John Regehr's Job Search Advice
(Cool -- this page has been translated into Romanian.)
There's a lot of good information on the web about conducting an
academic job search; here's my small contribution based on a two-body
search in Spring 2003.
Two body problems:
You should read relevant chapters from Tomorrow's Professor by
Some aspects of interviewing are very enjoyable -- you get to:
- Meet a lot of smart people who are interested in you and your work.
- Make contacts in your field.
- Learn about how universities other than yours work.
- Start forming your own opinions about the relative strengths of
different departments -- for me, at least, these are often substantially
different from the published rankings.
- Learn about many research projects you probably wouldn't have
otherwise heard of.
- Travel to interesting places.
- Go to a lot of good restaurants.
On the other hand:
Interviewing is exhausting even when it goes well, and you should
expect to get very little real work done December through April or May.
Be prepared to spend some mental effort in not taking it personally
when things don't go like you want them to. This is difficult, of
course, because it is you (not your paper, your thesis, or your grant
propsal) that is being evaluated.
Understand that the whole process is pretty chaotic and is
characterized by an unfortunate mix of high stakes, conflicting goals,
and partial information. Timing effects, departmental politics, and
personalities matter a lot. Most of this will be opaque to you,
giving the (generally correct) impression of randomness.
These are par for the course these days, and many schools are willing
to work with you on solving the problem. I think it's perfectly ok to
have the attitude that if a school wants you, they should help out
with two-body issues in a serious way.
Some people will speak of "two body solutions," with the implication
being that professional couples are an asset rather than a liability.
This is, of course, true to some extent but overall don't be fooled:
at hiring time two-body problems are a huge complication that greatly
magnify the importance of timing effects.
Of course the official letter from a school will never say "we
didn't make you an offer only because we didn't see any possibilities
here for your spouse" -- the stated reason will always be something
else and unless you have a friend in the department who's willing to
be frank with you, you will be left
wondering if you would have gotten an offer if you had been less
up-front about your two-body problem.
Think hard about how up-front you want to be with schools about your
two-body problem. In retrospect, I think that Sarah and I mentioned
this too early and it cost us some job offers. You can mention
the two-body problem in your cover letter, when you get a call asking
you to come interview (this is what we did), at your interview, or
when you get an offer. You need to strike a balance between saying
something early, which is considerate but reduces your chances of
getting an offer, and saying something late, which increases your
chances of getting an offer but is potentially highly inconsiderate.
Other things that might affect this decision:
Are you looking for tenure-track jobs in the same department? If so,
you need to mention the problem very early -- in your
Does your SO require an academic position? If so things are a lot
more difficult. While interviewing, Sarah and I talked to couples
who had endured substandard two-body solutions for 30 years before
things worked out.
Are you married? If not, people will not take the problem as seriously.
You should be clear with yourself, and with your prospective employers,
about whether you will take the job if nothing in the area works out for
Have a backup plan and also try to understand exactly what you are
willing and unwilling to give up. For example, if pressed would you:
In other words, be ready to cope with the situation where you have two
choices, one of which is clearly better for one of you, one for the
other. To effectively solve a two body problem it is useful to
(1) make the right pitch to people who might give you
a job and (2) have a very clear understanding of the rank-ordering of
various compromises if the ideal situation doesn't work out.
Compromise your quality of life by dealing with a 30 minute daily commute?
How about a 90 minute commute?
Compromise your quality of life by moving to an undesirable city or
Compromise one of your careers by taking an inferior position or ask
your spouse to do so?
Compromise your time together by living apart during the week?
Unless your letter writers are saints, be prepared to lean on them really
hard to get the letters out approximately on time.
If your letter writers are willing to push you in ways other than
writing letters (e.g., talking you up at conferences, calling people
on the phone) this can help a lot.
Get as many smart people as you can to look at your application
Your CV is the main thing that people will be scrutinizing, make sure
it's really good. If there are obvious problems (gap in publication
record or something) then you can try to address this in your cover
letter or research statement.
