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Job Search Diary

Job Search Diary


By Edward Aboufadel


 

(This diary originally appeared during 1992 and 1993 in FOCUS, which is published by the MAA.)

 

Part 1

 

Keith Devlin, chair at Colby College, has asked me to keep track of my progress towards finding a job. Here goes:

 

Up until October 15,1991: Over the past few years, as I have worked on my dissertation, I have been keeping track of the job market by reading articles in Focus, the AMS Notices, and SIAM News, and through conversation with faculty at Rutgers, particularly my advisor. I draw the following conclusions: the job market will be tight for positions in Sept. 1992; an average candidate applies for 100 jobs; each offering gets 600 applicants; all large state universities want to hire stars and will delay hiring for a year in order to get one; teaching is called a "load" while research is called an "opportunity"; the average starting salary (and what I am expecting) is $32,000/year; departments want to hire people with postdoctoral experience; postdocs are very competitive.

 

October 18, 1991: Since September I have been accumulating announcements of job openings. My sources are the bulletin board in the department, Focus, the AMS Notices, SIAM News, and e-MATH (the AMS computer that is discussed at length in the Notices.) Today I sit down with all these opportunities and try to sort out which ones I want to apply to. For a while, I have been thinking about geographical location, and, in order to be reasonably close to my family and friends, I have decided to limit my search to states east of the Mississippi River which are not in the deep South. This gives me approximately 22 states to work from, and I also add Ontario to the list.

I sort through the positions, rejecting some for one of the following two reasons: geographical area, or that the school is looking for a specific specialty (i.e., Operations Research, Discrete Mathematics) that is not my specialty. I decide that it is too early to factor preferences such as rural/urban or big school/small school -- I probably will not be able to be choosy. After sorting, I determine 25 positions that I feel I can apply for.

Should I apply for all 25? In some cases, it may be a waste of my time and theirs, but how can I know which cases? I decide to talk with my advisor, Jane Scanlon Cronin.

 

October 22, 1991: Met with my advisor to talk about applying for jobs. She does not steer me away from any position. There is a postdoc at the University of Michigan that she describes as "very competitive" but she does not say, "you won't get it so don't even try." We talk about letters of recommendation, my resume, and my cover letter. My resume at this point mentions my expected PhD, the courses I have taught, and some of the activities I was involved in college (e.g. student government, a service organization). It is difficult for the two of us to decide what should go where, and I decide to talk to someone in our department who was on the hiring committee last year.

We also talk about whether my last name will be a problem. Seriously. For the positions I intend to apply for at smaller, more education-oriented schools, I do not want those personnel committees to think that I am from Iraq. I am born and bred in this country -- my father said he wanted to raise my brother and me as Americans -- and I have been educated exclusively by the American educational system. (Whether this is something to be proud of is another question.) My advisor suggests that I include my place of birth, birth date, and high school education on my resume.

 

October 24, 1991: Feeling pretty anxious about applying. I have done most of the work for my dissertation, but is it really any good? Purdue, for instance, demands that you name someone on the faculty there with similar interests as you. I do a little research into the mathematicians at Purdue and can't find anyone there with similar interests. Yes, there is a group involved in ODEs, but one person is doing Numerical Analysis, for instance, and it is just not clear what "similar" means. Is my dissertation too obscure? I imagine other students completing their Fields-medal quality PhDs and I wonder how I can compete for these postdocs. I probably can get an interview at a school that is not too concerned about research, right? But I want to continue my research. But I also want to be involved in Calculus Reform and everything else discussed in Focus. After all, I have a subscription to UME Trends. How many graduate students have a subscription to UME Trends?

 

October 25, 1991: Get e-mail from K. Devlin. He suggests writing this diary and that I should consider one-year positions. He observes that after a one- or two-year position, the job market might be better. Good point. But who wants to start applying for jobs as soon as he gets into a position?

 

October 28, 1991: Met today with Joe D'Atri, former chair of our department. He has had experience with fielding applications and I ask him for his preference. A good rule of thumb: the cover letter should not be more than a page. If it is necessary to describe certain research or teaching experiences in detail, then create another document in the application packet and refer the reader to it (e.g., "For a more detailed discussion of my dissertation, see the attached sheet ?Description of Dissertation.?") He also recommends: make clear whether letters of recommendation are coming; make clear whether or not you are a US Citizen; make clear which position you are applying for; make clear when you expect to receive your PhD.

"Bigger" schools are very concerned with your research experience, so two or three letters should address this. I have a problem in that my advisor is really the only person who has seen my work. I decide that I need to talk with her about this. Perhaps Terry Butler could write a letter for me.

 

October 30, 1991: A few places make it a necessary condition of the application that you name or even be in contact with someone at that school who has interests similar to yours. The night before I spent some time in the library using a list of professors I got from e-MATH and the author index of Mathematical Reviews to find someone with interests similar to mine. An hour later I was sure that either no one in the world has interests similar to mine or else that I am misunderstanding these instructions. I decided to send e-mail to anyone I can find with an e-mail address at these institutions in order to ask for help.

I have also completed drafts of the generic cover letter, my resume, and my description of research. Tomorrow I meet with my advisor.

The November Notices arrived today. There are a number of positions there and I am now up to 37 positions that I am applying for. I wonder if I can eliminate a few. Of the 37 positions, a few specify a preference for a certain specialty that isn't mine, but they also say that all applications will be considered. I have heard stories that departments will not always stick to their preferences, so I really cannot drop those.

I still wonder if anyone at the University of Michigan, for instance, is going to give my application more than a moment's notice.

 

November 1, 1991: Talked with Joel Lebowitz today, a professor here who is the head of the math/physics group. Basically, I wanted to understand what a postdoc is. He described it to me in this way: there are some mathematicians who have a grant, and in the grant there is money for a postdoc. If you are hired as a postdoc via this grant, you basically do the research that the senior member asks you to do. On the other hand, there are many Instructorship positions in mathematics departments. With these positions, you teach, are free to do the research that you choose, but it would be nice if you were connected with some seminar or senior faculty member -- a mentor, if you will. I had been growing concerned that the mentor-student relationship of my predoc work would be duplicated in my postdoc work, but he believes that that is not the case.

One position I am applying for is the Pew Teacher-Scholar program. Through some luck, I have located someone at the University of Chicago who shares some interests with me. His name is Norman Lebovitz. A search of the library indicates that Lebovitz's research involves geophysics and fluid dynamics. If Lebowitz is right, and if I were to be named a Pew Teacher-Scholar at the University of Chicago, then that would mean that I would not necessarily be working in geophysics and fluid dynamics next year (although it might be interesting). So, it should not hurt me to assert in my application where I see my research going.

I asked my advisor to give me a list of people who are currently working in our area. She is working on it.

Lebowitz also mentioned that, as an American citizen, I can apply for an NSF Postdoctorate. Why am I not surprised to learn that the deadline for applications was Oct. 15?

 

November 7, 1991: I haven't had a lot of time the last few days to work on this. I got a letter out to Oberlin College and tonight I am working with the computer to generate 10 more letters. These deadlines worry me. What if one of my letters of recommendation doesn't get there by the deadline? What about those places that want transcripts? That is going to take some time. So far, as far as letters go, I have asked Dr. Barlaz to write one about my teaching experience. I expect that it will be a good letter, as he just asked me if I would like to teach 377, Numerical Analysis, in the spring. Tomorrow I will explain my thesis work to Dr. Butler, who is on my committee, so that he can write a letter about my research. I need to talk to my advisor again. We had an appointment for Tuesday that she cancelled and we have yet to connect. I also need to talk to Dr. Greenfield about the letter he is going to write about the service I have done for the department (The "Mr. Chips" letter).

I have been neglecting my dissertation for two weeks now as I work on this (and teach and get everything else done I need to get done like laundry and grocery shopping and trying to spend some time with my girlfriend). I don't know what troubles me more: the listings with November deadlines or the listings that don't have deadlines.

Some disappointing news from the chair of Washington University in St. Louis. No one there is working on ODEs (and why not?!), so I cannot apply for the Pew Fellowship there. At least I can apply at the University of Chicago.

