The Academic Job Search
The advice here is primarily directed at graduate students who will be applying for
academic jobs after graduating (e.g., postdoctoral position, tenure-track position at a
research university, liberal arts college, or teaching school). For non-academic jobs, see
SIAM's list of
Careers in Applied Mathematics.
Here is a list of the topics covered.
- Timeline and General Advice for the Academic Job Search
- Finding Advertisements for Jobs in Mathematics
- Attending the Joint Meetings of the AMS and MAA
- Job Application Materials
1. Timeline and General Advice for the Academic Job Search
Long before you graduate, you should start thinking about applying for jobs. There are a
variety of things you should do throughout your final years of graduate school to prepare yourself
for an academic career and to make yourself more employable. It's a good idea to read
about the job application process, and prepare for it, years before you graduate.
2. Finding Advertisements for Jobs in Mathematics
Although there are a few other sources, nowadays most people use
MathJobs.Org almost exclusively to
find jobs at academic institutions.
All universities and colleges in the U.S. and Canada will post their job advertisements on
MathJobs.Org, and you can apply to (virtually all) these advertisements through
MathJobs.Org without the need to physically mail anything. Many
international Universities and a few non-academic jobs also use MathJobs.Org, however,
very few community colleges advertise through it.
3. Attending the Joint Meetings of the AMS and MAA
The year you are applying for jobs you should plan on attending the
Joint Math Meetings (JMM) of the AMS and MAA,
held every year in early January. The deadline to register is often the prior October.
Many schools do preliminary job interviews (i.e., short interviews prior to deciding whom
to invite for on-campus interviews) at the JMM. This is particularly true of liberal arts
colleges and non-flagship public universities. Research Universities tend to use this method
less, and rarely do preliminary interviews for postdoctoral or tenure-track positions.
However, this is not a hard-and-fast-rule, and sometimes Research Universities will
do preliminary interviews at the JMM. Even though some schools will say that
preliminary interviews at the JMM are not required, you will probably
decrease your chances of getting certain job offers if you do not attend the JMM.
Besides preliminary interviews at the JMM, some schools will also do preliminary interviews
by phone or Skype.
4. Job Application Materials
To apply for jobs, you will need to prepare the following items.
- Cover Letter
- AMS Coversheet
- Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- Research Statement
- Teaching Statement
- Letters of Recommendation
- Graduate and Undergraduate Transcripts
- List of Publications
- Additional Items
Here is a more detailed description of each of these items.
Your cover letter should be one page long and on letterhead from your current department.
(You will probably want to obtain a LaTeX template of the department letterhead, in order
to easily create PDFs of letters.) It should be written in a professional manner following
the rules and etiquette of a business letter. Your cover letter should state the name of the school
and specific position to which you are applying, a little about who you are (research area, advisor,
current position, date of graduation), why you are interested in the position you
are applying for, what you can contribute to their department,
whether or not you are at the joint meetings, and a polite closing
thanking them for their time and their consideration.
You will need to create a different cover letter for each school to which you apply.
The AMS Coversheet is a paper form containing some basic information about yourself and
the kind of job you are seeking. It should be added to all job applications made to
academic departments of mathematics. The
can be created via your account at MathJobs.org.
Curriculum Vitae (CV)
There are many styles of CVs used in mathematics, and many LaTeX templates available online.
Here is one site to
help you prepare a CV in LaTeX.
However, there are many options available for CV styles, and in my opinion you should
do a few online searches of your own to find a style you like.
Two other resources you should look at are:
Your CV should be standard in some ways, such as what information it
contains and how you organize that information, but at the same time you should individualize it
to some degree so it looks unique to you. If you choose a CV template from online, try to modify
it a bit to give it a slight personal flair, so that it stands out a bit and does not look nearly identical
to the CVs of other people who downloaded that same template.
