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05/04/2018

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Pendaran

"So, a cover letter needs to come across as professional. How? By letting your accomplishments do the talking. There is no reason to wax poetic about how groundbreaking your research is, or how passionate of a teacher you are. People on the hiring side are really not interested in what you think about yourself.They are interested in what you have done: how you teach, what kind of service you've engaged in and why, the content of your research, and so on."

This makes perfect sense to me.

However, the reason I think people often use self-referencing words in their letters is that often job ads say things such as 'we want a passionate, motivated researcher and teacher.'

In the UK, they have person specifications where 'being passionate,' among other things, is often listed as a required criteria or attribute, which I have always found to be quite humorous.

In other words, in my experience for many jobs the admin list a ton of personal attributes as required. So, it's not surprising that people often try to engage with this by... well, engaging with it.


Amanda

You need to show you are a passionate teacher. Not tell. If someone asks for a good researcher, it would be odd if they said, "I am a really excellent researcher with especially creative and ground breaking work. I make arguments far better than most of my fellow grad students." Testimony like that would be meaningless. What is meaningful is stating your publications. So with teaching, state the things you do that show you are passionate. Going out of your way to teach extra classes is one way to show this, attaching especially creative syllabi is another way, you can also explain activities you do in your classroom, etc. In a competitive market, personal testimony about one's attributes does one little good, and likely much harm.

However, I agree that there is a reason grad students do this. I remember applying for a fellowship, and I wrote my application letter in a super self-congratulatory fashion. I did this because my advisers were telling me to - I mean adamantly insisting. After I wrote it I felt just....gross. It wasn't me. And once I thought about things, I realized my advisers (though well-meaning), were wrong. Nobody wants to read self-congratulatory musings. Thankfully I never wrote an application like that again. I wrote very much in the completely neutral tones Marcus describes. And it seemed to pay off in interviews with both research and teaching schools.

anonymous

I have a question about cover letters for VAPs. Should we treat these as 'teaching jobs' and address teaching first in the cover letter? I've had one interview for a VAP where the committee cared much more about my research interests than teaching, but this seems like a hard thing to gauge. All VAPs require teaching, though, AFAIK.

Pendaran

Clearly it seems stupid to just talk about how you're passionate and an excellent researcher and teacher who is creative and blah blah blah. However, I wonder whether it's really good advice not to do this at all. I mean I agree it seems stupid, but at least in the UK it seems as if they want you to play that game. Every person spec has all sorts of personal attributes listed on it. I always felt like I needed to address all of them very clearly, because who knows what the admin might do with your application if they think you haven't. We kind of have out of control admin here, more so than in the states.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pendaran: I am very confident it is good advice, even in the UK.

I know it seems like it makes sense as a candidate. But having been on the hiring side of things, I can say in no uncertain terms that it looks terrible. And I know I'm not alone in thinking this. I've heard more than a few other people on the hiring side of things say that they find it cringeworthy. It just doesn't come across as professional - and I have no reason to think things are different in the UK (I had several interviews and flyouts in the UK without adopting the approach you're suggesting).

Just because they list personal characteristics in the ad, that doesn't mean they want a cover letter that claims those characteristics. Amanda is right. Hiring people don't want to be told what a candidate's qualities. They want to *see* whether the person actually has those characteristics in the person's application materials - in their actual research, teaching practices, and so on. That's the stuff that needs to do the talking.

I could always be wrong - but I seriously doubt there is anyone anywhere on the hiring side of things that responds well to "talking oneself up."

anon

re: anonymous.

I've gone both ways when it comes to VAPs, based on things in the ad that seem to clue me in (e.g., sometimes they'll mention research and graduate supervision, sometimes they'll list the six-eight courses they want you to teach and not say anything about research in the ad). When there aren't explicit cues, I've been more guided by what kind of school the VAP is at (e.g., research paragraph first for the R1 school).

I've also had surprising interviews for VAPs. They've ranged from not asking anything at all about my research to asking me more about research than I was in a TT interview.

Amanda

Well I suppose I am not qualified to speak about the UK. My experience is minimal - I applied to a few jobs, and had 2 flyouts - but I didn't go to grad school there and don't know much about the system. Anyway I didn't make any self-congratulatory statements in those applications, but maybe I just got lucky. I guess I would be surprised if it was true anywhere that making statements about how one has attribute X is taken as good evidence that one has attribute X. But it would be nice to hear people in the UK comment on this.

As for VAP's - I would do cover letter as if it wasn't a VAP - with the exception that you do talk about teaching for research schools. You need to at least address you can teach the requested courses. That said I would talk about research for resdearch schools, and only briefly mention it for teaching schools.

Marcus Arvan

anonymous: I agree with anon. Different VAP jobs are different. My first VAP was at an R1. My second VAP was at a teaching school. The jobs could not have been more different. So, I think the right thing to do is to tailor the cover letter to type of VAP it is.

If you're applying for a research VAP, have a substantial paragraph on research followed by a shorter paragraph on teaching. If you're applying for a VAP at a teaching school (with a substantial teaching load), have a substantial teaching paragraph first followed by a shorter research paragraph.

Pendaran

Well, one reason to think that perhaps in the UK you need to do this is that I think often the admin vets first round applications. They are bureaucrats who are looking to see if you've met the person spec. The best way to show you've met it is to use the words they use in your application. You shouldn't just say you're creative and can work well with others, if they mention these things, but maybe you should say this and then say why (provide evidence). I've even heard people recommend that you bold all these attributes in your cover letter, so it's obvious you've addressed them. I was advised by more than one person, including faculty, to use the terms they use in your letter, so it's obvious you're addressing the attributes.

My personal experience is that it doesn't make a difference one way or another. I tried various strategies over the years. In fact, I think the couple interviews I got I didn't do this. But that's too small a sample size to be valuable.

If mentioning the personal attributes they specify specifically is not the correct way to go, I wonder why so many people think it is, including faculty?

(Increasingly in the UK they don't ask for a cover letter but a highly redundant document explaining how you meet the person specification. Often this will include personal attributes like 'creative', 'passionate', etc. amongst other things. Most people I know do this by responding to each specification separately. They seem to get interviews doing this. It's a very different format from a cover letter. Not all jobs are like this though. Some want a cover letter.)

RJM

I have received similar advice to Pendaran, from people who I trust. Of course, the advice is not just to say you are a "passionate teacher". Rather, the advice is to use whatever form of words is in the person specification, and provide concrete evidence to show you have the relevant experience/quality/etc. So, for example, if you have a student comment saying you seemed to care about your subject, you would cite that as evidence. I always took the rationale for this advice to be more-or-less what Pendaran says too: UK applications often are dealt with very quickly (in extreme cases, within a week), so there is a lot of box-ticking going on. Would be very interested in hearing from UK readers with experience on the hiring side whether this advice is good or not.

Marcus Arvan

RJM: Okay - that makes sense to me! I remember applying to UK jobs and having to speak to the person specification. I think you're right that one needs to address the areas listed. I just think the way to do it is (as you note) by providing concrete evidence.

Amanda

Personally, I have gotten really bad advice from people I trust. You should, of course, address everything the add asks that you address. But consider two ways of addressing the following requirement "We are looking for passionate teachers"

1." I am a very passionate teacher. I have taught 10 classes and was passionate about each of them, and often stayed after class to help students who shared my passion. "

2. "Over the past 3 years, I have taught 10 classes and coached two ethics bowl teams. My teaching has greatly benefited from the 6 different teaching seminars I've attended at my own university, and two outside universities. In fact, I have benefited so much, that this summer I am organizing my own teaching seminar. "

Even thought (2) does not make the claim, "I am a passionate teacher", I would be very surprised if it wasn't seen as the better bet by the majority of search committees, including those in the UK. I would also be very surprised if someone read 2 and then concluded, "The applicant did not mention he is a passionate teacher, guess he doesn't meet all the criteria."

still on the market

This is a cv question but related to the issue of presenting teaching first. For teaching focused positions, should one list teaching experience higher up on the cv (Before publications and presentations, for instance?) or does this advice just apply to cover letters?

Also, for search committee members at teaching schools, I want to point out that The Professor Is In recommends putting research first even for teaching-focused institutions, so this could be one reason applicants present themselves in this order, not because they don't see themselves as a teacher first. Hearing the advice here though I will flip mine to teaching first. Thank you, Marcus, as always, for these series and for the other committee members who have chimed in.

Marcus Arvan

still on the market: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I'm inclined to agree with the ProfIsIn that research should always go first on the CV. It's just the standard way of organizing things, and publications are one of the first things people will look at on a CV, even at teaching institutions (as publishing is required for tenure at most institutions, even those heavily weighted in favor of teaching).

still on the market

Thanks, Marcus. I also realized that my second point might have been unclear--PII recommends research first on the cover letter also, even for teaching-focused schools, so search committee members should be aware that this is a potential reason for applicants talking about research before teaching in their cover letters.

Marcus Arvan

"Thanks, Marcus. I also realized that my second point might have been unclear--PII recommends research first on the cover letter also, even for teaching-focused schools, so search committee members should be aware that this is a potential reason for applicants talking about research before teaching in their cover letters."

