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Memoir of a Job Search

By Kim Schneider, Mesa State College, Grand Junction, Colorado
and Frank DeMeyer, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

Kim Schneider received her Ph.D. degree from Colorado State University in the spring of 1997. Her thesis was in algebra, written under the direction of Frank DeMeyer. Due to personal reasons, she continued working at Colorado State during the 1997-1998 academic year while she looked for a permanent position. Kim has worked intermittently as a professional programmer and as a teaching assistant. What follows is our tale of her job search. We hope other participants in the job market can profit from Kim's experience in which she heard from sixty-six percent of the schools to which she applied. In the following, each paragraph begins with the first name of the person telling her/his segment of our tale.

AUGUST 1997

Kim: On the advice of a ``Head Hunter", I first carefully selected both the job and area that I wanted. After discussing these issues with my advisor, I decided to search for jobs in smaller schools where teaching was emphasized, where I thought there was a quality undergraduate program, and where the size of the town was over 100,000. These requirements would, along with my area of research, limit the number of places to which I chose to apply.

Frank: Kim discussed her future in the mathematics profession with me. Kim has a special talent and dedication for teaching. I thought at the time and still think that she made the right decision. Each individual should think clearly about his or her future in the profession. Such a decision makes a focused job search possible.

Kim: I spent weeks reading every book [1, 3, 4 for example] that seemed relevant to getting a job in academia, teaching or even industry. These books are helpful in that they prepared me for the types of questions that I was asked in interviews. They also helped me decide how to construct my Curriculum Vitae and cover letter. My statement of teaching philosophy took about three weeks to write. This was not an easy document to write nor should it be. This process also helped me articulate opinions on current educational issues from NCTM standards to the uses of technology in the classroom.

SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 1997

Kim: The bulk of my application packages were sent out in this time period. I spent an average of six hours researching and writing each application package. Several people and articles I read advised that a sincere, well thought out letter truly addressing a particular schools needs and how I fit those needs would stand out as opposed to a dull form letter [2]. I sought out information about the schools I was applying to from web pages, college catalogs, and books like Peterson's Four Year College Guide [5]. Topics that I addressed: my research, my views on technology, undergraduate research, my teaching evaluations and teaching awards. I always tried to give at least one good reason why I wanted to go to a particular school or area. The reasons ranged from the appeal of their mission statement to the depth of their undergraduate program.

Frank: I watched Kim work on her applications with a sense of appreciation. I had never seen a student prepare these packages so thoroughly. Kim carefully selected each school, considered how her background and training could help that particular school, and crafted an application individualized for that school. I am used to the broadcast, one size fits all application and worried that she was too severely limiting her search.

JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1998

Kim: In January I went to the National AMS/MAA meetings in Baltimore and participated in the employment register. I would advise everyone to do the same because you need the practice interviewing. I had an opportunity to interview with five schools in Baltimore and one school asked me for an on campus interview.

While the opportunity to interview was useful, I left Baltimore discouraged over my prospects in the academic job market. I met an employer there who indicated I should apply for a position at his school, but I did not meet the requirements stated in the advertisement. This made me feel that the time I had spent carefully screening places to apply to had been wasted. I met candidates presenting themselves as teachers who had no intentions of keeping a teaching position, instead they were applying for these positions out of desperation. I met foreign students who were planning to take jobs in Canada in order to brush up on their English and then apply to schools in the United States. The market is tight and employers are possibly reaching for candidates they may not have attracted in previous years, and prospective employees are possibly taking jobs they can get but may not keep for more than a few years.

Frank: I have served for several years on the committee that manages the employment register. We know the register isn't perfect, and we are always trying to find ways to improve it. We all need to be realistic about what can be accomplished in this environment. I was convinced that Kim would interview well, and that she might even get a job as a result of the contacts she made at the register. This was, as is typical with most applicants, not to be the case. At least Kim found the experience useful.

Kim: From the middle of January to the second week of February, I heard nothing substantial from any of the schools to which I applied. Panic was setting in. I interviewed for and was offered a programming position in Colorado. I gritted my teeth and turned down the job, with the 55k a year salary, while wondering how I was going to afford to send my son to college in the fall.

Frank: Kim came into my office in the beginning of February, and she was distraught. There had been no responses from her applications, nor any responses from her interviews at the employment register. I tried to encourage her, told her hiring decisions would not be made until March at the earliest, to hold off on programming jobs that would always be there, and to hang on a while longer. I wonder if she sensed my doubts that things were going to work out for the best. In the meantime, we continued to work on research mathematics, although it was hard for her to concentrate on research projects when her future in the profession was in doubt.

Kim: In the middle of February, the phone interviews started. By the end of April, I had contact with twenty-three of the thirty-five schools to which I had applied.

Frank: When employers started showing interest, I regained my confidence that Kim would find a job at a college or university that would be a good fit for her.

MARCH-APRIL 1998

Kim: By the second week of March, I had four interviews set over a three and a half week period. The first was at a wonderful altruistic private school in Texas. The interview was incredibly difficult because I did not anticipate how demanding the interview process could be. I was exhausted by two o'clock, and I had not yet given my talk. Also, I misunderstood the audience level and had to rewrite my talk at the last minute. The people in the Mathematics department were absolutely wonderful, and even though the salary was far below what I wanted, I would have loved to go there.

