Kelsey Shoub is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a former Post Doctoral Research Associate with the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on topics of public policy process, Congress, framing, and race and policing. Dr. Shoub received her PhD in political science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. You can learn more about her research and teaching here.
This post is the second in a three-part series focused on the academic job market.
The political science job market can be daunting and confusing—at least it was for me. To help demystify parts of the process, I recently wrote up a short document based on advice I received and my own experiences. Using that document as a springboard, this series will overview a range of job market topics to help you on your job market search.
The first post in this series walked through what the job market process looks like. This post will break down one of the first big steps in that process: putting together an application.
Every application you submit is—to a certain extent—unique. Between one application and another, this may mean small changes to your cover letter. However, for other applications this may mean submitting completely distinct materials.
So if you are facing a possibly large stack of applications, each of which might ask for (slightly) different things, what exactly should you prepare ahead of time? I have found the most streamlined applications request letters of recommendation and three items: a curriculum vitae (CV), a job market paper, and a cover letter. This trio makes up the cornerstone of any application packet.
Your CV serves as a summary of your qualifications and experience, of which you likely already have a version. Its construction also signals what you prioritize and should only include information pertinent to your academic job search. I found the best way to identify what information to include and how to order it was to look at the CVs of role models in the field and those who had recently gotten jobs at the types of institutions I planned on applying to. If you are thinking of applying for positions at both predominately research and teaching institutions, then look at CVs of role models currently at both types of institutions.
That being said, you should include information about your research (i.e., publications, work under review and in preparation, conference presentations), grants and awards, teaching experience (i.e., courses taught, courses where you served as a teaching assistant), professional service and activity, methods training and technical skills, other relevant work experience, and references. Although the specific sections and their order can vary, each section should have a clear section heading.
“I found the best way to identify what information to include and how to order it was to look at the CVs of role models in the field and those who had recently gotten jobs at the types of institutions I planned on applying to.”
The Job Market Paper
The next portion of your core packet is your job market paper. This writing sample provides the search committee with an in depth look at your work. At different points in your career, you have different choices as to what you submit as a sample. Regardless of what you choose, your writing sample must be a well edited, complete, and clean study. If you have not yet graduated, your sample should be a section of your dissertation (preferably a complete chapter) to demonstrate that at least a portion of the dissertation is done. If you are currently a postdoc, then your market paper can either be a chapter of your dissertation or another solo authored work. Ideally, your writing sample will already be published or under review at a journal.
Of the three cornerstone pieces of your application, this is the only portion that remains relatively static across applications. The caveat here is that if you are applying for jobs with distinct foci (i.e., applying to both methods positions and American politics positions) you may have two market papers: one each that highlights your work in each area. Further, some postings require or request two writing samples: ideally both are solo authored, but, if you have a published co-authored piece out there, this can also be used as a second sample. Additionally, your job market paper or set of papers is or are likely something you have already finished or been working on for a while. As such, I would recommend starting and finishing this piece first.
Finally, almost all applications ask for a cover letter or a letter of interest. Similar to your CV, the cover letter provides a snapshot of who you are as an academic. In no more than two pages, your cover letter should indicate what job you are applying for, what makes you a good candidate, your research agenda, and your teaching experience and fit. The biggest differences between the two is that in your cover letter you can add narrative, explicitly indicate in what ways you fit the advertised position, and how you might fit in at the university. You should resist the urge to simply regurgitate information from your CV and other portions of your application. Instead, embrace the ability to connect all parts of your application at once with a single narrative.
For similar types of jobs (i.e., American politics positions at R1 institutions), the structure and narrative of the letter can remain the same for each application, which means the generic form of the letter can be written over the summer. However, you will likely want to have at least two versions of your cover letter: one for predominately teaching positions and one at more research orientated universities. For me this translated into having a number of “generic” letters (i.e., one for American politics position, one for policy positions, and one for data science positions), that I then personalized for each application.
I found that personalizing my cover letter for each application helped, and I even received comments to that effect on interviews. Personalizing the letter does not mean completely re-writing it for each job. Instead, include a sentence or two in the first paragraph indicating how you fit the posting and department and indicate what specific courses in the department you could teach.
Beyond the Basics
In addition to these core documents, the majority of jobs will likely ask for two additional pieces: a research statement and a teaching statement. Your research statement should present and provide a narrative for where your research agenda has been, where it is, and where it is going. For graduate students and postdocs, this should be 2-4 single spaced pages and should explicitly discuss your dissertation. When describing your dissertation, you should not only summarize the substance of the dissertation but also discuss what deliverables (i.e., articles or a book) that will or have come from it and a time line to completion. For a LaTeX template, based on advice on how to structure my own materials, click here.
Your teaching statement should be one or two pages long with two or three parts. The first portion of the document should be your teaching philosophy, which is what you think it means to be an instructor and what you try to do as an instructor. The second portion should describe your teaching experience (i.e., what courses you have taught, what you have done as a teaching assistant, and other relevant experience). One aspect you may overlook here is sufficiently describing what you did as a teaching assistant; TA-ing can be hard work that requires you develop the same skills as teaching your own class. However, those reading your applications cannot know that unless you describe what you did. The final portion that you may include is a short description of the courses you would like to teach in the future. Throughout this document specific examples are important and should reinforce the narrative built throughout the document. For more teaching oriented schools, you may expand your teaching statement into a portfolio, which also includes one or two course syllabi that you have prepared and a summary of your teaching evaluations. For a LaTeX template, based on advice on how to structure my own materials, click here.
Beyond this, committees and schools may ask for a variety of additional materials, such as a summary of your teaching evaluations, a diversity statement, statements on how your research and teaching contributes to the values of the university among others, sample syllabi, a second writing sample, et cetera.
“I found that personalizing my cover letter for each application helped, and I even received comments to that effect on interviews.”
You have a (basic) application packet now! What’s next?
If you’ve created all of the documents above (or at least the core three documents), then you are now well on your way to applying for jobs! At this point, my advice is to take a day off from the elusive job market hunt and reward yourself for putting yourself in a position to succeed. Take the day to reset your brain: the next step is applying for jobs, which means personalizing your generic pieces for those applications. Good luck; you will hopefully be interviewing soon!