Applying for faculty jobs is a full-time job – The 'workload'

As a postdoc in the last year of her funding, I’ve spent the last year applying for tenure-track faculty jobs. I’m not ready to talk about the outcome yet, but I do want to talk about the process and what I wish I had known, namely just how much time everything would take, because forewarned is forearmed. I was repeatedly warned that I wouldn’t get much done this year because applying for a tenure track job is a full-time job itself but somehow I was still unprepared for the reality. I track my hours, so for all of you, I am reporting here how much time I spent on each part of this process. Hopefully this post will give you an idea, with concrete numbers from my own experience, of how much time you can plan to invest.

First, the basics – A tenure track application package for our field typically consists of a cover letter (1-2 pages), a CV, a research statement (2-4 pages), a teaching statement (1-2 pages), and sometimes a diversity statement (1-2 pages). Although the page limits and proportion of application allotted may change depending on the type of institution, the basic parts are generally the same. I began putting my application materials together in the summer of 2018. As many do, I planned to apply for a few ‘perfect’ jobs during the 2018-2019 cycle and then apply much more widely during the last year of my postdoc (2019-2020). I applied for ~15 jobs during the 2018-2019 cycle, published like crazy, and spent the summer of 2019 re-writing and tightening my application materials. I applied for nearly 40 jobs in 2019-2020, did several on-campus interviews (and even one online, thank you COVID), and had to prepare an example start-up package for a few institutions as well. Anecdata from friends suggests the following “time spent” estimates are pretty typical.

Preparing application materials (~150 hours): During the summer of 2018, I spent 100-120 hours drafting of all of the parts of my application. That is nearly a month of full-time work. I spent another 35-40 hours re-writing, editing, and tightening my materials the following summer. Let’s round to 150 hours. The amount of time needed is why all the advice is to start working on your application well before you start applying.

Finding jobs (~60 hours): I started checking all the job boards (Evoldir, ecoevogooglesheet, SSE Jobs board, Science Careers, etc.) in early August and checked them every Friday morning (N = ~30 Fridays) until the end of February. That process usually required ~2 hours to skim the new ads, decide if I wanted to apply, and add the job to my list with the relevant details. I kept the jobs organized on a Google sheet sorted by deadline, with information like School, Department, Deadline, Application parts requested, if I needed to ask for letters of recommendation ahead of time, and the link.

Applying for jobs (~3 hours per application): My application was intentionally easy to update and tailor to each job. I usually spent 2 hours or so researching the department and faculty, the facilities, and location. Then I spent an hour customizing the application and submitting it (FYI the actual process of submitting an application takes surprisingly long, 30-45 minutes!). The first few took longer, but by application #10 I had a system. But 55 applications x 3 hours per application over two years = 165 hours. Your mileage will vary and some applications take longer than others because the institution may want a combined research and teaching statement, or a cover letter that addresses both teaching and research, etc.

Preparing job/chalk talk (~60 hours): Your job talk will usually be a brand new, 45-minute talk, and you’ve likely never done a chalk talk. For the job talk, you can take pieces from other presentations but you’ll be making a lot of new slides and practicing a lot. For the chalk talk, you’ll want to practice drawing/writing on the board, what you plan to say, etc. Preparing these two talks will take much longer than you think.

Interviewing for jobs (~20 prep hours plus 2-3 days per interview): Generally, interviews are 1-2 days, ALL day and you will be so exhausted at the end of each day that you won’t get any work done after dinner is over. At best, you’ll review your notes for the next day. You will also spend a day or so traveling. I prepped for 2 days beforehand as well, getting to know the department and facilities and thinking about how I would do my research/teaching at that institution. Because you should bring food with you to each interview, you’ll need to make time to go buy that food. You may have to get some interview clothes dry-cleaned. For every interview. Dropping off and picking up dry-cleaning takes time. Packing takes time. After each interview, you’ll want to follow-up with anyone you connected with and thank lots of people, which took me 3-4 hours each time. So plan on 5-6 days worth of hours to prepare for and do each interview.

Preparing a draft start-up (~15-20 hours): If you are lucky enough to be asked to provide an idea of what you’ll need to be successful, e.g., a draft start-up, putting that information together will take a couple of days. Hopefully, you’ve been thinking about this for a long time and have a pretty good idea, you’ll just need to spend some time looking up actual prices and calculating sampling and/or computing costs. I had spent some time the summer before coming up with a quick list for the projects I was proposing, so finalizing it only took 1-2 days. You won’t have a lot of time to turn this around so best to prepare a rough draft of items in advance. Doing it the summer before you start applying, while you’re writing your research statement, can also really help you have an idea of what is the budget for the work you’re proposing. This exercise can help you see if your dreams are realistic for the type of institutions to which you’re applying.

Negotiating (~10-15 hours per offer): During negotiations, I spent quite some time talking to faculty, department chairs, and deans. These discussions and negotiations will be over a pretty short period of time (1-2 weeks), similar to preparing a startup plan. Be prepared to drop everything if you get an offer and focus on negotiating for 1-2 weeks.

Altogether, I spent ~550 hours on this process over two years, not counting the actual days of interviewing, split into ~150 hours the first cycle, and ~400 the second. That’s nearly 4 months of full-time work. Again, your mileage will vary but be prepared to spend at least 2x more time than you think on this process. May the odds be ever in your favor!

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