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THE APPLICATION PACKET

Read posting description carefully.  When we have multiple openings, for example one Bio and the other is Energy, often Energy people ap...

Monday, September 28, 2015

THE APPLICATION PACKET

Read posting description carefully.  When we have multiple openings, for example one Bio and the other is Energy, often Energy people apply to Bio and vice-versa.  The problem is that the Bio reviewer may not transfer your application to the Energy reviewer, and vice-versa, So, this small mistake can cost you a lot!

-COVER LETTER (1pg)

Everyone usually has some filler text about how their PhD prepared them for this opportunity, etc; However, your goal here is to make important things stand out of this filler text (i.e, highlight things you want us to actually read; assume we skip the rest).  Examples of things that should be highlighted could be:

-personal reference (someone that the faculty search committee member might know personally)
-if your adviser/group is famous, put that here (we don't know your field)
-highlight your aiche presentations (so we can find you if needed)
-highlight any patents, significant papers, proposal writing experience
-highlight any family circumstances or other personal reasons why you may want to work here (if any)
-highlight any spouse issues (if you have a two-body problem)
-highlight if you may have a geographical preference that is drawing you towards this position
-explain any kind of work lapses, or other extraordinary circumstances which may not be apparent from scanning your resume
-mention faculty you'd like to collaborate with (show us that you did your hwk)
-list your poster # and other presentations where we can find you at the conference (in case we don't make it to your poster).

The worst thing is when someone sends you pages and pages of just paragraphs of text... we are mostly looking to extract key pieces of info from the letter, so help us by making it stand out!

-RESUME (~4pgs)
It is best if you use a format which shows that you know how to write proposals. There are two main formats: the NSF and the NIH biosketch formats. I prefer the NSF, because it looks more like a real resume.

The most important part here is to put the things that are critical up top. These are your education, best publications, funded proposals, and patents (if any). To make things easier, you can enumerate each one, so when I read it I can quickly write down that this candidate has X many papers, Y many patents and Z many funded proposals. You could also emphasize if a paper is in a famous journal, or has received a lot of citations. Likewise, could list your role in writing the proposal, and how much money it received. Same for patents, you could mention if it has been licensed by some company, and whether it is making money/being commercialized.

Basically, when I look at resume's, I am trying to extract, as fast as i can, your top achievements, such that I can put you into a comparison table against other candidates. Time spent on each resume is probably under 30 seconds, so if you don't emphasize things the reviewer may miss them.

Some common resume mistakes:
-Believe it or not, making your resume longer does NOT make it more impressive. There is no reason why your resume should be longer than mine (unless you are older/more experienced). The max should be 3-4 pages, but even 2 is acceptable (in fact the NSF biosketch is limited to 2pgs).

-Too much detail: this goes along with the previous comment about making this compact. There is a tendency to describe in gory detail everything you every did in your past (I just saw one 28 pgs long... compare to 4pg limit for CV in most proposals). Whereas all we need/read are keywords. Another example is an applicant put his GPA for every degree... if you are applying for a prof position, it is presumed you did well in our classes... but in this case the GPA was actually not that great, so he would've been better off not showing it!


-Conference Proceedings/Talks: unless you think this is somehow exceptional (if that is the case, you should explain why it is exceptional... e.g., invited talk, or some very competitive talk), you are just padding your resume with useless information. Not only does that make me annoyed when I am trying to extract key data out of it, it actually tells me that you are not able to compress information efficiently / tell apart what is important vs what isnt (both of those are important for proposal writing, which is key).


-Prioritize (put important things at the top): This goes along with the previous criticisms. For example, if you have an 8 page resume, full of conference proceedings, and you put your publications at the very end... no, just no! Publications/book chapters/books are important, they should go up top. So are your proposal writing experience, your patents, then followed by maybe your awards and teaching experience. I would say that proposal writing experience is the most important, and publications is second to it. Your knitting club membership can go at the bottom... it should NOT be above these things.


-Proposal-Writing Experience: you should list everything you ever touched, because I find this to be the most important factor that sets candidates apart from the rest. The only thing better than proposal-writing experience, is funded proposals that you can bring with you. Even if you did not write the proposal, but simply helped, you should still mention it. Explain clearly what your role was in writing, which agency it was submitted to, for what amount, and was it funded or not in the end (or is it still pending).


-Highlight/Emphasize: Often people have a patent (or some other big accomplishment), but they don't put it in a different section, nor do they don't make it bold/italic, etc... So I nearly miss them. If you have something that makes you stand out, do yourself a favor and highlight so the reviewers don't miss it! Likewise, somebody had a Nature publication that wasn't emphasized... yep, just another publication just like any other, nothing to see here... Remember, we scan the resume (FAST); and we don't read minds. So you have to make important things catch our attention!


-Number your publications (else I have to count, and I may miscount not in your favor; plus it annoys me). On one resume I saw someone put the paper numbers on the left, and the impact factor on the right hand side of each publication. I thought that was pretty nifty. Some people manage to squeeze the covers of the journals, if their publication made the cover. I think thats great, if you can format everything neatly. Also, make your last name bold, so we can see whether you were first or not. In fact, some people just say "8 first author publications, 15 total, h = 20, 500 cumulative citations". This makes things much easier for me.


