I have been busy looking for a new job (instead of blogging, sleeping, etc.) and searching for an academic job is a bit different than a non-academic job hunt. I think my family and friends are most surprised about the amount of paper involved, and the number of parts that comprise the application. The examples I will describe are mostly based on what American universities require, though it is similar in many other countries. The job interview can vary quite a bit, too. Also, one generally looks for an academic job starting one year before the position is open. So, by looking for an assistant professorship now, I am really looking at starting around August 2008, at the earliest. (Though I have seen some universities, particularly in the United Kingdom, that appear to only post jobs the summer before they are set to start.)
(Here I am before giving a talk this year.)
The applications are used to determine who to invite for the "interview" (again a bit different), and then the job offer is made. It is also possible that a department does not find precisely the type of person that fits the needs of the department, and the job search is closed, and perhaps opened again the following year.
What goes into the application? In psychology and cognitive science, the application is primarily composed of: 1) the cover letter, 2) the curriculum vitae, 3) a statement of research interests, 4) a statement of teaching philosophy and interests, 5) reprints of published work or to-be-published work, and 6) three or more letters of reference. Sometimes there is also an application form, but not often.
The cover letter is one's chance to explain why one fits the job description, and to summarize the rest of the application along those lines. The curriculum vitae (or CV) is basically the academic version of a resume. I have read that a business resume should stick to one or two pages; an academic resume has no such limit and is intended to include everything relevant that one has accomplished: publications, presentations, grants, honors, awards, education, teaching, etc. In no pre-defined order. The statement of research interests, at least in my field, usually summarizes what one has done, and what the next steps will be. The teaching philosophy similarly mentions what courses one has taught in order to reveal how one approaches teaching. Most job advertisements ask for reprints of one's published or forthcoming research papers. Letters from one's previous mentor or collaborators round out the application.
How is an academic job interview different from a non-academic one? The most obvious difference is the length and depth. Most last one or even two days. The job candidate meets one-on-one with many of the faculty, primarily those who are on the search committee or, if possible, with nearly all of the faculty. Meetings are also held with the department chair and the school or college dean (who must approve funding for the new hire). One key part of the interview is the "job talk." The candidate gives a lecture about one's research. Some departments actually have candidates give two job talks. My graduate school department at Johns Hopkins was notorious for this, particularly because the second talk used to be a surprise! Eventually word spread about this, and it is now just part of the expected interview there.
The job search process is quite different from a non-academic search as well. Many companies are always open to receiving applications from qualified candidates. If they are a good fit a position might be created for them. In addition, most people limit themselves geographically--perhaps looking for a job in only one city. An aspiring academic would find this difficult. Universities do not always have openings in every department every year. Even if they do, then the opening is for a particular specialty that is needed by the department. For example, I am a cognitive psychologist (or cognitive scientist or cognitive neuroscientist) and a psychology department may need a cognitive person one year, but a clinical or social psychologist the next year. Plus, outside of certain metropolitan areas, most cities have only one university.
A job hunt in academia is really an adventure--one never knows where job openings might appear and where one might move to in a year! In the fluid academic world I may be reversing the brain drain now, but in a year I could be contributing to it.
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