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    Tips for the Job Search:Applying for Academic

    and PostdoctoralPositions

    Heather A. Lewis and John S. Caughman

    When going on the job market for thefirst time, it is easy to feel like youare drowning in a sea of questions:When should I apply? Should I printmy application on fancy paper? What

    is a standard benefits package? This article isbased on our own experiences of applying for post-doctoral and academic positions, combined withour more recent experiences of serving on hiringcommittees. Certainly every story is different, butthis article will attempt to answer the most com-mon questions that we faced. Several other re-sources listed at the end can provide more per-spectives.

    Where Do I Find Out about Jobs?The AMS has a Careers and Employment webpageat Jobs areadded daily under the Employment Information inthe Mathematical Sciences (EIMS) job listings, andthere are also links to useful articles about hunt-ing for jobs. Mathematics news publications, likethe Notices, advertise positions in the back (some-

    times under Classified Ads) and will often list a slewof them around October or November. Professionalorganizations in the USA and abroad typically havea section for careers or employment on their web-sites where job and fellowship information can befound. Some postdoctoral positions are describedin Mathematics Opportunities in the Notices; amore comprehensive listing of such positions ap-pears in the September issue, in a special sectioncalled Stipends for Study and Travel. The Chron-icle of Higher Education lists job openings on theWeb at; a varietyof jobs are listed there, so read the ads carefully.Job notices may also be posted in a public place inyour mathematics department and on the individ-ual websites of the schools advertising for positions.You may notice the same job listed in severalplaces, but some positions are advertised in onlyone location.

    A relatively recent addition is MathJobs.Org (at, a job applica-tion database developed by Duke University andsponsored by the AMS. As described in the intro-duction:

    The system is free for applicants. Ap-plicant data is confidential, unless theapplicant makes it public to enrolledemployers by selecting the Free agentchoice on the coversheet. After regis-tration and data entry, applicants canapply for jobs, keep track of applica-tions, print out paper coversheets, andinvite their reference writers to submitletters into the system. Employers can

    This article is the first in an occasional seriesintended for graduate students. The series iscoordinated by Associate Editor Lisa Traynor.

    Andy Magid

    Heather A. Lewis is associate professor of mathematics atNazareth College, Rochester, NY. Her email address

    John S. Caughman is associate professor of mathematicsat Portland State University, Portland, OR. His email address is


    conduct their recruiting entirely online,without setting up and maintaining theirown servers and databases.

    In [9], Cameron Sawyer adds, Send an applica-tion to any school in which you are really interested,even if they dont have a job listing or dont seemto be looking for someone with your qualifications(be up front about this in your cover letter). Manypeople have successfully found jobs this way whena campus has an unexpected position open up dueto a death, resignation, surge in enrollment, etc.

    At times there has been the sense that a personshould apply to as many jobs as possible, but ourown experience is that it is better to focus on the2040 positions that seem to be a good match foryou. This is not only for the sake of the schools thatwould be receiving your applications, but for yourown sake: with fewer applications, you can spendthe time to personalize each one. As a safety net,you may want to talk with your advisor about thepossibility of delaying your thesis defense anddoing an additional year of research in the eventthat your job search is unsuccessful.

    Find some way of organizing your job-relatedmaterials (e.g., PDA, file folder, spreadsheet). Onepurpose of this is to be able to go back quickly tothe details of a particular advertisement or schoolif you are contacted with little warning. Addition-ally, once you have been contacted by severalschools, you want a way to keep all of the differ-ent information straight (e.g., the twelve credits persemester mentioned in the ad may be four classeswith four separate preparations, or three classeswith two preps).