I'm actually REALLY glad you asked about this. The ProfIsIn is wrong here. It all depends on how teaching-focused the institution is. I have a friend who works at an institution where the focus is something like 80-90% teaching, 10-20% research. This friend told me they expect teaching to be on the letter first, and if it's not they might not seriously consider the candidate - so the PII is wrong (in my experience) when it comes to these kinds of schools. Research is just *not* a priority at some schools, and so putting it first in the letter there can send the wrong message: that you don't understand the culture there.

However, my sense is that other teaching schools (like mine) are different. The emphasis at my school is something like 60-65% research and 25-40 percent research, and the emphasis on research appears to be growing. At my school, we definitely do care about research - so putting it first on a letter wouldn't send the wrong message, provided you don't overdo it and spend most of the letter on what a research star you are but not much on teaching.

So, I think the PII is half-right. Some (many?) teaching schools will respond positively to research first in the letter, but some won't. How can you tell which kind of school you're applying to? Here's a rough rule of thumb: the smaller and less prominent the school is, the more it is focused on undergraduate education (few or no higher degrees offered), and the higher the teaching load, the more likely it is putting teaching first on the letter is a good idea. The larger the school, the more higher degree it offers, the more modest the teaching load is, the more likely one should put research first.

Example for comparison:
(1) My liberal arts university has 10,000+ students, a number of higher-degrees, and a 3/3 teaching load. We are a teaching institution but value research.
(2) Contrast that to a small unranked regional school with 1,500 students, few higher degrees offered, and a 4/4 or 5/5 load. Put teaching first.

still on the market

OK, one other CV question. I am three years out from my phd and have only one publication, which is several years old. I have two articles almost finished that I am trying to get under review. I know there is no good excuse for this.

Multiple senior philosophers suggested that I include a Works in Preparation on my cv to help show that I really do have an active research agenda. (As a side note, I am extremely teaching focused but happy to do whatever kind or amount of research will help me get into basically any teaching position.)

I understand that it is frowned upon to put works in progress under one's publication heading on one's cv. But is it really so frowned upon to put these under a separate sub-heading, which is clearly marked? I am clearly not trying to be deceptive and clearly understand the difference between published papers and unpublished drafts--I just want my cv to be neat, concise, and readable.

Marcus Arvan

still on the market: I have bad news. I don't think a Works in Preparation list is going to help. People on the hiring side of things who care about research (including people at schools like mine) want to know that you can publish more than once - specifically, that you know how to publish well-enough to get tenure. A Works in Preparation page simply does not demonstrate that, and so I do not think it will confer any advantage.

The only thing that will confer an advantage on you research-wise is to publish. Fortunately, I think I may be able to help with that. Why haven't you been able to publish? If it's because you've primarily been sending stuff to highly-ranked journals (with high rejection-rates)--as many people are counseled to do--my advice is to *change* your approach.

Like many people, I was adamantly counseled by people who thought they knew what they were talking about that "you shouldn't send stuff to bad journals." Fortunately, I'm not much for simply accepting what people tell me. I started sending stuff to lower-ranked journals and published a ton of stuff. Then my number of interviews dramatically increased, and I got job offers and a job.

Let me be plain: there are places that will count publications in "bad journals" against you - R1's, R2's, and elite SLACs. Unfortunately, if you haven't published more than one thing in a highly-ranked journal after several years, you're probably not in the running for those jobs (unless multiple acceptances from top-journals suddenly come your way). That leaves non-elite SLACs and CCs for you. Do they care about journal rankings. The answer is NO. So start publishing, even in journals the hoity-toity people in our profession look down on. People hiring at schools like mine don't look down on it. It's roughly 1000x better than publishing nothing.

Amanda

If you are going to put a "works in preparation" page on your CV, put it under a SEPARATE heading than the publications. I have one on my CV just to show people what I am currently working on. This is how it is organized.

Publications
title
title
etc

Works in Preparation
title
title
etc

Anyway, there are still people getting hired with few or even no publications. Maybe that is because the school is an 80-90 percent teaching school, or maybe it is the odd classic mystic of those who haven't published. But if you haven't published, please, please, do not have a section title "publications" on your CV.

SOTM

This makes sense, Marcus and Amanda. I can see your points, and as I think about it I realize that when I see the CV of someone who has few or no publications, i tend to take their recent presentations as a sign of their current research. So this is all the more reason to just take out the subheading if it’s going to hurt me. Thanks for your patience with this question because I know it’s been discussed on here before.

