Undergraduate teaching: requirements of a job application

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

A little over a year ago I was on a different career trajectory, and now I am doing what I love, teaching. While I was doing the BEST phase III teaching internship, I learned about postdoctoral teaching fellowships; an ideal opportunity for someone who has chosen undergraduate teaching as a long term career. I decided to apply for this fellowship, and after going through a series of interviews, I was selected for the position. I have had the position for a year.  My fellowship is through an NIH funded grant and is available at multiple institutions. Application requirements for these fellowships are similar to those for an undergraduate faculty position. Through my experiences applying for this fellowship, I have learned several tips for putting together a teaching statement/philosophy, research statement, CV/resume, and recommendation letters.

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY/STATEMENT:

Teaching philosophy (TP) is similar to an individual development plan (IDP) in that it is a living document that grows as you grow. I have heard “they don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” A teaching statement reflects your teaching beliefs and your philosophy behind the profession. It usually starts with your opening statement that explains why you have chosen what this career and your inspirations. An opening statement is typically followed by your choice of pedagogical techniques that you have been using in your job or plan to use in the future. Include a little background on the relevance of those techniques; place it in the context of courses that you are teaching or plan to teach. Address what methods of student evaluation you have used or will you use. Finally, include your teaching experiences as well as learning experiences (e.g., classes, workshops, seminars, etc.). It is a good idea to add a few lines about how you can include the techniques that you learned in your course. There are many online resources about how to write a teaching philosophy; often they include sample statements, you can go through before writing your own. After you write your beginning teaching philosophy, you should customize it according to the requirements of each job application. Don’t expect to see many references the sample TPs, but my teaching mentor suggested to add some, especially if you are using any evidence based techniques. Including references will show that you know what you are doing or planning to do; however, references are optional.

RESEARCH STATEMENT:

A research statement includes your research experiences, past and present, and your short and long term research goals. It starts with your research experiences and interests, starting from your undergraduate years through graduate and postdoctoral years. Include publications and presentations from your research at the end. You can have a general research statement, but you should customize it according to each job application. It is essential to make sure that your research statement is not overambitious, which means that what you aim to take forward in your career should comply with institutional resources. Some excellent job applications get rejected due to an over-ambitious research statement. You may also include an outline of some small research projects to give the reviewers an idea of your research interests and goals. Include in this portion how this research will impact your potential student. Since most of undergraduate teaching or research is supposed to be students centered, these statements add weight to your application.

CV/RESUME:

A boot-camp put on by my institution’s BEST program recommended going through the job postings word by word and underlining the experiences and job requirements of that particular job application. You should then use these keywords to reorganize and reword your CV/resume. I have learned that it is a good idea to include a short summary of your expertise, highlighting your strengths parallel to the job posting. It is advisable to only include your 3-5 most recent publications and presentations.

For any of the documents that you are submitting keep in mind that brevity can be your friend; your application is one in a pool of many, and you want to make the reading easy for your reviewers. A lengthy statement that includes every detail makes for a boring, rather than interesting, read. It is also a good idea to add a few lines about your community involvement, which reflects your social skills that many of the employers stress.

RECOMMENDATION LETTERS:

Like my mentor says, “recommendation letters are earned.” If you know you’ll need one, which of course you will, try to build on it early on. If you know who you are going to ask, other than your supervisor/PI, make it clear to them beforehand so they will be ready to write one for you when you need it. Don’t forget to ask for a good recommendation letter; that’s what you need and it will add strength to your application. For most positions recommendation letters carry considerable weight and sometimes a last word from a referee decides a yes or no for a candidate.

If you are interested in a career such as teaching, start building up your portfolio and keep your eyes open for opportunities. When you come across one, all you need to do is a little modification to what you already have and you are ready to go.

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