-Under Review/In Progress Publications: I wouldn't bother putting these in, but if you feel the need to, be a good sport and make a separate section. Don't try to pad overall list using these. It is misleading on your part, and annoying for me to subtract them out. We care to see just what has been published (or accepted). And, in any case, its not so much about the number of publications.


-The Short Postdoc: there is a tendency to think that more postdocs = more experience --> better. But this is not so. In fact, more postdocs makes you look less desirable. Your goal is to sell your "stock" at the peak of its price (around the 3rd or 4th year of your 1st postdoc). So a common mistake I see people doing is putting the brief postdoc (immediately after their graduation) on their resume. You know, the one where your PhD boss kept you there an extra 2-3 months while you were looking for a job, just cuz he is nice like that (and also wanted to get more results out of you)? Yea, that one. Everyone has it. Its not impressive. Don't list it.


-RESEARCH STATEMENT(4-6pgs)
- Past research and funding experience is actually a part of your resume (not the research plan), so it should NOT be included here. Thus, the research plan should be about what to expect from you in the future, in terms of your research and proposal writing.

-Not only do you have to give specifics, but you should be describing actual projects that you plan to submit to grant-funding agencies...  simply stating a research area is too vague.  The committee wants to see your potential to bring in money.  Therefore, in your research plan you should be trying to convince them that: A) you are good at bringing grants (since past experiences go in the resume, here you convey this via the quality of your content), and B) you have well-thought-out ideas that you can start writing up in proposal form as soon as you are hired!  Basically, I have to look at the ideas that you wrote up, and think to myself "yes, this candidate has good/interesting ideas; he/she knows what he/she is doing (both in terms of research and in terms of proposal writing); and he/she will turn these ideas into successful proposals".

-Yet you have only ~4 (I would not go over 6) pages, to put down multiple ideas, so it has to be a lot more compact than an actual grant proposal.  As a rule of thumb, I think 2 immediate ideas and 2 long term ideas is a reasonable number (4 total).  I would say that just 2 ideas total is minimal.  The short term ideas should be almost ready to go out to the grant-funding agency (i.e., they should be very well developed), whereas for the long-term ideas it is understood that they are in conceptual stages.  The more ideas you have the better, but at the same time you don't want to spread  yourself thin with too many ideas (you don't want to create the impression that you are all over the place... it all has to coalesce).  You don't have to get into the gory details, since the reader is most likely not in your field, and is just trying to get an idea for what to expect from you.  But keep in mind that when you come to the interview, the Research Plan will be the topic of your ~1hr "chalk talk", so you WILL be getting grilled on it (which means that you NEED to be able to defend your ideas from external criticism).

-For each one of your ideas, you should describe a funding plan (which agencies you plan to submit to, which opportunities within that agency, whats the name of the grant officer in charge of those opportunities... the more specific you are, the more it shows that you have thought this through, and you are familiar with the funding landscape).  You could also mention potential collaborations within the department, or within the university to which you are applying (another place for this is the cover letter).  Make separate sections for these and/or emphasize them so that they stand out.  

Keep in mind that the initial scan of your research plan is only going to take 30 seconds or so!  Thus, just like for the poster, I recommend pretty eye-catching pictures, and good formatting, so whatever needs to stand out does stand out.

Some common research statement mistakes I see over and over (the less you annoy the reviewer, the better your chances):

-Dont waste space with describing your past and current research; this is meant to be about your FUTURE proposals!  I see research statements where 50% of the content is about how great you were when you were the appendage of your boss.  That's great, but I want to know whether you can function with the umbilical cord cut.

-There is a tendency to just jump into the gory details of your work... But rather you should first establish importance (e.g., "i will save the world by saving cancer by developing this amazing drug, if only you hire me and give me money"). Obviously, I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.


-Explain what you are doing in lay-man terms to a public who doesn't know industry-specific terms!  explain the broader impact: why is your proposed project important? why should i care about reading it? why should someone want to fund it?


-It should be obvious from the first line of your project description what it is about.  Section titles should be descriptive too. Often I read a proposal and, by the of it, i still have no idea why or what they are trying to do.  It is up to you to establish importance, and to make your work easy to understand.


-Brief problem description and no solution plan = BAD. Some people just kind of tell me that they plan to rid the world of cancer, but don't tell me HOW they are planning to do that exactly...No, you are not a snake-oil salesman, so avoid sounding like one.  You have to lay out a detailed, coherent plan about: how you are going to solve this problem, what tools you will use, what results you expect to see and what long term goals you hope to achieve(you may even include some backup plan, in case your approach doesn't work).  Moreover, you need to tell me how you are going to get money to make this happen (see below).


