all three of these parties are looking at the same job search process, it should not surprise you that they often have very different views and opinions. Understanding how the search committee works, and how it interacts with the department head, will allow you to better prepare for the job search. The job search is now looked at through the eyes of the search committee and department head.

Where the Application Materials Go
Let's say that you have identified a job that interests you, completed your application materials (and checked them for typographical and grammatical errors!), and sent it to the department. Now what happens? All of the applications typically go to either the department head, or the search committee chair. This person then sorts through the applications, identifying those candidates who are obviously not qualified. Common reasons for rejection at this point are:

1. candidate's expertise not in the area of the available position
2. candidate's experience (research and/or teaching) not strong enough for consideration
3. others (for example, older candidates--say, one who has been in industry for 35 years--are not often hired at the assistant professor level; younger candidates don't usually have the credentials to be hired at a more senior position)

Note that the above criteria does not include the ``publications''. This early in the application review process, publication count is not examined very critically. It is at the committee meetings that credentials like publications, recommendations, teaching experience, etc. come into play.

After pre-screening by the head or search committee chair, the applicant pool has been reduced to a more manageable number. It is difficult to say how many applications are received, or how many are considered by the committee, but suffice it to say that there will be many, many applicants for one job. The search committee may look at well over 30-40 c.v.'s, so it's important that yours be of the highest quality. Once the committee has the reduced applicant pool, they examine the application materials, make phone calls to references and obtain letters of recommendation, and rate candidates in terms of their credentials. But, what specifically are they looking for in a quality candidate? That question is examined in the next section.

The Faculty Search Committee
The faculty search committee is a panel of usually 5-6 faculty members in areas related to that of the job posting. This allows them to critically evaluate the research activities of the candidates. Each committee member views every application, and interviews are granted after a vote on the strengths of the candidates. There can be a substantial amount of discussion and deliberation by the committee, as often there are several high quality candidates. However, the definition of a ``high quality'' candidate is not universal. In order to shed some light on how the committee comes to its decision, we now examine the details of the search from the committee's perspective.

Application Review and the Search Committee
The first question you should be asking yourself is: What is the search committee looking for in an applicant? It turns out, as you might guess, that the answer to that question is not straight-forward. Consider first a posting for a ``...tenure-track position in the area of Design...'' Within the area of Design, there are a great many specialties, so how does the committee know what they are looking for? One way is for them to identify the deficiencies in their department. That is, does there exist a need for a faculty member in a particular research area? Would having a person in that area significantly help the department? Does that area possess many potential funding sources? Is there the possibility of a strong fundamental contribution in that area? Is the area a so-called ``hot topic''? These questions and others are considered when deciding the particular discipline of the successful candidate. Given that the job posting itself may not reveal exactly whom the committee is looking for, how do we know the specifics? The grapevine can be a powerful tool in providing information about jobs. Your advisor or other professional contacts may be able to find out just how narrow the faculty search is. The moral of this story is that if you are rejected early in the committee discussions, it does not mean that you are not a strong applicant or that you have weak credentials. It could be that your area of expertise is not what the committee is looking for. The opposite of this situation is for exceptional applicants. For high quality candidates, the search may be expanded. For a person of exceptional talent whose area of expertise does not exactly match the job posting, the committee may not reject them. The committee is typically looking for the optimum combination of a person whose research area is near what is desired, and a person who is exceptionally talented. The most qualified person in terms of research area may not be the most talented applicant, so some compromise must often be made by the committee. This compromise is completely out of the applicant's control, unfortunately.

Let's say that you've made it to the next round of review. The committee will now critically evaluate your credentials, research, and teaching background in an effort to find the best candidate. There is a fairly short list of attributes that the committee sees as valuable. This list (in no particular order) typically includes:

university graduated from
thesis title and thesis advisor
publications in refereed journals
awards, fellowships, etc.
While the committee does not have a rigid set of standards by which they judge candidates ( there is no ``minimum number of publications''!), they are looking for quality and talent. That last point deserves to be reiterated--a person with 7 publications on the same subject in second-rate journals may not be as desirable as a person with 3 publications in leading journals in their field. It is not a matter of quantity; it is a matter of quality. The search committee looks for people of the highest caliber, not necessarily the person with highest publication count.

