Strategically Searching for an Academic Position

Dr. Paul Blowers, The University of Arizona

Dr. Laura Ford, The University of Tulsa

Kathleen Vaeth, MIT

Timeline in Relationship to the AIChE Meeting

1-2 months before the AIChE meeting: send a letter and packet of information to schools you are interested in.

1-2 weeks before AIChE: start getting calls to meet with people during the meeting

During AIChE: present talks and meet as many people as possible (there are hospitality suites sponsored by many schools where you can talk to faculty about their schools)

1-2 months after AIChE: get calls for letters or recommendation (different schools have different timelines)

2-3 months after AIChE: start to get visit offers

What to Do before AIChE

Get as many publications as you can before the AIChE meeting (schools look to see how much work YOU did)

Present as many things as you can at AIChE and other conferences. Try to present 2-3 talks your last year. (Maximize your exposure)

Work on letter of recommendation writers early (let them know who you are and what you are doing so they can write a detailed letter about you)

Have research ideas and teaching philosophy finalized in your mind before AIChE

How to Look for Openings

Send letters to schools - there is a publication that lists the faculty and addresses of every school in the U.S. Directory of Graduate Research by the American Chemical Society.

Look through Chemical and Engineering News and other journals.

Look for openings on the web

Look for postings around your department

Let your advisor and department head know you are looking

Talk to everyone you know about looking for an opening

Things to Send to Schools

Cover letter - let them know when you are looking, what type of position you want, what you want to do and what youíve done

Curricula vitae - make it look great and have many publications and presentations

Research and teaching statement: 1-4 pages detailing what you plan to do, how youíll do it, and what your teaching philosophy is (be genuine-theyíll ask you about it later)

List of references: 3 or 4 people who will say many, many great things about you and your abilities

Copies of representative publications if they ask for them


Things to Think About Before you Talk with Someone at a School

Have good reasons why you want to be at University X.

Know where you are going to get funding from.

Plan what your first projects will be

Know what your first student will do.

Decide on a teaching philosophy.

The Visit: Timeline

Arrive the night before your seminar - taken to dinner (recall that no question is innocent)

Breakfast bright and early (ask if they are taking you or if youíre eating on your own)

Meet a new person approximately every half hour all day except when you are presenting your hour long seminar to the department

Go out to dinner

Day Two - Breakfast and then meet with the rest of the department until you leave.

The Visit: What to Take

Updated CV - show them how hard youíve worked since you sent your letter

List of Start-Up costs - let them know what you need to get to work

Research Statement - you need to review what you told them you were going to do

Slides - make them elegant and easy to use

Suit - you want to look your best

Bottle of water - they forget you are only human during your visits!

Telephone numbers of your contact in case you have travel problems.

The Visit: What to Ask For

Extra day or 2 to visit if you can spare the time - gives you a chance to explore and see if you can live your lifestyle there

Meetings with collaborators outside the department

Tours of facilities important to your research

Meeting with grad students

Meeting with undergraduate students

Stay near campus - you can see if you feel comfortable near your future workplace

The Visit: Honesty Before, During and After

Let them know your expectations for a timeline

If you are looking to start earlier or later, it will affect the way they view you

Tell them about other issues, like a spouse, etc. that will affect your decision making process

They will do everything in their power to help you

The Role of Your Defense

If you can, defend before your visit!

Your defense is a great practice talk

The schools know you are done and can start working

This frees your attention up for your trips

However, this is hard because you need a job for the inbetween time...


If You Canít Defend Early

Try to nail down your defense date with your advisor

Schools will be wary if you donít know when you are defending

Lets you know your timeline so you can plan your research and writing

You should try to put yourself "on schedule" to finish in June-August

Post Doctoral Positions: Pros

Give you time to work on your proposals

Gives you time to read the literature

Gives you more people to write letters for you

Can widen your area of expertise

More and more people are doing it and it will put you ahead of the competition

Some awards are based on post-doc work

Gives you a chance to separate yourself from your advisor

Some schools will let you accept a position and then go post doc before you start working

Post Doctoral Position: Cons

Can let people "scoop " you on your research before you get a chance to start

Delays starting your life

May not help you if your boss is very demanding

You may not get time to work on the pros

Some awards are tied to age - if you post doc, you would not be eligible for them by the time you started your tenure-track position


You pay for your trips and are reimbursed later - some schools pay for selected portions if you ask them to

Make sure you have enough money on hand!

Schools will create a short list of about 12 candidates

About 4 will visit for one position

Be serious if you visit! They spend a lot of money and time to get you there

Academia or Not Academia?

Pros of Academia:

Long range impact of work can be greater

More intellectual and scientific freedom.

You can teach and change the way the profession is

Extremely rewarding - can consult with different fields and travel

Cons of Academia:

Longer hours, especially in the beginning

You can end up very far from research as time goes on

Who am I?

Is the research more important or is teaching?

How important is it to me to be controlling my own research?

How important is it to me to physically do my own research?

If teaching is essential, then academia is for you!

Compromise situations: Core research labs and national labs

Once Youíve Applied, Ask:

Public or private school? The money flows very differently in each one

Small versus large? Affects your resources for money and time

What type of department are they? How will your personality fit in with the departmentís philosophy

Is it in a place where you would like to live? If you would not want to live there, donít waste their time and money (or yours!)


The pay is a lot lower

It isnít, but you have to raise some of the money through grants

Tenure is very hard to get

If you do your job search correctly, youíll find a supportive department that sees you as an investment and they will help you succeed

You donít have to work as hard at a smaller school

Often your teaching load will be higher even as you try to do the same amount of research


You will have long hours

But if you like it, that wonít matter to you


Well intentioned interviewers have indicated that having children before tenure is not a great idea