How To Write a Course Proposal for a Job/Postdoc App

Today’s post is a Special Request post for a reader who wishes to know how to construct a course proposal for a job application.

This is an element of the job application that, I expect, will tolerate a lot of variability. So I offer the following thoughts as suggestions rather than dicta.

It is my view that a course proposal is best one page in length. As with all subsidiary documents to a job application, it will be very, very quickly skimmed, and you want to do everything in your power to make your materials as easily digestible for harrassed search committees as possible.

In that one page, single spaced, I suggest that you include the following:

Title of course

Your name

Approximate level of course

Envisioned approximate size or enrollment of course

A two-paragraph description of the course. Paragraph one will introduce an important phenomenon or theme or topic “in the world” that the course will address. The second paragraph will describe the broad subtopic breakdown introduced by the course, and the recent bodies of literature/trends in the field on which the course will be based, and will address one or two innovative assignments.

A brief third paragraph showing how the course fits into and advances existent initiatives and foci of the department.

A “mini-syllabus”: a 10- or 16-line week-by-week breakdown of the course topics with a reading or film.

The issues to be aware of in this course description are the following:

It should be fascinating, not boring. The course will be read with an eye to its appeal to the students. Particularly if it’s an undergraduate course, its appeal to undergraduates should be instantly apparent.

The writing should “sell.” Don’t be pedantic here. Consider starting with an intriguing question: “What do shows like CSI and Bones tell us about forensic science in America?” “Is the world running out of fresh water?” “What do Mark Twain and Danielle Steele have in common?” “150 years after the close of the Civil War, what is the status of race in America?”

The course should be innovative, and reflect new trends in your field/s. They already have old faculty doing old stuff. Your job is to do the new.

It should capitalize on new technology and social media. These are transforming university pedagogy, and your job is to “handle” that for the other faculty who are too old and behind the times to figure it out.

It should be feasible. You may be tempted to use this to show your mastery of a scholarly field. Don’t do it. It’s a course and must look like a course. They are examining it to see if you really get what are “reasonable” expectations for their classroom.

It should be tailored to their department and campus. If it’s a regional teaching college, be aware that intensive reading loads will not be appropriate. If it’s an Ivy League, be aware that intensive reading loads are required. If one of their departmental foci is transnational literature, then make sure that the course incorporates literature that crosses borders.

It should be tailored to the job. If the job is for contemporary East Asia, don’t submit your fabulous “gender studies seminar,” unless it is primarily East Asia based. If it is a gender studies job, don’t submit your East Asia seminar unless it is primarily about gender.

It should not duplicate what is already there. They are hiring you to expand their coverage, not duplicate it.

A final note on course proposals for postdoc apps. It is critical that this course proposal speak directly and specifically to the mission of the postdoc, and how the course advances it. This cannot be simply left implicit—ie, “the postdoc is about food, and my course is about food, so…duh, OBVIOUSLY….” No, it must include verbiage like, “By focusing on contemporary discourses of food purity and food threat, this course introduces students to new and emergent literature in the fields of food studies and related social science disciplines. Bridging scientific and media material, and capitalizing fully on the vibrant internet world of food blogs, this course will advance the mission of the XXXX postdoc by inquiring critically into the ways that science and popular culture collide in our contemporary understandings of food.”

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How To Write a Course Proposal for a Job/Postdoc App — 8 Comments

  1. re: “It should be feasible. You may be tempted to use this to show your mastery of a scholarly field. Don’t do it. It’s a course and must look like a course. They are examining it to see if you really get what are “reasonable” expectations for their classroom.”

    Should we have a paragraph devoted to goals/learning objectives of the course? Or should we incorporate this into one of the first 2 paragraphs?

    Is it *awful* to use two pages (especially considering the 10-16 line mini-syllabus?)?

    • Like i said, i think this document allows for some flexibility, so I don’t think going onto a second page is a KOD. I’d be inclined to fold the learning objectives into the first 2 paras, but I can certainly see a benefit of having that as a separate element of the proposal (in line with: Topic and Themes; Readings and Assignments; Proposed Timeline; etc.)

  2. I am applying for a postdoc (with a heavy teaching load) that asks for selected syllabi from courses taught as well as “a list of proposed course titles with short descriptions.” Can I assume that this list should not exceed one page and that each description should be about three sentences?

    • I haven’t encountered that particular document before on a search, but yes, I would guess that one page, with each entry 3 sentences single-spaced, would be appropriate, as long as you have room to represent your teaching breadth (about 4 classes should be sufficient).

  3. Pingback: The Course Proposal: A How-To Guide for Grads | GradHacker

  4. Through a teaching fellowship at my degree-granting university I taught an upper division course which I designed. It meets the kind of requirement that you outline: fascinating, related to the topic of the post-doc etc. Is it appropriate to use for a post-doc application or should I design a new course?

  5. I am one of those who feels uncomfortable to discuss with my supervisor issues outside my research topic. Fortunately, there’s a professor from another research group within my university whom I relate with very well and he occasionally invites me to accompany him on social activities. He has shared with me most of the tips above and I’m grateful for his invaluable contribution in my PhD journey.

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