Today’s post is a Special Request Post for a reader, an ABD from an Ivy League, who wrote to ask, rather plaintively, how she might reassure a search committee for a job at a small, regional, teaching college that she Really Will Stay, if offered the job.
She hastened to add that she knew not to include an unseemly “fit sentence,” or to flatter, pander, or beg. But what, she asked, should she write instead?
It’s my belief that the best approach to this dilemma is to tell the simple truth. If you are a Ph.D. from an elite research program, but genuinely and truthfully believe that you will be happy in a non-elite, regional, or teaching-heavy environment, then you should just say so.
I would recommend something like this, at the start of your tailoring paragraph at the end of your letter:
“I am aware that my background, coming from an elite research institution, would suggest that I am focused on a career at R1-type institutions. However, that is not the case. I have a strong commitment to the type of teaching that is done at an institution such as Rural College, a commitment that has grown stronger the further that I have moved in my career. I look forward to the hands-on work with students, and the potential for a balanced work life, that a career in Rural College would offer. [Optional: In addition, my family resides in the area/my research will thrive in the area/I have a personal connection to the area]. I would not view a position there as a stepping-stone to another job, but as an excellent location in which to grow as a scholar and teacher.”
[10/27/11: Please note that a commenter below, who actually has experience on searches at such a school, suggests that the first and last sentences would seem to “protest too much,” and that the paragraph might better read:
“I have a strong commitment to the type of teaching that is done at an institution such as Rural College, a commitment that has grown stronger the further that I have moved in my career. I look forward to the hands-on work with students, and the potential for a balanced work life, that a career in Rural College would offer. In addition, my family resides in the area/my research will thrive in the area/I have a personal connection to the area.”
And another commenter from such a school believes the final sentence in this version is the most important. I always trust experts who have actually “been there.”]
Note that no frantic claims were made of an “ideal fit,” etc. Rather, legitimate sentiments were expressed in a calm and factual manner. This is the best you can do to reassure a skittish search committee. I cannot promise that they will believe you. But you are certainly entitled to tell them the truth.
Readers, feel free to add your own comments and experiences below!
Severus Snape says
As a professor at one such university, I think that the “In addition, my family resides in the area/my research will thrive in the area/I have a personal connection to the area” comment is probably the most effective thing you can write in order to convince the search committee that you might be a good candidate.
In my experience, the greatest concern that search committees at my institution have about candidates from the Ivys is that they don’t know and have trouble adapting to our student body, which usually means that folks with teaching, or at least TA experience, from the large state R1 programs have a considerable advantage in finding quick success with our heavy teaching load (and let me tell you, that first semester is rough). There have been some notable cases of folks from the Ivys who just couldn’t (or rather, just wouldn’t) work with the student body here. Rural liberal arts colleges might be a different story, but if you are applying to teach at a ‘soybean state’ school and lack teaching experience at a non-elite institution, the best thing you can do to make yourself attractive is to demonstrate some connection to, and knowledge of, the region and its people.
The Librarian says
With such a rough job market, a lot of smaller, regional, rural colleges are seeing quite a few applications from graduates from elite colleges. I would say check the educational credentials of recently hired faculty (assistant profs) at the target school and see what they’ve come to expect. At my regional university, we have come to expect that applicants will be from the country’s most highly ranked universities. Which is to say, be careful not to overemphasize this, or it might draw attention to you in a negative way (it might not have occurred to them to wonder why you might be applying to work at their lovely college).
Just be sincere about your interest, and avoid talking about your Ivy credentials as somehow making you an unlikely fit.
Librarian, are you saying that my recommended wording would be a mistake, then?
The Librarian says
I might not use the word “elite.” Actually, I think your paragraph is perfect, minus the first two and last sentences. I’d worry that otherwise it might become a doth protest too much thing.
Hmmm, ok. I think I will add an addendum to the post with these comments in mind, since you are obviously the expert here. Hey, want to write a guest post? If you’re interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for your input.