Another very important document to the search committee is the ``Statement of Research and Teaching Objectives''. This document details your goals for future research and teaching, and how you will achieve them. This information is critical for the search committee because it tells them that you have given alot of thought to your future, the direction in which it is going, and the obstacles you will likely encounter. They will look at this document very closely; therefore, it is critical that you demonstrate your potential for success. They will be evaluating not only your research and teaching plans for their content, but on how well they are presented, i.e. communication skills. The Statement of Research and Teaching Objectives is discussed more thoroughly in Section 2.3.

The letters of recommendation are very important. For your references, you should choose people who can evaluate your research and/or teaching experience, and who will give a good recommendation. MacKenzie and Nye discuss recommendation letters very nicely:

Requesting letters of recommendation should be taken seriously. Your request should be in writing and specify to whom the letter is to be addressed, the complete address, and the specifics of the position. Preferably, the job description or job advertisement copy should be attached to your letter requesting the letter of recommendation. Additionally, it is wise to include a copy of your resume. Your request should be specifically to write a letter in support of your application. You are not interested in having someone do a balanced appraisal of your pluses and minuses. Make it clear that what you want is not a letter of reference (to include some bad news), but a letter or recommendation (which is all good news).
Armed with all of these materials for each applicant, the search committee then critically evaluates the credentials of the applicants. The committee then discusses and debates until the final short list is obtained. Personal interviews are granted to this final list of people. Because of the cost and time involved with personal interviews, the committee usually only extends invitations to a few people (maybe 3 or 4) the first time around. If no offer is to be extended as a result of the first set of interviews, more will be conducted until a suitable candidate is identified. Now that we've talked about many of the procedural aspects of the committee's job, and some of the details of what they are looking for, we will move on to the responsibilities of the department head. But first, there is a topic that is of such concern to so many that it is discussed on its own: publications.

This is such an important topic that it deserves its own section. A common question from graduate students: ``How important are publications, and how many do I need?'' The answer is: Publications are extremely important! If you are planning to apply to a research-oriented school (like Purdue, for example) it is absolutely critical that you have published your research work. How many do you need? Well, that depends alot on where you are applying (first or second tier school?), what sorts of research you do (fundamental or applied?), and the quality of the publications (do they appear in high quality refereed journals?). A bit more insight may be drawn if we consider the following:

First, publications demonstrate your ability to perform engineering research, recognize its relevance, and effectively communicate the results and importance. These are crucial qualities for a researcher, and therefore for a faculty member. Refereed publications are important because they are reviewed by your peers, who presumably can evaluate their quality and relevance. It is for this reason that refereed journal publications typically hold more weight than non-reviewed papers. Conference papers, for example, are often either not reviewed, or the review process is less rigorous than for archival journals. Annual conferences are often a forum for works in progress, whose details have not been entirely worked out. These papers are certainly important contributions, but the body of research needs to be summarized in a refereed journal paper. Also keep in mind that every field has certain journals which are of higher quality than others. Make sure that you know which journals fall into which category, and try to publish in the best journals you can.
It's now more clear that the question ``how many publications do I need to be considered a serious candidate?'' does not possess a universal answer. Rather, it depends upon a variety of factors. Publishing one fundamental milestone paper which alters the state of the art as we know it is probably better than publishing 5 articles in second-rate journals. Remember the moral of the story:

If you are planning a faculty career at a research institution, the quality of your research work will be judged by existing documentation of your contributions, i.e. your publications. Do not wait until the end of your program to begin publishing your work. Do start early. The easiest way to find a job is to show that you do high quality work by documenting that work in archival journals.

The Personal Interview and the Search Committee
The role of the faculty search committee during the personal interview is not all that different from that of other non-committee faculty members. Typically, they are scheduled to meet with the candidate, as are other faculty members. They have a short personal interview with the candidate, and often search committee members will accompany the candidate to lunch or dinner. The actual interview and what to expect are discussed in Chapter 4.

The Department Head
The role of the department head in the faculty search process is somewhat limited. The head, as mentioned previously, pre-screens applicants but passes the acceptable candidates on the the search committee. The head typically interacts with the committee members only a few times during the search. The head's role in the application review stage is often minimal, while it is much more prominent in the personal interview stage of the process.