Meanwhile, I have discovered a new source of jobs: Employment Information in the Mathematical Sciences. Unfortunately, I cannot get my hands on the current issue. Last year, the department didn't get the November, December, or January issues until April, because the University "forgot" to pay the AMS what it owed. Today the chair told me that they have ordered it. I'm not holding my breath.

At this point, I have applied or am about to apply for positions with deadlines before Jan. 1. Let's see if I hear from anyone. Then, next month, I will send out more.

I also left my resume with an IBM recruiter who was on campus this week. Tomorrow there is a Math/Actuary career day here, and I hope to give some other companies my resume. Although I would prefer an academic position, I think, it will be good if I can interview for a few positions in industry. I've been told that solid analytical skills are desired on Wall Street. I wonder if there are any jobs I can be considered for.

 

November 12, 1991: Wanted to insert the e-mail note I received last week from Washington University:

 

Date: Thu, 07 Nov 91 14:40:04 CST> From: "Gary R. Jensen"

Subject: Re: Pew Teacher-Scholar Program To: "Edward F. Aboufadel"

ln. Reply. To: Your message of Fri, 1 Nov 91 10:26:48 EST Dear Edward, I am sorry that we have nobody in our department who does research in the area of ordinary differential equations. Ours would not be a good department for you to spend a post-doctoral year. Best wishes on finding a more appropriate place. Sincerely yours, Gary Jensen

 

I sent out 13 applications yesterday and one more today. I also received a letter from Oberlin College saying that they have received my letter and are awaiting transcripts and letters of recommendation. Only a few places have asked for transcripts. I was surprised to learn this week that Michigan State now charges $5.00 for a transcript. At Rutgers it is $3.00.

My advisor today gave me her version of my "Description of Research." She said that what I wrote (and sent to 15 schools) was too technical. I don't want to botch getting an interview because of some sort of procedural thing like this -- let them reject me on my merits!

I have 20 more applications to send out, and I will do those next week. It is funny -- I think that once they are sent out, I will probably have to wait until the new year for any fireworks.

 

November 25, 1991: The department has received the November issue of Employment Information in the Mathematical Sciences. There are a lot of listings in it. I also checked the listings in e-MATH, and there are a lot of listings there, too. I am trying to determine if one is the subset of the other. Given the number of listings that I see, I am starting to feel more confident that I will at least get an interview.

Those other applications I mentioned I am working on today. Last week I concentrated on my dissertation.

I continue to refine my resume and description of research, even though some places have already received earlier versions.

I have begun receiving confirmations from schools that they have received my application, and many include an affirmative action form to fill out. Maybe that would be a way for schools to discourage people from applying -- make them fill out long forms. Or, as I've heard some airline is doing, put a fee on the job application. Actually, I think this is a terrible idea.

The best confirmation I have received so far is from Oberlin College. It is a simple "We got your application -- here's what we don't have yet" letter. The worst has been from Duke University, which sent me a form letter that they must send to all who apply, because it included sentences like "If you want your application from last year reconsidered..." and "If you have not sent us a description of your research ?." Basically, the only part of that letter which applied to me was "We have received your application."

I am glad that I am receiving confirmations -- it makes me feel that my work so far on this job search project is actually getting somewhere.

 

November 27, 1991: Problems at the University of Bridgeport and at Columbia worry me a bit. At Bridgeport, they are having a financial crisis, and may have to dip into endowment funds in order to pay faculty on the 29th. At Columbia, the heads of a number of departments are threatening to resign if the administration there follows through on attempts to cut some programs. Are the places I have applied to, particularly those who caution that the available position "depends on funding approval," in at all in similar shape?

On the other hand, my office mate from last year, Brenda Latka, tells me that Lafayette College, where she has a position, will be hiring again this year and that they are working on the announcement. How many places out there have made similar decisions this week?

 

November 30, 1991: Today I decided to not apply for four positions that I had earlier decided to apply for. I also worked through a new list of positions I got from e-MATH, rejecting many that I felt I was not qualified for or overqualified for. For instance, a few places said they would "prefer an algebraist" or said "master's degree required." I didn't like this line in an announcement by the University of Missouri: "Selections for the position will be based primarily on demonstrated research achievement in an area complementary to areas of ongoing departmental research," in part because earlier in the announcement they paid lip service to quality teaching and because I feel that one of the strengths of my applications is my teaching experience.

I've spent a lot of time with this process already, and I am getting tired of it. I'm not so quick to say, "It won't hurt to apply there, too."

However, since some of these positions have application deadlines in February or March, I may still have a long way to go. I'm also expecting the new AMS Notices this week.

 

December 5, 1991: Here's the score at this point: I have 40 applications out. A Chinese student in our department has 60. Two Americans that I know are just starting to apply, and a third American has 4 applications out, since he wants to stay in New Jersey.

I have more thoughts about better ways to word these job postings. Why can't departments be clearer about who they want to apply for these positions? I appreciate the departments that say" please send a copy of your most recently published paper," since it says to me: "if you haven't had anything published, don't apply." I would like to see ads that say ''this position is intended for new PhDs." I understand that departments like to be vague in their position announcements so as not to turn away someone who actually might be a good fit, but, on the other hand, if your search committee is tired of swimming through applications, maybe the announcements should be more direct so as to get fewer applicants. Some ideas: "only graduates of Princeton, Harvard, or Berkeley need apply"; "if you do not enjoy teaching, don't even think of applying here"; ''this is a tenure-track position -- we are NOT hiring new PhDs." OK, maybe I'm getting a bit silly here.

 


PART 2

 

In the October issue of FOCUS, Edward Aboufadel described the first stage of his search for an academic position in last year's hiring round. At the time, Ed was a graduate student completing his PhD in mathematics at Rutgers University. That first installment of his job search diary took us through the fall, up to the end of November. This month's episode describes the job search through to early February.

 

December 14, 1991: I have put together 17 more applications today to raise my total to 57. I have become much more aware of deadlines, and I have decided that I will wait until mid-January to apply for any position with a deadline of February 1. I wish every job announcement had a stated deadline, particularly those on the AMS e-MATH system.

Last month at two job fairs on campus, I talked to recruiters from IBM and AT&T. These recruiters were primarily interested in hiring graduating undergraduates, but they took my resume anyway and said they would pass it on to the appropriate people. This has been the extent of my non-academic job search so far. I received letters this week from both corporations stating, in effect, that they are not hiring right now, but might be in six months or so. I don't find this very encouraging, but, on the other hand, I have been primarily focusing on the academic job market. In six months, if I don't have an academic position, I will have to go back to these and other companies to see if they are hiring.

I sent a letter two weeks ago to St. John's College in Maryland. They have an unusual program that they call the "Great Books" program. They also had an advertisement on e-MATH. I wrote to express my interest in getting acquainted, as, from what I read in their catalog, I am not sure if I want to apply for a job. I received a short postcard from them this week that said that they would not be hiring this year. This is the first place that I have heard say this.

Let's hope that only a few follow.

Many schools have sent letters of acknowledgement of my application. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is a relief to know that my letter actually got there and to learn if my application is incomplete. On the other hand, I'm dying to know what kind of impact, if any, my application is making. Most likely, departments haven't made it past the "put it over there with the rest" stage, but I'm feeling impatient.

With the letter of acknowledgement, some schools send an affirmative action form. I am quickly tiring of filling these out. I also don't think it is very wise to ask an applicant to pay the postage to mail the form back.

Practically all announcements of positions end with "women and minorities are particularly encouraged to apply." As a white male, I have to wonder if that sentence really means anything. Am I not encouraged to apply? The current national discussion about quotas applies here too, doesn't it? What does it mean when an announcement doesn't encourage women and minorities to apply?

Some schools also request transcripts. What does this mean? Must the transcripts be official, or can I copy the unofficial ones that I have? And why do these schools need my transcripts in order to decide if they want to interview me? At this point, I don't think they would worry about grade point average. Do they think that someone will lie about their credentials? Is this some way to lessen the number of applications they receive? Given the cost of official transcripts, this would be a clever, though perhaps not healthy, idea.

