More application materials blogging

So, maybe it’s a bit late in the season to be worrying about CV grooming, but I’m curious: what are people’s opinions on the talk list in one’s CV?

Obviously there’s some point where one wants to include every public talk one has ever given, and then clearly some point where one stops. Once one stops, then one has to decide which are worthy of inclusion, and it’s completely unclear to me how one decides this. How many is too many?  Does one slant toward recent talks? Toward a diversity of different talks? Toward particularly prestigious fora? This is the sort of point for which there seems to be no guidance online, so let’s create some.

Math stimulus

Update: For a different take see David’s comment.

Peter Woit made an excellent point in the comments that I want to bring up to the main page and expand on:

In math, a short-term increase in NSF funding of conferences and summer salary is hard to justify, but more money for postdoc positions and graduate student fellowships to keep people employed as university budgets get cut is something that makes a lot of sense.

I think this is exactly right. The main purpose as I see it of a stimulus package (and I admit I don’t really understand stimulus stuff well, it’s not like universal health care where it’s pretty obvious what we should be doing cause you can just travel and see it) is to keep people employed and spending the same way they would be if the economy weren’t tanked. The single best way to do this is to keep people employed in the jobs they would have in a normal economy. This is why state aid is such an obvious component of a stimulus, it keeps school teachers and other state employees at the same jobs they had before the recession and the same jobs they’ll have after the recession.

In math what are the jobs people are losing because of the recession? Yes graduate students and postdocs as Peter points out. But even more than either of those it’s starting tenure track jobs that are getting cut. A quick perusal of the math jobs wiki shows that many more of those searches have been cancelled.

So if I were running the NSF and the math portion of the budget was expanded I would try to increase the number of graduate student and postdoc fellowships (but not their pays, no matter how much I personally would enjoy a pay raise), but my first priority would be to start a program whereby schools can get several years of bridge funds for making new tenure-track hires.

Stimulating mathematics

So, a draft of the stimulus package is making its way around the internets.

Notable for academic mathematicians:

  • 3 billion to the NSF; 2 billion of that specifically for “employment opportunities.”  Under current allocations, math’s share would be between $100 million and $50 million.
  • A $500 increase in the Pell Grant.
  • Billions in direct aid to state universities (couldn’t find a specific number on that one; $39 billion to all levels of education).

The real question is: will any of this money make it into the job market this year?  If it does, in what form?  Does giving out more grants count as “employment opportunities” or does that mean a lot of people being directly employed by the NSF (a second round of postdoctoral and graduate fellowships when the stimulus comes through, perhaps)?

Does anyone more informed in the ways of the NSF than me have ideas?

Will math for food

As you may have guessed from the decreased frequency of posting this semester, seven of the nine of us are on the job market right now (and since Joel has a newborn, that leaves Scott Carnahan as the only one without an excuse).  I’ve finally finished a first draft of my application materials, you can see them at my website.

Any comments or criticisms are welcome.  I only ask that if you want to work on something from my research statement you either hire me (in which case you can steal all you want) or you drop me an email about it so that we can collaborate (or at least not duplicate effort). On most of these topics there’s more work to be done than I can do myself and I’d be thrilled to share.

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.

Not Even Blogging

Since we’ve been on a physics kick lately, you may want to scoot over and watch Peter Woit talking to Sabine Hossenfelder at bloggingheads.

Probably the most interesting part (to me, at least) is the discussion of the difference between math and physics culture.  I often have a vague sense that these differences exist (mostly in ways that make me happy that I stayed in mathematics), but often wonder whether I am making them up.  Well, one data point in my favor.

I’d also like to riff a little bit on the issues brought up by Sabine. I hadn’t encountered her previously (and I bet a lot of you haven’t).  For reference, she is a physics postdoc at Perimeter, who blogs at Backreaction.  She has some pretty strong words for the academic community as a whole, and how it directs research.   Continue reading

An open letter to


Let me just start by saying I’m a big fan. Really, you’re a most excellent website, who filled a definite need in the mathematical community. You’ve improved the life of pretty much everybody who’s applied for academic jobs in math in the past couple of years, and I’m sure you’ll continue to do a good job of this.

