Academic Careers

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Are you preparing to apply to academic jobs with your PhD? You may find it useful to know the key steps to creating job application materials, delivering engaging stories in academic interviews, and navigating the complex job market within the academy.

This page offers information to supplement the technical and specific support given by departments. Use it to guide your strategies for success.

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Writing Samples

The writing samples' main purpose is to show the reader that you can present ideas clearly, discuss the various arguments, and share your opinion. Some examples of submissions include a dissertation chapter, published material, paper, or article related to your current projects.Be sure to consult advisors in your field for specific guidance on what may show your skills best. Consider that you may need to give context to the document you submit, which may be done in the form of a paragraph contextualizing the document or including the table of contents along with a dissertation chapter so they can see how the pieces fit. The best submissions show that you understand key concepts, perspectives, arguments, and positions in your field. 


Letters of Recommendation

Getting strong letters of recommendation is essential to the job search. How to make them effective is more in your hands than you think. Here are some who-what-where-when tips to help guide you:

Who: Deciding Who Should Write Your Letters

Think of who could write effective letters for you that cover a variety of things you would like to show (e.g., research, teaching abilities). These writers can often help speak of your accomplishments more effectively than you can.  If you are lacking in an area (e.g., publications), ask your letter writer to discuss why this area may be lacking and how you show potential in it in addition to areas where you excelled.

Think about how these letters would work together to paint a complete picture of who you are. Most applicants ask their advisors to write a letter of recommendation. Generally, that person is the most familiar with your work and your journey to candidacy. If you don’t have a positive relationship with your advisor, consider this carefully:  If you are stuck between getting a general letter from someone famous in your field versus the opportunity for an amazing letter with specific details from someone closer to home, think of the readers. he letters that speak directly about who you are, what your research is, and why you have great potential will make a stronger impact on the readers. Letters outside your institution of study can show evidence of your ability to build broad relationships, so we recommend asking that person for a letter if they can speak well of your work and collaboration.

The easier you make their job, the better your letters will be. Set up a meeting with each person you are asking and bring a copy of your CV, cover letter, statement of purpose, research statement, teaching portfolio, and  chapters you authored (drafts are fine). 

What: Eliciting an effective letter of recommendation

For most applications, you will need three to five letters of recommendation that are each one to two pages long.

Never assume that what someone could write about you will make it into the letter. Instead, remind the writer of something they said about you in the past (e.g., you wrote the best paper they had seen in 10 years) or ask them to highlight certain aspects that are hard for you to do yourself (e.g., state you are published in a well-respected journal in your field, are an excellent public speaker, or were asked to speak at a conference).

Where: Sending out a letter of recommendation

Consider using a web-based file management service to store your relevant application materials. Students find that using a website such as Interfolio is the best way to store and send your letters of recommendations to multiple institutions. Once the letters are in the system, they can be forwarded to colleges and universities at your request. 

When: Choosing when to ask for a letter of recommendation

Writing a quality letter takes significant effort and time. You want to give the writer as much advanced notice as you can (e.g., at least 2 months is ideal.

You should identify who you want to ask during the summer prior to applying and ask them if they would be comfortable writing you a letter. This way, when you ask them for a letter to support a specific application, they are already primed.


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