I figure that by the time I am done with this process, I will have applied to at least a half-dozen campuses which are part of the SUNY system. I wonder if there is some way that these campuses could work together to hire people. Following this idea to its logical conclusion, we would end up with the system used by medical schools and hospitals, as was explained in Science last year. If a system like that would save a lot of departments money, I'm sure they would consider it.

 

December 18, 1991: I received this today by email:

 

From: for L R King

Subject: Application to Davidson College

To: aboufade@math.rutgers.edu

Mr. Aboufadel,

The evaluation of applications for our position is well under

way. We like what we have seen of your application, but it is still

incomplete. The following need to arrive VERY SOON:

* A copy of your undergraduate transcript.

* A copy of your graduate transcript.

Please let me know that you have received this message.

 

I think email is wonderful, and I am glad that they like what they have seen of my application.

 

January 3,1992: I received my first rejection letter today. It was for the Pew Teacher-Scholar Fellowship. Actually, the letter announced that the Fellows for 1992-1993 have been chosen. I guess I was to use a little bit of logic to deduce that I was not one of those chosen.

I wish I had some feedback on this. The facts are that I was not chosen for this Fellowship and I was not even interviewed for it. I would like to know if (1) based on my credentials, I was too ambitious to think that I could be considered, or (2) my credentials are acceptable, but my application itself could have been improved. Could I be so bold as to write Dr. Hornbach and ask him? Perhaps I don't want to know the answer.

While I'm being depressed, today I took a close look at the December issue of Employment Information in the MathematicaI Sciences. In this Issue are the resumes of all those people who will be participating in the Employment Registry in Baltimore next week, plus a handful more who will not but who wish to have their resume published. There are 534 resumes in this book, including mine. We could take all these people and start an electoral college! (OK, bad multidisciplinary joke.) A glance at my registration information for the meeting indicates that the ratio of applicants to jobs this year at the Employment Registry is near 5:1, which is either a record or else close.

What was also troubling is that many, maybe even half, of the resumes are from people who have already graduated. I have to compete with these people! And, looking at my resume, I see that I could have filled it in a lot more completely than I did. It's funny -- last month I was starting to feel confident about getting hired. Now I'm getting anxious again. Time to apply for some more positions.

 

Ed Aboufadel demystifies calculus for his class.

 

January 6, 1992: Talked to a Chinese student today who is in my department and is also looking for a job. He told me that he has received a few rejection letters, one of which said that they were not looking for someone in his specialty. Another said that the position is no longer open because of financial constraints. I also called both Dartmouth College and Bloomsburg University today. For Dartmouth, I wasn't certain if they had a complete application packet from me. For Bloomsburg, I wanted to know if they could live with unofficial transcripts at this stage. (They could.) Tomorrow I am heading for Baltimore. I spent this afternoon trying to find out a few facts about the employers who will be interviewing in Baltimore. In particular, I tried to find out which schools have institutional memberships in the AMS and the MAA, which might be an indication of the level of professionalism of the program. I also went through the 1990 survey of salaries produced by the AAUP, which is the union that represents the faculty at Rutgers. Since I have some choice as to which schools to interview with, I might as well factor in potential salary as a consideration. What can I expect from these interviews? Only that if I leave a good impression, I might get a second, longer interview some time in the future. I certainly wouldn't hire anyone on the basis of a fifteen-minute interview.

One question I will need answered is whether or not I should sign up for interviews with schools that I have already applied to. I have told all of these schools that I would be in Baltimore, and there is an interview session on Friday afternoon where the schools indicate which candidates they would like to interview. Since these schools have my application materials, they should be able to decide if they want to interview me then.

I can tell that this is going to be a stressful week.

 

January 9, 1992: I arrived in Baltimore on the 7th for the Joint Meetings. The primary reason I am here is to participate in the Employment Registry (ER).

So far, the ER has struck me as a big cattle call. The whole set-up is in a huge hall known simply as Hall D. In one part of the hall, the resumes of all the participating applicants, including mine, are displayed, as are announcements of positions.

Yesterday, I submitted a request for interviews for today. I submitted the names of 12 schools. This morning I received a schedule for today. I have 5 interviews, 1.5 more than what could be expected according to the ER people.

People are anxious here. I've noticed that some people are using the message center to contact schools to arrange interviews outside of the ER process. Although the ER people recommend doing this for maybe one or two schools, it looks like a couple of people have sent messages to every school that is interviewing. I've also noticed that a few people are using the message center to pass along their resumes. I imagine that the U.S. mail would be safer and more reliable. On the other hand, this could get someone's attention.

As for myself, I have let Dartmouth College know that I am here and Bloomsburg University has invited me to their hotel room for an informal chat. I was told by a professor at Rutgers that people from Davidson College were talking about me, and yesterday I noticed that someone who was looking at the book of resumes had circled my name. I guess right now I'm latching onto whatever information I can.

 

January 13, 1992: I have returned from the Baltimore meeting, which I felt went pretty well. On the 9th and 10th, I had interviews with a number of schools.

All the schools that I interviewed with through the Employment Registry consider teaching as important or more important than research. Given my teaching experience as a graduate student (I have taught 6 courses at Rutgers University) and my feelings about teaching vs. research, I had a leg up on other candidates.

As for the interviews themselves, they were quite short (15 minutes), and, for the most part, it felt more like I was interviewing the schools rather than that they were interviewing me. Many of the interviewers spent most of the 15 minutes telling me about the department. All asked me if I had any questions about the department. Questions I asked of each school were: Is there any computer-aided instruction? What kind of computing facilities are available for faculty and students? How many math majors does the department have? Is the department satisfied with that number? What is the lowest level course taught in the department? Does the school have a research library and if not, where do faculty go to read journals? Does the department field a Putnam team?

I wish I had asked the following question: What is the mission of your department?

Through these questions, I got a picture about each department and their attitudes about research and their students. There was some uniformity in the responses. For instance, nearly all the departments that I interviewed with had a program in place for computer-aided instruction. (Could I say the same about a random sample of research universities?) Nearly all places promised a brand-new desktop computer for each new faculty hired. Each could name a research university near enough that I could travel to if necessary.

Two of my interviews left me uninterested in working for those schools. I wish I could just cross these schools off of my list, but these are desperate times for new PhDs, and I may not be able to be choosy.

I was pleased to find that two schools requested a second interview with me through the Employment Registry: Davidson College and Ball State University. When I learned this news on Friday morning, for the first time I started thinking that this was no longer just an exercise in letter writing and being organized. Over the next two months, I will be making some serious decisions about my life.

A good question to ask is why I haven't made these decisions sooner. For instance, do I want to work at a liberal arts college or a research university? After studying at Michigan State and at Rutgers, working for a liberal arts college feels like a demotion to me. Some of the speakers in Baltimore observed that I am not alone feeling this way. It is true that graduate study at a large research university is primarily training for a position at a large research university. (For example: my department underwrites my membership in the AMS, but I had to pay out of my own pocket to join the MAA.) To consider working for a liberal arts college seems like an act of rebellion.

While I was in Baltimore, I received a few letters indicating that certain schools will have decided by mid-February whom they want to invite to their campuses for a full-fledged interview. Also, today I will be putting together my final batch of applications (I hope), which should bring my total to approximately 70.

 

January 20, 1992: There is an idea about this process that I had that I am starting to question. I thought that the order in which offers of position would be made would be as follows: first the prestigious postdocs, followed by the well-paying instructorships at the big research universities, then the liberal arts colleges and smaller universities, and then the rest. So far I know of one prestigious postdoc that was awarded, the Pew Teacher-Scholar Fellowship. I suppose others have also been awarded or are about to be awarded. But what is going on at the research universities? Penn State had an application deadline of October 10, yet it wasn't until last week that I received a letter from them acknowledging receipt of my application. Meanwhile, a letter from the University of Toronto states that their search committee will meet in late February or early March to begin considering applications. A friend at Michigan State describes the situation there as "We've thrown all the applications in a room and will get to them later". Here at Rutgers, each applicant has a folder but now there is a serious question of whether or not the department will be able to hire anyone.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, some of the liberal arts colleges and small universities that I talked to said that they would have their short lists ready by the end of January and would send out invitations for interviews in early February. A letter from Macalester College indicated the same.

