Originally posted Monday November 8, 2010 at LabSpaces (here).
I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention my post on putting together a TT job application packet has received. There are a couple of comments I'd like to address and figured a new post was the better way to do it.
Let's start with comments from the science blogosphere's resident gadfly*, Comrade PhysioProf. I had writtten:
One Nature first authorship plus three middle authorship papers likely won't outweigh four first authorships in decent (society-level?) journals.The number of authors on a paper can be important too. Personally I would rank a first authorship on a publication with 2-4 authors total in a society-level journal higher than a first authorship on a publication in Cell with 10+ authors (some may disagree with me on this).
To which CPP replied:
This is absolutely false for job searches in the biomedical sciences at elite institutions.
Emphasis on elite added. I'm not at an elite institution, so I will defer to CPP on this. It is true at the large state R1 I'm at, and I am in the biomedical sciences. Perhaps the best bellwether of what might be expected in terms of publications is the publication record of the faculty in the department you are applying to. If glamourmag publications are common, you'll likely need them to land a position there. If publications in decent journals are more the norm, then that's likely what is required. Of course we're quite happy to hire someone with glamourmag publications...
CPP also noted that:
Also, five pages is absurdly too long for a research plan. Two pages is more than enough. If it takes more than two pages to explain how important your research is, then it probably isn't.
A number of other commenters had made similar remarks. Given that there is some consensus here, take note.
Finally, CPP wrote:
Finally, cover letters don't mean jacke dicke. No one even reads them.
I disagree. Where I am they are read. They can make the difference between having your CV read or relegated to the "thanks, but no thanks" pile. Commenter Ajkl believes these to be important in her/his field. I would interested in hearing from others who have served on search committees - do you read the cover letters? In the end, isn't it better to write a good one and not have it read, than slap together a poor one and have it sink you?
Ajkl also made this rather important comment:
If you're applying overseas, try to find someone who works in that country and get help from them on your materials. There are some differences in what is expected (and also re: what is considered self promotion vs. obnoxious).
Moving along, Dr. Zeek asked:
So here is the random question for today that I have seen some people argue about before-- your cover letter-- do you use your current institutions letterhead or no?
Many of the cover letters I've seen are on letterhead, but I don't think that's important. Now that much of this is done electronically, I suspect it matters even less.
Finally, in an earlier comment Dr. Zeek had written (tongue firmly in cheek I suspect):
I am planning on starting to apply next fall for TT-positions and I am absolutely scared shitless about the whole thing. Not just the application and interviews, but the also the fact that someone may think I can actually run a lab and I might actually get hired somewhere.
It is scary. But you need to believe you can run a lab. Confidence, or a lack of it, will come through in your cover letter and research plans. If you should make it to an interview, a severe lack of confidence will absolutely destroy any chance you had of getting the job. Note that I'm not saying you need to believe you are owed a TT position - that's just obnoxious and can harm your chances. Nobody is owed a TT position.
* And I mean that in a complimentary way.