Frank: When Kim told me about the interview and the college, I thought she would be offered a position, and if she was offered a position I thought she would be happier if she turned it down. Although there were some good personal reasons to take the job, I was worried that this school would not give her enough professional stimulation.

Kim: Again, I landed another interview in the South. Probably because I was prepared for the grueling schedule, this interview was not as demanding. I liked the area, the people in the department were nice but there was clearly tension among them. My husband was worried about the area for a variety of reasons. I was offered the job shortly after my interview. I was given about seven days to make a decision.

Frank: Now Kim had a real choice to make. Did she want to take a job at a place with some negatives, or keep looking? And what should my advice be? My advice was that it was her decision to make. She certainly knew more about the situation she would be getting into than I did.

Kim: My next interview was in Grand Junction Colorado. Since I live in Colorado, I was to drive to the interview. I was unable to make it due to a spring snowstorm, and I had to reschedule for two weeks later. This delay meant that I had turn down the school in the South without another offer in hand. Although this school told me they would try to keep the position open, they had to restart their search.

Frank: When Kim told me she was turning down the first real offer she received, I understood. But, would there be another offer? On the other hand, let's look at the rejection from the perspective of the school in the South. This school made a big financial investment in the interview. Their attempt to sell Kim on the advantages of becoming a member of their faculty was not successful. Was this failure a consequence of their poor preparation for the interview?

Kim: I really hoped my son received a very large scholarship for college.

Kim: The next interview was in the Southeast. The people at this school were wonderful, the area was charming, and the school had a true dedication to teaching. The interview went well, but I did not like the lecture I gave as a classroom presentation. I was assigned the topic of related rates, which is never an easy topic to cover, and I was responsible for this assignment. I was offered the option of teaching a class in Calculus or Business Calculus. I should have asked what they would be covering while I was there and then made my choice. The trip ended poorly because my plane caught on fire and had to make an emergency landing.

Frank: Kim was enthusiastic about this opportunity and was all but promised a job during the exit interview. However, it is important for every applicant to realize that an interview is not a job, and the promise of a job is not a job. You have a job when you have a contract to sign.

Kim: I finally made it to the school in Colorado. The department head was kind and intelligent, and the Dean was impressive in his understanding of undergraduate education. The interview committee went to great lengths to make my stay comfortable. As a result, the interview was not as taxing as some of my previous ones. I knew my husband would love the area, and he had already been offered a job there. This was the job I wanted.

Frank: The job in Colorado was a real opportunity for Kim. Grand Junction is a rapidly growing area on the western slope of Colorado, a beautiful community, and the school is growing rapidly too. Her husband had a great job waiting for him there, and I thought the place would be perfect for her and her talents. We were both hoping for an offer.

Kim: After finishing these interviews, I was exhausted and did not want to get on another plane. Five more schools called wanting me to come for an on campus interview, I was offered the programming job again, and the school which had previously made an offer called again. I was offered the job in Colorado and gladly accepted before setting any more interviews. I was turned down at the two other schools where I had interviewed. In both cases, I was told it was a close and hard decision. When I was asked for specific feed back, I was told in one case they just came down to splitting hairs. Interviewers at the other school said they could not tell me anything.

In closing, if you target the types of schools I did, you should be prepared to discuss the use of technology, Calculus reform and undergraduate research. I found that the use of technology is becoming a contentious issue at many schools as well as Calculus reform. In one phone interview, the men at the other end started arguing with each other as to whether or not Maple should be used. I was up front with my mixed support of both Calculus reform and the frequent use of technology. I am reasonably sure this cost me two on campus interviews and possibly one job offer. Also, undergraduate research is being done at many schools. What is dubbed undergraduate research varies from a senior project consisting of a survey of ideas to doing original work. The Mathematical Association of America had a special session on this in Baltimore where I learned a great deal about the topic.

Frank: Kim's job search was complete and successful. I learned a lot watching her plan and execute her search. She put into action many of the strategies those of us who have been observing the employment market write about. And here are two pieces of advice for colleges looking for good teachers. First, timing is important. Schools who were interested in hiring Kim but were slow to get their hiring process started lost any chance of being considered by her. Second, there is a huge, lucrative, inviting world of private industry out there. There is the attraction of big salaries. In the future, colleges and universities may find it harder to recruit and retain an effective teaching core. Schools should view the interview as a device to recruit good faculty, not just as a screening tool.

References

1. R. Bolles. What Color is Your Parachute? Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 1971.

2. A. Crandall. `` Applying for Jobs: Advice from the Front." Notices of the American Mathematical Society. July/August (1992), 560-563.

3. J. Dantzig. Landing an Academic Job. (1006): 23 pp. Online. World-Wide Web. 10 July 1997.

4. J. Heiberger and M. Morris. The Academic Job Search Handbook, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

5. Peterson's Guide to Four Year Colleges. Princeton, New Jersey, 1998.

comments about this article to: e-mail address: demeyer@math.colostate.edu


This article originally appeared in the October, 1998 issue of Employment Information in the Mathematical Sciences.

Questions about AMS employment services should be directed to emp-info@ams.org


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