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Essay on requests for 'additional materials' in academic job searches

Get a Job!
When They Want More
November 18, 2013

The second time I was on the job market, my second year as an assistant professor, I only applied to one job. Sometimes I don’t even count this as going on the market, except when I consider all the things – materials, emotions, hardware – I had to prepare for this one application. I had bought a landline phone since the college’s ad said the search committee was doing first-round interviews by phone and my mobile service was inconsistent at home. (I wasn’t about to go to campus, where my colleagues didn’t know I was on the market, to do the interview.) No one had this landline phone number except the search committee. The Monday after I got the phone installed, it rang around 1p.m., startling me from my work. In the four seconds it took me to leap from behind my desk across the room to pick it up, I went through surprise, nervousness, excitement, and composure. It could only be the committee calling to set up a phone interview with me! Joy!

“Hello? This is Cheryl,” (because that seemed to be the odd, professional way I thought I should answer).

“Hello, Cheryl. This is Elder Smith. I’m calling to remind you about the singles’ Family Home Evening at Elder Jones’s house tonight.”

Uh, what?! Recognition. Disappointment. LOLs. Living in Utah, I wasn’t surprised that the Latter-day Saints had gotten my landline number and put me on their roster so quickly. They have an ingenious system, really. But the range of emotions that one accidental call put me through reminded me immediately of the emotions I went through the first time on the market, two years earlier, and further still, engaging in the teenage dance that is dating. Suddenly, alone in my house at the age of 31 with a decent career forming around me, I was 14 again: nervous, giddy, pit-of-my-stomach anxious.

But at least, this time, I could remind myself that I knew what I was doing: I had done the market before, lived through it to tell the tale, had a great job in a beautiful location with excellent colleagues. I’ve got this. And I say that to myself every time I go on the market (four times now), even though I feel the same set of 14-year-old emotions, from the moment I hit "send" on the initial application to the waiting to the first time I get a request for additional materials.

This is the no-man’s land of the job market, an emotional roller coaster for most job-seekers. Social media have helped alleviate this a little bit (via the Academic Jobs Wiki, if you can stomach its anonymized forthrightness and snark), but the high of getting that phone call or email with the subject line: "Additional materials requested" never gets old. A friend of mine on the job market recently said: "I got an email entitled ‘Request for additional information’ that was NOT related to the job search. Cruel joke, world, cruel joke.” Indeed. Smart spamming sucks. In this time of follow-ups, call backs, and email requests, job-seekers are on high alert for which colleges might be in to them and which are not.

As I mentioned in a previous column, sharing these fraught emotions with colleagues (other grad students on the market and advisors; your partner and other faculty members won’t usually care or understand what you’re going through) is a good way to get them under control so you can actually do the work of preparing those additional materials.

So, what are these additional materials? Usually the job ad will tell you what is expected during follow-up stages of the job-seeking process. There’s still a wide disparity between departments that request only cover letters and C.V.s initially and those that request the gamut: cover letters, C.V.s, writing sample(s), teaching philosophy statements, teaching portfolios, and research agendas. Maybe even a statement of faith from religious colleges. An entire book could be written on how to craft each of these pieces, and there are good and bad websites, some with examples, under a quick search for “job market materials.”

I wish I had room to describe each of these genres in detail in this column, but again, see “book-length treatise” in the above paragraph. Instead, I’ll sum up what each of these items is (beyond the cover letter and C.V.), what their basic structures look like, and what kinds of colleges usually ask for them. I hope readers will add in the comments section descriptions of other materials asked of them that aren’t listed here.

Writing sample. Unless specifically asked for multiple, you should only include one writing sample, and preferably something single-authored. My rule of thumb is to submit something that people on the search committee will recognize as scholarship in your field. That may seem obvious, but what counts as scholarship depends on the field and the job. If it’s a production-oriented discipline, sending an article and the designed project or code it’s about may be necessary. If you have something that’s already published or under review, send that (either in published or pre-print form). Just make sure this sample is related to your research topic. If you need to send a dissertation chapter, you do not need to rewrite it as a stand-alone piece. Just add a note at the top explaining its context. Do NOT send a seminar paper, as it says you’re not far enough along in your dissertation to be on the market.

Also, you should ask your advisers whether to send an in-progress piece or pre-print as single- or double-spaced. I may be an oddity here, but I hate seeing paper wasted (as all of these things will likely be printed for the search committee) and the double-spacing just screams “I’m a student!” and “This work is unfinished!” to me. Single-spacing looks more like the journal or book your work will eventually appear in. Visual rhetoric matters.