During the personal interview, the head will greet the candidate in the morning and prepare for the day. The head will also attend the candidate's seminar. At the end of the day, an exit interview with the candidate is conducted, and the visit is discussed. It is here that the applicant really has a chance to step forward. Discussions about future research topics, funding, collaboration, teaching load, and many other important topics takes place. More attention is given to the personal interview in Chapter 4. However, it is important to remember what the head is trying to find out. The head is evaluating your qualities as a person. Common concerns are:

1. Will you be able to work with other faculty members in a collegial manner?
2. Do you have a strong plan for your future?
3. Are you confident yet not arrogant?
4. Do you interact well with people?
5. Do you have good communication skills?
6. Can you effectively articulate your ideas and visions? (This is often ascertained at the seminar)
7. Are you intelligent (can you speak intelligently about related topics, and do you mistakenly try to discuss topics about which you know very little)?
8. Do you have a real appreciation for excellence and do you have a plan for how to achieve it?

The head is looking to fill a position with the highest quality person available, and the commitment is for 30-40 years, assuming the hired professor becomes tenured and intends to stay at the university. So, the head is critically evaluating all of these personal qualities in addition to your technical skills. Do not neglect this important consideration when interviewing.

The important points from this chapter are:

1. The quality candidate possesses excellent technical skills, and has documented those skills through publication of scholarly articles in archival journals.
2. The quality candidate has a solid research and teaching plan which includes realizable goals and a strategy for achieving them.
3. The successful candidate demonstrates excellent inter-personal skills in the form of collegiality, respect, and courtesy.

The Interview
Congratulations! You have been granted a personal interview for the faculty position at you first choice university. Talk about anxiety! While it is true that the academic interview can be quite nerve-wracking, by understanding the process and the expectations, you can prepare and perform well. This chapter investigates the ``typical'' academic interview, discusses the main features, and gives a bit of advice about the interview seminar. By preparing well ahead of time, you will have no trouble succeeding in the interview.

The ``Typical'' Academic Interview
The academic interview usually consists of one day-long series of small interviews. Breakfast meetings, 30 minute sessions with other faculty members, the interview seminar, the department head meetings, and the session with the Dean all make for a long, tiring day. A sample itinerary might look like the one shown in Figure 4.1 (adapted from dantzig).

Figure 4.1: Sample Interview Schedule

The highlight of the day is clearly the interview seminar, in which you are asked to present your recent research. This extremely important event is detailed more in Section 4.3. During this long day, you will be asked many questions, and you should ask many questions. In order to more effectively prepare for your interview, it's a good idea to understand the process and to examine exactly the traits for which the interviewers are looking.

The People You'll Meet
During your visit to campus, you will meet a variety of people, most of whom fall into one or more of the following categories. First there are the faculty members in your area--those on the search committee and in related areas. They will know something about your research area. Next, there are those faculty members who are in completely different areas. Finally, there is that group of people who are very important in the hiring process, regardless of their research area. These people include the department chair and the dean. It's important to recognize that each of these groups will be evaluating different things during their meetings with you.

The Faculty in Your Area
You will likely meet many faculty in your area, and invariably the conversation will move towards your research. Because these people have a certain amount of experience in your (or a closely related) area, they will be able to speak intelligently, and ask very good questions. These questions can be quite specific (``... I read your recent paper, and I was wondering if you could explain a bit more clearly this part about...''), or the questions can be more general (``... What do you think are the important research topics for the coming decade, and how does your current research fit into them?''). It is critical to be able to answer both types of questions intelligently and effectively, because...

The interview process is not strictly about identifying the person with the most technical competence. If you have been granted a personal interview, your technical abilities, as demonstrated in your c.v., are clearly strong enough. The process is also about finding the person who expresses those technical abilities in the most understandable way. The person who communicates those ideas the most effectively will be a strong candidate.
Another important concern, which you should carry with you throughout the process, is your future goals and plans. Your description of your goals began with your Statement of Research and Teaching Objectives. On those few pages you outlined your future plans. In the personal interview, you should anticipate many, many questions about your research and teaching goals. It is critical for you to not only have vision, but to be able to describe that vision in a clear and concise way. This is your chance to sell yourself as a competent, well-prepared, ambitious researcher, as well as an excellent teacher (i.e., communicator).