    What Do I Include in an Application?An application would typically include some sub-set of a cover letter; your curriculum vitae, or CV;your graduate and possibly undergraduate tran-scripts; a Statement of Teaching Philosophy; aStatement of Research Interest; and anything elsethe school asks for. You can print these out on nicepaper, but our experience is that regular paper isfine. It is possible to send these out in a regular en-velope, but a large envelope is preferable: it is eas-ier to read applications that havent been folded,and at some schools the entire committee will readthe original application materials rather than aphotocopy. For the benefit of those schools that dophotocopy materials, it is safest if everything isprinted on one side only. Also be certain not to usetoo small a font, as you dont want your applica-tion materials to be associated with a headache.

    For some applicants, especially those applyingfrom a foreign country, it may be best to send ma-terials electronically, and this is worth checking withthe individual schools. Otherwise, all materialsshould be sent through the postal service unless

    the ad specifically mentions that electronic sub-mission is welcome.

    Cover Letters: Include one with every single ap-plication. The cover letter should be about onepage long, certainly no more than two pages. Youshould state what position you are applying for inthe first paragraph, since some departments maybe running several searches simultaneously. Themain purpose of the cover letter is to convey yourinterest in the school and why you are a good can-didate for the job. Some schools dont read thecover letters carefully, but many schools, espe-cially smaller ones, treat the cover letter very se-riously as it is one of the only places for both yourpersonality and your particular interest in theschool to come through. Generic language such asat your college or university may not go overwell. In addition, if you are applying for a job farfrom where you currently live, it may be worthwhileto mention if you have a particular connection withor interest in the geographical area.

    If you are interested in a research position, youshould specify early on your area of research. Besure to emphasize the large breakdown (for ex-ample, Geometry and Topology) as well as the par-ticular subfield (for example, Khovanov Homol-ogy). Your graduate advisor or other members ofyour department can be quite valuable in sug-gesting schools that may be good matches for yourresearch interests. In the letter, make sure thatyou identify why the school to which you are ap-plying is a good fit for your research objectives. Beclear about any ongoing research projects you areinvolved with and any individuals or researchgroups at the school with whom you can readily in-teract. Obviously, this is difficult if you do notknow anyone, so shed that introversion and gomeet some people! Indeed, a very good way to giveyourself an advantage is to take every opportunityto meet people in your field. This includes at-tending conferences, introducing yourself to otherresearchers, giving talks or posters, and making aneffort to interact with colloquium speakers who visityour own campus.

    The cover letter is also the place to mention ifyou will be at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM)in early January and, if you are giving a talk there,to indicate the title and the time (if known). We dorecommend attending the JMM as an excellent wayfor you to make both informal and formal contactswith people at the schools in which you are inter-ested. If you are considering any nonpostdoctoralpositions, the Employment Center is a valuable re-source. Through your registration, participatingschools will receive a booklet that has your re-sume in it, and schools to which you didnt evenapply may choose to contact you for an interview.More information about the Employment Center can


    be found on the AMS Careers and Employmentwebsite.

    A word of warning: be certain to proofread aprinted copy of your cover letter before you sendit. It is remarkably easy to mix up letters when youprepare many at once, and a misspelled word mayor may not be overlooked by the search commit-tee. A cover letter that speaks to an incorrectlynamed position or that is addressed to the wrongschool is very easy to discount as a misguided ap-plication.

    CV: Include one with every single application.They are generally two to four pages long, thoughsome may be a bit longer, and a running header isa nice touch. You should list your contact infor-mation (address, phone, email), undergraduate andgraduate degrees together with the institution andyear each degree was received, awards, fellowships,job experience (including a list of specific coursesyouve taught), papers, talks (including those inyour department and to your local math club), andreferences. You should certainly include any com-mittee work that you may have done, and you canalso include undergraduate honors. If you are a U.S.citizen or otherwise authorized to work in theUnited States, you should state that as well. If youare applying for a research position, awards andfellowships should be on the first page; these showthat people are willing to give you money.

