Professional Development

Getting an Academic Job
By Anonymous on August 08, 2011

Although I am no expert on getting a job, I have some personal and professional experience that might be of value to some readers of the ISI blog.

You should know that, before becoming an academic (I received my Ph.D. only in 2009), I earned a Masters Degree in Human Resources Management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations. After that I worked for over a decade with three organizations, M&I Data Services, AuditForce, and Cardinal Stritch University. With each organization, I participated in both hiring and firing employees. I joined the faculty at Carthage College in 2007, and have continued to serve on hiring committees for faculty positions, both tenure-track and contract hires.

Rather than rehash the dismal data about the job market, I will offer several tips and strategies you might consider to help separate you from the competition. My comments on this blog represent the rough draft of a larger effort I am working on about positioning in an extremely competitive academic job market. My comments here relate mostly to what you should do when submitting applications for jobs (I plan to make subsequent posts about interviews).

First, avoid appearing silly. I know this sounds a bit trite, but it matters. I have seen a disturbing number of applications with grotesque typographical errors and slapdash phrasing. For instance, one candidate for an academic job boasted that he had “developed the ability to speak orally.” (I will refrain from asking how else one might learn to speak.) Another candidate used the date 2110 for his cover letter. Our committee considered sending him a rejection letter, but, since he was obviously from the future, we decided that he had already learned he didn’t get the job. The point here is that you must avoid silly mistakes in important communications. We all make mistakes, but your application is not the place. Go above and beyond in making your materials shine. Hiring committees are an unforgiving lot and will look for any excuse to rule you out as a candidate. Don’t give them the ammunition.

Do exactly what the job advertisement asks you to do. This means that you should do no more and no less than what the employer wants in an application. Do not try to be creative or to cut corners. For instance, don’t provide a separate discussion of your research unless it is required in the guidelines. Similarly, if the application guidelines ask for a cover letter AND a philosophy of teaching statement, do not fold the two components into a single document. Write a separate cover letter and a more detailed philosophy of teaching statement. If you have doubts about what is required, do not make assumptions. Even if the contact person is the chair of a department, it is better to work up the courage to drop an e-mail or make a phone call than it is to guess at what is wanted.

Start drafting cover letters and philosophy of teaching statements now—even if you don’t have a job in mind. I believe that it is better to re-craft something than it is to start from scratch when you have a deadline approaching. Spend time now, when there is no pressure, thinking about what good teaching means to you. Ask your mentors what they think about good teaching, recall what you remember as good teaching, search the web for ideas, look at your peers’ philosophy of teaching statements, and, above all, try to determine what passes for good teaching at the institution to which you are applying (again, do you homework). Have others read your letters and statements before sending them off.

In terms of writing good cover letters, I have strong opinions. Others will certainly disagree, and I respect that. However, I believe that good cover letters follow a fairly set formula. The letter should:

1) be between 300 and 500 words;

2) indicate clearly to which position you are applying;

3) contain a brief, but confident, one-paragraph discussion of your qualitative abilities (e.g., organizational skills, excellent writing skill, ability to teach a variety of courses);

4) discuss in one to two paragraphs your objective qualifications (e.g., Ph.D. earned in 2005, dissertation on “Pet Keeping Habits of the Parisian Bourgeoisie,” award winning teaching, serve as adviser to the “Stop, Drop, and Roll Fire Safety Club”); and

5) conclude with a very brief paragraph about how you arecertain that youcan contribute quality scholarship, meaningful advising, and excellent teaching to the given department at whatever college. Also mention that you look forward to the opportunity to discuss yourqualifications with themin more detail.

Good philosophy of teaching statements are less formulaic and require more thought than cover letters. Of the excellent statements that I have seen, no two are alike. However, I have noticed a few common themes. First, they are rarely longer than three pages (in fact, most are just about two pages). Next, good statements are well structured. In other words, they have introductory paragraphs that tell the reader what the body of the letter will say and have concluding paragraphs that sum up the statement. Finally, the content of good statements discusses not just teaching, but also research and advising (they also discuss the relationship among teaching, advising, and research). You will notice that my comments lack specificity about content. This is because I believe that teaching statements are idiosyncratic. In essence, they are a chance for you to express your thoughtfulness and individuality. As such, philosophy of teaching statements require contemplation and, above all, repeated revision.

