Old application materials

Since its job application season and I’ve had many (well, more than one) requests to see my old job application materials, I thought I would post them on the web to even the playing field, even though this may expose me to public (well, at least internet) ridicule.  I mean, has any human ever in the history of the world written a teaching statement not worthy of mockery?  (I would actually appreciate constructive mockery, as I will have to write another teaching statement in the not too far future).

I’d also like to encourage our readers out there to post any old (or current, if you’re feeling really brave) job materials in comments (I think you can also consider this an open thread for pissing and moaning about job applying).  I find one rather maddening aspect of job applications is how little guidance exists about the form of application materials (for example, it’s rather surprising to encounter a job ad which actually specifies a length for one’s research statement).  The AMS has a decent page on this, if you really feel like you have no idea where to start,  but I think there’s no substitute for seeing live ones in the flesh. Perhaps if we put together a compendium of links to those online already, it would be a valuable resource.

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11 thoughts on “Old application materials

  1. Did you submit the research proposal to the NSF for your post-doc? With the bibliography it goes over the five-page limit. Did you have to cut three paragraphs somewhere or did you figure the bibliography didn’t count toward the page-limit?

  2. Dear Ben,

    Since you asked, here is some feedback from somewhat a little bit older (PhD 2003, tenure-track at UGA since 2006). I also gave a seminar a few days ago to our graduating students about their job application, so I am sort of in the mood.

    Your application is overwhelmingly strong overall, as befits someone who got an NSF postdoc and a position at IAS. The fact that you had two papers accepted by good journals and four other submitted articles before you even graduated is simply phenomenal. If your research record is that strong, then, honestly, the fineries of your application matter don’t matter as much (unless you really screw something up, which you certainly haven’t).

    You asked for advice about your teaching statement. First of all, I will repeat what I said at the seminar: you should take this very seriously and write a thoughtful response. On the one hand, it is an opportunity for you to showcase your communication skills and command of the English language (especially important for those whose native language is not English). But moreover, writing a statement which is well-argued and at least in some ways distinct from other teaching statements shows a real sense of professionalism. In other words, through such a teaching statement you are saying to a potential employer: “Obviously I take my research very seriously; indeed it is my primary concern. But I also take teaching seriously, because in fact I take the entire profession of being a professor of mathematics extremely seriously, and therefore I am going to bring a consistently high sense of professionalism to all aspects of that job.”

    (In line with this, I advise you not to describe your own teaching statement as “cheesy” on your webpage. Too much honesty.)

    Your teaching statement was fine, but not a standout: nothing really stuck in my mind after reading your teaching statement. In a good story, the actions described have consequences on the characters: i.e., they are somehow changed by the events described. It would be interesting to hear about some aspect of teaching that you feel differently about now than you did earlier on, as a result of experience, reflection, or whatever.

    Here are a couple of comments about the writing itself:

    1) In the first paragraph, you introduce an idea which, if you really mean it, is quite powerful: that knowledge is meaningless unless it is shared. But, although you give examples of imparting knowledge to others (i.e.., teaching), you don’t really develop this idea in particular later on. It might be interesting to do so. (Or maybe you don’t really mean it. It is a potentially dangerous idea, since mathematicians disseminate their knowledge quite narrowly compared to most other human endeavors.)

    2) “I chose to go to a smaller liberal arts college” Which one? Providing that information paints more of a picture.

    3) “I’ve personally experienced…the difference that good teaching…can make to the undergraduate experience.” Okay, but what is that difference? You never talk about it.

    4) “Of course, my most important”… Why of course?

    5) You should write something like “Graduate Student Instructor (GSI)”, so that the reader understands the abbreviation when you use it next. It is not standard across the country.

    6) The fact that you successfully engaged the students in group work during class time is impressive. (For instance, I am scared to try this.) You should write about it in more detail.

    7) The use of “alma mater” is strange: while you were an undergraduate, presumably the place you tutored was your undergraduate university, which didn’t become your alma mater until after you graduated. Again, what is this place? Is it a secret? (I’m sure it’s in your CV, but nevertheless…)

    8) “For a year I both co-organized and spoke in a weekly seminar…”

    You spoke in that seminar every week for a year?? (Presumably not.)

    9) In this paragraph you talk about too many things too rapidly.

    10) “confused eyes of a calculus student” seems both slightly awkward (is it really the eyes that are confused?) and slightly condescending.

    11) I like the part where you give a specific example of a goal that you originally had for your students and that you learned that they will not meet (deriving trig identities). This is an example of the principle of a good narrative requiring change that I mentioned before, and also is, to me, a sign of mature calculus teaching: acknowledging that there are some things that most of your students will not be able to learn to do. But you should say more: is it okay that your students can’t derive trig identities on the fly, or is it a problem you are still trying to solve? Did you realize that this was a relatively unimportant part of the calculus class? If so, why?

    In general I don’t think your teaching statement needs to be personalized to the school.

    I hope that you or others will find this advice somewhat useful. Again, I predict that you will do very well on your next trip to the job market (and I hope you will keep UGA in mind as an option).

  3. I also wanted to mention that I also refer students to the AMS page to which you linked. The advice is very solid. Unfortunately I found the “case study” at the end completely depressing: why not provide a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario? Your own job application experience was more like the latter, so serves as a good antidote: most people can probably expect to find themselves falling somewhere in between.

  4. For NSF research statement page limit the references do not count. The references are uploaded as a separate file.

    Weirdly enough the NSF also allows 10pt Palantino but only 11pt Math Modern, so Ben’s application should have been disallowed according to their regulations. Guess they don’t always follow them. Also according to current rules the information on sponsoring scientist and host institution should be in the Project Proposal (i.e. research statement), not the Project Summary like it is in Ben’s. Ben’s CV doesn’t match NSF bio-sketch standards. Finally the Project Summary should be written in the third person. Again it looks like these things don’t matter too much, but people basing their app on Ben’s might want to know.

  5. Thanks for posting your job application materials, Ben! I’ll probably have mine up on my website in about a week after a last edit.

    Incidentally, the differences in permissible font size for the NSF aren’t that weird. The NSF cares as much about the spacing in the font as the size of the font — I think the rule is something like “no more than n characters per 2 cm.” Palatino is less dense than Math Modern, I think, so you can use a smaller font size and still meet the requirement.

  6. What I would really like to know (apropos of Noah’s comment #8) is what happens to application materials. I have some understanding of what happens to job applications, though I haven’t yet been on a hiring committee. And I’ve refereed many an NSF application, though I haven’t been on a panel. As a referee, nobody asked me to check the margins; is somebody else doing this? I kinda hope not.

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