Prospective Professor: The Employment Pages

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Posted on behalf of the Prospective Professor

Once you have figured out where the jobs are (see previous post), the next major hurdle in the process is preparation of the application materials. Upon reading the first job postings, it seemed pretty obvious. “Please include a cover letter, CV, a brief description of proposed research and arrange for three letters of reference to be sent directly to the department.” Got it. Then you sit down at your computer to start typing… Wait, do they care what font I use? Or how small the margins are? Forget that, how long is this thing supposed to be?!?!

I polled a number of people who have recently gone through this process. The answers left me more confused and unsure than when I started. I received many different responses to the question, “How many proposals should I submit, and how long should each be?”

“You must submit 3 proposals, no more, no less. And they cannot be longer than 2 pages.”

“Anywhere from 2-4 proposals, each between 2-4 pages.”

“5 pages each proposal, at least 2 proposals.”

I applied a complicated algorithm to average and weigh each answer (read as: fretted for endless hours) and eventually decided to go with the most conservative answer. 3 proposals, 2 pages each, 6 pages total. But then I read more ads. “Please submit a 3 page description of your proposed research…” “Include a one page summary of future research plans…” Humph. All told I needed a 6, 3, 2, and 1 page version of this thing.

I seriously contemplated submitting the following:

“Dear Search Committee,

1 page version: I want a job.

3 page version: I really want a job.

6 page version: I really, really want a job.”

Instead, I plodded on, carefully crafting each version (i.e., making margins smaller and smaller until the 3 page document suddenly fit onto 2 pages!). And cursed at the printer at 2 am when it ran out of magenta ink.

The next task on my list was to figure out that darn cover letter. Which person did I believe – the one that told me, “The cover letter is critical. It’s your one chance to get someone’s attention. You need to summarize your career up until now and your future plans all in one page.” Or the other that said, “In our department, they ripped off the cover letter and threw it away.” Sigh…