I recognize that this information is anecdotal, but it makes me wonder.

I heard last week that the University of Wisconsin-Madison has received 900 applications for positions in the Mathematics Department. Unfortunately, there are no positions available at Wisconsin. If there was a position advertised, I would have applied, and I'm sure that I am not alone.

Received my second rejection letter over the weekend. Actually, it is not quite a rejection letter, since I am still being considered for the position. But how else am I to react to the following: "... we will be giving preference to those with backgrounds and interests in discrete or geometrical modeling or dynamical systems. We also consider a demonstrated commitment to the blending of pure and applied mathematics, statistics, and computer science essential. It doesn't look like your background and qualifications match our preferences. Of course, we may not be able to hire an individual who matches our preferences. So, if you still wish to be considered for our opening, you will need to complete our application packet "

Who would want to be in a position where you are cognizant that you are not what were wanted? Please don't tell me if I am your 20th or 80th or 200th choice.

On the other hand, sometime in the future, I may come to appreciate the honesty of this letter. After all, at least in this case I know why I am being rejected (or being put way down on their list).

 

January 25, 1992: I received two more rejection letters this week, from Vanderbilt and from Wright State. One I deserved, while the other I am confused about.

In both letters, the schools said that they were not looking to hire someone in my area of specialization. In the case of Wright State, they were absolutely right. I went back to the job announcement and discovered that they were looking for someone in operator theory. I don't understand how I ever decided to apply there. On the other hand, the job announcement for the Vanderbilt position said the following: "We are especially interested in someone who works in one of the areas of departmental strengths which include universal algebra, differential equations, approximation theory, operator theory, mathematical biology, applied mathematics, graph theory, and topology." The last I checked, my dissertation was in ordinary differential equations with some connections to mathematical biology. I am sending the chair at Vanderbilt a letter.

The latest rumor is that what started as three open positions at the University of Illinois is now zero. I heard this from a mathematician visiting Rutgers this month with whom I've been acquainted for a number of years. When I told him that I applied to 67 different schools, he said that was not enough. Ten years ago, when he was looking for a position, he applied to 120 schools.

Some of my friends here at Rutgers tell me that they continue to get similar advice. For example, that it would be wise to apply to every college and university in New Jersey because you never know if a position is going to open up and there will not be time to advertise it.

I have two reactions to this sort of thing. First, does this really have to be so hard? Second, I am getting tired of hearing all these tenured (i.e.: employed) faculty members fret about this year's job market. People come up and start talking to me about the situation, and I'm the one who should be anxious. I'm not saying that I'm not anxious, but I wouldn't mind a little perspective from the people above me.

To be fair, some faculty members have provided just that, observing, for example, that it would not at all be unprecedented if I had to wait until May or June until I get a job offer. But it appears that many tenured faculty are finding this year's job situation a bit unnerving. It could lead to fewer graduate students in the future.

 

February 1, 1992: I had lunch today with Nigel, a fellow student who is also going through a job hunt this year. He has sent out 73 applications at this point and has received 5 rejections. He has heard that there is a hiring freeze in the California state system and that there has been one for six months, so any job announcements other than named instructorships (e.g., Hedrick) are for positions that most likely don't exist. He has also heard that positions at the University of Washington in Seattle have disappeared due to funding problems.

More so than I, Nigel has had to fill out a number of application forms sent by the departments he applied to. Apparently the announcement for positions at Princeton said that to apply, an application form needed to be completed, so send us e-mail and we will send you the form. This seems a lot nicer than the process of sending a department an application packet and then having them send you application forms to fill out. In this way, the department gets the information they want in the form they want it in and the applicant saves 29 cents.

I have been trying to decide whether or not to apply for more positions. On the one hand, I feel that there must be a good number of departments that I have already applied to that would be a good match for me. On the other hand, if the number of good matches for me is 10, and if there are 12 other people out there who are also good matches for those ten schools, then someone is going to lose out.

The problem at this point is that hiring freezes and vanishing positions are all I've heard about in the last ten days or so. For example, the rumor about the University of Illinois was confirmed this week. I am trying to patiently await positive news, but it is difficult.

 

February 9, 1992: This past week has been just a cascade of bad news. I received rejection letters or e-mail from Mary Washington College, SUNY-Brockport, Shepherd College, and the University of Richmond. Mary Washington College said that they had made offers to two people and that the offers were accepted. (At least someone is hiring.) SUNY-Brockport said that they had gone through the applications once and that I was not in the "FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION" classification. Shepherd College said something similar, although they mentioned in the letter that they had decided to focus on candidates who also have a computer science background.

At least with these three places, I can console myself with the fact that I was not terribly interested in them, either. On the other hand, I had higher hopes for the University of Richmond. I had an interview with a member of that department in Baltimore, but the chair there said the following in the email message that he sent me: "... it is unlikely that you will be considered further. We have more than 300 completed applications and have had to make difficult choices with limited information."

This rejection led me to look over the letter that I sent the University of Richmond. I am extremely embarrassed. There is a typo in the first sentence. This question that I brought up with the Pew Fellowship arises again. Is it a question of inadequate credentials or am I saying the wrong things in my cover letter or have I just been unlucky?

This time I have actually sent a response to the chair at Richmond, asking for some information about their "difficult choices." I recognize that this might be unorthodox, but this is an unorthodox year.

On Wednesday, I talked to a relative of mine, Albert Fadell, at SUNY-Buffalo. Most of our conversation had to do with considering my interests in research versus my interests in teaching and whether or not I would be happy at a place like SUNY-Buffalo. The answer to that question is probably not, and also probably not at any other "cutthroat" (Dr. Fadell's word) big research university. I am beginning to wish that I could start this whole process over again. I probably would have applied to different places than I did and I probably would have said things differently in my application packet.

Well, with 9 rejection letters in hand, I am definitely going to send out one more wave of applications. The January Notices and my most recent look at the job listings on e-MATH have given me another dozen places to apply to, whose deadlines are February 15 or after.

I have just received a response from the University of Richmond. (Once again, isn't e-mail great!) The chair, Joe Kent, writes the following: "Let me say that you made a good impression in the interview with Dr. MacCluer in Baltimore and we had you near the top of our list. When the cut was made we had to eliminate some fine people. The ones that made the cut (10 total) were very outstanding. Fortunately, several seem to be interested in our position and would be able to work with current faculty. This is a difficult year and there will be many disappointed people. I only wish I had more positions to offer. I cannot pick out something that was "wrong" with your application or that should be changed. Good luck to you.

This makes me feel better.

 


PART 3

 

In the October and December issues of FOCUS, Edward Aboufadel started to describe his search for an academic position in last year's hiring round. At the time, Ed was a graduate student completing his PhD in mathematics at Rutgers University. The first two installments of his job search diary took us through the fall, up to early February 1992. This month's episode ends at the beginning of April 1992.

 

February 17, 1992: I received one new rejection letter in the past week, from the University of Maine at Farmington. I also received an acknowledgement postcard from Loyola-Chicago.

A Chinese student, Xiaoping, in my department has had a little better news. Although he too received a rejection from Maine this past week, and also received a notice from Auburn University that there is a hiring freeze there, he has gotten an interview with a school in Hong Kong. I guess the interview will be over the telephone.

Xiaoping has a theory that the method of selection by search committees this year is to only consider applicants who earned their PhDs at Harvard, MIT, or Princeton. This certainly would save these committees a lot of time. And there are probably just enough jobs available this year to hire everyone who is graduating from these three schools.

My area of specialization has been on my mind lately. I recently had an e-mail conversation with Keith Devlin, the editor of Focus and Chair of the Mathematics Department at Colby College. There is a temporary position open there. He said something to the effect that it was a pity that they were not looking for someone in my area.

Along those lines, I received a response to a letter I sent three weeks ago that reads, in part: "Thank you for your letter of January 28. I apologize for the misunderstanding in my letter to you regarding your application. It is true that ?ordinary differential equations? is one of our departmental strengths, however at this time ordinary differential equations is not necessarily the area in which we expect to recruit. We are required to list our departmental strengths in order to solicit applications from individuals within those strengths. I can understand that it could be misleading as one might assume that we would also be recruiting from within all of those areas. Unfortunately, that is not the case."