The Faculty Outside Your Area
When meeting faculty whose area of expertise is not similar to yours, the conversation will be slightly different. You may talk very vaguely about your research or theirs, but the specifics will be left off. You may again discuss your research or teaching vision, and questions like ``What are your thoughts on the state of graduate education?'' may come up. You should be very ready to answer such questions about the educational side of a faculty job. You may want to have a few questions of your own (``Have you experienced any difficulty attracting high caliber graduate students to the University?''). The bottom line, however, is that these people are also evaluating you as a communicator. They may not be terribly qualified to evaluate the quality of your research, so they would like you to demonstrate your general intelligence and communication skills. The conversation may lag, and you may have to talk about the weather or the Dallas Cowboys, but always make a good impression with your communication skills.

The Chair and the Dean
While it's very important to make a good impression on the faculty from both inside and outside your area, the department chair and the dean are the two people you really want to impress. The meeting with these two will take a decidedly different tone than with any of the faculty. These two people are typically not experienced in your area, and therefore they won't be evaluating your technical skills. What they will be examining, very closely, will be your ability to be an asset to the department and to the university. The obvious question, then, is how do you convince them that you will be a great addition to the department? You should try to demonstrate that you are prepared for the job by answering these sorts of questions.

1. Do you demonstrate research/teaching vision?
2. Do you have concrete goals and aspirations?
3. Do you have a strategy for achieving those goals?
4. Do you understand what obstacles you'll have to overcome?

Demonstrating vision begins when you write your Statement of Objectives. Give a great deal of thought to the areas you'd like to investigate. You should develop concrete goals for your research and teaching. You should be able to describe the sorts of problems you would like to solve, as well as the types of classes you see as important for today's graduates to take. The answers to these two questions go together, because you need to understand why these things are important. You need to tie together what you want to do with why these endeavors are of value to you, the department, and science as a whole. Having a strategy for achieving these goals is important. Have you identified potential funding sources? Finally, understanding that achieving your goals is not going to be easy is important. Do you have a mature and realistic attitude about academic careers? Are you naive about the process? Do you understand the department's constraints upon, for example, lab space? And are your plans flexible enough to accommodate those constraints? Answers to these questions are critical, because these are the topics that the chair and the dean will want to discuss. You have to not only prove that you are technically competent. You must also demonstrate your excellent communication skills. But finally, you must show that you have vision and determination, and that you will indeed be a real asset to the department and the university.

The Interview Seminar
One of the most important parts of your interview will be the seminar. You will talk about your area of expertise, and it should last roughly an hour. By the time you are interviewing for jobs, you should have some experience speaking in front of your colleagues, whether at professional meetings, departmental seminars, or guest lectures. In any event, you must practice your seminar until it is polished. In order to make the best impression upon your audience, it is a good idea to understand the qualities they will be evaluating. Each of the three groups mentioned above will be represented at your seminar, and this makes things difficult for you. You are trying to present the same material to three different audiences at once, and this can be difficult. Let's explore exactly what each audience expects to derive from your seminar.

The faculty members in your area will be evaluating your technical contributions. If there is a faculty member in the audience who is particularly knowledgeable in your area, that faculty may ask very detailed questions. Your responses will demonstrate your ability to ``think on your feet''. Other faculty members in your area may ask somewhat more general questions, like ``how does this result fit in with...?'' You should be ready to respond intelligently and clearly to both types of questions. The questions from the audience are not asked to make you look bad--on the contrary, they give you a chance to make yourself look good through thoughtful and concise answers.

The faculty members outside your area may not know much about your research. As a result, they are evaluating your communication skills and your potential as a teacher. This is one of the reasons why it is critical for you to polish your seminar presentation as much as possible. You will prove yourself to be a great communicator by delivering a smooth and well-organized seminar. Questions from these audience members may also be designed to test your ability to think on your feet.

The department chair may know something about your area, but generally the chair will also be evaluating your potential as a teacher. However, he will also want you to demonstrate your vision. Typical questions that you should answer about your research during your talk, before anybody asks them, are:

1. How does this advance the state of the art?
2. How does this fit into the area as a whole?
3. What is the potential for future applications of this approach?

