Researching the Position

When applying for academic jobs, research the university and the department (or laboratory) to which you will be applying. Consider if the institution fits with your interests and career goals, which can help you choose the right positions and narrow your job search. If teaching is your passion, it may be that a large research university isn’t for you. Likewise, if research is your main ambition, a small liberal arts college probably is not what you’re looking for. You may also have other considerations or priorities – such as geographical limitations.

Researching an institution and department can pay big dividends when it comes to your application, since you will be able to tailor your cover letters and supporting documents to emphasize your common interests and compatibility with a department and position. The most successful applications demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the institution and department by drawing meaningful connections between its strengths and needs and your interests and capacities as a prospective scholar, teacher, and colleague. The additional knowledge you can glean will also be an asset in first round interviews and campus visits, because such engagement speaks to your interest, energy, and enthusiasm for the position.

What to Look For In Your Initial Research

Your goal is to find out how the department of interest is structured, how it fits into the larger institutional structure, and how it defines its goals and priorities so that you can make a case for how you fit in and serve those needs. Consult your dissertation director and other faculty for more specific information, tips, and issues to consider when applying to particular institutions and departments.

  • What is the institution’s personality? How does it imagine itself? Is the school a large university with an emphasis on research, or is it a smaller liberal arts school with an emphasis on teaching? Or, does it envision itself as some combination of these?
  • Who’s in the department? What are their areas of specialization and preferred methodologies? How might my areas of specialization add to the department?
  • What is the department’s size? How large is it relative to other university departments? What kind of funding does it get from the university?
  • How many undergraduate majors does it instruct? Is it a popular major among undergraduates?
  • What role does the department play in the overall undergraduate curriculum? What kinds of courses do non-majors in the department take?
  • What is the nature of an undergraduate course of study in the department? What kinds of survey courses might you be asked to teach given the nature of its curriculum?
  • Does it have graduate degree programs? What kinds of graduate courses might you be asked to teach? What kinds of courses could you teach to enhance or expand its graduate course offerings?
  • Is the department affiliated with any interdisciplinary majors or research centers?
  • What are the department’s research objectives? How would your research complement or expand this research program?

Learn about the history of the school, see who’s on the faculty, peruse course offerings, and learn about the undergraduate curriculum. Do your research to figure out how the institution views itself, its culture, and its place in academia.

Other Resources:

Admissions and Department Websites, US News & World Report

Go to the admissions website to get information given to prospective students. Many departments also have their own website with specific information on curricula, special programs, and individual faculty.

Provides school rankings, class sizes, number of faculty, and other useful information.

The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac of Higher Ed.

The Chronicle posts a variety of information, including salary surveys, tenure rates, and student and faculty demographics for 1,700 institutions in it’s annual Almanac of Higher Education. The Almanac is published yearly in late August. Brown University students can accesses it through Josiah or Academic search premier.

Gene C. Fant, Jr. gives some helpful tips on researching and evaluating institutions: