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Job Application Advice

One general thing to keep in mind is that LIGO is definitely "big science". You will need to make a special effort to ensure that potential employers understand your personal contribution(s) to the greater science program. Therefore, in your research statement and your cover letter, immediately focus (even in the first few sentences) on your accomplishments and why they are important for the success of LIGO. Some description of gravitational waves and LIGO and how cool they are is fine, but readers are mainly looking for your personal promise as a scientist.

To apply for a job in academia you generally need three things: a CV, a research statement and (if it's a faculty job) a teaching statement. Here we give some details about writing them. Note: these are only meant to serve as a guide and will change per person. Talk to advisors and friends who have been through the job search process before. If you feel the instructions aren't quite right please update them!

And don't forget: one of the best ways to be most attractive to potential academic employers is to give excellent talks. Thus, you need to practice to give great talks, and need to give as many as possible to be ready at the right time.

Academic CV

The academic CV is very different from a normal CV. Universities generally offer a workshop on CV writing which is useful in examining the difference between the two. As well look out for your physics careers adviser, they are extremely knowledgeable! People early in their careers generally should try to keep a CV to two pages to fit on a single sheet of paper, however an academic CV can become longer once you add in papers (particularly all the LSC papers you appear on). Try to put the highest-impact things at the beginning so that readers see that even if they are reading quickly.

Listing publications on a CV requires care when you are part of a large collaboration such as the LSC. Most of your papers will likely be full-collaboration papers, but evaluators basically discount those, figuring that you played little if any direct role in most of them. (That may even be true.) What is important is to highlight the papers that you did contribute significantly to, in a way that readers cannot miss. Some people separate their papers into "Selected papers" (the most important ones, or ones to which they contributed most), with explanations, and "other papers". Beverly Berger suggests using even more categories, such as:
  • Short-author-list papers and collaboration papers in which you played a major role. A note after the citation should list the major role, e.g., I was the lead author, this analysis was based on my algorithm, my suggestions as internal reviewer led to a much stronger result,...
  • Collaboration papers in which you had significant participation. (Also state what it was, e.g., I was part of the analysis team, I was part of the team that tracked down and removed an annoying glitch source, I was one of the internal reviewers)
  • Other papers.
Often (but not always), publications are listed in reverse chronological order with the idea that the recent ones are the most impressive and should appear first.

For an academic job the real thing to get right is the research statement, but more on that in a bit. The things that you should include in an academic CV are:
  • Previous education, name(s) of supervisors etc.
  • Talks given, seminars given, poster presentations ..
  • List of publications
  • Any academically relevant awards
  • Grants (if you've already managed to get any, even small ones...)
  • Computing knowledge (programming languages you know ….??)
  • References, generally 3. Think carefully about who to use! Your referees must not all be at the same institution. They tend to be made up of your supervisors and perhaps the head of a group you've been working within.
Have a go at writing a CV and give it to either your supervisor, another academic, postdoc or careers advisor. They've all applied for and been successful in securing a position so their input will help. Don't be disheartened if it takes 10 attempts to get it right - it'll be worth it!

Example Academic CVs: desai_cv.pdf, PFulda_cv.pdf

In case you're interested here is a very useful link targeted specifically to industry.

Tex format: http://www.latextemplates.com/cat/curricula-vitae (change the .cls file as you wish!)

The research statement

The research statement is the most important part of an academic application. It must contain your research interests, what you have done up to now and what you are interested in getting involved in, in the future. Don't worry if it is slightly vague (you'll notice the example is smile ) but if you can be specific then great. This is your chance to boast about all the amazing work you've done AND present a vision for what you intend to do in the future...but this can often be quite hard, especially if you've never written anything like that before.

In writing the research statement, think about telling a story with it: the intro (why field is exciting); the drama/tension (explanation of why particular aspect of field is critical, or why we are currently missing a crucial step towards full realization of field's promise, etc.); the resolution (why your work will take that cricial step).

You NEED to tailor this to each institution you apply to (if you know institute X is interested in Y then say that Y is really cool and you would like to be involved in it!). Read the advertisement and tweak your statement to include the institutions interests and how you'd fit in. This should be no longer than two pages long so fits on a single sheet of A4.

Write a statement and again give it to an academic to read. They've been successful in securing their jobs and grants - so they will know how to make you shine!