I can't help asking just what is this paragraph saying? Better yet, what is it not saying? It does not say "We are not hiring anyone in ordinary differential equations." Nor does it say "We would hire someone from ordinary differential equations if he or she were good enough for us, and you aren't good enough for us, Mr. Aboufadel," which I could accept. A suggestion: Next year, the institution should reword any job posting to read the following:

"We are especially interested in someone who works in topology [or whatever]. Other areas of departmental strength are universal algebra, differential equations, approximation theory, operator theory, mathematical biology, applied mathematics, and graph theory."

You will get fewer applications, and you will have fewer people continuing to wonder why they have been rejected.

I am starting to imagine that in spite of job announcements that say "We would like to hire someone in Discrete Mathematics, but will consider strong applicants from all specialties," the departments will have no problem finding someone in the specialty they want.

In spite of all my grousing, I am trying to keep in mind that, in many ways, it is still early. Many departments have just reached their deadlines for applications. It has not been uncommon for departments to delay their hiring activity to late spring. Nevertheless, if the rest of February turns out to be as negative as the first half has been, I may be taking a serious look at nonacademic employment come March.

 

February 23, 1992: My friends tell me that I need to relax a bit. This is an extremely stressful time, between completing my dissertation, waiting for rejection letters and maybe an interview, and paying attention to my teaching assignment.

I heard a rumor that a graduating student at Princeton recently received three job offers. Obviously, this person cannot accept all three. I recall being told that the process would work this way -- first everyone would chase after the "stars." Once the cream of the crop decide which positions to take, departments begin looking farther down their lists.

Is this happening later this year than in the past? Perhaps it is my strained imagination getting the better of me.

My advisor told me again this week to put the whole matter out of my mind for a while. Worrying is not going to speed things up.

Linda Holt, who graduated from Rutgers last year and is now in California, told me this week that my current situation (i.e.: waiting) sounds normal to her for the third week in February. She imagined most of the rejections that I have received at this point are the ones where the department was not hiring in my specialty or there was some other clear-cut reason. There is some truth to that.

Good news for Xiaoping. He received a job offer from a university in Hong Kong. He doesn't seem very excited about it though. I recognize that, in many cases, Chinese students would like to remain in this country.

I have a relative who is a professor in the Mathematics Department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and my father told me a rumor, via the family grapevine of all sources, that Wisconsin may be soon announcing an open position. My father said, "You should send Dr. Fadell your resume, just in case." I replied that I understood that Wisconsin had about 900 applications already and that they never even posted a position. Nevertheless, I sent my resume to Dr. Fadell if, for no other reason, than to get acquainted.

 

March 1, 1992: I had expected to hear some good news during February, but I was disappointed. This being a new month, it is time to try to see where I am going with this process.

My rejection count is up to fourteen. I was mildly pleased with the letter from Brown University, since it suggested that in the future I could apply for a visiting position. (Oh, the little scraps we cling to at this point.)

Rumor update: I heard that the University of Minnesota has made offers to people, which I guess means that they interviewed somebody. The University of Kentucky allegedly has no money now. The University of Michigan has also made offers.

I have a confirmed rumor from a source at a Big 10 school. (I feel like I am writing for the Washington Post.) The hiring committee at this school has decided that this year is a wonderful opportunity to hire permanent people, as opposed to post-docs, so they will be focusing on candidates for tenure-track positions. (I wonder when this decision was made.) Then, once that process is completed, they will begin considering post-docs, if any money is left. Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to put this school on the "don't hold your breath" list.

Here at Rutgers, I've heard that a woman in Operations Research has been invited for three interviews. I also heard today that one of the Chinese students has gotten a one-year post-doc in Minnesota. Nigel told me this, and was surprised that I hadn't heard it. Strange how news travels. Other than that, no one else here has had anyone interested in him or her, as far as I can tell.

It is also difficult to be patient. I continue to struggle with whether or not to call some of the departments I applied to. What good will it do me? I might get some (unwanted) information a little quicker than if I waited.

It may be better to wait.

So, where am I going with this process? It is difficult for me to believe that I am in the running for any position that had applications due before January 1. Is the fact that few other people have had interviews a good sign and I should just be patient, or a real bad sign and should I get ready to panic? I'm going to begin a serious look at non-academic employment. This is not to say that I am going to start sending out dozens of application letters, but I am going to try to find out where to look for non-academic jobs. My parents suggested the employment service for students on campus. As that office seems geared towards undergraduates, will they have much to offer me?

I came to graduate school six years ago because I wanted the training and credentials necessary to be a professor of mathematics. The trinity of research, teaching, and service seemed like a good life. I did not work at Rutgers for six years to go work for an insurance company or for big business and, to be honest, the idea of working for a major corporation frightens me a bit. I know what a university is like, and the people I have looked up to the past ten years have been faculty. I don't know any mathematicians who work for industry.

Maybe I just need to be more patient.

 

March 10, 1992: This past weekend was a marathon for me as I got much closer to completing my dissertation. My advisor has advised me to put the job search out of my mind for a while, and I did so with a vengeance. But now it is time to consider it again.

I recently took an informal poll of the graduating students to see how their job searches were going. All in all, not too well, although I learned today that Nigel has been offered a position at Michigan. I sent him e-mail asking when he found the time to interview, given that he has been working even more frantically than I have to complete his thesis.

Today I talked to the chairman of our department, Robert Wilson, about the situation. He did not know as much about the situation with the students here as I do, and he hoped that I could tell him about other students who had been offered positions. Unfortunately, I could not.

Last year, three students who graduated from here did not get jobs, so Rutgers hired them as instructors. Dr. Wilson is trying to work out a similar deal this year. I told him that I am not at all that excited about being hired as an instructor by Rutgers. I feel a position like that would be a consolation prize (very much leaning on the meaning of the verb "to console"). I don't blame Rutgers or the department for the current situation. How were they to know that the value of a PhD in mathematics would diminish?

I took a look at the employment section of the New York Times recently. There were a few positions for people with mathematical training, including a position in finance that required a PhD in either finance or in mathematics. I am debating whether or not to contact this company.

The fact that Nigel was just hired is probably a good sign. It means that there is something going on, although the pace remains quite slow. Dr. Wilson told me that it has not been uncommon for students to be offered jobs in April or May. Given the current financial climate, perhaps next year departments should make their deadlines for applications on March 15.

Finally, I received a rejection letter by e-mail today from a good basketball school. All it said was: "Thank you for your application for a position. We have completed our search this year and will be making no further offers." Their deadline was November 15 and I sent my application on November 13. Things sure take a long time.

 

March 11, 1992: I talked to Nigel about his job offer. I asked him when he found the time to interview with the University of Michigan. He said that he didn't have an interview; they just called him up and offered him a three-year position. Nigel is a number theorist, and he told me that over the last few years he had gotten to know the number theorists at Michigan. Or, should I say, they have gotten to know him.

We have at least 11 people here at Rutgers who are applying for jobs this year. Three of them have been offered positions.

 

March 13 (Friday), 1992: Thomas Hood (1799 -1845) once wrote: "For one of the pleasures of having a rout, Is the pleasure of having it over." That is how I feel right now after the debacle of the last 48 hours.

On Wednesday, I received e-mail from Brenda Latka. Brenda was my office mate last year, and this year has a tenure-track position at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She wrote to say that last year at this time she had some interviews. She also told me that Lafayette College had interviewed a few people recently, had offered a position to someone, and that the offer was accepted.

This news upset me. If I were to rank the schools that I applied to in the order of "likelihood of getting an interview," Lafayette College would be in the top fifteen. Also, their application deadline was January 20, which wasn't that long ago. But, already, they are done with their search.

This news also convinced me that it was time to contact the schools on my "A-list" and find out what was going on with my application. Yesterday, I contacted seven schools either by phone or by e-mail.

The University of Scranton recently offered positions to two people and they both accepted. I had what I thought was a particularly positive interview in Baltimore with a representative from Scranton.

SUNY-Geneseo has just decided on three people to interview, and I am not one of the three.

Ditto Western Carolina.

