Getting a Faculty Job – Revisited

August 14, 2017

We are reaching into the archives to update the August 2013 blog post, “Getting a Faculty Job.”   Starting in August, a large share of faculty jobs will begin accepting applications to fill positions that begin in the fall of the following year.  Here are some key elements of the academic job search to consider before you apply:

  1. What type of educational institution is appealing to you?
    Do you want to be at a large research university (like Columbia University in NYC), a state school that terminates in a master’s program (like Eastern Michigan University), or a four-year liberal arts environment, (like Swarthmore College) or community college.  Each of these types of institutions has different expectations regarding the amount of teaching and research expected from faculty.  Different institutions/schools have different expectations for grant funding, teaching, and service and obtaining tenure. Be sure to consider the type of position you are looking for so you can prepare the strongest possible package.  Another question to consider: does the location and setting (urban/suburban) matter to you? To research schools, look at the Carnegie Classifications.
  2. Find positions that interest you.
    Many schools post their domestic and international academic openings on-line at sites including:  Science Careers, New Scientist Jobs, Academic 360, Nature, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Cell Careers, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Identify universities that have strong research programs in your field who may have positions open.  Utilize your professional network with faculty at professional meetings, conferences, and visit their websites to learn about future position openings.
  3. Start to prepare your job application package that will include several elements.
    a.   Curriculum Vitae (CV )– a record of your academic career.  Your CV, as described in the OITE Resume and CV Guide, will be tailored differently if it is a research-intensive position or if it is a teaching-intensive position.
  1. b.   Cover Letter – This is a document that is tailored to the job for which you are applying.  The OITE also publishes a Cover Letter guide document that shows several examples to explain why you are interested in establishing your career at that university, and how you see your research goals fitting into their overall department.
  2. c.   Research Statement/Plan – The goal here is to get your future colleagues to be excited about you and your science.  This document typically includes some discussion of prior research accomplishments, but you should specifically highlight the work most relevant to your proposed work.  You need to lay out a do-able research plan for the next 5+ years that is similar in format to what you would use for a grant submission with a focus on explaining how the work you are currently proposing fits into your broader long-term goals. Depending on the position, you may want to explain how you will tailor your research for students at the institution; this is especially important if the expectation is that you will engage large numbers of undergrads in your research.
  3. d.   Teaching Philosophy/Plan – If you will have a teaching component of your job, this part of your application tells them about your personal beliefs on teaching and gives a hiring committee a visual of your approach (philosophy, learning outcomes, methods, skills, texts etc.) to teaching students in that subject matter. Include specific examples and reflect that you understand the student population at that specific institution.
  4. Diversity Statement – In recent years, several universities request a written statement that addresses such questions your past and future contributions to diversity through research, teaching, and service. You may be asked to link this to the mission of the college and university as well. Go ahead and consult the diversity statement blog from 2016.
  5. Letters of recommendation – You should start to line your letters up early.  They need to be very strong.
  6. Practice Academic InterviewsIt is important to practice answering questions for academic interviews. Most often these interviews will be on campus, however, in some instances they may be conference interviews. The key to this is to research the university/college before you interview to avoid any interview gaffes. This also involves preparing and rehearsing for your job talk presentation and addressing any challenging questions.  We recommend practicing with scientists in your field who can provide helpful suggestions and pose questions that you may encounter during your interview.

Creating strong application documents and active preparation are keys to success in the academic job search market.  We encourage you to attend academic job search workshops and programs offered by the OITE.  In addition, the counselors can help you with preparation and encourage you watch our OITE video casts online including the Academic Job Search Overview prior to scheduling appointments. For those of you beyond NIH, consider setting up a practice interviews with your home institution’s academic department or career center.


Carpe Diem: Asking for Letters of Recommendation

August 2, 2017

It is that time of the year when NIH summer interns are returning to their home institutions and the application season for graduate and professional school and academic/post doc positions are right around the corner. It is also time to request letters of recommendation (LOR) to document your NIH training experiences.   The PIs or program directors are the perfect candidates to offer their written appraisal of your work and development that they have observed and recommend you for further opportunities.

Who do I ask?  Ask someone who knows you very well!   Many fellows are lured by the appeal of having a well-known scientist write a recommendation. While this can be advantageous, it is equally important to ask someone who is exceptionally familiar with your work and who can clearly speak to your strengths for the opportunity.  Usually, you will usually need at least three LORs to support your application. Be sure to check if there are specifications about the types of letters you will need for each opportunity that you consider.  Here a few examples of potential reference writers that scientists often use:

  • Principal Investigators (PI)s and Supervisors
  • Summer research experience mentors and program directors regarding your research skills
  • Preceptors (those who you have shadowed) and who can speak to your direct patient contact (health professions)
  • Dissertation/thesis/academic advisers at your home school
  • Observers of your teaching abilities
  • Industry or non-bench managers
  • References who have observed leadership and teamwork abilities
  • Faculty member who taught a hard science course

Will I be bothering them? They are busy.  They expect you to ! Most recommenders have a process and set time aside to write letters because this is how they launch the next generation of leaders.  Request your letter now. In a few months or years, they may forget exactly what you did but won’t forget you personally.   They can always update the letter later.

How to ask?  Ask personally!  Reach out by requesting a meeting by telephone or email.  Use a professional tone and address them using their title.  It is to your advantage to ask for an in-person meeting so that you can explain your long-term career plans and next-steps (post doc, graduate school, employment etc.). You can also have a thoughtful conversation about your competitive edge during the application process. This is also your opportunity to candidly ask for a positive recommendation. This will ensure that they don’t have any reservations about your candidacy. While an awkward conversation to have, it is in your best interest to ensure that you are getting the best endorsement possible. If it is not in your favor, thank them and ask another writer.

When do I ask? Ask now…Ask early! Even though you may not use the letter right away, it can be helpful to ask while your work is still fresh in their minds. You can store letters in a recommendation file service for later use through your college and university.  You can also set up an account with a reputable on-line file service where you can store a variety of references for later use.

What should I send to my reference writer?  Help them write your letter! Provide your letter writer with everything they need to complete the letter.  This can include your updated CV/resume, where, how, and to whom to send the letter, deadline date, and any specific information to include (i.e.: comments about your clinical work, research, etc.).  Some organizations will send an email or regular mail directly to your reference with specific details for completion.  This is typical with centralized application systems for graduate and professional school and fellowships. For industry jobs and some fellowships, you will only need to send contact information for references including how you know the person. Be sure to inform your reference about this because they will not have to write a letter but still prepare for a verbal reference.

Help! Why was I asked to write the letter?   Awkward!  A common reply to many reference requests, this request saves the writer time.   Look at this as your opportunity for you to refresh the writer’s memory about your accomplishments.  You will also have an idea of what he or she will write in your letter. Try creating several bullet points highlighting the areas you wish to have highlighted.  The recommender will then transpose these comments into a letter.

How should I thank my reference writer?  Send a thank you note.  In your letter, be sure to acknowledge your appreciation to your reference in writing via email or regular mail.  Also inform them if you were successful or if you need to request additional letters.