To your question, Marcus, the reasons have more to do with not protecting my research time and then also additional lost time, energy, and motivation to anxiety/depression exacerbated by the job market. So the issue hasn’t been rejections or overshooting, it’s been just not getting the drafts finalized to submit. I purposely scheduled very little for this summer so i can rest and also be better equipped to protect that time. For the article that is almost finished I am intending to submit it to a very targeted specialty journal in my area that I’ve been encouraged by one of the editors to submit to.

Fool

I don't think "In Preparation" is of any use at all. I do think it's worth noting anything that is currently under review or even better being revised-for-resubmission.
"In preparation" can mean anything from a paper being ready to go after positive feedback from a journal that still rejected it, to an idea you had last night and might like to write about one day. Listing papers that are currently under review (in their own section) shows that you can finish something to your own satisfaction (so you're not just a dreamer or procrastinator), and can be backed up by the presumed ability to send a version on request.
I'm, in general, against listing anything on a CV that can't be documented immediately on request. "In preparation" falls at that hurdle.

R

I've been told that as an early career academic with few publications you should absolutely have a work in progress section (of course clearly separated from the publications section as mentioned above). You want to show where your research is going and that you have stuff under review or almost ready for review. Since just about everyone does this (I've been told) leaving it out risks looking like you don't have anything in the pipeline.

Al

Still On The Market: Following a helpful way that Marcus has approached some questions, I thought it might be helpful to say some of the ways I react (maybe irrationally or otherwise irresponsibly) to works in progress (coming from research oriented job searches):

Work in progress info is useful. It gives a sense of what to expect both in terms of output and where research is headed (and hopefully that’s somewhere interesting). But I think this is best put in a cover letter. Granted, cover letters for many research jobs are short and merely glanced at, but I still think that’s the place for it.

When works of progress is on the CV it just looks out of touch to me. What jumps out at me when I see it:

If listed under publications: NO, this isn’t a publication, you are confused!
If listed under own heading and there are 0 or few publications: wow, I now really see how much you haven’t published.
If listed under own heading and there are a good number of publications for career stage: why is this here... this isn’t part of a professional CV

Again, maybe these are stupid reactions, but there you have it. As a job seeker I was a ‘who cares about cover letters’ person and I’ve been many times convinced that was a silly view regardless of job type.

Good luck out there!

Marcus Arvan

R: just to clarify, I am in between you and Al on this. Al (who has also served on search committees) thinks Works in Preparation lists look out of place, at least on CVs. I don’t think they look bad - in other words, I don’t mind them being there. What I don’t think they do is positively *help* candidates in any way whatsoever.

Speaking for myself, my sense is committee members could mostly care less about your pipeline. We are looking for people with a demonstrated ability to actually publish consistently. If you only have one publication, all the pipeline in the world isn’t going to give me any reason to think you can do it: you just haven’t done it yet, and for all I know, none of your works-in-preparation may be publishable. On the other hand, if you have published consistently, I don’t need to know anything about your pipeline to know that you’ll probably keep publishing.

Given that there are people like myself (who don’t mind WIP lists) and people like Al (who do), I think it’s probably a wash: include it if you want, or not. Just don’t expect your WIP list to help you in any way. I think the idea that it does help is a myth, at least on the philosophy job market (STEM markets are a different story. My spouse is a STEM academic and WIP lists are vital there because studies and experiments take a very long time to conduct, and if one doesn’t have a number of studies already complete, there is no possible way one will publish enough to get tenure).

R

Just to clarify my side a bit, I was merely reporting feedback that I received in my first year on the market. I'm sympathetic to Al's comments, in fact, this is exactly why I initially didn't have a works in progress section.

This appears to be one of those frustrating points where some committee members may hold it against you if you include WIP (as Al reports) and some may hold it against you if you don't (feedback I received).

At any rate I completely agree with Fool that you should only list WIPs for which you can produce a draft on request or that are available on your website.

Amanda

My guess is that the "works in progress", as Marcus says, is a wash. I am sure some people react the way Al does, but I bet others (at his very institution) like it. That is a good example of how confusing the market can be, because a minor section on your CV might impress some people and annoy others.

What candidates can/should do is be sure to do all of the big things right. This includes not having anything under the publications heading which is not published, making the CV clean and easy to read, etc. I have also heard conflicting advice about whether to include RandRs. In fact, I had two of my advisers tell me the complete opposite advice. I had an RandR at PPR. One adviser told me absolutely to include it, because even if it was rejected getting an RandR at PPR is a good thing. The other one said to absolutely not include it, because if it was rejected and they ask about it, then it will be bad/awkward. In these cases I just try to use my own best judgement. I include randrs and works in preparation because I think it is informative. If it is going to look unprofessional to Al, well...ok, but you just can't please everyone. And I got attention from both research and teaching schools, so these things weren't deal breakers, even if they did hurt me in some ways.

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