Put some thought into your cover letters -- customize a letter for a
particular school when appropriate. Also be on the lookout for
schools that play tricks like asking you to put some specific content
in your cover letter (presumably to weed out candidates who mass-mail
The job talk:
Realize that you can only learn so and so much about a department in
1-2 days. You will necessarily be making a big decision based on scanty
information. Second visits can help.
Always meet with some grad students in your area.
Spend some time scoping out faculty and research project web pages at
a department before visiting. When a candidate has done his/her homework
Try to take a break between the main interview and dinner, I found that
this helps a lot.
Practice not getting huffy or defensive when people are jerks -- it's
virtually certain that you'll run into someone who likes to take
advantage of the fact that faculty candidates can't fight back.
Unhealthy departments exist. Most professors, even those who are
otherwise nice ethical folks, are absolutely willing to whitewash
problems with their department in order to snag a strong
candidate. Try to get the real scoop from someone.
However, also try hard to recognize and
dismiss outdated information, rumors, and disgruntlement.
Hopefully as a grad student you went to many job talks; this is the
best way to learn what makes for good and bad job talks. Also, it
will help you get a handle on the sorts of questions professors like
to ask candidates.
Internalize the fact that there are major differences between a
good conference talk and a good job talk.
It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of this point.
The first important difference is that most of your audience will
not be experts in your field. The second main difference is that you
must convey a sense of depth and vision -- you're not just explaining
one cool result or system.
People say that 5-10 minutes of your talk should confuse everyone
except people in your field. I found this advice sort of stupid but
people say it anyway.
Plan a defense-in-depth approach to avoiding problems with laptops,
projectors, and MS Powerpoint. Put a copy of your talk on the web in
both powerpoint and PDF, and also bring your talk in these formats on
a CDROM and on one of those USB flash memory dongles; don't put these
all in the same place in your luggage. It seems like a good idea to
bring physical transparencies as a last resort, although I never had
to use mine.
If you prefer to use a laser, bring your own.
If you need to glance at the time during your talk, bring
a stopwatch. Don't rely on there being
a clock in the presentation room. Also, while speaking you don't have
a lot of spare cycles to convert between wall-time and talk-time -- a
stopwatch removes the need to do math.
Sometimes you will have to give your talk without being able to
glance down at your laptop. This is tricky if you're not ready for it.
Don't put the date or the name of the school you're visiting on your
slides, it's unnecessary and perhaps a bit insulting -- do you think
someone in the audience has forgotten the date or the school that
employs them? Also, practically speaking it's nearly impossible to
remember to update your main copy and all backups before each
People really hate it if your talk is too long.
Back to John's Homepage
Before starting to interview, buy a copy of Lonely Planet USA
or Rough Guide USA and then play tourist on off-days between
Although it is tempting to amortize travel overhead by batching up
interviews, be careful about doing this. Interviewing well requires a
level of effort that cannot be sustained for long. For me it felt like
a day or two between interviews was enough to recharge batteries.
Be organized with those receipts.
Consider renting a car and driving between schools that are a few
hours apart, it's often more relaxing and more interesting than flying.
If you do this, be sure to bring along a road atlas!
Don't even think of checking your bag except on the way home.
Have a few thousand dollars sitting around to front for airfares and
car rental. Between Sarah and I, we were down more than $10,000
before the reimbursements started to roll in.
The weather in the Northeast and Midwest is brutal during the
interview season -- bring warm clothes and shoes that won't get you
killed walking on snow and ice.
Pack light! You can always get the hotel to do some laundry for you
if you have to.
There's no excuse for not having a cell phone these days. Make sure
your host has your number in case there is a last-minute change of plans.
Bring your own travel alarm as a backup for the hotel alarm clock.
You'll be happy you did this when you go a couple of time zones East
and then some thoughtful person wants to meet you for breakfast at