-Funding plan is often absent or lacking detail - just mentions the funding agencies (which are huge), but not specific grant opportunities. When you go the extra step and think things through deeper, it sets you apart.  It also shows that you know what you are doing.  Saying that you will simply apply to NSF and NIH is not enough.  List which programs within that agency, which particular grant types, who is the program officer and have you discussed your work with them?  Also, emphasize the funding plan (i often nearly miss them, if you just sprinkle it throughout the main text).


-Good idea: include potential impact (1 sentence summary at the end of each project description of what would change if you get this done)


-No Figures:  this goes with what I said before, that you have to make your research plan easy to understand.  I know that YOU know.  But I can't read your mind.  Also it shows that you are not good at expressing your thoughts clearly/conveying your message to your audience.  Guess what?  It means you are not a good proposal-writer (ie, you won't be able to fund your research after we hire you).


-People attach their transcripts, recommendation letters and god knows what else instead of the research plan.  This is an automatic disqualification.


-Don't include resume and other documents into your research statement, if you uploaded them individually elsewhere...  If we are going to invest over a million bucks into you (add up your salary, student support for a few years until you start bringing money in, your start-up, etc and you will come up with such a big number), you better not be careless.


-Industry People/National Lab people, I highly advise that you find some research statements from  academics.  Typically, your research statements do not conform with university expectations.  The proposals I've seen are too short, and the projects are too superficial.  One paragraph per project, with no figures, simply does not suffice.  Funding plan is often missing entirely.


TEACHING STATEMENT (1-2pgs)

For teaching statement I kind of think of it as going from describing your past, to trying to forecast your future as an educator. It is not the most important part of your packet, but it is a necessary one. So here is how I would structure it:

- Your Teaching Qualifications (describes your past). Describe your previous teaching experience, whether it was TA, volunteering in a high school, or even tutoring your friends! Tell us how much you enjoy teaching and about any kind of interesting experiences you may have had that motivated you to become a teacher. When I was a Ph.D. student I actually helped my department head develop some course materials, and I served as a teaching assistant in our computer lab where I would show undergrads how to use modeling software, and helped them with homework using that software. Also I had a teaching fellowship through NSF where I helped a high-school teacher lecture 9th grade science in a rural area (in parallel had to take a teaching course at my university, and put together a teaching portfolio). Finally, I tutored a student pro-bono for her Russian class. Hopefully this gives you some ideas of the kind of things you can put down.

- Your Teaching Philosophy (describes your past and present): Here you basically describe your teaching style. For example, maybe you like to have a "democratic classroom" where the students can discuss things freely. Or maybe you like to teach the "flipped" classroom, where students read at home and come to class already prepared (at least in theory) to solve problems. Or, perhaps, you prefer the Socratic teaching method method, where you steer students to arrive at a conclusion by asking them critical questions. Pretty much describe your style of teaching and how/why you have arrived at it.

- Your Teaching Preferences (i.e., which courses you would like to teach - describes how you envision your near future). Note: most people choose thermo, because ChEs are usually most comfortable with it. However, keep in mind that the department might be looking for something else (since everyone can do thermo)... so be open minded about teaching other courses as well. Probably it would make sense if your preference is somehow close to your research. For example, if your research is computational fluid dynamics, then fluid flow is a class you should be desiring to teach. Also, for the preffered classes you could list some possible textbooks, approaches, topics, use of internet resources (essentially, things that show you've thought this through).

- Course Development (describes the far future - what can we expect to see from you in the long run if we hire you). Whether you want to or not, in your academic career you will likely be "encouraged" to develop new courses. This will probably start happening after your third year on the job. So by showing that you've thought about it ahead of time, it makes you look more professional. Therefore, it is best to describe a class or two that you envision developing. Again, it can come from your research. For example. I did a lot of supercomputing, modeling, image processing, and all this was applied to biological systems. Yet, there is no single class that teaches all of these things. So I pitched my idea, and it was well received.

- Teaching Innovation (pipe dreams). If you want to be an overachiever in the field of teaching, you could also talk about how you are going to revolutionize the classroom. This could involve applying new technologies, or maybe some newly published teaching techniques (you could even cite some teaching literature to really impress people!).

Misc:  you could also talk about increasing K12 involvement, participating in science Olympiads (those things always need organizers), collaborating with your nearest science museum, underrepresented communities, etc etc.  Basically, there are lots of ways to increase the impact of your work on society, and many people in these institutions will be more than glad to expose their students to a college research environment through you.  Btw, grant agencies want to see this type of stuff too, so the world is your oyster!

-A common mistake is that people start listing courses that are outside of the department (like gen.eds).

-PERSONAL REFERENCES (1pg)
Contact info of people who can write you a letter of recommendation, in case you make the short list.  Famous names that are recognizable are good.  Typically, these are people who served as your mentors/bosses/advisers at some point in time.

Unless your references are stellar, do NOT put in front of Research Plan, this is probably the LAST thing I want to see when I open your Reseach Plan (typically the FIRST thing that I look at). I don't know why, but many people do this...

-SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (1-2, OPTIONAL)
Select your most impressive ones / most relevant to your research statement.

Merge everything using the PDF Merge tool (www.pdfmerge.com), or submit section-by-section, depending on the department's requirements.