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11/08/2022

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choose

There is a saying ... somewhere. You want to control the narrative. So in choosing your writing sample for each application you control - in some small way - how your application is assessed, and thus (re)gain some power in this overwhelming process.

Bill Vanderburgh

There's a principle in tenure review: It is the candidate's responsibility to make their own case. The evidence has to be in the file, and communicated in a persuasive way--including to reviewers who are not familiar with the subdiscipline (like the dean and provost).

The same principle applies to job applications. It is up to the applicant to show their qualifications, fit, and potential contribution to the department to which they are applying. How someone curates their application (what they put in and leave out, including which writing sample they send) requires judgement, and that is part of what committees are evaluating.

Especially in preliminary rounds, no one is going to go to extra lengths to search for info about you. If you haven't made your own case, that's a bonus to the committee--one less file that requires careful scrutiny. At the campus interview stage, expect that at least one person in the department will have searched your Internet and social media presence (but maybe not until after you have been invited).

So, how to judge what writing sample to include? First, I'd say make sure it fits the AOS of the job ad. (If your best paper is not in the area you are claiming as an AOS, that's probably a problem.) Published papers are good because then committees don't have to wonder so much about quality when they are not experts in that subdiscipline. Recent is better than older, other things being equal. If your best paper is very technical (lots of symbolism or specialized knowledge required to understand), that might not be the best one to send since your readers won't be able to make sense of it let alone judge its quality. In such cases, consult with your PhD advisor about what to send. (That's good practice in general.)

The research statement or cover letter are places to contextualize the writing sample submitted, especially if there is something unusual about it in relation to the job or your file. Why did you choose it (i.e., what do you want the committee to see in it, in relation to the job), how does it fit with the job ad, how does it fit in with your research trajectory? A few sentences would be enough. If a reference letter writer can make brief remarks about how the paper fits with the subfield and its unique contributions, that can be helpful, too. (That's trickier if you are sending different papers to different jobs.)

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