George Berzsenyi from Rose-Hulman writes: "We have not yet made a decision, but we are in the process of interviewing those applicants whose area of interest matches our needs best. More specifically, we hope to find someone in statistics first. Your application is still on file, but not at the top of the file at this point. Your continued interest in Rose-Hulman is most appreciated."

H. J. Ludwig from Ball State writes "We are presently interviewing in our priority areas: actuarial science and mathematics education. Interviews in other fields (if there are any) would not be earlier than the first full week of April."

I am still waiting to hear from Northern Illinois.

Then, last night, two new rejection letters from Elmhurst College and Oberlin College. Michael Henle, Chair of the Mathematics Department of Oberlin College, writes, "We are aware that this is an extraordinarily difficult year for job searches."

No kidding.

The only positive news in this disaster came from Union College in New York State. They have a three-year position available and, at this point, they have not begun their search in earnest. They are waiting for some of the other schools to hire people. I suspect they have had problems in the past with offering someone a position, only to have that person go somewhere else.

I talked to the head of the search committee there for about fifteen minutes in an attempt, as I told him, 'to advertise myself." He promised to take a look at my application folder.

So where am I today? As I look over the seventy-eight departments that I have applied to, I figure that there are maybe ten left that I can seriously have some hope about. Maybe. I find it hard to believe that any department whose deadline was in December would be considering me at this point.

Maybe something will happen and I will get a visiting position for one year. Then I have to go through the whole process again next winter. This is not something I eagerly anticipate.

I start wondering if it is even worth it. It is hard to imagine myself being very happy as a gypsy the next few years, moving from department to department in search of some permanence. And if I am not going to be happy, I might as well figure out a way to make more than $25,000 a year.

Yesterday a couple of prospective graduate students visited my department. I told my friends in a low and threatening tone to keep them away from me. They would not like to hear what I had to say.

At least now I have a pretty good idea where I stand. That is the pleasure of the rout being over.

 

Edward Aboufadel reads a rejection letter.

 

March 14, 1992: Northern Illinois writes: "Search is still in progress. Initial candidates have been invited to campus for interview. You were not among them. We will inform all candidates when the position has been filled."

 

March 20, 1992: The rejection letters arrived this week at a brisk pace. I have received seven in four days, which is a monsoon compared to the drizzle of one every four days that I had been experiencing up to this point.

All of these new rejection letters were from liberal arts colleges and smaller universities. There are a number of large, research universities that I applied to that I have not heard from, but I suspect that I will not hear from them.

The best of the seven was from Davidson College. The chair of the department there, L. R. King, writes in part: "Because you were one of our strong alternate candidates, we kept your file active until we could be sure our position was filled.... You have some real strengths to offer an academic institution and I hope that it works out that you will find the position that you want for next year.... I hope that some of us at Davidson will see you at professional meetings in the future."

One letter was particularly troubling, and what made it so was that I received it at this time. The deadline for applications had been March 1, yet by March 17, they had made their decisions. They certainly were efficient.

I continue to feel pretty lousy about my prospects. Looking over the seventy-eight departments that have I sent applications to, I figure that, at this point, there are ten that I still have a chance at. Tomorrow I will be sending out a half-dozen or so new applications for positions recently posted on e-math. Next week I plan to contact some recruiters for non-academic positions.

I continue to chafe at the idea of having a sequence of one-year positions. It has always been my impression that there were two basic career paths to becoming a mathematics professor. One was to get a tenure-track position immediately after completing the doctorate, and to either remain at that institution for life, or else to move on to somewhere else after a few years.

The second was to have a postdoctoral position after graduate school, and then to proceed along the first path.

If the profession wishes to attract more young people, I don't think they want to advertise that, after six difficult years in graduate school, you have to wander from visiting position to visiting position for a number of years until you can get a permanent position.

To use the pipeline/pump/filter metaphor, they don't want to advertise that when you get to the faucet at the end of the pipeline, there aren't many thirsty people with empty cups; that instead, the water is splashing on to the earth and draining away.

Today I met with a number of high school mathematics teachers at the 1992 Precalculus Conference here at Rutgers. A few, whom I've known for a couple years, were shocked to hear that I was having such difficulty with the job market. The consensus comment was: "We keep hearing about this dire need for students trained in mathematics; so where is that need?"

I tell them that it is the recession, but is it just that? The job market for PhDs in mathematics has been difficult for a few years now. Why?

 

March 24, 1992: Over the past two weeks, my advisor, Jane Cronin Scanlon, has been trying to get some information about a position available at Seton Hall. She knows someone on the faculty there, and every little bit helps. Yesterday, she found out that the position had been filled. Seton Hall is hiring someone who is currently completing a "named" postdoc. Dr. Scanlon also relayed to me that the committee at Seton Hall was amazed at the number of highly qualified people who applied this year. (So maybe those paragraphs in those rejection letters are sincere after all.)

Today I started my non-academic job search. I contacted Analytic Recruiting in New York City. The woman that I talked to suggested that with my background, I would be a good candidate for a position in technical analysis on Wall Street. I will be sending her my resume shortly.

When I told her that I wanted to start work in August, she said it was actually a bit early for me to be calling. This is a striking contrast to the academic job market, where you apply in November for a position which begins the following September.

This afternoon, I received the following cryptic e-mail from Michael Meck at Southern Connecticut State University: "You applied in November for a tenure-track position in our department. Are you still interested in being considered for the position?" I wrote back that I was, and added, "Why do you ask?" I am waiting for a response.

Three years ago, I worked with Gerald Goldin and Joe Rosenstein at the Center for Mathematics, Science and Computer Education, here at Rutgers. I worked on the Precalculus Project at the Center. Last week, I mentioned to Dr. Goldin that my job search has not been going well. Today, he and Dr. Rosenstein asked me if I would be interested in a new postdoctorate position that they are going to try to put together. The position would include time for mathematical research and time to work on a project in mathematics education, and might be connected with DIMACS (The Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science at Rutgers). Of course I said I would love it if they could set a position like this up and hire me for it.

I think a postdoctoral position such as this would be an asset to the profession. It would also encourage graduate students to pay more attention to mathematics education.

 

March 29, 1992: Progress at last! On Friday, I received a phone call from Michael Meck at Southern Connecticut State University. For their available position in applied mathematics, they have narrowed their list of applicants to ten, and I am one of the ten. The next phase consists of telephone interviews by Professor Meck. He and his committee will then select a subset of the ten and invite these people to campus.

We talked for about forty-five minutes, primarily about teaching.

Southern Connecticut is looking for someone to work on their Numerical Analysis course and also to take a look at their Differential Equations course.

I am teaching Numerical Analysis this semester, using the same text in fact, so I had some opinions on the subject. We also talked about computers for faculty and for students and the availability of computers in the classroom itself. The position is primarily a teaching position, and the department assigns you twelve hours each semester. There is time and money for research in the summer, but research is not necessary for tenure. There must be something in your work to demonstrate professional growth, though, such as developing a new course.

I also sent my resume this weekend to Analytic Recruiting in New York. I had to spend some time considering which parts of my resume I should change for the business world. I doubt that businesses care about which courses I have taught, although they would probably like to know that I have been in charge of something. Conversely, mentioning that I have participated in the AT&T Collegiate Investment Challenge may make me marginally more marketable, while it probably would make no difference at all to a search committee in a Mathematics Department.

In the I-guess-l-didn't-leave-much-of-an-impression department, I received one rejection letter this week that said, in part, "I was sorry I was unable to talk to you personally, but we had over 380 applications for our positions." Unfortunately, the letter-writer forgets that I interviewed with him in Baltimore. I thought he was impressed by me. I recognize, of course, that no one is going to write over 379 personal rejection letters.

I also received a rejection letter from Salisbury State University. I received sort of a rejection letter from them in January, as I described before. This time, they actually found someone, and wanted to let me know.

And then there was the rejection letter from Michigan State, my alma mater. Ouch.

 

April 2, 1992: Next week I am going to Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven for a full day of interviews. The search committee there met on Tuesday and decided to invite me as one of their "finalists."

I will be giving a talk about my dissertation. The talk is to be aimed so that a junior or senior mathematics major can understand it. I think that I am up to the task.

