Your TT appliction package: the view from the other side

Nov 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last year, the most excellent Gerty-Z posted a most excellent check list of do's and don'ts re: one's tenure track application package. She is exceedingly wise, and I highly recommend you pay that post a visit. This year I'm on a search committee, and as I really start to sink my teeth into the dozens of applications that have come in, I'm realizing what a shit ton of work hefty task this is. There are so many of you! And so many words that you want me to read! But before I'm going to read the bulk of your words (your research and teaching statements), I'm taking a first pass at your cover letters and CVs, and I want you to remember something very important: I am looking for a reason NOT to have to read your research and teaching statement. 

Now, my departmental sub-division is on the small side, and we are looking for someone relatively specific with respect to research interests and techniques. Some bigger departments have the luxury (?) of just picking whomever has the most Cell papers and/or portable funding, but the reality is that we will pass over Cell papers and funding for a better overall fit (and a reasonably impressive publishing record and evidence of fundability).

As I'm going through all these CVs and cover letters, I'm having some thoughts that I feel it might behoove you to hear. Some of you may disagree with my sentiments here, and that's totally OK. This is my first time seeing things from the other side, and I welcome those who've got solid reasons why I'm doing it wrong. I'm not saying that any of these bad things is an automatic deal-breaker, but the more I love the way you put your package together, the more I'm going to love you, because I will think that you GET IT.

1. Think of your cover letter as the written version of your elevator pitch. Some of the cover letters I'm reading are WAY too long. One page, tops, people. This isn't your research statement--this is an introduction. State who you are, who you're working with and where, and 3-4 sentences max on your awesomesauce research. That is all I care about at this point in the game. If I want to know more, I'll read your statements!

2. Now, about that CV. Here's what I want to see, in this order. I'll be honest, this is not even how my own CV was organized, but now that I've read about a million of them, I feel like there are things I care about more than others, and I want all of those things first, even if it's not traditional.
a) Your title, where you are, and who your mentor is if you're still a post-doc.
b) Your education/training--institution, department, and your mentors at each step.
c) Past/present/pending funding
d) Publications, reverse chronologically. I'm sure you had a very nice undergrad project in 1999 and that's great that your PI made you 4th author, but I don't actually give much of a shit, and so I don't want to see it first. I want to see what you have been doing lately, and that includes submitted-but-not-yet-in-press stuff, but put that in a visibly separate category. And don't you DARE put a journal name if that thing isn't at the very least in press.  I can't tell you how much I LOL'd today at "submitted to Nature Neuroscience" or whatever. Hooray for you! Also: put your name in bold so I can easily see which of your pubs are 1st author, and the journal's name in italics (if the paper is published), because even though we are not GlamourMag whores here, we still like to know. And if you're feeling particularly web-savvy, do as Gerty suggests and embed a link to your PubMed abstracts for each pub--it really says, "I am a 21st century kind of scientist!"
e) Invited speaking engagements
f) Awards (I'd say e/f are interchangeable)
g) Everything else: ad hoc reviewing, students mentored, courses taught, what have you. I realize that it's common to put abstracts/posters for meetings, but that's not what's going to put you in the yes vs no pile, you know? We've all been to a bunch of meetings.

Unlike the cover letter, your CV can be as long as you want it to be, so make it nice to look at! And by "nice to look at" I don't mean "color gradient background" or "mouse drawing" (yes, I've seen both). Use spaces between sections, aligned indentations, and bold section headings! Different reviewers are going to have different things they care about most, so make it easy for everyone to jump around and find what they're looking for. Finally, remember that this is a CV, not a resumé. None of this "objectives" business, and no paragraph descriptions of each of your projects.

Gosh, I feel like I sound kind of angry, here! Sorry about that--I am not, though this process does try my patience at times. Looks like it's time to invest in a new bottle of whiskey for the office...

19 responses so far

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Convergence: (Personally, I'd put publications ahead of funding.)

    Links to publications are only useful if you're providing your CV in electronic format. It's not helpful if you've had to send it in on paper.

    Also, you may want to indicate any papers you have with undergraduate co-authors. Some institutions will be very interested in that information. NSF asks you to indicate undergrad co-authors with an asterisk.