It is extremely important to point out the relevancy of your work, as well as future potential. You need to supply enough details to satisfy those audience members who want them, but you also need to clearly explain the ``Big Picture'' of what the research means, and how it relates to other works.

In general, you should beware of a few things during your seminar. First, you want to answer some very general questions in a good deal of detail. For example, you will want to describe the problem you worked on and why anybody would want to work on it. Provide a framework and some background for the research. Identify related studies, but make sure to distinguish your work from that of others. You also need to explain why your work is a valid and significant contribution to the field. How did you advance the state of knowledge? Where does you work fit in? Finally, you need to describe how this leads to future work or how it has made progress on the current problem. Also identify related problems for which your research might be relevant.

In terms of presentation, be careful about how many equations you put into your seminar. Remember, your aren't necessarily trying to demonstrate your grasp on the technical details or your mathematical prowess. Rather, you are trying to show that your can effectively communicate fairly technical material to a widely-varying audience in such a way that every audience member, regardless of how knowledgeable they are on the subject, learns something from your talk. You don't want to alienate the members of the audience who aren't at all familiar with your area by using lots of lengthy equations or technical jargon. The reader is referred to dantzig, Table II, page 6 for a nice description of your audience.

The Applicant's Responsibilities
A very important point to remember during the interview is that your academic future is a two-way street. You are interviewing the university as much as it is interviewing you. Your goals is to introduce yourself to the faculty, the chair, and the dean, and to put your best foot forward. You want to make a good impression on them, but they should make a good impression on you too. Decide whether this is a place where you want to work. Ask lots of questions! You will want to find out things like:

1. What percentage of assistant professors get tenure?
2. What is the lab space situation like?
3. How are the computational resources in the department?
4. Does the department foster a collegial atmosphere?
5. What are the expectations of a new faculty member?
6. Anything else that might affect the way you work...

You should try to talk to both junior and senior faculty in order to get their opinions. Maybe even talk to graduate students in order to understand the working atmosphere better. In the long run, you must decide whether or not that is the place for you. So ask lots of questions.

The academic interview is very unlike the industrial interview in many ways. For the academic job, you are typically expected to assume a great amount of responsibility on your first day on the job. Teaching class, raising research funds, performing research, performing academic service. These activities are all very time consuming, so during the interview, the people you meet will be trying to assess how well you'll perform these duties. You'll meet several different groups of people, but there exists a common thread in what they are trying to evaluate. The best way to make a good impression at the interview is to remember the following.

During the interview...

1. Stress your strong communication skills.
2. Demonstrate your research and teaching vision.
3. Identify where you'll fit in and how you'll be an asset.

...and concerning the seminar...

1. Practice your seminar until it is polished.
2. Remember your audience and whom you are trying to reach.
3. Relax and give your best performance.

This looks like a full day, and it truly is. Because you will be meeting both people in and out of your area, it's a very good idea to ask for catalogs, research activity summaries, and the like before you go on your interview trip. By becoming familiar with the research interests of the faculty you will meet, you will make a much better impression.

The Offer
In this chapter, the actual job offer, and what it includes, is discussed. It is not likely the an offer will be made on the day of your interview; however, on that day there may be some discussion of finances. That is, how much money will you need to begin your research program? This question and several other common questions are addressed in this chapter.

The Offer Itself
If, after the personal interview, an offer is made to you, congratulations! Now what? What does this mean? It means that the department has identified you as the person who will be its greatest asset of all the candidates who applied. As a result, they want you to succeed by helping you as much as possible. This help includes reduced teaching loads, so-called ``start-up funds'', and summary salary considerations. These items are all somewhat negotiable, and they are discussed individually below.

The Non-Research-Oriented Negotiable Items
There are two types of negotiable items, those related to research, and those not related to research. In this section, the non-research-related items are discussed. The first important item of negotiation is the teaching load. Typical packages for new assistant professors specify one class per semester for the first two to three years. By teaching only one class, you will have more time to write proposals to funding agencies (remember those funding agencies you mentioned in the Statement of Research and Teaching Objectives?!?). Another important concern is summer salary support. Because your salary will be in terms of a nine month appointment, you will need some means of support during the summer months. Typically this is in the form of research grants, but during your first year or two, you can derive that support from the department (their thinking is that it may take you a year or two to get your first grant funding). Other items might include an office computer and software, travel funds for the first few years (to national meetings, or to visit potential research sponsors), and moving expenses.