I will also be meeting at least one dean, the mathematics faculty, and maybe some students, too. Southern Connecticut State will pay for all expenses (travel, hotel, food).

I am excited that finally some department has expressed an interest in me. But I also have mixed feelings about what is happening. I think it is related to my prejudices about the relative prestige of different schools.

It seems that the large research universities are the most prestigious. A few months ago, I began to accept the fact that I wasn't going to get a job at one of those schools.

The next level of prestige is the better liberal arts colleges and the better smaller universities. This is the level where I felt I had an excellent chance of getting a job.

I am not sure where Southern Connecticut State University fits into the hierarchy.

I have started to accept that I will not be hired by a better liberal arts college this year. I don't know exactly whom they are hiring, but these places (e.g., Davidson, Franklin & Marshall, Dickinson, Oberlin) were not interested enough in me to invite me to their campuses or to even call. My advisor has talked to some people at the AMS, and the anecdotal evidence indicates that the rejection letters are true. There are a lot of very strong people looking for jobs this year. People from Russia and China, and more importantly, people with experience past the doctorate. If this is my competition, it is no wonder there has been scant interest in me. This suggests that if Southern Connecticut State University actually offers me a position (which is tenure-track), and if I want to remain in academia, I would be a fool to reject it in the hopes of receiving an offer from somewhere else.

I received a rejection letter today from Franklin & Marshall College. The Chair, Arnold D. Feldman, writes the following, which I thought was strange for a rejection letter, but was, nevertheless, consoling: "It concerns me and my colleagues greatly that at a time of obvious need for innovation and expansion of mathematics education in this country, many talented, hardworking mathematicians are finding the job market so inhospitable. I know that you are eager to apply your much needed talents and education, and wish you the best of luck in obtaining an opportunity to do so." I say amen to that.

 


PART 4

 

April 12, 1992: On Thursday, I traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, for my interviews at Southern Connecticut State University. Southern, as they call this New England campus, will reimburse me for the costs of the trip.

My day started with an interview with the hiring committee at 8:00 in the morning. The interview focused completely on teaching. The faculty at Southern teach four courses a semester, and the committee, I suppose, wanted to see if I was fit for that. I was asked questions about my past teaching experience, my aspirations for my career, the texts I've taught from, how I usually distribute grades in a class, the organization of the courses at Rutgers, and the letter I had published in UME Trends. (I've mentioned this in almost every application letter that I sent out, and I was pleased to discover that Dr. Meck actually had the issue in his files. Considering the small circulation of UME Trends, this is a good sign about Southern.)

Next was my interview with Dean Smith. Actually, I wouldn't characterize it as an interview. Dr. Smith explained to me how hiring and tenure works and gave me a rough estimate of how much I would be making if I were hired. He didn't ask me questions about myself.

At 10:00 AM was my campus tour. Southern has a small campus (compared to Rutgers), and there were not many buildings to see, but I took a close look at the computers that are available for faculty and for students.

After lunch, I gave a lecture on my dissertation. I was asked before hand to keep it at a level that a junior or senior math major could understand. I'm not sure if I was able to do that, but, in the same manner as when I teach, I stopped at times and asked if everyone understood what I was talking about. I was a bit nervous, tripped over some of my words, and I think I could have used the chalkboard better, but at the end of my talk, I was asked a number of questions which suggests to me that most of the faculty understood what I was trying to communicate.

After the lecture was informal discussion with faculty. It was interesting that when I chatted with Dr. Helen Bass, she referred to my lecture as "when I was teaching" rather than "when I was lecturing." I talked to faculty about my research some more, and about graphing calculators in the classroom. The informal time passed quickly, and soon I was on my way back to New Jersey.

On reflection, I think I may be happy at Southern. I like to talk about teaching and it appears that the faculty there also likes to talk about teaching. Many of them have aspirations about this course or that course, and I felt during the day like they were studying whether or not I could help with their aspirations.

They started with 500 applications, and I am one of the three finalists. As I was the last of the three they interviewed, they will be making a decision soon about hiring.

One last note about Southern for now: a few times on Thursday, I was told that if I was offered a position, I must insist on a new computer for myself as a part of the package.

When I got home Thursday night, there was a message on my answering machine from Middlebury College. I applied for a one-year position there, and they would like to talk to me about it. I had trouble on Friday getting through to them, so I will try again tomorrow.

I also talked to a representative of the Peace Corps on Friday. She was enthused that someone with a PhD in Mathematics would be interested, and said that if I was placed anywhere, it would probably be at a university in Eastern Europe or Russia where I would teach mathematics. What irony! Of course, the Peace Corps requires a 27-month commitment, but at this point I will consider it. The recruiter told me that I should apply soon as it takes a few months for all the processing to occur.

 

April 14, 1992: Yesterday I got a call from Dr. Meck at Southern. After meeting on Friday, they have decided to offer me the position there! Success at last!

So, the new question is whether or not I will take the position. The answer is "most probably," but first I want to see exactly what they are offering me, in writing. Dr. Meck has already sent me the AAUP contract and information about retirement benefits (nothing like worrying about the year 2030), and tonight we are going to talk in depth about their hiring process.

My family and friends are excited. I'm excited!

There are a number of schools that I applied to that I have not heard from yet. I plan this week to contact a number of them to find out about the status of my application. At this point, I almost hope that I experience a sequel to last month's rout, as it will make it perfectly clear that this is the only offer I am going to get.

I'm not sure what is going on with Middleberry College. I contacted the Chair there yesterday morning to let him know that I am still interested in the position there.

 

April 15, 1992: Last night I talked to Dr. Meck about the job at Southern. He outlined the responsibilities of the position. They want to hire me as "the Applied Math person," and expect me to take an active interest in the courses that are considered applied math: numerical analysis, math modeling, etc. If I accept the position, the first day I need to be at Southern is August 24, although classes do not start until the 31st.

As far as the details of the offer (length of contract, salary, etc.), the dean is going to call me tomorrow to talk about that. Dealings of this sort are handled through the dean's office. I look forward to this conversation.

Of course, in order to take this position, I have to graduate first. While all of this has been going on with Southern, I have also been attempting to finish my dissertation. It is not easy, and yesterday my advisor found a troubling flaw in part of my work. People tell me that when you reach this point in the program, little flaws begin to look like big ones.

 

April 17, 1992: I'm not sure why, but the dean did not call me yesterday. This being the beginning of the Easter/Passover weekend, I probably will not hear from him until Monday.

I have not received a rejection letter all week, which I think is curious since there are still 49 departments out there that I haven't heard from. I have to assume that some of these places have hired people by now, particularly those whose deadlines for applications were in December. I have been wondering how many of these departments I will never hear from in any way.

 

April 18, 1992: Today I talked to Dean Smith. He gave me a salary figure, which was a bit lower than I expected from talking to him last week. We then talked about what he was going to do to find more money for me.

I also said that since I was going to be the lead person in Applied Mathematics, I should have a good personal computer either in my office or available to me in the mathematics computer room. By good, I imagine something with a co-processor and decent graphics. Dean Smith said he would consider it and sounded optimistic. Apparently money for computers for new faculty is in a different pot from money for salaries for new faculty.

I asked him about the formal hiring process. Once he and I verbally agree on some terms, some papers are shuffled and I am to get a letter from the president of Southern formally offering me a position. The letter will contain the terms of my employment (i.e., salary, benefits).

I decided today which other schools I would contact on Monday to determine the status of my applications there. It helped me to take another look at the acknowledgement letters that I have received so far. About a half dozen imply that they will not send me a rejection letter if they, in fact, reject me. I say "imply," since I am reading statements such as "If we need more information, we will contact you."

I noticed that Southern's deadline for applications was November 13, 1991, yet they still haven't completed their process yet since I have yet to commit to them. I wonder if other schools who had early deadlines and whom I haven't heard from are in this situation.

 

April 20, 1992: Today I contacted some of the departments that I haven't heard from yet. First I talked to Ohio State. They hired three instructors this year, but, due to budget cuts, they did not hire any tenure-track positions.

