Applying for a University Professor position? Four points that must not be missed in your application
Every application for a professor or analogous academic position requires a teaching, research, and service statement. How do you organize your application for maximum effect? First, include a few introductory sentences, largely tailored to the school in question, such as:
I appreciate being considered for Assistant Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Arizona. My research interests compliment the Department’s broad expertise in surface analysis, polymer chemistry, and biological mass spectroscopy. I consistently received high student evaluations (4+/5) in the general chemistry sequence at the University of Michigan, served on the university-wide curriculum committee at Florida International University, and am enthusiastic about learning from the faculty and growing as an educator.
For Important Points:
- Be concise and organized.
- Mention teaching, research, and service (elaborated below). I mentioned research before teaching and service in this example, due to research being the emphasis for the university in question.
- Tie in your teaching and/or research interests to specific departmental emphases. Emphasize collaboration, and avoid all hints of competing with the faculty.
- Highlight your recognition, yet remain humble and show your desire to improve further.
Afterwards, your application should have three sections (these are also the three categories upon which you’ll be evaluated by the tenure and promotion committee every year): teaching, research, and service. The degrees on offer from the department often tell you what they value most highly (generally, BA/BS value teaching, PhD value research, and none of them prioritize service), and thus what you should emphasize in your application.
- Teaching statement. Important points include the following:
- Courses taught. As a new assistant professor or lecturer, you’ll probably be assigned to teach introductory and/or general chemistry. If you’ve taught one or both, all the better. List all courses (lecture and lab) that you’ve taught.
- Student course evaluation scores. When yearly evaluations come around, you may be severely criticized if any of your scores are less than 4 on a 1–5 scale. If you’ve received high evaluations, cite them in your application. If not, don’t mention your scores (yet this may be read as an omission by your reviewers).
- Evidence of teaching diverse learners. This could be racial, age, disability, or others. Give specific examples of how you tailored your courses to help non-typical students succeed.
- Student-centered teaching. This refers to whether you care about your students’ success. For example, what have you done to minimize your D/F/W rates? At many universities, if you issue section-wide D/F/W rates higher than 20% to 25%, your yearly contract and/or tenure application will be in major jeopardy.
- Different learning styles. This refers to your flexibility in teaching approach. Based solely on the fact that many professors use them, I recommend that you avoid criticizing commercial online homework assignments and multiple-choice exams.
- Give specific examples of how you have used student feedback (e.g., student course evaluation scores) to improve your teaching. Of course, mention what has clearly been working, yet remain humble and avoid all hints of arrogance.
- Research statement. Important points include the following:
- How does your research compliment (not compete with) other departmental faculty? You should apply only to departments where there is at least one professor who could be your “research buddy:” someone with shared albeit distinct interests. If you have largely the same research program as someone else in the department you’ll be viewed as a competitor, and if you have no obvious shared interests your application probably won’t be considered further.
- How will you use shared departmental instrumentation in your research program? For example, if the department has a shared confocal microscope facility, discuss how you can use it to advance your research.
- Suitability to the students in the department. Your research program should be suitable for undergraduate students at teaching-centered universities, and graduate students at research-centered universities. Generally, research projects that take years to master are more appropriate for graduate, not undergraduate, students.
- You need to show that you can manage your finances. What major instrumentation and general equipment do you need to buy, where will you get it, and how much will it cost? How many students do you anticipate hiring?
- External funding received. If you’ve received a fellowship or grant, emphasize this (including the dollar amount and the duration). All universities require some evidence of “ability to obtain external funding” (at a bare minimum, whether you closely collaborated with your principal investigator as a graduate student or postdoc on grant writing).
- Specify what you plan on accomplishing within the first year, and by the fifth year (before tenure). Anything much beyond that is overkill and unrealistic.
- Service statement. This includes the departmental and university-wide committee memberships you’re expected to hold, professional society activities, and so on. This is usually an easy obligation to fulfill as a professor (unless you specifically choose to take on a high load).
List your most pertinent prior service activities, yet keep it brief (considerably less than the teaching and research statements). Hiring, as well as promotion and tenure, committees prioritize service much less than teaching or research.
In summary, long-winded, unfocused applications will severely hinder your academic job search. You’re most likely to have your applications for university professor accepted if the hiring committee immediately sees all of the following, with minimal effort on their part:
- A brief, focused, compelling overview
- Why you are a thoughtful, collegial teacher
- How your research program will compliment, not compete with, the department
- How you will serve the university and your profession
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