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I am going on the (research oriented) post-doc job market (mainly in the US) this winter and would like to ask some questions. I am aware of the site http://academia.stackexchange.com, but I am writing here because want more math-specific answers.

Two beginner's questions that were not previously asked in MO are:

  1. Can I send more than what employer institutions ask for? For example, if your teaching evaluation of your previous class looks great, can I include it even if they won't require? Does extra reference letters hurt my application? A reason to ask this is that I am afraid of my application to be overlooked among hundreds of applications. I want to make a difference, but shouldn't I take any risk?

  2. What is the difference between "publication list" and "publication list section in CV"? Should the publication list be more than a mere list? Include abstracts? A reason to ask this is that I have only a few preprints and the list looks a bit miserable.

These days one post-doc position often receives a very large number applications, and it is not likely that the hiring committee read all the applications. What filter is there in the first round? Names of your school, advisor and letter writers?

Thank you very much for your advice.

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I also have question (2), and hope someone at least leaves a comment here to address it before this is closed. –  David White Oct 30 '13 at 18:05
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@DavidWhite: I think unless it turns out as a duplicate, this question should rather not be closed, since it is likely of genuine interest for a notable number of mathematicians. –  Stefan Kohl Oct 30 '13 at 18:22
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You are allowed to ask for math specific answers at academia. –  Noah Snyder Oct 30 '13 at 19:25
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You can discuss your evaluations in your teaching statement. You can also put them on your website and put the link in your teaching statement. –  Noah Snyder Oct 30 '13 at 21:41
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And actually since you claim the question did not yet get asked, how is you second question substantially differen from the second of mathoverflow.net/questions/110722/… and why did yours not yet get answered there? –  quid Oct 31 '13 at 0:25

5 Answers 5

I've served on the postdoc hiring committee at Rice for several years and am chair of it this year. My answers are geared to research-oriented postdoc applications.

For question (1), it is fine to include extra letters of recommendation, but don't go nuts. We ask for 3 including a teaching letter, but most of our applicants include 3-4 research letters plus a teaching letter. A letter from someone that doesn't know you very well is damaging to your application (so don't sacrifice quality for quantity), and if you get more than 4 research letters and 1 teaching letter then it starts to look weird.

However, don't include things like teaching evaluations we don't ask for. We don't read them and make an effort not to let them influence our decisions, but it does look a little weird.

For question (2), just include a list of publications excerpted from your cv (to emphasize, this list should also be in your cv). To be honest, I'm not really sure why we ask for a separate list of publications and we don't really look at it; probably it is there because of some decision made by a hiring committee long ago, and inertia is a powerful force.

As far as your unnumbered question, a member of our committee does actually read every application. The first read (to form a long list of people who are read more carefully) is quick, but it does happen. The most important things we look at in the first round are research area (to make sure it is at least vaguely related to someone in the department) and the research letters (both who they are from and what they say).

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Thank you very much for the answer, Andy. It is really nice to hear from someone who serves on postdoc hiring committee. Good to know that your school really read every application. –  MathJobApplicant Oct 31 '13 at 0:53

You say you want math-specific answers, but there is nothing math-specific in your question. At any rate, your question got many upvotes, so I am throwing in a quick answer even if it is not appropriate.

  1. You can certainly send more than what employer institutions asks for, but I would advise you against it. One or two extra letters of recommendation might help, but sending other types of documents than asked for will probably not look good on you. In all your application, try to be concise and to the point, and bear in mind that it is not an essay contest. If there is no size limit on the research statement, then there is no point in preparing a short version and a long version.

  2. A publication list section in CV simply means what it says: a list of all your relevant publications. Abstracts should not be included.

  3. Probably the letters are the most important factor in the first filtering. So choose your recommenders carefully: the more the person knows you and is known by others, the better.

I was writing this very quickly, but hopefully it has some value and use.

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Thanks for your answer. I'm very pleased about the last line in (1). I was starting to think my long research statement was too long to send anywhere. –  David White Oct 30 '13 at 20:45
    
Thank you for the answer, David. My question does not address anything about math, but I wanted to know how application goes in math. It may depends on the math culture. –  MathJobApplicant Oct 30 '13 at 21:58

In addition to other useful remarks:

The first filter is your "pedigree", which is PhD school and/or post-doc institution, advisor, and letter-writers.