Next I talked to the combined Indiana University/Purdue University campus in Indianapolis. They hired three people this year. The secretary apologized for the fact that rejection letters haven't been sent out yet, but she said they had over 1000 applications, and it has been difficult keeping up with the paperwork.

UNC-Charlotte has done some hiring, but I was not on their "finalist" or "semifinalist" list. The chair there also said that they would probably do some more hiring next month, because of some recent resignations. When I mentioned my name, he immediately asked for my area of specialization, which suggests to me that their process was organized by grouping applicants by area of specialization.

Ithaca College is in the last stage of their process, and their deadline for applications was December 16. They have had several people interview on campus. If they decide not to hire any of the candidates they have interviewed, then they will go back to their pool of applicants, but I rate this possibility as unlikely.

The University of New Hampshire reports that they have hired one person for a tenure-track position. They also apologized for not sending out rejection letters yet.

On reflection, I have found practically everyone I have talked to on the phone, both today and last month, to be friendly and open about how many people they hired or the status of their process.

 

April 21, 1992: There is a very troubling article in the new issue of Science. During the 1980s, the NSF, under the direction of Erich Bloch, predicted that there was an impending shortfall in the number of scientists and engineers. Now, a congressional investigation has suggested that this shortfall was purposely overstated in order to promote increased R&D funding.

At this point, it is not clear what the truth is. Perhaps next week's issue of Science will have more details. It is becoming apparent, though, that NSF's predicted shortfall has not occurred, at least not in Mathematics. This may be the result of increased federal funding of graduate students over the last few years, an increase that was influenced in part by NSF's predictions.

If the NSF did cook the books seven years ago, then this is something to get angry about.

 

April 22, 1992: I got this rejection letter today from a Big Ten school: The Personnel Committee of the Department of Mathematics has completed the process of reviewing and ranking applications for faculty positions. A number of factors are taken into consideration during the screening and hiring process. I regret that we cannot offer you a suitable appointment for next year. Thank you again for applying to Big Ten University.

This letter begs the question: what are these factors? Gender? The reputation of my thesis advisor? Whether or not I have bad breath?

Besides, given this year's job market, any appointment would be "suitable" to someone looking for a job.

This has gotten me thinking about what I feel is the ideal rejection letter. I have grumbled a lot in this diary about poorly-written rejection letters. How would I do better?

Given the numbers of applications, a form rejection letter makes some sense, although with today's word processing programs, it would not be hard to personalize these letters. For example, "We received over 500 applications, in your specialty, ."

I would invest some time to write a decent letter. I think applications deserve more than the disorganized paragraph written above. In retrospect, letters which express empathy with the applicant for trying to find work this year have been appreciated. Letters which gave a glimpse of the process that a personnel committee followed have also been appreciated. (I applaud Macalester College in this regard.)

I recognize that some hiring committees have felt absolutely overwhelmed this year by the number of applications that they have received, and I can imagine that at the end of a hiring process, there may be a desire to just get it over with and to not spend much time with the rejection letters. But that is no excuse. I have looked at rejection letters for clues as to why I was rejected, where I was deficient. These letters could be an opportunity to educate, which is one of our goals.

 

April 23, 1992: This morning there was a message for me from East Stroudsburg University requesting that I call. I applied for a tenure-track position there last month. I also received an e-mail message from Dr. Meck, the Chair at Southern, saying that Dean Smith would call me this afternoon, probably with a final offer.

I had a decision to make. I imagined that East Stroudsburg wanted to interview me. Should I go there for an interview, or should I just accept the job at Southern? At Southern, I would be involved with the Applied Mathematics courses. East Stroudsburg, according to the job advertisement, was looking for someone to improve their general mathematics courses. To be honest, this made Southern more attractive. Also, Yale and its research library is right next to Southern. I decided to hear what Dean Smith had to offer.

So, this afternoon I talked to Dean Smith. He was able to offer me a little bit more than when we talked on Saturday. He was also able to set aside money to purchase a new computer for my use.

I accepted the job offer.

Then I called East Stroudsburg. They really did want to invite me out for an interview. I felt very odd telling them that I had already accepted another offer and that I would have to decline the invitation.

According to Dean Smith, within the next four weeks I should receive some formal paperwork concerning my employment, including a written statement of my salary.

 

May 4, 1992: This is my last entry, as my job search is complete. Southern has requested official transcripts from Michigan State and from Rutgers. They will be sent as soon as I finish with Commencement here at Rutgers in a few weeks.

I'd like to share a rejection letter from Kent State: Dear Position Candidate: The departmental search committee has completed its review of the more than 500 applicants, and had reduced the list to six finalists, when the positions we were authorized to fill for the academic year '92-'93 were frozen by the University in response to severe higher education budget cuts threatened by the State of Ohio. We were fortunate to have a number of extremely strong candidates apply. The six finalists have visited our campus, and the search is now complete. We thank you for your interest in Kent State University.

This letter is another snapshot of the problems in this year's job market. It is also confusing. I think it says that they had gotten to the point where they interviewed six candidates and then the hiring freeze set in, but I am not sure. Is the search complete or just suspended until the hiring freeze is over? I would like to know.

Let me review the past seven months. I ended up applying to 90 different schools. (My running count was 87, so at some point I mis-counted.) That's over $26.00 just for postage.

One school contacted me to find out if I was still interested, and two schools invited me for interviews. I only interviewed with Southern Connecticut State University, and I was offered a position there.

Forty-three schools sent me either a letter of rejection or else an announcement of a hiring freeze. Through telephone or e-mail conversations, I learned of rejections from nine other schools. Seven schools implied in their letters acknowledging my application that I would not hear from them again unless they wanted to interview me.

Of the 28 other schools, I received a letter acknowledging my application from 16 of them. The other 12 schools have yet to contact me in any way.

Twenty-five schools requested that I complete some sort of Affirmative Action survey.

I also tested the non-academic waters, but had nothing substantial develop.

I have been thinking about the effects of the Baltimore interviews on my job search. I interviewed with eight different schools, and none of them invited me for an interview on campus. Does the AMS compile statistics on the effectiveness of the Employment Registry? How many of the interviews in Baltimore led to job offers, or at least a more in-depth interview? If that number is low, then perhaps the expected outcome of participating is not worth the cost.

The interviews in Baltimore were good experience for me. I got some idea of what kinds of questions are asked by representatives of search committees. I'm willing to believe that this made the interviews at Southern less intimidating. I also got an idea that members of search committees are real people.

Finally, let me reiterate some of my comments about the wording of advertisements: I think that search committees should be as specific as possible about whom they are looking for. If you want someone who has published at least three papers, then say so. I don't think it is fair to say, "Well, there is a chance that we would hire someone who hasn't had anything published," if that chance is rather small. For example, I did not apply to any school that said, "Submit a preprint of your latest work with your application," since I did not have any preprints to submit.

From what I hear, next year will be worse than this year. There will be more people looking for jobs, there might be more positions available, if we're lucky. Nevertheless, I predict more tidal waves of applications to drown secretaries and search committees.

And, you know, I'll probably be on one of those search committees next year. Then I'll be able to see this process from the other side.

 

Focus editor Keith Devlin and Edward Aboufadel

 


The Job Search: The Numbers Aspect

 

Number of Schools Applied To: 90

 

Distribution of Schools by State:

 

New York

16

Pennsylvania

10

Illinois

9

Ohio

6

North Carolina

6

Indiana

6

Connecticut

4

Massachusetts

4

3 states had

3

Canada had

3

5 states had

2

7 states had

1

 

Location of Advertisements that I responded to:

 

AMS Notices

21

e-math

25

flyer posted in department

17

MAA Focus

11

First learned in Baltimore

3

SIAM News

2

First learned at job fair

2

Chronicle of Higher Ed.

1

New York Times

1

 

Types of Positions applied for:

 

Tenure-Track

70

Two-or-three year position

10

One year position

10

Other (non-academic)

4

 

Month that rejection letter was received:

 

December 1991

1

January 1992

5

February

10

March

23

April

10

May

12

June

8

July

3

Never

18

 

For those positions that announced due dates, the average amount of time between the due date and the rejection letter was 2.8 months.

 


Copyright ©1998 The Mathematical Association of America

 

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