College Math Teaching

January 15, 2014

Applying for a math job at a “teaching with some research required” institution

Filed under: academia, editorial — Tags: , — collegemathteaching @ 2:47 am

I am on the search committee this year and have read a LOT of applications. I ranted just a bit here. Here are some comments to applicants.

Note: our job’s ad is this:

Applications are invited for two Tenure-Track Assistant Professor positions in the Department of Mathematics beginning August 2014. Candidates must possess a Ph.D. in mathematics or statistics by the start date. Preference will be given to candidates who are broadly trained, have a strong commitment to undergraduate teaching, and have college-level teaching experience. Preference will be given to those applicants whose research specialty is in statistics, applied mathematics, or other areas of current interest in the department. An active research program and scholarly publication are required for tenure and advancement. Candidates must be able to work in the U.S. without sponsorship. For full consideration, applications should be complete by December 16, 2013. Other positions may become available in the future.

Please submit all application materials electronically. Post the AMS cover letter, a letter of application, vita, a copy of each graduate transcript, description of research, statement of teaching philosophy, and three current letters of recommendation (at least one of which addresses teaching and one research) on the website. Additional information regarding xxxx University and these positions may be found at or obtained by email from xxx yyy at

Employment with xxxx University is contingent upon satisfactory completion of a criminal background check. xxxx University is an equal-opportunity, affirmative action employer. The administration, faculty and staff are committed to attracting qualified candidates from underrepresented groups.

Note: our usual load is 11 hours per semester, along with the usual admin BS. And yes, we teach a lot of calculus.

So here are a few statements from me. I can’t say if anyone else on the search committee thinks this way but I can tell you what catches my eye and what *I* would recommend.

1. In your cover letter, it is useful to highlight facts. Everyone says that they are “a great teacher, researcher, etc.” This is what I am talking about: more than one candidate took pains to tailor a cover letter just for our school. They said some generic stuff. But the left out the fact that they won a teaching award in grad school….and according to the recommendation letters, this award only goes to a small percentage of grad students. That’s a nice thing to highlight!

2. Give the letter a little thought. Saying “one thing that sets me apart from the other applicants with strong degrees and credentials is that “I work hard to be the best I can be.” Sure…and the rest of the applicant pool consists of slackers??? Seriously, get a grip.

3. If you spent several years at an institution that was NOT a visiting position or a post-doc and are leaving, please say a bit as to WHY you are leaving, or at least have a reference writer bring up the point. Seriously; no one wants to hire someone else’s problem. Hey, if you didn’t get tenure that is not always a “kiss of death”; in one case a person with a good research record didn’t get tenure due to the university trying to switch to being a research institution and that applicant’s research record would be fine at our place.

If you are trying to get closer to family: that is fine too. If you are think that our place is a step up from your current place: fine. If you are at a research place and want to teach more and spend less time writing grant proposals for research, that is fine too.

But don’t leave questions unanswered; remember we have a lot of applications and it is easy to go to the bottom of the pile.

4. Remember our job requirements. If you state that it is your goal to become an international class researcher, you’ll be miserable here. Forget it.

On the other hand, if you had 3 years at a post doc (at places like MSRI and Cal Berkeley) and haven’t done squat in terms of research, you won’t publish here either…and you won’t get tenure.

5. We have an engineering college here and therefore teach a LOT of calculus. Seriously; it is great that you taught manifold theory and algebraic topology, but here you’ll be doing a couple of calculus sections (engineering or “business/life science) almost every semester. Make sure you highlight your calculus teaching experience.

6. If you ask for a teaching reference, you might ask the reference if they can write a honest, positive letter. I read one letter in which the reference said that the applicant doesn’t explain things well, tries to explain again and often has no more success the second time around.

7. Please, check your vita and your cover letter for grammar and spelling. Seriously.

We will have interviews before too long, and if you do get an interview, remember this:

1. Be excited about your own work. If you aren’t, don’t waste our time.

2. Remember that while most of us still research, our grad school courses are well in our rear view mirror (often 2-3 decades in the mirror). So a topologist might not remember the Dominated Convergence Theorem off of the top of his/her head; the ring theorist might not remember connections (differential geometry) or gauges, and the analyst might not remember what a socle is. So, you might consider building in some gentle reminders in your talk and build toward “speaking to the local expert” in the last 15 minutes of the talk.

3. The talk is important because we’ll evaluate what sort of lectures you’ll give to the students. It is a good idea to end on time.


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