The length of your research (and teaching) statement(s) can be whatever you want... however, in those statements you are "selling yourself" in the face of competition from many other roughly comparable applicants. The point is that a boring or tedious or too-technical research statement will "put off" hiring-committee people in other fields, so they won't read to the end, or even past the first page. Thus, the research statement has to "sell" you both to specialists and to non-specialists, since, after all, there's probably just one or two people on the hiring committee who could appreciate the nuances of your work. Even though it typically happens only marginally, thinking in terms of "broader appeal" can be very helpful. Thus, in effect, the _first_page_ of your research statement should have optimized visual impact, and be an artful combination of info-for-experts, and of overview-and-broader-significance for non-experts.

On similar principles, there should be an immediately-visible version of publication list that lets both specialists and disinterested-non-specialists see "numbers" and "journals" at a glance. Including abstracts and further information is fine, on subsequent pages, but bear in mind that many people will not look past the first page, so that's your chance to make an impact.

Also, grants, fellowships, honors have an impact on "disinterested non-specialists", since these are intelligible. Get that on the first page of CV.

And, disagreeing with some other remarks, and agreeing with some: avoid lukewarm letters at all costs. Hiring committees do not "average" the letters. Rather, even if you have two glowing letters, a single negative or even ambivalent letter can be fatal. The reason is that, in effect, there are so many applicants that there is some incentive to find a reason to eliminate as many candidates as possible, before looking at the pluses of the remaining ones. Thus, a "blemish" can be a target for hiring committee members in other fields, who might be happier to hire someone with interests closer to theirs anyway.

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Thank you for the detailed answer, paul. Your last paragraph is interesting. –  MathJobApplicant Oct 31 '13 at 1:02

Let me start with (2) since fewer people have addressed this already. I certainly have wondered about it the few times I've been on the job market. However, I've also seen many applications at my institution. I think most people:

Include the publication list in the CV and in the separate document.

I don't think it is necessary to include abstracts in the publication list (some people do, most people don't). The main part of this data presumably should also be in your research statement.

For (1), having extra letters of reference do not hurt. Especially for tenure track jobs at big schools (like Penn State) having the minimum is actually very unusual.

On the other hand, it seems unusual to include things that are not asked for.

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Thank you very much for the answer, Karl. –  MathJobApplicant Oct 31 '13 at 0:56

Well, I'm on the job market for the first time right now as well, but I can take a crack at answering part 1. I have a compromise on the question of whether or not to include documents which were not required, and hopefully people wiser than me will leave a comment warning me if this is a terrible idea. My compromise is to include within the shorter version a link to the longer version, which is hosted on my website. At this moment, my short research statement is 2 pages and can be read by anyone. The long one is 10 pages and I figure the experts on the committee will go look at it if they're interested in me. I might also do something similar in my teaching statement, because like you I want to showcase my teaching evaluations. My thought is to upload a complete dossier of evaluations to my webpage then link to it within the teaching statement, which is again 2 pages (I have to check with my advisor as to whether or not this is a good idea).

As for whether or not to include too many reference letters, I was recently told that the committee will form their opinion of you based on the average, so if you find yourself with too many letters you should just send the good ones. This was advice for tenure track liberal arts jobs. I think the advice was meant to warn me off from asking random big-shots to write letters for me even if they don't know me very well. This is not a problem I'm having, but I will say that I'm using a different set of letters for tenure track than I am for post-docs.

For filtering, I've heard that the committee looks at your CV first to see if you're in the ballpark, then letters, then either research, teaching, or cover letter depending on the job. Cover letter is especially important if you seem like an unlikely candidate for that job. You need to explain why you want the job and what you'll bring to it.

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As I mentioned in my comment to the question, I have no idea for (2). Currently, my publication list is copied and pasted from my CV. If that's wrong, I'd love to be informed! –  David White Oct 30 '13 at 18:58
    
Thank you very much for the information. Wish you good luck with your application. –  MathJobApplicant Oct 31 '13 at 1:03

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