Selected From:

*Concerns of Young Mathematicians*
Volume 3, Issue 33
Nov. 1, 1995

Obtaining a Position in Mathematics

Troy D. VanAken

Note: Recently a former graduate student from Bowling Green State University wrote the following article on obtaining a position in mathematics for our graduate students. Dr. VanAken graduated from Bowling Green State University (a Group 3 institution in AMS rankings) in the spring of 1994. He did a strong research thesis in 

combinatorics and had strong teaching recommendations from the faculty. This article makes many fine suggestions. ---Curtis Bennett 

In November of 1993, I began searching for a position in mathematics while agraduate student at Bowling Green State University. Based on this experience, I have compiled the following lists of information, 
hoping to assist others seeking employment in the mathematics community. Although I have spoken with a number of recent PhDs as well as senior faculty members who have served on hiring committees, be advised that the thoughts expressed in these lists are my opinions. The only credibility I may have is that I was able to find a tenure track position at a four-year, liberal arts based institution in southwestern Indiana. My department at the University of Evansville has seven full time faculty members, six degree programs, and approximately forty undergraduate majors.

While applying, I found myself focused on predominately four-year colleges and a few institutions with masterUs programs. Although I had a strong research area, I realized research institutions wanted previous publicationsand more experience. Coupling this with the tight job market and my interest in teaching (both my wife and I have teaching certificates) led me to emphasize on this group of schools. 

Fortunately I found that my focus institutions were somewhat interested in me as well. During my job search, I sent out approximately 125 application packets and attended the AMS--MAA employment register where I had eight short interviews. Of these eight interviews, I received one subsequent phone interview and got called for two campus interviews. I attended my first job interview at the University of Evansville and was offered a position by them in early February just as I was preparing to leave for another interview in Maine. After a few days of tough deliberation, I canceled my trip to Maine and accepted the job offer. Presently I am delighted with Evansville and will hopefully live happily every after. 

Top Ten Tips on Getting an Interview 

1. Plan on spending a great deal of time just applying. In my job search experience, I spent well over one hundred hours just preparing and mailing application packets, going to the employment register, and calling prospective employers. This was a tremendously busy time in my life, so the extra time was very hard to come by, but it was time well spent.

2. Choose your references carefully. Over the years, you should have developed relationships with three or four influential people who are candidates to write letters of recommendation for you. Make sure they know you well enough (and think highly of you) to write positive letters. Also be sure to give them as much time as possible to prepare their recommendations. Some will allow you to see such a letter, while others may think this is unethical. Most people will not write a letter of recommendation if they are not comfortable with the individual in question.

3. Learn to use the e-MATH employment information service. This service contains electronic announcements of most open math related positions in academia and many positions outside education. It is available via the WorldWide Web at or by telnet at (login and password are both e-math). Several other employment bulletin boards are also available online, but none serve the mathematics community as completely as e-MATH. 

4. Make sure you qualify for the positions you apply to. I found it slightly humorous when I received a rejection letter for the position of chair and dean of a particular school, but realized what a waste of time and resources (theirs and mine) I had caused. Finally, apply to every position you would even remotely consider (provided you qualify). In today's job market, you may not be able to find a position in a particular city, state, or region.

5. Apply as early as possible. In order to be listed at the AMS--MAA Joint Annual Meetings, employers must submit their announcements in late October or early November. Send off your application packets to those schools soon thereafter. Finally, applying early will spread out your workload so you can send out quality packets as opposed to mass mailings. 

6. Make your materials to be included in your application packet faultless. First and foremost, your resume should be captivating. It should emphasize your strengths and make people think about how exciting it would be to have you as a colleague. Other pieces of information one might include are: philosophy of teaching, dissertation abstract, publications and preprints, transcripts (usually copies will suffice until hiring time), and anything supporting your application. Make sure you include everything the prospective employer requests.

7. Use mail merge with caution. Employers are able to spot a dry form letter quite easily (as I am assuming their reject pile would confirm). Use a form letter to get the basic outline, then personalize the application letter to the given job descriptions. 

8. Register at the AMS--MAA Employment Register during the winter meetings. Make sure you register early enough to be included in the applicant listing sent out to prospective employers. This yearUs deadline is November 16. (ThatUs in two weeks.) Almost all of my meaningful leads, along with my present position, came from interviews I had through this meeting. The applicant pool is too large for many institutions to waste their time or resources 

meeting several individuals at different locations, when they can get a healthy list of qualified candidates at one stop (not to mention do a screening interview on the spot).

9. I recommend following up each application packet with a phone call, visit, e-mail, or something. While I admit that this may seem overly aggressive, many of the positions you will be applying for will have well over five hundred applicants. It is essential to do something that gets your name and application noticed.

10. Send additional information about yourself as it becomes available. Often, important additions are added to your vita after applying to a position (recent publication, award, etc.). Take this as an opportunity to send another letter to update your application file and improve your name recognition.

On The Interview

1. Take copies of everything you may need to represent yourself. Include updated copies of your resume, philosophy of teaching, transcripts, preprints, etc. This makes it as easy on the interviewer as possible. What they can't remember can't help you.

2. Take a bath, brush your teeth, comb your hair, and dress up. If necessary buy yourself a new suit or dress. You will not only look your best, but you will have confidence during the interview. I have heard of individuals not receiving jobs because somebody was bothered by the fact that they were unclean or wore tennis shoes.

3. Be prepared to talk about yourself. Prepare little speeches about your teaching, research, appropriate uses of technology in modern math courses, undergraduate research, etc. You may have to repeat yourself to many different small groups. Don't worry about this, as they want to hear what you have to say. As conversation allows, slip in your five-, ten-, and twenty-year goals. This says that you have a plan
for your life.

4. Do your homework. Find out as much information as you can about the school and community you are interviewing with. Much of this information should be available on the Web, but don't hesitate to ask for undergraduate catalogs or even call real estate agents. 

5. Ask questions. Remember you are choosing them as well. In your researching the school and community you are bound to come up with some interesting questions. Be prepared to ask these at appropriate times or when the conversation drags.

6. Be enthusiastic and excited. Most of all, be yourself. 

7. Finally, immediately follow your interview with a thank-you letter. This not only gives you another opportunity to talk about yourself, but demonstrates you are a professional and know the importance of decorum (something you will be asked to follow with all prospective students should you get the job).