How to get a job, Part I: your materials

Or: Gearing up for the job market; thank God it’s not me this time.

Hey friends!  Now that I’ve been on the market once, I’m qualified to give you advice.  Here’s the first part in an n-part series.

Your materials!  They’re how you let the job market know who you are and what you have to offer.  But you knew that already.  My first piece of advice is get a working draft of your teaching and research statements by the end of next week.  Why?  Because they’re hard to write, and it only gets harder once the semester starts.  Once you have a draft, you’ve done the hard work of thinking about your teaching and research, and you can relax and edit those puppies while grading stacks of exams.

To clarify, your materials consist of, at the very least:

  • a teaching philosophy statement,
  • a research statement,
  • a CV,
  • and a cover letter for each place to which you apply.

If you pay attention to one thing, this is what you should take away: Write drafts of all of your statements (and even a generic cover letter) before you look at examples. You want to come across as yourself, with your own individual ideas and experiences.  I know, it’s scary to produce these things.  But suck it up, sugar, and start from scratch.  Once you have drafts, you can look at examples (I’ll even post my own materials later in the semester!) and decide if you want to modulate your, uh, quirkiness.  That is a post-draft decision.  Don’t read examples! Go write! (Am I getting through?)

Your CV.  Find all the stuff you did. Write it down.  Organize it.  That’s enough for right now.

Teaching philosophy: do I have one? I was pretty convinced that I didn’t actually have a teaching philosophy beyond “get in there, try to get the material across.”  Here’s what helped me refine my ideas about my teaching: I wrote of list of the things I have tried to do in the classroom.  Group work, student presentations, writing assignments, whatever.  Then I asked myself what I hoped my students were getting out of these activities.  From the examples, I built up a coherent statement about my teaching philosophy, and then I was able to use lots of examples to make points about my efficacy as a teacher!  It may not work for you, but all the other types of idea-generating worksheets failed me.  (Of course, please comment with links to resources to help start these statements.)  In the end I was really happy with my teaching philosophy statement, and I think that the places I applied were able to see that I’m a dedicated teacher (if a little confrontational sometimes…).

Research statement: wait, who’s going to read this? Short answer? People of all levels of mathematical fluency. I wish I had better advice on this one; as you’ll see later, my research statement wasn’t anything special.  The only thing I can tell you is to try to start by telling a compelling, thematic story that sets the stage for your results.  Use colorful language (especially in your draft).  Think Hilbert was a bamf? Write it in your first draft.  Do you know what you look like to the vast majority of humans on this planet who fear mathematics?

That’s right. You’re a badass.  You have created something in a void where previously there was nothing.  You are a master of time and space.  Now go write about this mathematical creation of yours.  And let me know if you discover any tips along the way.  Oh, yeah, standard stuff applies: does it generalize something? Answer a question of a respected mathematician?  Does it have sweet applications? And so on.

Your cover letters: we’re a match made in heaven. Pick a (possibly fictional) place that you would love to work. Write them a letter explaining why you want to be there and why they want you to be there. That’s what you want to convey.  This is a tough exercise until you start actually applying to specific jobs, but it’s good to think about what you want from a job at this point.

After the fact. Here’s something to think about once your drafts are done: Some people will tell you to customize your statements to different types of institutions (teaching, elite liberal arts, R1, etc).  I didn’t do this; instead, I put the most time into customizing my cover letters.  (I also didn’t take the scattershot approach of applying EVERYWHERE, either, but that’s something I’ll talk about later.)

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