When it comes to formatting your CV and deciding what information to include in it, one of the
most useful things to do is to look at as many CVs as you can online. (Almost every
mathematician posts theirs on their website.) Look at CVs of mathematicians at different
stages of their careers (i.e., graduate students and fresh Ph.D.'s to full professors), look at
CVs of people in your own department as well as at other institutions, and take a look at CVs of
mathematicians who are currently on the job market or were on the job market last year.
A CV should be easy to read, free from any errors in grammar or spelling, and use a consistent
style throughout. In addition, it should be aesthetically pleasing and have a professional
feel to it. For a graduate student, the typical length of a CV is around two pages.
You CV is an incredibly important part of your application. When someone looks at your application,
the first thing they will look at is your CV. They will scan the publications, presentations,
teaching experience, etc. to get an idea of what you have done. Also, they will consider how
much time and care you have put into the preparation of your CV to determine more subtle
qualities about you, such as the levels of your professionalism, attention to detail,
and seriousness about your career.
What a search committee sees on your CV determines whether or not they choose to look at the
rest of your application. The CV serves as an introduction to who you are. In addition, if
you later go on an on-campus interviews, you will often meet with administrators
(e.g., deans, provosts, presidents) who have prepared for their meeting with you by
only looking at your CV.
Some aspects of Latin grammar:
In Latin, the word vita means "life", and its plural is vitas, meaning "lives".
The term curriculum vitae is a Latin expression that can be loosely translated
as "[the] course of [my] life". In this case, the form vitae is
the singular possessive of vita, so curriculum vitae can be translated as
either "course of life" or "life's course".
Following the rules of Latin grammar, the plural of
curriculum vitae is formed as curricula vitae, which means "courses of life"
-- not as curriculum vita or curriculum vitaes, which are both grammatically
incorrect. (To make matters more
confusing, sometimes curriculum vitae may be pluralized as "curricula vitarum" which
translates as "courses of lives" or "lives' courses", in order to emphasize a situation
where one is referring to CVs of multiple people; i.e.,
"courses of multiple lives".)
Correct Singular: vita or curriculum vitae
When you create your CV, you want to make sure that you put
the words "Curriculum Vitae" on the top, and not the incorrect phrase "Curriculum Vita".
In all other contexts
(such as when speaking), you may want to avoid the matter altogether and use the term "CV".
Correct Plural: vitas or curricula vitae
Always Incorrect: vitae, curriculum vita, curriculum vitaes, and
Your research statement should be approximately two to six pages long, and it should describe
your research to an audience consisting of accomplished mathematicians who do not necessarily
work in your area. In your research statement you should describe your research area and the
kinds of problems you work on, what you specifically have done in your thesis or publications,
and your future plans for your research.
Many people find it convenient to create two versions of their research statement; one for
Research Universities and one for liberal arts colleges or schools with less emphasis on research.
Your teaching statement should be one to two pages long, and it should describe
thoughts and attitudes towards teaching and the methods you use when you teach. It should
include a discussion of your past teaching experiences, and specific descriptions of how
you teach your courses and interact with students.
You should not think of this as a teaching philosophy, which discusses how human beings
learn, but rather talk more pragmatically about what you do to run a successful class:
what your goals are when you teach and how you accomplish these goals.
Avoid mundane descriptions of what makes a good class
-- statement such as "I come prepared to class" or "I use colored markers at the board" are trite
and do not indicate you have given any serious thought or effort to your teaching.
Focus on aspects of your teaching that are novel, extraordinary, or innovative. If you have experience
using nontraditional teaching methods (e.g., discovery-based learning,
inquiry-based learning, modified Moore methods, group work, interactive techniques such as
the use of "clickers", using technology in the classroom, assigning
projects or writing activities), you should talk about it in your teaching statement.
Other things you can discuss in your teaching statement: participation in any outreach
activities related to mathematics, voluntary tutoring (beyond what is required as a TA) for
college or high school students, interest or ideas for supervising undergraduate research projects.
Here are some articles you may find useful as you write your teaching statement.