  • pinus says:

    You see, I think grants should go before papers. especially if you have them and are bringing them with you.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Putting funding or pubs first doesn't really matter, the reader will find both. It's when you put a ton of other shit in front of either that makes me quickly think less of the CV, like you're trying to hide what I care about most. Apparently in some fields it is the norm to put the pubs last, but not in mine.

    And totally second the reverse chronological. If we wanted a history lesson we would have advertised a different position.

  • just fumbling says:

    aaagh. Wish I had read this before applying for jobs!

  • anon says:

    I've always thought that pubs go last in the CV. The reason for this (in cases that I've seen, at least) is that the list is long. If you're going in reverse order (which I agree with), the reader can stop after a given year and just see that there is still a shitton of other stuff the applicant did when s/he was younger. If the sections of the CV are labeled well and easy to read, it would be easy enough to skip to the back to see the pub list if you didn't care about teaching, supervising, or seminars, etc.

  • GEARS says:

    I HATE when applicants combine all journal papers, conference proceedings, and "submitted shit" into the same category to make the numbers nice.

    If it's combined, you're obviously trying to hide something. Separate those and make sure you leave off anything that's not accepted.

    Also, I would add any patents you have or submitted after the papers. They may not be so big in your field but for others (in general), patents can serve instead of journal papers.

  • BugDoc says:

    Definitely, cover ltr should not be more than one page. When I was applying, I also included a few sentences about why I thought I was a good fit for that particular department and what I might bring to the table, e.g., bridging different disciplines, new technologies, etc.

  • Pascale says:

    OTOH, if you are looking for something with administrative responsibilities, you may wish to supplement your CV with either an executive summary or prospectus. These single-page documents from the world of business summarize key skills and goals for chair/director/etc positions that would not be seen in a CV.

    Of course, the other question is whether or not to include one's blogging. I do, but I'm a senior faculty-administrator. Would this info affect anyone's perceptions of a junior TT candidate?

  • physioprof says:

    Almost all very good advice, except this:

    And don't you DARE put a journal name if that thing isn't at the very least in press.

    If you have submitted a paper to a journal, received reviews, and been invited to submit a revised version, it is appropriate to include that information and the name of the journal in your CV.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    From a legal point of view, the committee has to see if the applicant fits the criteria in the published job description. What we did was for each member of the search committee to take a small segment of the job description and go through the applicants and discard those who do not match that description segment. Then we all go through those who are left. So one has to think, in writing the job description, will it be "Postdoc required" or "postdoc preferred"? If you say postdoc required, then you cannot consider anyone who has not had, or in a postdoc.

    So an applicant should read the job description carefully and be sure to touch all the bases.

  • Lol. I'm on a committee too, my department's big on having grad student input to these sorts of things. I've learned a lot, in particular what it really means when my advisor says something will take "about 3 hours".

    I would add to this list: "Heard of .pdf? Good." Word docs look unprofessional, however nicely you tweak them; plus it means I have to download each part of the application, rather than being able to read it from the web browser, which does not make for a happy owl.

  • gerty-z says:

    great advice, Dr. Becca! I also agree with theshortearedowl, I absolutely HATED getting .doc files. And second the keeping cover letters brief. I don't actually read cover letters (especially the first time through), but if I see that you can't even keep that on one page it makes me twitchy before I even get to the rest.

  • TinkeringTheorist says:

    I think you can put papers that are submitted, especially if those are the only papers from your postdoc. You may want to put them in a separate section or mark them so that it doesn't seem like you're trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes. I don't know what it's like over in biomed fields where you do ridiculously long postdocs, but in my field where people are often interviewing with less than 1 year of a postdoc, it's important to show that you have some results ready. If you submitted to a certain journal, presumably the people you are working with thought it had a chance of getting in too, so if they are respectable that says something . . .

  • The flow how the cover letter should be put has been described in fine sequence.

  • Alice says:

    a quick question for dr becca or anyone on search committees-- my packages were all submitted last month and i'm wondering if it is at all reasonable to send an update. for example, a paper that I submitted was accepted and i just received an invite to speak in a major session of a big conference. (yay!)
    should i send an updated cv or would i just be creating another piece of paper for someone to deal with at this point?

    • Dr Becca says:

      Congrats on your paper and conference invite! I would say yes to sending an update, especially if this paper is a good portion of your post-doc work. It certainly can only help!

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