In May 2020, the EECS Comm Lab, in collaboration with Prof. Saman Amarasinghe, hosted a seminar series for MIT EECS PhD students and postdocs who wished to learn more about what it’s like to be a professor and how they can prepare for a career on the tenure track. You can find an overview of the event here, and a summary of each session is available:
Session 1: Being a Professor is the Best Occupation
Session 2: Getting Through the Junior Faculty Years
Session 3: Getting a Faculty Job
Session 4: Preparing for Your Own Faculty Application
Session 4: Preparing for Your Own Faculty Application
Session 4 was a workshop run by EECS Comm Lab manager Deanna Montgomery. It provided an overview of the elements of a faculty application package and advice about what to do now in order to make your application as strong as possible when the time comes. This post is a high-level introduction to the faculty application package. For more specific advice, MIT EECS affiliates can make an appointment with a Communication Fellow or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Start thinking about the faculty application process by developing a branding statement. This is not a formal document you submit but rather a way to organize your thoughts and the entire application’s story. Consider this an elevator pitch about yourself that tells what type of professor you will be and why you are a significant addition to the faculty of a certain department or school. Since this branding statement concisely represents your vision, you will use it to frame everything in your package (research statement, job talk, CV, etc.). For instance, you talk about your existing research and future direction in your research statement, which should reflect the vision and the brand you promote for yourself.
Work on your application package
Each element of your faculty application should be guided by your branding statement. The package usually includes (i) research statement, (ii) teaching statement, (iii) diversity statement, (iv) CV, (v) cover letter, and (vi) letters of reference.
Your research statement should be compelling and very attractive. Emphasize your accomplishments and your vision on how to take your research to the next level. This includes the feasibility of your research direction and its impact in addition to possible funding sources, collaborators, and industrial interest. The research statement should include more than the obvious next steps of your doctoral or postdoctoral work; it broadly reflects your 5-10 year plan for your research group. The structure of a research statement varies widely by field, so be sure to look into the expected standard for the types of departments where you plan to apply. In EECS, the typical statement length is ~3 pages with 2/3 focused on accomplished work and 1/3 focused on future work. Be aware of your audience: Avoid jargon and acronyms that will not be known outside your specific research area, and write something that will be understandable and exciting to the faculty search committee.
In your teaching statement, start by talking about how you think about being a teacher (teaching philosophy) in and out of class. Support this philosophy by describing your teaching experiences, the classes you are interested in teaching, and the proposed classes you could develop. Be specific, realistic, and build on your knowledge and experiences. You can provide information from teaching evaluations or quote a student’s feedback about your teaching style. The statement needs to be customized depending on what the school is looking for, in addition to its size, working style, standards, and expectations.
The diversity statement is a document that should show that you understand and care about the inclusion of many forms of identity in STEM. You can talk about some of your experiences, such as working in diverse groups and teams, but this should not be the focus of the statement. Similar to a teaching statement, a diversity statement should show how you think about diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as what you have done in the past and will do in the future to make these ideals a reality. Make sure to read the instructions carefully. A diversity statement is not always required, but sometimes it is required as a separate document or as a part of the teaching statement or the cover letter.
Considering your audience in writing your CV is crucial (e.g. applying in the US or outside, applying to a teaching or research position, etc.). A CV should not be a list of everything you have ever done. The typical CV length for an EECS faculty application is 5-6 pages. It is important to trim down to highlight the most important information that reflects your branding statement. Be as concrete as you can: Give examples about your experiences and quantify if possible.
The cover letter should capture the attention of the faculty search committee and get them excited about the whole application. It serves as the letter of introduction that connects all of the application material. Read the instructions carefully for each institution where you apply. The cover letter should not usually be longer than one page. (More info: https://mitcommlab.mit.edu/eecs/commkit/cover-letter-for-a-faculty-position/)
The letters of recommendation are the only component of your application that you don’t write yourself. The best way you can prepare for strong letters of recommendation is to build healthy relationships with respected researchers such as your advisor and collaborators.
Start as early as possible
If you are planning to be a faculty member, don’t wait until the last moment to start thinking about or working on your application. Start working on what is missing (weaknesses) in your profile. Think about your research direction and how you can brand yourself technically. Think about the implications and the impact of your work and what problems your future lab will solve. Get involved in various teaching experiences and work towards diversity in STEM. Keep an extended version of your CV that includes all your activities. Then depending on your audience, highlight the most important information only. Connect with your community and build your network by going to conferences and technical workshops in your field. Following the above steps will help you strengthen your faculty job application; the road begins now, not the day before the application is due.
Blog post by Mohamed I. Ibrahim, MIT EECS Communication Fellow