Roundtable Discussion on Writing Job Applications

Roundtable Discussion on Writing Job Applications

Roundtable Discussion on Writing Job Applications

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Steve Shirey, Anat Shahar, Alan Boss, Alycia Weinberger and Doug Wiens

November 15, 2013


Postdoctoral attendees: Pamela Arriagada, Joleen Carlberg, Jemma Davidson, Marion
Gerault, Christopher Glein, Brian Jackson, Christian Klimczak, Marion Le Voyer,
Xiaoming Liu, Ryan Porter, Hanika Rizo, T.J. Rodigas, Manuvesh Sangwan, Aki
Takanami, Liyan Tian

Faculty attendees: Alan Boss, Anat Shahar, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Steve Shirey, Alycia
Weinberger, Doug Wiens

Admin attendees: Robin Dienel and Jan Dunlap

Don't need to differentiate – can have all attendees in one list, or a postdoc list and an
other list.

Most important goals to achieve during a postdoc's tenure at DTM:

  1. Produce your most important work, different from that of your Ph.D. advisor;
  2. Get your next job; and
  3. Collaborate with enough people so you can get strong recommendation letters.

Begin job applications during first year as postdoc and go to interviews for the practice. START EARLY. Cast BROADLY and WIDELY about were you’d like to apply. Apply for EVERYTHING!

Non-academic jobs are also fulfilling, such as editorial, policy, NAS, USGS, Rand corporation, etc. There is no judgment on what position you land; solely supportive atmosphere. SEEK ADVICE.

Look at the financial world, industry, aerospace….Go to Physics Today and USA Jobs.

Regarding teaching and research statements:

  • use bullets, no huge paragraphs
  • no more than 3 pages long
  • avoid too much jargon.
  • cover letter should be one page long. State up front what you want to accomplish in the next 5 years. Sound excited. Don’t downplay your research. In your cover letter, do not repeat what you will write in your proposal. Tell them why you feel you belong there, look like you did your homework.
  • Be sure and have a mentor, advisor, faculty members, read your statements prior to submitting your application.
  • tailor or personalize your teaching statement to fit the institution to which you are applying.

Regarding letters of reference:

  • ask if the person can write you a strong letter.
  • try and obtain a strong letter from someone who is not your advisor; makes it unusual (in addition, of course to a strong letter from an advisor)
  • avoid asking for a letter from someone well known just because of that

Question was asked if advisable to get a letter from someone in industry. Wiens replied that it could be interesting. OK to get 4 letters of reference, as long as all 4 are really good. Remember to ping your letter-writer so they do not forget to write the letter of recommendation you requested from them. Give your reference writers at least 3 weeks lead time to write a good letter. Different jobs require different letters, so each should be tailored to the job.

Regarding visibility:

  • update and professionalize your web sites
  • do not be anonymous, let people know who you are and where you are applying, build your network, attend conferences
  • never turn down a job you haven’t been offered
  • have a good publication list (they look at years since Ph.D. and pubs/yr)
  • apply to a large number of jobs
  • give talks; every talk is a job talk

Hiring is a non-linear process. Even good people are thrown aside if they do not have a good publication list. Always look at the faculty list of where you are applying. Find out what they do. Remember the “chitty chatty stuff.” The interview process is very important. Do not just sit there, converse, be a “colleague.” Be “like family,” someone they would want to be around for many many years. Make it a relationship. Make the connection.

During an interview, never talk negatively to anyone about someone else. Be on your best. Ask to see their labs (a great ice breaker). Interviews are two-way streets. If you feel welcomed, it is a good sign.

Talk about the teaching aspect of the job. The dean sometimes wants to grow their majors. So aside from your research, have some teaching in there.

Be prepared in case you are asked what type of lab you need. Talk about it with the chair of the department, as the chair negotiates with the dean.

Ability to bring in money is important. Let people know you received a grant (i.e., Hubble, Sagan, NSF, etc.).

Do not get anxious if you do not hear back quickly following an application or interview. There are many reasons why they may not get back to you quickly, and there is always the possibility that their first or second choices do not accept their offers. So be patient while continuing to cast your net.

Do not list on your CV that you made a short list, but be sure to add that you were invited to give a talk.