This leads to my next major point. Tailor each cover letter and philosophy of teaching statement to each institution to which you apply. Although it is fine to work from templates, you should craft every application as if the institution to which you are applying is the ONLY one where you could EVER see yourself working. This might seem overstated, but the hiring committee wants to believe that the person it hires is destined for the position. Hiring committees look not only for excellence in a candidate, but also for a good fit.

In order to tailor your materials, you must do your homework. Before you send an application to a prospective employer, you should know as much as you can about the position to which you are applying. The web is the most obvious place to start. Look at all the programs and departments that might relate to your position. In addition, look up the biographies, bibliographies, and areas of expertise of anyone with whom you might work. You need to differentiate yourself from the faculty who work at your target institution. They don’t want to hire copies of themselves. Some overlap between you and current faculty won’t hurt. Just keep in mind that your potential employers will want someone who can expand their department’s offerings, not repeat them. Doing this initial spade work can help you to indentify honest ways in which you might make a positive contribution.

Don’t be afraid to make calls. Let your mentors know where you are applying. Ask them if they have contacts. Ask your friends and peers for help. Do not be shy! In addition, start doing your homework BEFORE you get your assignment. Especially those of you who are still in graduate school should identify institutions where you would like to work. Investigate how many faculty they have in the department, how many are tenured faculty, how many contract, what employment opportunities at the institution have been in the last few years, is the institution financially secure, etc… Even before you are aware of a job opportunity, get in contact with department chairs at those institutions. Write them fan mail about their scholarship. Ask them (e-mail) questions about their schools, about teaching at the type of institution where they work, about the job market. Impress them (or at least start developing networking skills) before jobs become available.

The strategies listed above are low-risk, low-stress. Yet, they have the potential to yield substantial benefits. I am not making this up. I have these used this strategies, and I know others who have, when searching for both professional and academic jobs.

APSA Teaching and Learning Conference: Day Two
By Lee Trepanier on February 13, 2011

Yesterday was the second day of the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference. In our track, "Internationalizing the Curriculum," we had four papers in the morning that discussed certain pedagogical techniques to consider in the classroom to make students aware of the world outside the United States. Two of them focused on mass media, while the other two used service-learning. Although the papers were interesting, I was a little disappointed that they didn't relate more to the theoretical literature on pedagogy. Nonetheless, it was an interesting start to the day.

In the afternoon, we had three more paper presentations: one on international political theory, one on international relations, and one on institutional concerns. The first argued that political theory needs to be more reflective of global concerns; the second argued for a non-American perspective of international relations; and the last discussed some of the challenges and opportunties at the institutional level of internationalizing the curriculum. The papers were thought-provoking, however, I wonder whether the first two papers were discussing the state of the discipline a few years ago as opposed to now. For example, political theory has already been "internationalized" to such extent, with new articles and textbooks about comparative political theory already existing. In some sense, political science has already addressed (if not completely addressed) some of these concerns.

Overall the conference has been very useful and I learned quite a bit about internationalizing the curriculum (and hopefully we were able to contribute meaningfully to the conversation, too). It certainly has given me much to contemplate about in our discipline.

APSA Teaching and Learning Conference: Day One
By Lee Trepanier on February 11, 2011

We presented our paper today, "Statesmanship and Democracy in a Global and Comparative Context." In our paper we argue the difficulty of defining terms like "statesman," "democracy," and "globalization." We also point out the need to study statesmanship and how to implement such studies in the classroom. We concluded about the need for the "local" and the "national" when we internationalize the curriculum. The paper was received with some misunderstanding by a few, but we did receive some excellent feedback from some of our other colleagues.

The other presentation was about an assignment in class where the professor has the students design their own study abroad program. In addition to learning something about the other country, the student also learns certain administrative skills, such as how to process reimbursement bills and use Excel. Perhaps the most interesting issue that emerged from our conversation about this paper was how the world outside the U.S. and Western Europe is portrayed by the mass media, our government, and our textbooks as one of conflict rather than cooperation. Given this depiction of the world, why would a student want to travel abroad?

