Academic Job Applications

I have written quite a few posts about looking for an academic position, these can be found here, where I have collected many of them under a single post for you, or under ‘The Academic Job Search’ category on the right side of this page.

On this page I list and describe the parts of a standard application package.. these have  4 important parts (generally speaking):

1. Cover Letter.

2. Your impressive CV.

3. A statement of your Research Interests.

4. A statement of your Teaching Philosophy & Interests.

Let’s take these one by one.

1. Cover Letter– This letter is your introduction to the search committee and is very important. When I am looking at an application I always read the cover letter carefully, and when you write one you should write it with that in mind. Here is a sample. I think these should be brief…make your best effort to keep it to 1 page- if you can’t well… its probably ok to be a little over that, but don’t go overboard. Remember that all of your accomplishments will be nicely organized in your CV and research interests statements, and trying to fully explain all of that is not the purpose of the cover letter. I personally DON’T think that the special circumstance of the two-body problem … if you have a spouse that’s an academic scientist that also will need a job… should be mentioned in the cover letter. Let the search committee love you and want to interview you first, and we will let them know about your spectacular spouse-who-needs-academic-position once they are in love with you, and we actually have our foot in the door.

2. CV

The CV should be ORGANIZED and EASY to read. I generated a sample (working on adding this to the site) . The CV for an academic science position generally include the following sections (there may be additional sections depending on your background, for example Patents, Service):

Name– Yours obviously.

Contact Information– Current address, phone, fax, and email where you prefer to be contacted. (it is not necessary to write whether or not you are married or have children in this section- I have seen this, and think it’s not a good idea)

Academic Training– list of dates attended, degrees awarded, institution and institutional addresses-one entry for each degree. Dates aligned on the Left- with the rest of the information indented and easy to access.

Positions Held– dates position was held, your title, One line description of your area of work, Name and degree of your supervisor, institution and institution city and state.

Fellowships and Awards-Dates awarded, Name of fellowship and awarding entity… or name of award.

Funding– VERY VERY IMPORTANT, to list all current and pending funding. Active and Expiration Dates of Funding (or date applied if submitted but PENDING), Agency and proposal #, your role on the grant (PI, co-PI etc), $$ perhaps, and whether or not the proposal is pending.

Invited Presentations– Date presentation was given, Institution, Institution city and state.

Professional Licenses and Society Memberships– Dates of membership and/or licensure, Name of professional society or licensing body and license #.

Teaching– Break this in two – into lecture and classroom teaching – includes dates taught, course name number, and the second section is mentoring- or one-on-one teaching of postdocs, graduate students, and/or undergraduates that you have supervised- the dates that you mentored each, the name of each student, and their educational program at the time you interacted with them (i.e. Ph.D. candidate, Undergraduate Genetics Major etc.)

Publications– This is obvious. Organize as you wish.

References (names of 3-5 individuals whom you have already asked, and KNOW to be able to provide you a good letter of recommendation – you don’t want any surprises here). Make sure you include full contact information for each of your references including current email addresses, so that they may be contacted directly by the search committee.

Some candidates also include a list of meetings attended/poster presentations and abstracts submitted- I personally don’t include this information and don’t generally look at it when looking at a bunch of CVs.

Additional advice about CV writing can be found here and here… courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Personally, I dislike too much information on the CV however. For example- while its a good idea to list your thesis title, advisor’s name, and institution under research experience- I don’t favor putting in a description of your project or the names of the members of your thesis committee.

3. Research interests should be concise and summarize what project you will focus on and where you will take this project in the first 5 years of your new job. Personally, I like sort of an NIHesque format- research interests written with a brief summary up front, and then broken down in terms of specific aims, with experimental approaches under each aim, then briefly and generally how this will get you toward your long term goals. If you have already written a grant for independent funding- then the hard work of planning for the first 5 years of your faculty position has already been done. DO NOT try to cover everything that you have done and everything that you may, at some point in the near and distant future even think about doing in the statement of research interests. Your goal here is to be focused and convey to the search committee that you have defined a problem you are interested in, it’s an important problem, and you have developed a reasonable approach to this problem that is likely to give a big payoff.

4. Teaching statement. Some institutions have a heavy emphasis on teaching- and they want to know 1. That you believe that teaching is important (and presumably you do since you are applying for a job in ACADEMIC science) , 2. what you see yourself as capable of teaching, and 3. what your ‘teaching philosophy’ is. I don’t have any very good advice- other than to summarize this in no more than 1 page. (I’ll provide a sample at some point).

p.s. Material on this site is my original work and thus I own the copyright. Reproduction of this material without my permission, in whole or in part, in your words or mine, is a a violation of my copyright.


14 thoughts on “Academic Job Applications

  1. HI!!!
    Great comments! I found the scientific statement and the cover letter very helpful. Thanks so much.
    PS: I also use blue lab coats!

  2. Loles-

    I am glad that you find the information useful. You may also try looking at the main page under the ‘The academic job search’ category on the right of your screen. These posts have a ton of information about where/when to apply, application packages, interviewing, second interviews etc.


  3. Job application question.

    If you are a Newbie and, although not in the fundable zone, you reckon you got an okay score and addressable criticisms for your first shot at an R01, can you (should you?) express this in an initial job application? (in this instance, the R01 goals are very much an integral part of the research statement?)

    If so, in the cover letter or in the CV or both?

    Or is this of absolutely no value whatsoever to a search committee, or even straightforwardly deleterious because it’s tantamount to drawing attention to failure?

    It’s not for me. It’s for an, erm, acquaintance of mine… Bob Bobson’s his name. Haw haw. Silly bugger’s trying to get a job in 2009, and he’s to old to join the Navy.

  4. Found your sample cover letter extremely useful and a major stress-reducer. Thank you for blogging about this!

  5. I was wondering how long a typical research proposal should be. I have read 3-4 pages (or shorter) is preferred but an NIH-style grant would take much more space … Thanks!

  6. Kai-

    Are you referring to the research statement that you send out with an application? If so, I like these to be SHORT and concise. Like a specific aims page, for example. Most that I have seen recently have been in the 3-4 page range- but personally I think this is a little bit too long. When I ahve piles and piles of applications to go through, concise and brief is best for the research statement, but that is just my opinion!

  7. Hello, this is a great site! I have just recently completed my PhD (in gastro pathogens and host responses) and am really struggling to get my first postdoc. Do you have any advice for someone in my position – especially in relation to writing a statement of research interests? Everytime I follow up an application I am told it went to a stronger applicant or someone with more experience….Im really starting to lose heart at this point. Any advice appreciated 🙂

  8. Pingback: Candid Engineer’s NIFPW Wisdom « Blue Lab Coats

  9. Thanks for posting all this. No doubt this information has legs and will continue to be useful. I’ve just started my first post-doc and am doing what I can to position myself to obtain a tenure track job one day. Having all this laid out is extraordinarily useful in setting up how I’ll be approaching the next several years. Many many thanks!

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