    If youre reading this a year or more in advanceof your job search, you should be thinking of whatyou will be putting on that CV. In [1], AnnalisaCrannell suggests

    Volunteer. Go to departmental semi-nars. Go to conferences. Going to a localconference doesnt have to cost youanythingwrite a polite letter to yourdeans asking for a grant. They wontmind shelling out fifty or sixty dollarsfor a good cause. Getting grants, nomatter how small, looks very good toemployers. Giving talks to undergrad-uate or high school students is an ex-cellent way to prepare for the biggertalks that follow, and it lets people knowthat youre out there (it looks good onyour CV, too).

    She also recommends keeping a folder (Brag-ging) with everything that makes you look good(awards, invitations to speak, unsolicited com-ments from students). This can be helpful in prepar-ing a CV or as references for your letter writers. Itsalso a good habit for when you prepare your tenureportfolio.

    Transcripts: Yes, some schools require gradu-ate and even undergraduate transcripts. Unlessthey specify official transcripts, you can send pho-tocopies; in general, official transcripts are

    required only of finalists. If you are in doubt, writeto the school and ask. If a school doesnt requesttranscripts, or only requests graduate transcripts,it is up to you whether you want to send more (todemonstrate a liberal arts background, anotherarea of expertise, etc.).

    Statement of Teaching Philosophy: The goal ofthis is to give the search committee an accurateimage of your classroom teaching, rather than amore abstract philosophical statement. If you useany buzz words (technology, group work, cooper-ative learning, undergraduate research), then em-phasize your previous experience, and include spe-cific examples: when youve used group work, whatyou noticed, what you might try differently; whereyouve used computers in class, what specificallyyou liked or would change. You may want to includeyour teaching statement with every application(unless an ad states Send only) if you are tryingto emphasize an interest in teaching. Again, aprinted copy should be proofread carefully. Youmay even want to tailor this teaching statement tospecifically mention the individual school, in orderto show knowledge of the teaching expectations ofthe job for which you are applying.

    Statement of Research Interests: For all state-ments of research interests, it is useful to first ex-plain the main context of your research in termsthat a nonexpert can understand. Include somekey results in the field and emphasize your owncontributions, keeping in mind that a search com-mittee must read through many applications. Ifyou are interested in a postdoctoral position, youwill want to go into more detail about the specificresearch you have done. You should also give anindication of your future research plans: What willyou do next, and do you have concrete plans forcontinuing your research away from the mentor-ship of your graduate advisor? If you are applyingto a school that does not have a graduate programbut does value undergraduate research, list someideas of how undergraduates can be incorporatedinto your research. If there is a faculty member atthe school who works in your area, be sure to men-tion any common points of interest and possibili-ties of collaboration. Have some of your fellowgraduate students and your advisor read your state-ment of research interests.

    Webpage: If you have a webpage, make surethat it is up-to-date and treat it as part of your ap-plication package. A photo of yourself on yourwebpage is a nice way to start building name-facerecognition, although it is not necessary. A webpagewhere youve posted information about yourcourses (e.g., specific assignments) or highlightedimportant things youve done can be a real assetto your application, and in that case you should cer-tainly include the address in your cover letter orCV. On the other hand, a webpage with outdated


    When Do I Apply for Jobs?Most deadlines are between December 1 and Jan-uary 15. For nonpostdoctoral positions, it is veryhelpful to send in your application by mid-December even if the deadline is much later, es-pecially if you will be at the Joint MathematicsMeetings in January. For schools that conduct in-terviews at the JMM, you are better off if you havealready applied and the schools have had thechance to look over your application. In mid-De-cember, you may want to email the schools and re-mind them that you will be at the JMM and wouldbe happy to meet with them there. If you are giv-ing a talk, this also lets you send them the title, time,and location if you didnt know those earlier. Ashort polite email, especially if you mentionspecifics about the individual school, may lead di-rectly to an interview and is unlikely to bother any-one.

    How Will I Hear from Schools?For research oriented postdoctoral positions, youwill likely receive an offer without any need for aninterview. There is an effort to coordinat...