Chris Blattman

Close this search box.

PhD students: Advice for academic job market applications

UPDATE: The original post is below, but I have now moved my job market advice to a new page

I am sitting on my first search committee, and some advice begs to be offered. This goes beyond my previous more general job market advice.

  1. Make sure your letter-writers send their letters. If you want your application to be deeply discounted, have a negligent advisor. This is rare but happens. It is perfectly reasonable to send them friendly reminders. You can do your part by asking for a rec letter the right way.
  2. Prepare a research statement that shows your trajectory. This should outline what you have done, and what you plan to do in next, why it is important, and how it all fits together. Have your advisor and colleagues read this and comment. Revise fourteen times before submitting.
  3. Write a concise CV. I don’t know about my colleagues, but I don’t need to see a page-long list of conference presentations. If you must list these, at least do so in a condensed way. Focus on your research contributions and teaching. At Berkeley Econ, they forced us to polish and polish a one-pager. That is extreme, but I think all can be said about an ABD in 2 pages. If you’ve been out a few years then more is reasonable.
  4. Communicate delivery, productivity and genius. Easier said than done. And mostly easier to say if done. We are not only looking for people who can do brilliant work, but who can get it out the door. Evidence of publication is helpful here. If you have no publications then communicate your publication status (e.g. one submitted working paper and a book proposal, or three papers likely to be submitted next year, plus future projects you have already started).
  5. Send us something meaty to read. If you are writing a book as a dissertation, the intro and conclusion are not sufficient. Send the meat, and make sure you have a summary somewhere. Even better is an article version of the book alongside the book. And if you have too many things to submit than the online form lets you attach, put files together in one PDF to submit.
  6. Remember that, mathematically, everything you submit after your best work reduces the average quality of your application. Yes, quantity adds to overall quality, especially if it shows an ability get things out the door, but at some point there are articles or op-eds or old jobs you should leave off your CV.

I may have more to say as the process continues, and as experience grows. Take these as the first exasperated responses. Speaking of which…

Advisors and letter writers: A pet peeve of mine taking form is your failure to give a concrete sense of the person’s relative ranking and ability. I find nothing more clear and refreshing than a comparison of this student to you previous students, or to the job performance other graduates who have gone on to specific positions and achieved this or that distinction. Otherwise, everyone says the same platitudes and it is very difficult to tell the good from the great.

21 Responses

  1. Professor Blattman, I think you may have unintentionally cutoff your last sentence in item #4. Great collection of pointers!

  2. I will take your advice into account now that I need to find a post-PhD job.

    In NextScientist we have some posts on career advice and online presence for young scientists. I list them below:

    - Grow Your Academic Footprint With A Science Blog: A Free Videotutorial, our video guide that helps you to set up your own science blog.
    - 7 habits of highly visible PhD students, it includes some tips on social media and blogging.
    - 3 Questions You Should Ask Your PhD Supervisor Before Choosing A Career In Science?, a reality check before jumping on an academic career.
    - A statement of purpose for graduate school, the letter I was submitting when I searched for PhDs.
    – We have other posts on science blogging and social media for scientists.

    I hope you find them useful.


Why We Fight - Book Cover
Subscribe to Blog