Searching for a position in higher education can be time-consuming, and the hiring processes can vary widely based on your discipline.

The first step is to consult with your mentors and advisors about timelines and expectations in your discipline. Then, you need to create an application package based on the requirements of the positions you are applying for and the standards of your discipline.

Here are a few explanations and samples of documents (in addition to your CV) that you may need to include as a part of your application package for your academic job search.

  • What is an Academic Cover Letter?

    The academic cover letter is a key document that communicates your scholarly fit with the academic position, department, and institution you are applying to. Academic cover letters have a different format than business cover letters, and are scrutinized very closely by search committees; therefore, they must address both your research and teaching accomplishments, and highlight your future professional trajectory (and how that fits with the needs of the department).

    It is very important to work with mentors in your discipline to align your cover letter and other application materials with your specific discipline’s standards and formatting. Our advice here is general, and varies by discipline, so make sure to talk with your mentors!

    When and How to Use Academic Cover Letters?

    • All academic positions will require a cover letter, and sometimes you will be asked to send your CV and cover letter only (eliminating all other application documents, like research and teaching statements). Therefore, the cover letter should be able to stand alone, in case the application process only allows you to submit a CV and cover letter.
    • Consider the cover letter as one piece of the overall picture of you as a scholar created by all of your application documents. How does the cover letter expand on and reinforce the rest of your application?
    • Begin by drafting your longer statements about teaching and research (dissertation abstract, research statement, etc.) Then craft one paragraph summaries of those longer statements for use in your cover letter.
    • Think about the way you want to be perceived as a scholar and a teacher. What is the main takeaway you want the committee to have? Make sure to edit your cover letter to present the image that you want to portray.

    Tips: Make sure to use university letterhead specific to your department. This is the only document that requires letterhead. Also, if you cannot find the name of the department contact, address your letter to the search committee.

    Academic Cover Letter Paragraph by Paragraph

    Introduction:

    State the position that you are applying for, then in 1-2 sentences introduce yourself and include your dissertation title, chair, and degree completion date. Think about ending this paragraph with an explanation of your findings and how it impacts your field.

    Dissertation/Thesis:

    Go into more detail on your main findings—this might include your methodology and explanation of what you are examining. Explain how your work addressed a gap in your field. Describe the trajectory of your research and mention the most impactful publications the resulted.

    Future Research:

    Next, talk about your future productivity and research by describing planned projects and how they can further the department’s offerings. Specify journals and presses that you plan to submit projects to. (For teaching positions or shorter cover letters, you might combine the dissertation and future research into one paragraph)

    Teaching:

    Briefly state your approach to teaching and give some examples that demonstrate your teaching philosophy in action. Tailor this to the position, thinking about the size of the classes and the topics you might be teaching.

    Tailor To the Job Ad:

    You need to research the department in order to show how your research and teaching complement the current offerings of the department or its initiatives. You might find that the department is trying to fill a gap in their course offerings or research groups, and you can explain how you can address that need.

    Closing:

    Thank the hiring committee for their consideration and give a specific reason why you are interested in that school or department. Note the materials included in your application and state your availability for interviews (usually at a conference where the interviews will be held).

  • What is it?

    A research statement is usually 1-2 pages (single spaced) that describes your research trajectory as a scholar. It is supposed to highlight your growth and explain your vision for your future research. For academic faculty appointments, especially those at research universities, the focus on your future research productivity is intense. Therefore, you need to tailor your research statement (along with all the other documents in your application package) to emphasize what the institution values—if a university has a strong research focus, emphasize your publications; if it values teaching a research equally, consider mentioning how your research complements your teaching.

    When do I need one?

    A research statement is used primarily for academic faculty applications, but also may be used for jobs at research institutions, think tanks, and government positions. Sometimes you might have to condense your research statement into a paragraph in your academic cover letter—the level of competitiveness in the academic market has increased, and many hiring committees specify that applicants should only send a cover letter and a CV. But it is always a good idea to have a fully realized research statement for all your applications; it might be asked for later in the hiring process.

    Tip: The research statement structure varies by discipline! Make sure to talk with mentors in your program about the expectations in your discipline to ensure you are meeting the hiring committees’ expectations!

    Two Potential Structures for the Research Statement

    Structure One

    Introduction:
    Introduce your research interests in the context of your field

    Summary of Dissertation/Thesis:
    Give more detailed information about your doctoral research project, perhaps by condensing your abstract or expanding on your dissertation paragraph from your cover letter.

    Contribution to field and publications:
    Describe the significance of your project for your field and detail publications initiated from your research. You can include any future publication plans, also. Be specific about journals or presses that you plan to submit to, or who might be interested in publishing your work. For longer (2 page) research statements, use more detail in multiple paragraphs.

    Second Project:
    Discuss your second project in detail and include publication plans for your work. (Humanities and Social Science scholars may only need to discuss one future project-make sure to know the pacing expected in your discipline) Make sure that your projects flow from your dissertation to your second project to show your cohesion as a scholar and your ability to innovate beyond your dissertation.

    Wider Impact of Your Research:
    Describe the broader significance of your work. What ties these project together and/or what impact do you want to make on your field? Remember that if you are applying to a teaching-oriented position, you want to tie everything back to your teaching.

    Structure Two

    25% Previous Research Experience:
    Describe your early work and how it influenced your approach to research and/or how it reinforced a commitment to your field. Explain how this work led you to your current project.