Teaching portfolio. Teaching portfolios can be a pain to put together if you have not taught yet or if your teaching materials are all online. This document will take some time to create and should include:

  • Teaching philosophy (see next section).
  • Sample syllabuses: include at least two classes of varying subjects appropriate to the job you’re applying to. If you haven’t taught these classes yet, create one-two page outlines for the class, including a course description, course goals, learning outcomes for students, reading list, summaries of major projects/assignments, and an outline of the semester’s schedule, perhaps based on topics or units (or whatever the typical teaching style is in your field).
  • Teaching evaluations: See next section.

Teaching evaluations. These might be qualitative or quantitative or a mixture of both, and some ads or follow-up requests will specify which they want. If you haven’t taught, it’s unlikely you’ll get a job at a teaching-intensive college (which is usually those who are requesting these kinds of documents), so you might try teaching a guest lecture in a colleague’s class and having your adviser or mentor observe you and write about your teaching. For the qualitative comments, include a sample of individual comments students have included on your end-of-semester evaluations. You might include a negative comment and address how you fixed that problem the next time you taught. This is optional and only recommended if you are primarily a very good teacher and wanting to show how you reflect and improve your teaching.

For quantitative evaluations, these are the numerical summaries from the end-of-term evaluations. You will need to write a short description putting these numbers into context (i.e., What is the rating system at your institution?) and explaining away any inconsistencies or poor ratings (e.g., Do you teach a required class that no one wants to take? Were you covering for another teacher? Did you have to call the police on a student that term? All of these are justifications I’ve used to explain a lower-than-expected rating from a class, but don’t blame; explain politicly). You don’t need to include all numerical results – you could just photocopy the evaluation document. The primary information search committees need is how you rank in relation to others who have taught this same class and to the whole department, and sometimes how “organized" you are in your teaching.

Teaching philosophy. This document is even harder to write than the cover letter for most job-seekers because it has a similarly rigid structure and can only be two pages in length (single-spaced).

  • Introductory paragraph: Introduces your philosophy of teaching and may cite pedagogical and theoretical scholarship on which you draw.
  • Class practice paragraphs: There are usually two of these, one for each kind of class you have taught. These paragraphs should name and describe the course you’ve taught, explain briefly what the course goals and major projects/readings/assignments were, discuss how you used your pedagogical approach to help the students reach the course goals, and give an example of student learning outcomes. Then repeat for the second class. These examples must be very practical but always relate explicitly back to your overall philosophy. You can swap out different classroom examples if the kinds of jobs you’re applying to might vary enough that different examples (if you have them) would be warranted.
  • Conclusion: Hard to write. Sometimes it’s a “Here’s how I’d implement this pedagogical approach when teaching x class in your program.” Or it can extend your philosophy to mentoring and advising students more generally, either in graduate work or in student clubs, etc., depending on the university’s interest and job ad requirements.

The whole philosophy can be done in one page if you only use one example and write a very brief conclusion. But if you’re applying for a job in a discipline that has pedagogy as one of its research outcomes, I’d go with the two pages unless the ad requests otherwise.

Research agenda. Sometimes called a research statement, this document will be required for most research-intensive universities, and its purpose is to show the search committee that you are committed to continuing research in your field and that you have a plan to get tenure. This document is usually only one page long, but might be two pages. Briefly, this document should outline the next six or seven years of your academic life, according to what grants, publications, and other research projects you have planned.

Each of these items might have a short abstract. In addition, they should specify publication or funding venues. The prestige of the proposed venues should be in proportion to the prestige of the university you’re applying to. If you’re having trouble thinking of what your next research steps will be after your dissertation, think about all that data or those odd research questions you discovered while writing but didn’t have time or place to follow up with in the diss. They make great future research projects.

Statement of faith. Honestly, I’ve never had to write one of these for the academic market. And that has been purposeful. Having worked at one of Pat Robertson’s ministries in a previous life, I’ve had to write these statements in the past and know that working at a private, religious-affiliated institution is not of interest to me now. I’ve discovered that many students (often, international students) don’t realize what such a statement means. Writing a statement of faith for an institution means that, if hired, you are contractually agreeing to abide by the institution’s religious mandates both on and off campus. And if you break that promise, the college can fire you.

It’s a good idea to start drafting these additional materials early, as they can – like cover letters – take multiple drafts to perfect. In addition to the above documents, you might also be asked for

  • A diversity statement: often (but not exclusively) requested by urban, open-admissions colleges, historically black, or tribal colleges as well as rural colleges that are trying to increase their diversity profiles through student recruitment.
  • A marked-up student writing assignment: often requested by community colleges or bridge (high school to college) programs.
  • An administrative philosophy: if you’re applying for any kind of directorship or other leadership position.
  • Others? Please add these in the comments below!

 

 

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