Academic Job Search: How to Write a Cover Letter?

I know that this post is not appearing in a very timely manner since people normally go on the job market in the Fall or, at the very latest, in winter. But I think it’s still a good idea to make this information available to those who are preparing to start looking for a job in academia in the near (or not so near) future. The post will be long and since it is hardly of much interest to people who are not on the academic job market, I will put half of it under the fold. (There are funny stories under the fold, though.)

Now that I am “a real professor”, I have started working on search committees that evaluate candidates for academic positions. This has been an eye-opening experience for me. If only I had understood how the academic job search works from the inside (i.e. from the perspective of the employers), my own job search would have been completely different. Of course, I ended up with the job of my dreams, but that was sheer luck. As I’m working on my search committees, I’m realizing how horribly and frequently I screwed up during my time on the market.

In this series of posts, I want to share the insights that I have gleaned into the academic job search process with my readers. To begin with, I will discuss how one should write a cover letter. What you need to remember is that the market is over-saturated and search committees have to sift through hundreds of portfolios (or dozens if the search is extremely specific, say a Chair search.) This is why it is not a good idea to write a 6-page-long description of your intellectual journey. This is what I did and only now have I started to realize what an irredeemable idiot I was. That cover letter would have made an excellent blog post but, in its capacity as a cover letter, it sucked something fierce.

A cover letter should be tailored very specifically to each job announcement you are responding to. I know it’s an incredible drag but that’s the only way. Remember that members of a search committee have a list of requirements for their position, and as they sift through 300 portfolios, they tick off boxes on that list. You win if you make that process as easy as possible for them. This will allow you to make the short list of people who will be interviewed by phone (Skype, at the MLA, etc.)

So how do you tailor your cover letter in practice? Here is a sample job announcement that I have created:

Assistant Professor, tenure-track. A PhD in hand or an ABD near completion. The Department of Modern Languages and Literature at Illinois State University in Alton is looking for a specialist in French Literature with a specialization in the History and Culture of Quebec and a demonstrable capacity to teach courses in Advanced French Grammar and Conversation. An active research agenda is a must. Native or near-native command of French. An experience supervising language instructors is highly desired. Needs to be familiar with ACTFL and NCATE guidelines for proficiency testing.

You need to pick this job announcement apart and make a list of criteria this department is looking for in a candidate. Then, you address each criteria in your cover letter. If you can address them in the order in which they appear in the announcement, that’s even better.

Continue reading “Academic Job Search: How to Write a Cover Letter?”


Why Do the Humanities and the Science People Hate Each Other?

Voxcorvegis who is not only a gifted blogger but also a physicist has written an interesting post on the subject:

I have noted in the past the way that many of my colleagues in undergraduate physics were completely dismissive of the Humanities in general, and would happily have agreed that such disciplines were both useless and entirely unneccessary. Less charitable commentators may have even suggested that the only reason that anyone ever took them at all was because they were too stupid to take any “real” subjects. My own secondary field, history, was considered to be the furthest outpost of academic “seriousness;” beyond this, presumably, there was only a wasteland populated exclusively by heavy-set, multiply-pierced, hippy lesbians who’s fields consisted of writing horrible beat-poetry about their genitals and self-pitying essays in the passive voice*** about the need for a very nebulous revolution.

I also have observed the tension between the Humanities and the Science people at the universities where I have worked. The reason for this tension at these universities is that the people in the Sciences tend to be very conservative politically. Maybe it’s just these specific schools, I don’t know, but the issue is definitely there. Whenever we have a university-wide discussion on politics, academic freedom, the introduction of the business-model into academia, the science folks are always on the side of the most conservative opinions possible.

Science profs also tend to be extremely anti-feminist. Even the female scholars in the sciences seem to have interiorized the anti-women position profoundly. I read the Female Science Prof’s blog and it’s like she is from a different planet. I have not met a single female prof in the Humanities who is even remotely capable of such self-effacement and self-degradation for the sake of pleasing men as this successful academic and a scientist.

It might, of course, be just a coincidence that scientists tend to be so conservative at the schools where I have worked. I know individual scientists who comment on this blog (GMP, V., David Bellamy, Voxcorvegis) who are very progressive people. However, at work, I keep encountering administrators who come from the sciences and who are the vehicle of every oppressive pig-headed pro-bureaucracy anti-reason initiative anybody could ever come up with. I’m a huge admirer of science, which is why this antagonism between the Humanities and the Sciences bothers me a lot.

Disqus Is Horrible

Is there anything more useless than the stupid Disqus, a.k.a a blog-commenting system that makes sure your blog will never get any more comments?

Time and again, I see bloggers adopt Disqus and then sit there all lonely on their blog where nobody even tries to leave a comment any more. Nowadays, when I see that a blogger has gone Disqus, I immediately classify their blog as a place where I will never again attempt to comment. There is all the hassle and then your comment will not appear, or appear three days later, or appear in a wrong place.

College Misery is a case in point. See for yourself what happened to this popular site when, for some mysterious reason, its founder decided to adopt the most useless gadget in the universe.

Seriously, folks, if you want to have readers, don’t use Disqus. But if you want to scare everybody away, then adopt it as soon as possible.

Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion

A very insightful post on why some women distance themselves from other representatives of their gender and the price they pay for it.

If you only very vaguely heard of the conflict between the Koch brothers and the Cato Institute, here is a very good explanation of what is happening from a blogger who actually knows about this stuff.

International Women’s day: A Purim story.

If people realized that Russia is not a passive agent of the US actions, they would not have to write stupid and long-winded posts like this one on how the US was to blame for the plummeting of the relations between Russian and the US. Russia is a big, powerful and rich country that has an internal need for the animosity towards the US. This need does not depend on the actions of the US. It’s just there. Seriously, folks, hasn’t time come to realize that not everything that happens in the universe is either the achievement or the fault of the Americans?

A brilliant, incredibly creative post on women’s rights. Do take a look because it rocks.

How one brilliant teacher saved her career by blogging.

Can a nuclear attack on Israel be compared legitimately with the Holocaust?

Will US sanctions deter Iran from its project of getting nuclear weapons? This blogger says not likely, and I tend to agree.

Yet another ad campaign that presents fathers as inept and helpless.

More baby turtles! God, I love this blog.

It’s very funny to see how a person struggles with his overwhelming sexual loneliness and then starts zombifying himself with silly phrases like “Women are different from us. We cannot interact with them as if they are the same as us” that guarantee he will live a completely lonely and pathetic existence forever. Remember, folks, “men / women are different and incomprehensible” is a ticket to loneliness. Of course, the rest of the post is even more pathetic. I have to ask, did such people’s parents not try to socialize them at all?

Why didn’t menstrual synchronicity evolve out of existence? I never thought about this but the topic is fascinating. What do you think?

And the title of the stupidest post of the week goes to the unintelligent defender of inarticulate ramblings who came up with the following gem: “For the conservatively inclined there is no need to justify that loyalty is good, cheating is wrong, being kind is better than being cruel, and that killing infants is murder.” This weird freakish creature has still not figured out that the progressively inclined not only hold these very beliefs but also actually do something to uphold them.

Can You Buy Happiness?

Yes, I can. And I know exactly where I can buy it:

I achieve nirvana by placing Spanish books on every surface around me and sitting there with a stupid grin as I press a bunch of them to my chest. It’s so good to know that they exist and that I can read them.