Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Job Applications: An Editing Adventure

In grad school, I was EIC for a small journal.  (Before that, I was on the editorial board for a couple years.)  This involved reading hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts and trying to decide whether and/or how they were salvageable.

These past couple of years (!!!!!; also ACK!) I've been reading Dr. S's job applications.  For you readers so lucky as to never have read one of these fine items, they consist of the following:

1) Cover letter.  A syncophantic recounting of one's virtues, coupled to why they are ideally suited to the college or university in question.  Probably nobody ever reads it, but just to be sure, it has to be perfectly calibrated to the reader's imagined tastes.  Of course, one has no idea if the reader is the department chair, a bored secretary, or an underling.  It must also convey that one passionately wants to teach at College X, when what one wants is, in fact, a job already.  If one has a specific wish to live in the area, that is a red flag (what, you only want to live here because of something else?) and if one does not, the hiring committee fears the applicant will hate the area with the burning passion of ten thousand suns.

2) CV.  Mercifully, this one does not require editing - at least not by me.

3) Teaching philosophy.  A greater collection of drivel I have never read.  (This is not limited to my spouse; every one I have ever read was drivel.)  People hate writing these, and it shows.  

4) Research statement.  The best part to edit, and simultaneously the worst.  It has to be as detailed, plausible, exciting, and feasible as a grant proposal, but in three pages flat.  It has to include specific experimental details, but a random assortment of not-in-your-field scientists are going to read it, so it has to do this in language a physicist could understand.  It has to be flashy and exciting (lasers!  robots!  genomics!  STEM CELLS! BIOINFORMATICS!) but still miraculously within a small college's budget.*  And within all these constraints, it has to not put the hiring committee to sleep.

I usually edit these after we put the children to bed.  It's getting late, I'm tired and crabby, I probably have a glass of wine in my head, and I'm thinking "Words, words, words.... TOO MANY WORDS!  Boooooooring!  I don't know that word and I am too lazy to look it up.  Why do I care about this?"

In other words, I'm a pretty good approximation of a hiring committee, all by myself. 

*Did you know that human stem cell media costs roughly $1 PER ML?  Me neither.  It's like setting $1000 bills on FIRE every single day.


  1. As someone who is putting together her application, I have to second the feeling of ACK! As well as, the frustration over the cover letter. I want to work at this particular awesome PUI/SLAC (seriously, this is the place that I've always named as the example of the place I wanted to work) partly because it's in a very geographically desirable area for me, but I can't say that because who knows how the hiring committee will take that. Ugh!

    1. Right? You just can't win! We finally settled on 'I have ties to the area' as the most neutral way to convey 'I wouldn't hate to live here, I promise' without it coming out as 'my in-laws live a half-hour away'.

  2. The "ties to the area" issue is interesting. Several European countries are actively trying to recruit their former [grad] students that went abroad for a post-doc. My PhD supervisor had a start-up grant that was specifically designed for those coming back after a post-doc abroad. And there's a complete yearly conference of German universities, research institutes and even some companies reaching out to German scientists abroad (and anyone else who's interested, but at least half of the program is in German). So, while I'm sure there are no official plus points for returning home, I can hardly imagine it'd be used as a factor against you...

  3. MY TEACHING STATEMENT WAS NOT DRIVEL. IT WAS BRIIIIIIIILIANT. I hope that at least Dr. S does not require much editing after several iterations, and that he is not sensitive. My least favorite experience is offering feedback to people who get all affronted. YAY.


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