Paul D. Humke
Department of Mathematics
St. Olaf College
The solution to ``What does one look for in an application?'' is not unique, but rather depends on several boundary conditions including who is doing the looking, what position is being filled and at which school that position is located.
In this note I'll assume I'm on the hiring committee at St. Olaf College we're trying to hire a recent Ph.D. for a regular (tenure track) position and have not specified a particular mathematical area for this position.In what follows I'll overview our hiring process, explain how and when the first cut is made, detail what I look for in evaluating candidates, and finally indicate what I look for in application materials. I've written this essay in the first person because different people look for different things. On the other hand, we at St. Olaf, do discuss hiring in some detail and there is overall agreement on the fundamental issues. What follows though is my perspective and not that of my department.
An Overview of the Hiring Process
At St. Olaf, like most good liberal arts colleges, the process of searching for a new faculty member begins the year before the position is advertised. During the spring before, the department discusses the details of the pre-search and reviews how we wish to advertise and what we will advertise for. A hiring committee is set up to handle the logistic details of the search and to see that the process proceeds in a timely fashion. Roughly, our timetable is:
In the main, the only activity that occurs during the fall is that the applications arrive, files are made for each applicant and reminder notes are sent to make sure the files are completed. Individuals may look at some files, but most faculty are busy with teaching, research and the general stuff of running a mathematics program have little time for reading files. After Thanksgiving, the hiring process begins to rise to the surface, but it is not really front burner until the middle of December.
After this first cut every application is measured against the top group. More important, applications received but not in the top group are rarely elevated. It is therefore very important that applicants pay close attention to the early application process so that they continue to be considered after mid December. Note that mid December is not a deadline for our applications but it tends to be an important time in the selection process.
Amidst a flurry of meetings the top group is further winnowed to about four or five and finally to the three people we'll invite for interviews. All the information we've gathered thus far, application materials, letters of recommendation, phone conversations and personal meetings is discussed and decisions are made. Interviews are scheduled for the second or third week of February.
We try to schedule interviews very compactly; specifically, we try to have all candidates interview within a ten day period. Immediately at the end of the interview period we meet as a department and decide to whom we will offer a contract. The Dean actually makes the official offer, but this is done within a week of the interviews.
I think it is the December decision which is the most crucial for any applicant. If your file is one of the top group we will seek you out and you will be in the running for our position. If you do not make the top group your chances are slim (but not zero). Moreover, our December decision is based entirely on your application materials and on the letters of recommendation. Here is what I look for:
Strange as it seems to me, many people in our profession really don't like their students. Often praising mythical legendary students of old they have no time for the real stuff of education; a mix of technical expertise, high standards, compassion and an affinity for working with people in an educational setting.
This cover letter should be no longer than a page and should inform us about who you are, where you're from and why you're applying to St. Olaf. This letter should be well thought out and carefully crafted; it is the first thing read and sets the tone for everything else in your application.
Keep you resumé professional by not cluttering it up with every grade school award you've won. But do put in ALL university academic awards, all academic jobs you've held, and all professional papers you've written and lectures you've given. Your dissertation title and thesis advisor are important pieces of information not always provided. ``Other Interests'' category helps give context to who you are mathematically and I think including it is a good idea.
Write a short (2 page) essay on your research area and how your work fits in. Keep in mind that topologists, operations researchers, algebraists and even real analysts will all be reading this essay.
Why are you interested in teaching? What are your goals for yourself as a teacher of mathematics? A well constructed couple of pages can let us know what you're thinking is on teaching. And we are interested in what you think!
As I reread this letter it appears that I'm looking for the perfect applicant and I suspect there is some truth in this. It is not what I expect to find, however. Rather, what I've described are some of the things which I look for in applications and some things you can do to help me find them.
I wish your luck this year to be huge