Letters of Recommendation
You will need four letters of recommendation, one of which specifically addresses teaching.
One of your letter writers should be your advisor. The teaching letter should be written
by someone who can comment on your teaching, and it is not necessary that they be
familiar with the specifics of your research or even your area. The remaining two letter writers
should be tenured or tenure-track faculty who can comment specifically on your research and
your potential as a future mathematician and professor.
Letters from senior faculty (i.e., full professors) usually carry more weight than those
from junior faculty (i.e., associate or assistant professors). However, strongly positive
letters matter more for your application than the letter writer's position, and you may be
able to build closer relationships with junior faculty that are less inundated with students
and other responsibilities. Keep this tradeoff in mind. Probably, a balance of junior and
senior faculty recommenders is best for a graduate school application.
If your application requires a
certain number of letters, you may be tempted to get an additional one or two.
This is usually a bad idea: every additional letter after your best one
lowers the average quality of your application. An additional letter beyond what is
requested only makes sense if it will be glowing and adds a completely different perspective.
Contact your letter writers in September of the year you are graduating to ask for a letter.
Give them a deadline of October 15 and follow up to make sure they complete and submit their letters.
MathJobs.org allows a letter writer to upload their letter to your account, and for
you to attach the letter to application you submit, while maintaining the confidentiality of
the letter and never allowing you to view its contents.
Whomever you ask for your teaching letter should observe you teaching a class. Invite them
to come to your class or a TA session to observe you. If you are teaching a class
prior to the year you apply for jobs, but not in the year you apply for jobs, you should
think about who is going to write your teaching letter and ask them while you are teaching
so that they can observe you. It is also a good idea to ask your other letter writers to
observe a course you teach. (This act of letter writers observing your teaching is actually
common at other schools, but not at UH, so some faculty may not be so familiar with the idea
or even think its not necessary.
Personally, I think it is a good idea. All of your letter writers --not just the one
writing the teaching letter--- will have to comment on your teaching. It makes your
letter writers' comments more credible if they have actually observed your teaching firsthand.)
Graduate and Undergraduate Transcripts
You will need copies of your graduate and undergraduate transcripts.
(Basically transcripts from any school you attended after high school.) Unofficial copies suffice, so
you can typically get one official copy of each set of transcripts, and then scan them into
PDF format and upload to your MathJobs.org account. Many schools will not require
transcripts as part of your application, but a significant number will request (unofficial)
copies of your graduate transcripts, and a few will require copies of both your graduate
and undergraduate transcripts.
If you get an on-campus interview, some schools may request official copies of your graduate
transcripts at that point. When you accept a job offer, many jobs will require a final
official copy of your transcript before you are allowed to start the job.
The purpose is to prove you actually obtained your Ph.D.
Plan ahead if it will take you a while to obtain copies of your transcripts.
List of Publications
A few schools require a list of publications in addition to your CV. You can usually
create this easily, by simply cutting and pasting the publication list from your CV
into a new document. If your publication list is small, you may consider including
the abstract for each publication to add more information.
Most schools will require only the items above (or a subset of the items above).
A few schools, however, will ask for something additional in an application to their school.
For example, the application might ask you to include a one-page statement explaining how you will
contribute to the mission statement of their college; or copies of all your teaching evaluations;
or evidence of commitment to teaching.
Oftentimes, these extra requirements are a way for the school reduce the number of applicants.
Typically a school will get hundreds of applications for one position. If they
require an additional item in the application,
many individuals will not take the time to create or collect the additional material required.
Moreover, any applications submitted that do not
include all requested materials are thrown out and do not have to be reviewed. By
requiring the additional item, schools can often reduce the number of applications they need
to review from hundreds to less than one hundred. Moreover, some schools feel as though
this process also weeds out applicants that are not serious about their school, and allows
them to focus on applicants that are actually interested in the position.
The following articles contain some good advice for interviews at the Joint Mathematics
Meetings as well as for on-campus interviews.