The APSA Teaching and Learning Conference
By Lee Trepanier on February 11, 2011

We have arrived in Albuquerque for this year's American Political Science Conference on Teaching and Learning. Unlike the other APSA Conference, this one is designed to focus on improving the teaching of faculty and the learning of students. It is also designed differently than traditional academic conferences. You are assigned a "track" with a dozen scholars for 2 1/2 days to present your research and discuss how to implement your ideas into the classroom. At the end of the conference, the moderator is to write a report that will be published in PS: Political Science & Politics.

The track we are assigned to is "Internationalizing the Curriculum: In-Class and Discipline-Wide Strategies." Gerson Moreno-Riano, Phil Hamilton, Kelly Hanlon, and myself will be presenting on Statesmanship and Democracy in a Global and Comparative Context. We also will have presentations on using mass media to teach globalization, the development of global civic skills, service-learning, and developing a multicultural curriculum. Needless to say, we are looking forward tomorrow to present a voice that is rarely heard in these conversations.

Whose Capitalism, Which Free Market?
By Michael Schwarz on February 10, 2011

From Rich Brake, Director of ISI's University Stewardship and Culture of Enterprise Initiative.  This looks great. 

Announcing an ISI Regional Economics Conference

Whose Capitalism, Which Free Market: Exploring the Moral Dimensions of the Market Economy

Date: Apr 9 2011
Time: 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM   ET
Location: Taylor University, Upland, IN
Description: What is the vital connection between markets and morality?

Humane economist Wilhelm Ropke observed in the 1930's that the free market cannot long exist in the absence of certain bedrock institutions, including the family, religious faith, business ethics, a predictable legal framework, regulations for monopolies, and a widespread distribution of economic and political power. Fast-forward to today, and it would appear that Ropke's warning has not been heeded, with "too big to fail" now the dominant ethos of the age. This conference will seek remedies to today's crony capitalism by exploring the moral dimensions of a truly free and prosperous market order.

Alejandro Chafuen, President, Atlas Foundation, Washington, DC
"Christian Faith and the Roots of Austrian Economics"

Peter "P.J." Hill, Professor, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
"The Morality of Markets"

John Medaille, Professor, University of Dallas, Dallas, TX
"Free Markets and the Pursuit of the Common Good"

Lawrence Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education, Atlanta, GA
"Political Liberty, Money Mischief, and the March toward Centralization"

Link to registration information:

Link to promotional flyer:

"Important" Academic Issues # 4--Office Space
By RJ Snell on November 12, 2010

As part of the ongoing evacuation of academic culture from the academy, the corporate cubicle makes perfect sense: for faculty offices efficient, inexpensive, simple. Too bad that's not what the academy is about.


A Year on the Job Market, Part 2
By Anonymous on November 10, 2010

How best to find success on the job market?  In my last post, I talked about what you can still do to improve your chances for this year.  As promised, I now turn to a consideration of what you can do to prepare for next year.  Sadly, a second year on the market is something that a majority of job candidates will have to experience, so it’s a good idea to start thinking about it now.  What, then, can one do now so as to fare better in the future?


Statesmanship and the Constitution
By Lee Trepanier on November 10, 2010

At the Lehrman American Studies Center Regional Seminar at Amherst, we talked about the role of statesmanship and the Constitution. Hadley Arkes talked about the importance of first principles in the Constitution, while George Nash discussed the education of the Founders. We concluded with a discussion of how to teach statesmanship and the Constiution in the classroom. One of the questions that was raised by one of the participants and that was unresolved was the relationship between first principles and the text of the Constitution. Does the importance of first principles make the text of the Constitution itself irrelevant? If not, then what role does the text have in the Constitution?


Regional Seminars on the American Founding
By Lee Trepanier on November 08, 2010

I participated at the one-day Lehrman American Studies Center Regional Seminar at Yale University about “The Founding and Re-Founding” of America


Turning to the Dark Side of the Force
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on October 25, 2010

“You’ve crossed over to the dark side, my friend.”  This was how one of my colleagues greeted the news that after a five-month national search I had been appointed to serve as dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies. Does academic leadership in such an administrative post mean going over to the “dark side?”


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