Finding a Job
One applies for research jobs in academics, government and industry in different ways. If one wants an academic position, then the job search should start in the November preceding graduation. Most universities bind themselves to January or February deadlines for applications, but a few are as early as mid-December. Industrial jobs are available throughout the year, though some are tied to the fiscal cycle. Research positions in government agencies depend on Congress, the federal budget, and other random factors; they generally require a time-consuming amount of high-level approval.Many jobs in the government and certain industries will also require you to obtain a security clearance of some kind which can introduce additional challenges for many applicants.
The following comments are largely aimed at academic employment, but the spirit applies more broadly. In general, serious researchers are urged to seek university employment first; from there, it is relatively easy to migrate to other sectors according to one’s tastes. Many universities offer job-hunting seminars that can help you in your job search.
Organizing the Search
It requires great organizational skills to manage more than 10 to 15 job applications. You should consult with your advisor, and do your utmost to construct a list of places where you would like to work, and who might consider hiring you. This list should include a mix of schools, but give realistic weight to your own values. Not everyone is a star researcher, and not all stars are willing to pay the high price that success demands. Also, bear in mind that the reputation of a statistics department partially depends on the broader reputation of the university.
Academic job postings appear in Amstat News and the IMS Bulletin, published by the ASA and IMS, respectively (there are also postings on both societies’ websites). There are also a number of websites that list jobs of various types,
- Statistics Job Announcements, hosted by the Department of Statistics at the University of Florida,
- University of Washington Employment Opportunities,
- Purdue Job Announcements, and
- MathJobs, which lists jobs in mathematics more broadly. Depending on your specific area of research within statistics, jobs in non-statistics departments may be of interest as well.
Some government and industry positions are also listed at these locations, and similar announcements appear on departmental bulletin boards. Generic job posting sites such as Monster.com and its competitors will be valuable for looking for industrial jobs. LinkedIn is another valuable tool for connecting with potential employers and past, present and future co-workers.
For jobs in government be sure to check USAJobs.gov which lists nearly all job openings in the federal government. Many industrial, and some government and academic, recruiters attend the ASA and IMS annual meetings; this is an excellent time to do comparison shopping. It is wise to check possibilities with your advisor or other faculty members; they may even suggest a position or a post-doc opportunity that matches your interests.
Preparing your Application
After your targets are chosen, send them an application package consisting the documents requested in the of a cover letter, a list of professional references, a dissertation abstract, your curriculum vitae and possibly one or more reprint or preprints. All documents must be free of typos, clear and succinct.
The cover letter introduces yourself and indicates the job for which you are applying. Emphasize research interests and relevant experience; tailor your letter to the specific announcement. Avoid duplication of material in the curriculum vitae. The letter should be simple, direct and conservative; this is the first impression the search committee has of you and it must sound professional.
Most job applications will require you to enter desired information for the reference into a web form but some will also ask for a document with a list of references. The reference list gives the names, titles, addresses and telephone numbers of faculty members (sometimes it is sensible to include a non-academics as well) who are familiar with your current work and capabilities. Don’t list someone until you have obtained their permission. Only list people who will give a good recommendation; it’s better to have three superb references than five mediocre ones. Often it is your responsibility to ask these references to send letters of recommendation to the target employers; if so, make it easy on them by providing a list of addresses and some background on the job you want. Some jobs may require you to include a reference who can write about your teaching.
The curriculum vitae (CV) is an academic’s resume; ask your advisor for a model. You may also want to obtain a LaTeX or Word template which you can base your CV on. By custom, the following three sections appear first, in the following order:
- Personal Data. List your name, address, phone number, citizenship, and visa type (if pertinent).
- Education. Give your degrees and universities in reverse chronological order (you may indicate honors such as _summa cum laude_ or _magna cum laude_ if appropriate).
- Professional Experience. List your professional employment experience in reverse chronological order. Don’t give job descriptions, as the position titles should speak for themselves.
After this, the order and types of sections are flexible. However, try putting the items in order of importance for the particular job of interest. For example if you are hoping to work for a small liberal arts college where teaching is highly valued, your teaching experience should come directly after your professional experience. Alternatively if you will be expected to write grants in your new position any grant writing experience you have should come first. Most people include most of the following:
- Publications. Give references for all published or submitted manuscripts.
- Honors and Awards. List invited talks, teaching awards, fellowships, grants, etc.
- Professional Activities. Indicate committee work, manuscript and grant review (don’t breach the confidentiality of the review process, just indicate the journals or agencies that you have assisted and how often).
- Teaching. Give course titles and semesters for each class you’ve taught; don’t go back more than four years.
- Memberships. List the professional societies to which you belong.
- Presentations. Give the titles of your recent talks, the place and month.
- Research Support. List your function (principal investigator, project coordinator), title of grant, funding agency, project period.
Send the application ahead of the deadline. Departments are legally bound to respect these deadlines, and may disregard late applicants. You need not include items that were not requested, such as reprints, preprints or transcripts.
Interviewing Your Employer
Part of the interview process is to discover whether the prospective employer meets your criteria. For example, with positions in biostatistics departments, expectations for teaching, research and collaboration varies greatly across universities. Do some background research on potential employers before initiating the application, and do more detailed preparation if you are invited to interview. For academic jobs, most of the relevant information can be obtained from their university catalog, a recent copy of which is always available online. Also, your advisor can probably put you in contact with someone who has a good sense of the current situation. When all of this homework has been done, the remaining questions may be put directly to the chair of the search committee. For industry, business or government jobs, it usually happens that the only convenient source of information about the job is the contact person designated in the announcement. Don’t hesitate to ask this person very specific questions about the nature of the job, the salary, course-loads and other duties, research expectations, the organization, the history of the organization, your potential colleagues, consulting opportunities, the location, fringe benefits, day care, flex-time, and so forth.