Research-Oriented Negotiable Items
In this section, we examine the other type of negotiable items, those related to research. This is an extremely important topic, because you only get what you ask for. The negotiation for research-oriented items will be the culmination of all your discussions and interactions with the department chair. The chair's experience with you and your research direction began with your Statement of Reseach and Teaching Objectives. That brief outline of your plans was a mere introduction. During the personal interview, you discussed in much more detail exactly what problems you'd like to solve, why they are important, and who would like to fund them. Now, during the negotiations, you get a chance to obtain the critical items you will need to hit the ground running.

You should have given much thought to your research goals and plans when writing the Statement of Research Objectives. Along with the problems you'd like to solve, you should have been thinking about how much it will cost to perform the research. Would you like to investigate a problem that requires alot of lab space, several very expensive pieces of high-tech equipment, and seven graduate students? Good luck. It is important to remember this:

Your negotiations must be tied to the research goals you explained in the Statement of Research Objectives, as well as those discussed during the personal interview. For this reason, you must not only have a very firm grasp on your research direction, but also on what facilities you'll need to move in that direction, and how much it will cost.
This only reinforces the idea that your Statement of Research Objectives must be given very thorough thought. A common question furing the negotiations might be: ``What is the one or two pieces of experimental equipment which would allow you to start your research program?'' Be ready to answer these questions thoughtfully. Your answers to these sorts of questions should be perfectly consistent with your goals and plans as discussed during the personal interview. Remember, once an offer has been made, the department has a vested interest in seeing you succeed. As a result, they will be willing (under certain constraints) to help as much as possible. Ask for what you need, but know what is reasonable.
Typically the items you can obtain in the start-up package are graduate student support for one year (one to two students), some laboratory space, and funds to purchase appropriate experimental equipment. You must remember that the department works not only under budgetary constraints, but also space constraints. So, lab space may be somewhat difficult to come by initially.

Accepting the Offer
When accepting the offer, do so in writing, but only after the details and negotiations are completely worked out and you have an offer, stating explicitly all the terms of the appointment, in writing. In this offer letter, the negotiated items should be described, as well as other terms of employment like benefits and services for university employees.

The main points in this chapter are:

Your negotiations must be clearly tied to your research plans. You should have a good idea of what facilities and resources will be necessary for you to execute your plan.
Ask for those items that you will need to begin your research program.
Understand the constraints (budget, space) under which the department operates and be flexible enough to work within them.

A Final Word...
Now that we've examined most of the basics of the academic job search process, it's probably a good idea to give an overall summary of the important points.

General Summary
During the application process, you are trying to convey your technical competance. Your application materials should include a cover letter, a c.v., and a Statement of Research and Teaching Objectives, all of which must be meticulously examined for grammar and spelling. You should attempt to properly frame your achievements in the c.v., and to adequately describe your future plans in the Statement of Objectives. It's very important to give alot of thought to your goals and objectives, because they will come up at every stage of the job search process. Also of importance is the cover letter, since it can be used to discuss how you fit the job description. Get your application materials in promptly! There will be many applicants for a single position, so it is important that you don't miss any deadlines.

During the interview process, you are trying to demonstrate your communication skills. You do this by discussing your current and future research thoughtfully and intelligently. Your seminar is a showcase for your communication abilities, so you should polish your seminar as much as possible. You must remember your audience during the seminar, and use your excellent communication skills so that every audience member, regardless of their area, comes away with some new information about your problem. In addition to teaching people during your seminar, you must convince the people you meet that your future research plans are both important and feasible. You do this by thinking them through very thoroughly ahead of time. Know the literature and background information. Understand the problems involved and what it takes to solve them. Be able to make others understand what the problems are, why they are important, and how you plan to solve them.

