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Author: William A. Stein
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On Monday 29 October 2001 12:12 pm, you wrote:
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> I am currently considering applying for postdoc positions, probably in the
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> USA. I am currently trying to work out where to apply to and who I want to
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> work with.
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> I apologise for asking this of you, but can you give me a few words of
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> advice as to how to go about it? YYY's experience of getting a postdoc is
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> rather limited, and he sugested that you might be a good person to talk to.
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OK, now I can answer your email some more. I'm just going to
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subjectively "rant".
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Are you applying for a job starting next August? If so, you don't
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have much time! Applications are due very soon! I hope that remark
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was enough to scare you into action.
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You might find the following useful:
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http://www.maa.org/features/ed/jobsearch.html
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This guy, Ed Aboufadel (http://faculty.gvsu.edu/aboufade/), wrote a
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diary about his first job search in the USA. His search was when the
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job market for math postdocs in the US was quite bad, and it's not
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clear how helpful his adviser was. Also, I don't know if he has any
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useful advice. What he does give is an honest and uncensored account
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of his experiences applying for an academic job. It was controversial
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when he wrote it, especially since he published it during his job
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search. I found it useful reading when I applied for a job.
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I think a job application consists of the components given at
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http://modular.fas.harvard.edu/job/index.html
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The latex files are there, and you should feel free to use them as
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templates if you want. It is EXTREMELY important that you have
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several people, both professors and fellow students, read your
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research proposal, cover letter, and so on. Not doing so is a
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recipe for failure.
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Letters of recommendation are more important than anything else.
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Choose who writes them for you with care, and send anyone who writes
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you a letter a nice thank you card afterwards. It's the least you can
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do, given how much work it is for them to write a letter. If
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possible, get at least one letter from somebody not at XXX
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College. It's not necessary to get a letter that addresses your
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"total value" as a mathematicians. For example, I think I requested
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from YYY a letter that specifically addressed my work on modular
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forms software.
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For US jobs, check out
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http://www.ams.org/employment
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I applied to about 40 places (too many, probably).
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Though your reputation, which is visible at this stage mainly through
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letters of recommendation, is probably by far the most important
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criterion that prospective employers will consider, it is worth paying
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attention to other details of your application. Use high-quality
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stationary. The cost of good quality paper is nil compared to the
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cost of postage, and there is very little increase in effort to use
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good-quality papers and envelopes. I doubt anybody reading
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applications will allow the quality of your stationary to affect their
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judgment of your application. However, using good paper is a
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worthwhile *courtesy* towards the faculty who have to wade through
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hundreds of applications.
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Your CV, cover, letter, and research proposal should not contain a
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single typo or misspelled word. If those documents look in the least
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sloppy, then you might come off seeming VERY sloppy to those reading
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your application, since they assume that you were as careful as
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possible in preparing those materials.
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You are a product, and your job application is your commercial. You
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want a lot of people who matter to SEE your application. There is no
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logic whatever in viewing your application as a top secret document
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that only a few choice school are permitted to see. Create a nice web
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page, put your application on it, and point any and all prospective
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employers towards it. This is definitely not the time to be shy about
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your CV.
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The result of your job search will have a huge influence on your life,
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so put as much energy as you can afford into. You'll spend maybe a
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month or two preparing your appliations and sending them out, with the
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potential for large long-term rewards if you do a good job. As I
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heard ZZZ once say in reference to a computer grant application, "the
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potential return on a relatively small investment is huge."
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I hope that was helpful.
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-- William
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