A common dilemma in our profession is the two-body problem. Graduate students are often partnered, and enter the job market together. If they are in the same field, it is virtually impossible for both to be hired at the same university, and it is nearly as bad when they work in different areas. It is not quite so difficult for industry or government, but similar issues can arise. In general, the first university to creatively solve the two-body problem will hold options on many tremendously gifted people. Until then, you should apprise your potential employer of any two-body problem, and ask them to help you find a suitable accommodation. You should think seriously about whether you want to bring up the two-body problem with your potential employer before or after you have been given a job offer.
In all these contacts it is entirely professional to have a clear sense of what you want. If a group does not match your needs, then it wastes everyone’s time to pursue the matter.
Before you visit to interview, get a list of the people you will meet. For academic posts you will generally meet with most of the faculty, in one-on-one half-hour-long or hour-long blocks. A faculty list is available from the departmental website. You should check out their areas of interest, and familiarize yourself with their recent publications. Look especially for points of contact between your work and theirs. Before your visit, also make sure that you also get familiar with the institution itself. An institution’s website can be very helpful in this regard.
For other jobs you will have to ask the search chair to describe the interview format and whom you will meet. If any of them publish, examine their work; otherwise, ask the chair about people whose activities overlap with your research.
Some of your talks with people you meet while interviewing will not be technical. You can hold general discussions about research interests, fun applications, computer facilities, current trends in statistics, departmental initiatives and such. With one or two interviewers, you may be able to speak more substantively. If you cannot find common ground, ask the interviewer about his or her research and listen intently. In all these conversations, you should express energy and enthusiasm, both for the work and the institution.
Frequently, the interview includes a social gathering, such as dinner or a cocktail hour, with one’s future colleagues. To some extent, this is to encourage you to look favorably on the department and to some extent it is to help the interviewers decide if they could bear to work with you for the next twenty years. Remember, this is part of the interview. Be convivial, but don’t offer personal information you didn’t plan to reveal (for example, your plans to take a year off to see the world) and do not over-indulge.
For academic jobs, and some other positions, you will be expected to give a seminar about your research. Advice on giving talks is given in Section 4.3 However, there are some special items to note about job talks. The main purpose of any seminar is to convey information about your research. For a job talk, the audience will not only be interested in the technical merit of the work, but also they will want to see your style, your sense of organization, and your ability to deal with difficult questions. The best way to prepare for tough questions is to ask yourself the questions ahead of time. Most people don’t perform well under pressure. Those that appear brilliant on the spot have done their homework. Make sure you can especially answer the make-or-break question, “What was your contribution to the research?”
Some faculty may use your talk as an indication of how well you can teach. It is better to err on the side of being over-prepared and on the side of being very simple; wowing the crowd with your technical depth is not as good as wowing them with your capacity to make complex arguments intuitively clear. Give them something to talk about with you during the rest of your visit. Practice in front of a live audience is invaluable. If you cannot speak in your own department seminar, volunteer to speak at the nearest university, or, at the very least, to your committee or fellow graduate students. If necessary, practice your talk aloud without an audience. The only way you can judge whether you have the right amount of material is to practice. Absolutely, do not exceed the time slot allotted. Make sure you know how long you have to talk (it may be different at each location). Give yourself at least a week to prepare your talk. You will need time to revise your slides after your practice talk.
Negotiating an Offer
When an offer is made, you should be ready to negotiate freely, frankly and fairly. You should know your approximate market value (ask your advisor and consult the Amstat News salary surveys, published each spring) and indicate the things that would make employment compellingly attractive. Even in government and academic jobs, salary is frequently negotiable, so it is worth asking about it.
In academic positions, you might ask for a light teaching load in the first few semesters, to ensure a good start on publication; also, you might ask for summer support for a year or two, while building a reputation that supports future funding. You can also request start-up funds for equipment purchases, travel for a conference or two, and moving expenses. If you have family responsibilities, requesting a computer for home use can be enormously convenient; similarly, you might want to ensure that there will be sufficient flexibility in your teaching schedule so that it conforms, for example, with a child care center’s hours.
Government employers have little negotiating flexibility. Business has more, and you might ask for programming support, special equipment and skilled secretarial help. It is important to make such requests early — often your department can obtain funds more easily when it is part of the hiring process. Ask your contact person to mention the special arrangements in writing, when they send a letter confirming the starting salary.
It is in everybody’s best interest to make your final decision promptly, but it is wise not to allow yourself to be pressured into a decision too soon in the interviewing season. Also, while it’s unlikely that you will be prepared to commit during the first telephone offer, you should attempt to specify a date by which you will make your decision. This date, like all else, should be negotiable, but you should be as fair and honest in your interactions with search committees or department chairs as possible. If you are waiting to hear about a job you prefer, and which you have a reasonable chance of obtaining, then it is reasonable to call the preferred institution and inform them that you have an offer and need to hear from them soon.
Everyone incurs risks during the interview season, and common courtesy suggests that all players avoid stringing others along unnecessarily.