But, true to my nature, I’m not writing to discuss your manifold virtues, but the one painfully obvious one which is missing. I’m referring, of course, to implementing RSS feeds. I mean, lists of job openings which are sporadically updated are precisely the sort of information RSS was designed to deal with. In your present set-up, it’s very easy for people to miss job openings if they go a little too long between checking the website, a problem which could be rectified in a…well…really simple way by RSS. I mean, Craigslist has RSS feeds working. Do you really see yourself as the sort of website who cannot keep up with Craigslist? I think you can do better.

Best wishes,
Ben Webster

Well, MathJobs came through as promised.

After such prompt and thoughtful response from the MathJobs crew (see the comments below), I feel like a bit of a heel for the (fairly moderate) level of snark displayed above. I will, however, defend the choice to voice my request in blog form. It wasn’t just because our blog has been hurting for material lately; it also provides a forum for people to discuss what else they would like to see out of MathJobs. Maybe someone else has had some tiny aspect of the website that’s been nagging them. I mean, like I said, MathJobs is great, but no website is perfect. So…anybody else have bright ideas?

Rumors: milling

If any of you were wondering whether this whole job wiki thing we mentioned earlier would work, well, that would seem to be a “yes.”  Greg mentioned it in a (totally off-topic) comment, but I thought I would point it out for those of you who aren’t subscribed to their recent changes RSS feed (what?  I’m addicted to RSS.  I’ve never denied it).

The question this raises in my mind is “Who is posting all this stuff?”  There are now short-list candidates listed for about positions at the moment.  I’m assuming, in practice, for tenure track stuff, “short list” means the people who did on campus interviews (though the site doesn’t even try to define that, so I may be totally off-base).  An on-campus interview is a pretty public thing that lots of people know about.  I would be very curious to know whether it was the candidates themselves, someone on the committees in question, or just some department denizen who’s been paying attention.  Of course, there’s probably some of all three, but what’s the mix?

One can try to guess this by looking which edits occur simultaneously.  In some cases, the same person will be added to several lists, which you can guess is the person in question, or perhaps one of their friends (hooray for gossip)!  One such person even used their last name as a username (though we still can’t be sure it was her, of course. Silly internet).  On the other hand, some times just a single name comes up, and we don’t know what to think.

Of course, the person who really knows about this is the wiki (non)moderator (who as far as I can tell is pseudonymous).  So if you’re feeding this, oh font of job wisdom, feel free to comment (hell, you can guest post if you want) on said mix.

And I can’t help but wonder how the rest of you are feeling about this job rumor mill thing.  Jealous? Transfixed? Annoyed? Indifferent?

Cover letters again

For those of you who remember my bleg of a couple of weeks ago, I’ve now written a section on cover letters for the MGSA wiki Applying for Postdocs page. Those of you with opinions on the subject can go see if you agree with what I wrote. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with their take. It was illuminating for me, and I’m sure for a lot of others here.

Now, if only I had something interesting to say about research and teaching statements. Hint, hint.

Does anybody actually read cover letters?

So, looking at the jobs wiki got me a bit riled up about jobs. Given that I have funding lined up for the next 4 years, I don’t think there’s much point in my going on the job market this year, so I had to find somewhere to displace my energy.

One good place to do so is the Applying for Postdocs page of Berkeley’s MGSA wiki. After all, who likes unsolicited advice as much as the internet? (Incidentally, let me suggest that any graduate students in the audience read that page, and leave any questions they have as comments on the talk page on the wiki, or as comments here. I’d be happy to add more material to the page if I knew what people were curious about).

But there are things that should be on the page that aren’t. Particularly missing is info about preparing application materials. Any guesses as to why that is? Continue reading