Specific advice for seeking a postdoctoral position or fellowship

As a grad student, you have done successful research but it was probably formulated or directed by your faculty advisor or some other senior person. You may have gotten quite a bit of feedback and help on your research work and your Ph.D. dissertation. To obtain a postdoctoral position (and succeed in it), you will need to show that you can operate as an independent scientist, even if you will still work closely with your faculty sponsor and/or other colleagues. Some postdoc employers are looking for someone to do a fairly specific task, while others may be more flexible about what you can work on, but in either case you are expected to have a professional interest in the scientific goals. Therefore, when applying for a given postdoc position, try to get a good picture of what you would be expected to do and show evidence from your Ph.D. work that you have already started to gain the skills and independence that are needed for it. Regular postdocs are generally chosen by the faculty sponsor themself, while postdoctoral fellowships are generally selected by a small committee.

If your salary will come from a grant that the faculty sponsor has obtained, he or she may have promised certain results or products by the end of the postdoc appointment, so he/she and you should both be reasonably confident that you can accomplish those within that time frame. A postdoctoral fellowship, on the other hand, may let you set your own scientific agenda. In either case, it is important to have a research plan that will accomplish something significant before the term of the position ends.

Specific advice for seeking a faculty position

The workload balance between research and teaching varies greatly between institutions. For a given faculty job opening, one of the first things you need to do is to determine what the teaching load would be, so that you can craft a research plan that works with the time you'll have available, as well as the environment and resources of the institution. For some full-time teaching positions, research may be optional; but for all faculty positions in which research is expected, you will need to convince the hiring committee that you have a vision for a long-term, productive research program that will involve students. In most cases you will need external funding to support your research, so it helps to have an understanding of proposals and funding prospects in your research area.

The statement of teaching philosophy

The statement of teaching philosophy varies in importance, depending on the type of position you are applying for. If you will be doing a lot of teaching, it is pretty important. If you are applying for a research position, it may not be required. In your teaching philosophy statement you should describe what you think constitutes good teaching and why. What strategies to you plan on using? What activities will your classes include? How will you assess if your teaching is working or if you need to make changes?

A teaching statement should include specifics and concrete examples but should be less than two pages in length, just like the reasearch statement. There are several, helpful web resources including a Chronicle of Higher Ed article and teaching center resource page. Googling "statement of teaching philosophy" will help you find many other resources, including examples.

Example Statement of Teaching Philosophy: teaching_phil.pdf

Specific advice for seeking a job in industry

Some of the expertise you acquire as a grad student or a postdoc may be very specialized, but you have most likely also gained general skills that are attractive to potential employers. Some things may be directly applicable to the jobs you are applying for, such as expertise with programming languages, software, instrumentation or experimental techniques that are used in their business. However, often it is the intangible things that will make you attractive to a potential employer, such as strong analytical reasoning skills, creative thinking, the ability to solve complex problems, working well in a team, reliability and a strong work ethic. Successfully earning a Ph.D. and doing original research that is respected by your scientific colleagues demonstrates that you have the potential to adapt and succeed in a new environment doing different work. Therefore, when you talk about your accomplishments, try to use them as examples of the broader qualities that you would bring to a new job.

More Example Materials

Here are some example application packets for academic postitions that include cover letter, CV, research statement and teaching statement: smith.pdf, JSRead-CSUF.pdf

Here is an example industry-targeted resume from Nick Fotopoulos: nick-resume.pdf Nick comments: "This is the resume I submitted to Synaptics for the position of Sr. Algorithm Architect, which I got. The resume is pretty heavily optimized for the position. I'm a strong proponent of a headlining Summary of Qualifications section that should read like the requirements from a job ad. The details of what I researched was not nearly as important as what skills I utilized and what roles I played in that research. In retrospect, I would probably add slightly more detail about the scope of my PhD work. Also, I have noticed that many colleagues and I will actually go to URLs that interesting candidates put on their resumes, so there's room to make further impressions there."

Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
JSRead-CSUF.pdfpdf JSRead-CSUF.pdf manage 138 K 2013-08-23 - 19:00 UnknownUser  
PFulda_cv.pdfpdf PFulda_cv.pdf manage 102 K 2013-08-23 - 18:56 UnknownUser  
desai_cv.pdfpdf desai_cv.pdf manage 108 K 2013-08-23 - 18:52 UnknownUser  
nick-resume.pdfpdf nick-resume.pdf manage 35 K 2014-04-16 - 20:12 UnknownUser  
smith.pdfpdf smith.pdf manage 215 K 2013-08-23 - 19:00 UnknownUser  
teaching_phil.pdfpdf teaching_phil.pdf manage 51 K 2013-05-21 - 18:33 UnknownUser  
Topic revision: r12 - 2019-07-21, jessica.steinlechner@ligo.org
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