During the negotiation process, you are trying to obtain the necessary ingredients to a successful research program. Of particular importance are the research-oriented start-up items, like graduate student support, lab space, and research funds. Again, you need to think about the types of items you will need to effectively start your research program. What are the important pieces of lab equipment you will need to get started? How many graduate students will you need? Your initial goals should be aggressive enough to be relevant and interesting, but modest enough that you don't need huge amounts of overhead (money, time, space, or graduate students) to accomplish them.

The academic job search process is not a discrete event in your graduate student career. Rather, it is a continually evolving and occuring process. As a graduate student interested in an academic career, you should continually be developing the experience which will aid you in future endeavors. You should also be developing your vision, which will allow you to have a fruitful career as a researcher. You should be developing your communication skills so that you can effectively describe your goals and aspirations. If you start early, and consider all of the things we have talked about in this document, you have a good start at finding a job. However, don't stop your quest for knowledge here. Check out the references for more information and resources about your job search and academic careers in general. This guide should not be your only source of information on the subject. Examine other references, and talk to people. The more information you possess, the easier your job search will be.

Many people have contributed to this document, in a variety of ways. We would like to thank the following faculty members from the Purdue School of Mechanical Engineering: Dr. Frank Incropera, Head, for his insights into the role of the department head in the hiring process and the importance of having ``vision''; Dr. Matthew Franchek, for his help with the role of the search committee, as well as playing the ``mock interviewer'' in our seminar presentation; Dr. Steven Frankel, for his views on the search committee duties. Doctoral student Paul Rullkoeter contributed the chapter on the academic resume and the application materials. Graduate students supplying excellent questions for the personal interviews with the above mentioned faculty include Paul Rullkoeter, Gang Xu, Pete Laz, and Dave Nickel. Chris Taylor provided the internet version of this document and handled the translation.

Sample Interview Questions
As mentioned in the main body of this handbook, preparation is the key to a successful interview. One excellent way to prepare for the interview is to anticipate the questions that you will be asked. Some of the ``typical'' interview questions that we have gathered are listed below. We thank Dr. Dulcy Abraham from the School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University for allowing us to use this list.

Would you describe your research at such a level that a non-expert could understand?
What is the fundamental contribution of your research to your field?
How does your research fit in with the work that others are doing/have done?
What is your vision for creating a research program here?
Do you plan to seek research funds, and if so, from whom?
What is the current funding record in your field? Who are the most active and interested funding sources?
Can you incorporate undergraduates in your research?
...on teaching...

What would you change in the undergraduate/graduate curriculum?
Are you a good teacher?
If you could teach any coure, what would it be?
Many of our students are more/less talented than those you are used to at your present institution. How successful will you be with them?
What do you think is the proper balance between teaching and research?
...on advising...

Would you be able to take on a student immediately?
How will you encourage students to major in our field?
Do you feel comfortable taking on graduate students in the current employment environment? general...

How will you enhance our department?
Are you willing to be involved in committee work?
Why are you interested in our school?
Who else is interviewing you?
What do you do in your spare time? (what spare time?...)
You should also be ready to ask lots of questions. It is important to ask questions about the things you see when you are there. That would include lab facilities, computational resources, undergraduate labs, etc. But here is a list, also from Dr. Abraham, of questions you should be prepared to ask.

What undergraduate and graduate courses would be my responsibility?
How often are the course load assignments changed?
What is the typical teaching load?
Who is involved in the curriculum development decisions, and how are they made?
How are committee members selected?
What sort of committee work should I expect during the first few years?
What is the average number of hours per week spent on committee work?
What are the bases for promotion and tenure?
What percentage of the faculty are currently tenured?
What is the percentage of tenure track faculty that have been promoted recently?
What is the rate of and what are the reasons for faculty turnover?
How active are the faculty members in national organizations, professional societies, etc.?
Can you describe the travel budget for a junior faculty?
What are the undergraduate and graduate admission requirements?
What is the cost of living in the community?
What are the cultural opportunities in the community?
What is the current direction of the department?

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About this document ...
The ASEE Student Chapter Academic Job Search Handbook-- a Collection of Resources and Useful Information

This document was generated using the LaTeX2HTML translator Version 95.1 (Fri Jan 20 1995) Copyright © 1993, 1994, Nikos Drakos, Computer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds.

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