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Applying for Professorships at Research Universities


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I have just started my PhD and I would like to apply for professorships at Research Universities (R1 level) when I graduate. I am a Mechanical Engineer.

If you are doing something similar, what have you learned from the process that you wish you knew earlier?

Here is the limited amount of information I have at this point:

1. The number of publications matter most.

2. The ability to attract funding.

3. Prestige of PhD degree (where was it done)

4. What kind of Vision does the candidate have for future research work

In addition to what kind of things you may know, do any of the following also matter? Which ones are priorities? Which ones should I forget about?

1. Grades/GPA

2. Industry Experience

3. Extracurricular activities (e.g. leadership experience)

4. Teaching experience (as a course lecturer)

5. Teaching experience (as a course teaching assistant)

6. Textbooks published

7. Postdoctoral program experience

Edited by mechengr2000
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Hey, sorry it took me so long to respond- classes started today for us, so I'd been getting my sylabus and such ready.

I've found it very confusing to decide what activities and such to highlight to make myself the most attractive candidate- and part of the difficulty is also the huge disparity in what seems to be important between R1 and R2, research heavy SLACS and lower tier SLACS, etc. You say you're primarily aiming at R1s, which is fine, but given how few positions they have and how ultra-competitive they are, I'm assuming you'll be applying elsewhere as well?

At least in my field, the most important things (as you've highlighted) are (a) publications and (B) ability to get funding; both of these coupled with good ideas (strong research proposal) when you're actually applying (4 on your list). From what I can tell, the prestige of the degree matters much less- for us, what's important is how well known the PI from the PhD was, but more-so how well known the PI(s) are that you did your post-doc(s) with. It's pretty much mandatory to do at least one post-doc in my field (about a year-18 mos), but most people do several to round out their publications as well as move up the ladder. So, for instance, you could have done your PhD at a mid-tier institution, but if your post-doc is at a top-5 place, that will more than likely be what people care about.

As you go down the ranks (R2, SLACs, etc), teaching experience is more and more important. And even at R1s, where it's not of "stated" importance, given two relatively equal candidates, the one who has teaching experience will probably edge ahead.

Aside from teaching experience, I think evidence of leadership is importance- leading projects. Whether it's heading a team of undergrads as a grad student, or of graduate students as a post-doc, it shows that you have the organization to run a lab and direct others. Additionally, I think evidence of mentoring ability (outside of teaching) has some importance.

The last component that I think is worthwhile is "service". It's one of the three major components for tenure most places, and so showing that you can hack it early is good. This isn't usually so much community service as institutional service- sitting on committees, designing programs and curricula, advising, etc. I'm going about this by sitting on a couple of university senate committees as the graduate student member, and it's been quite eye-opening. Not only has it given me a chance to make contacts in the administration, but to see how people go about setting criteria for graduate programs, program reviews, etc.

Those are my disorganized thoughts. My last suggestion would be to hang out on the CHE forums a lot- especially the "job market" threads. Looking at the advice being given to people applying for a range of positions is really helpful to organizing your approach before you get to that stage.

Edited by Eigen
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From my understanding, no one cares about GRE scores, and GPA is of marginal importance. The largest importance of GPA is being eligible and competitive for fellowships and such through grad school- so indirectly important more than directly.


I'll echo Mechengr's points about getting a good post-doc, and add that networking never hurts. I got to have lunch with Martin Chalfie (Nobel Prize for GFP) last semester, and he was talking about how he told his grad students to apply for post-docs, and it was to have a really good proposal showing what they would want to do in the lab they're applying to. How they'd build off of the labs previous work and facilities as well as their own work to make a project, and exactly how they'd lay it out. He said he has yet to have any of his grad students "miss" with that approach.

Networking is always worthwhile- whether it's meeting with seminar speakers when they come through your department, or talking to people at conferences. A good PI will really help you get out and meet people, but you can also do it on your own if you have to. Knowing someone (or your PI knowing someone) won't get you the position, but it will get you a chance to be considered for the position (usually).

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