    25% Current Practice:
    Describe your dissertation/thesis project. Consider how to incorporate the primary features of your abstract—context, methodology, findings, significance. Mention any grants or fellowships that funded your project, publications that were initiated from your research, and any publications that are in the works.

    50% Future research:
    Talk about how your current work will lead to and inform your future research. Describe the next major project in detail and include a realistic plan for accomplishing it. Keep in mind that future projects should be feasible given the resources, funding, and equipment available at the institution you are applying to. What publications might arise from your future research? Finally, make sure to tie your research plans to the overall research agenda of the whole institution.

  • What are they?

    Diversity statements are short (2 pages or less) documents that explain your experience and capabilities working with people from different backgrounds. Usually this pertains to teaching or service, so most applicants focus on experience teaching students from different backgrounds, participating in service activities that focus on minority issues, or teaching diverse topics. Diversity for this document can include race/ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, veteran status, among others.

    When do I need one?

    Some job applications will specifically require a diversity statement. You can also include them as an optional supporting document if it is not asked for, as long as you don’t go over the page limits for the application package and it does not replace a document that is more important to your candidacy. Some institutions or jobs may highly value diversity (HBCUs, universities that cater to veteran) and it might be a good idea to include a diversity statement when applying to positions at those institutions.

    A Short Example:

    (Start with a general statement of your experience--use concrete examples when you can)

    The experience of teaching a diverse student population had played an important role in shaping my growth as a teacher in higher education. As a graduate student at UAB, I acted as a lead tutor at TRIO, which was a program designed to support first-generation college students and students from underrepresented populations. This program serves students from a range of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and there were also a number of students who identified as queer, students with various physical and learning disabilities, non-traditional students and veterans. Working at TRIO taught me how to diagnose the difference between rushed academic work and the work of a student with a learning disability. Additionally, as a teaching assistant for BIO 101, I worked in a group setting and had to learn how to encourage students from different backgrounds to contribute to group work and relate to each other through the complex racialized and gendered dynamics that arise in those settings.

    (Think about ways to talk not just about teaching. Think also about outreach and research, if appropriate)

    At USG, I would like to continue contributing to campus diversity through my teaching, research, and service. I would like to be able to take on a mentoring role and work with undergraduate and graduate student who are part of underrepresented populations through the Smith Scholars Program and I would be happy to meet with and advise student social groups such as the Muslim Student Association and International Scholars program. Finally, I believe that USG provides rich opportunities for interdisciplinary research and many chances to engage in issues across disciplines—I look forward to sharing my own research and methods with students and colleagues across campus.

  • What is it?

    Also sometimes called a “Statement of Teaching Philosophy,” the Teaching Statement is usually between 1-2 pages and should give your reader a snapshot of your teaching experience and methods. Using the first person, you are expected to explain your approach to teaching, the impacts you have made, and outline some specific strategies, assessments, and evidence of outcomes that are supported by your teaching experience.

    When do I need one?

    A teaching statement is usually part of the application package for academic positions, teaching positions in K-12 and charter schools, and private schools. Sometimes they may be required for training positions at certain organizations. It is typically part of a more robust teaching portfolio, which will include a record of teaching experiences, evaluations, syllabi, etc.

    Questions to ask yourself when writing a teaching statement:

    1. What are your goals for yourself and your students?
    2. What was your best teaching experience? Your worst? Pick an example of a time you made a mistake and how you implemented what you learned from it.
    3. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher? How you can you improve?
    4. What are your philosophies on teaching and learning in the classroom, and how you do you implement them? What strategies do you use?
    5. How do you know when a strategy has worked? What kind of assessments do you use?

    Teaching Statement Structure and Example:

    First, introduce your teaching philosophy

    I believe that my first job as a teacher is to create critical thinkers. Today’s students will be the people challenged with solving some of the greatest problems that humanity has ever faced, and even if my students do not all become scientists, a chemistry class can give students the skills they need to analyze their world from a different perspective. Practicing problem solving and extricating important information from a real world scenario is the best way to give students confidence in their skills and abilities, so they can face the challenges of the future …

    Then, provide examples of teaching strategies and methods that you use that align with your philosophy

    I find that questioning leads to more internalized knowledge of concepts. Asking questions hinting at the limitations of a theory can help a student logically deduce the next step in refining it. Sometimes questions need to be asked questions differently in order to help students think about the question from a different perspective. This leads to greater understanding and assists in developing critical thinking skills …

    Provide evidence that strategies were effective

    I am currently in the midst of running an entire course at UAB, and the process has been both challenging and rewarding. The students constantly challenge my way of thinking as I challenge theirs, and that dialogue helps both the student and the instructor grow as thinkers and as individuals. I have found that if the teacher is excited about teaching, with a goal of keeping the curriculum exciting, the students will follow suit. They should realize that the person standing in front of them is not only interested in science, but also cares about them and their difficulties, strengths and challenges. I have found that my methods have been able to keep students engaged in the process of scientific inquiry, even for students who are not necessarily science majors …

How can the uab career center help you?

UAB Career Center is here to help. Make an appointment with a career advisor to review your application package and discuss your future career plans.

If you are a postdoc, please contact your career advisor in the Office of Postdoctoral Education, Jami Armbrester, at (205) 934-4324 or JamiA@uab.edu