Karen Kelsky

Founder and President at The Professor Is In

Making a Statement

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I would like to know the difference between the teaching statement, the research statement, and the diversity statement.

There are five major document genres associated with the academic job application: the CV, the cover letter, the teaching statement, the research statement, and the diversity statement. Of those, the CV and cover letter are primary. In many searches — especially in large fields where a position might generate 500 to 1,000 applications — those first two documents are the only ones read at the stage of initial review, even when additional documents are requested in the job ad. The fact is, faced with hundreds of applications, most search-committee members can’t spare the time to go into the subsidiary documents.

However, once the long shortlist has been generated, and the committee is dealing with approximately 15 to 25 files, then all of the requested documents will most likely be read. That’s why I strongly urge applicants to: (a) Never submit more documents than are requested, and (b) never expand the length of cover letters even if no subsidiary documents have been requested.

The search committee knows what it needs, what it is willing to read, and when. Your best move as an applicant is to respect that. Turning to the question at hand, let me lay out some general rules and expectations about the three subsidiary document genres.

The teaching statement. After the cover letter and CV, the teaching statement is the most commonly requested document. It should always be one page in length, unless the job ad has explicitly requested a two-page version. Nobody really needs to write or read more than a page about teaching.

Teaching statements need to lay out a substantive summary of the courses you are prepared to teach, and how. While teaching is often a very intense emotional experience, the key to an effective teaching statement is to avoid emotionalism and instead focus on evidence.Plenty of candidates are trying to make a case for themselves based on their “eagerness,” “enthusiasm,” and worst of all, “passion” — which is why those sentiments function as nothing more than white noise. In addition, they provide none of the concrete examples of teaching competencies, methods, and outcomes that a search committee requires to evaluate competitive candidates. Faced with 150 candidates who all claim to be passionate, what role can passion play in committee deliberations? More important, the department needs to know that you can teach the courses it needs taught, and effectively.

So write a statement that gives your general disciplinary approach to teaching. Then discuss specific named courses and methods you use. Make sure the courses you list cover the subject areas specified in the job ad and represent the various types of courses commonly taught in your field (i.e., intro, survey, methods, theory courses). Don’t give a chronological history of your teaching at other institutions. The hiring department doesn’t need to know what you taught elsewhere, it needs to know how you teach. So write in the present tense: “Whenever I teach Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, I emphasize …”

Points to keep in mind for the teaching statement:

  • Do include some sentences on teaching in a diverse classroom, as that is a focus of many committees.
  • Do not veer off into discussion of your research.
  • Don’t tailor a teaching statement to a particular institution.
  • And write it single-spaced on plain white paper — no letterhead.

The research statement. This document should be two pages (single-spaced) in the humanities and most social sciences, and three to four pages in most STEM fields and psychology. Organize it as follows: First sketch the broad area or context of your research in a few introductory sentences. Next, go into your specific project (i.e., the dissertation) — explaining topic, methods, theory, specific data or texts or material studied, findings, and conclusion. Provide a brief summary of dissertation chapters, just one or two sentences per chapter. Specify funding that supported the work and sketch the contribution of the work to the discipline. In a third or fourth paragraph, describe the publications emerging from the project: past, present, and future/planned (with an approximate timeline).

Then move on to describe your next major project. I don’t mean the next article you plan to write, but rather your next major scholarly study — on par with your doctoral research — which will generate a new bundle of scholarly publications and a monograph (if you’re in a humanities/soft social science monograph field). If you have funding or conference papers dedicated to this next project, make that clear.

As with the teaching statement, make sure that you eschew emotionalism in this document, and stick to the facts and outcomes of your research. Research statements are not tailored to the specific job ad.

The diversity statement. More personal than the previous two documents, the diversity statement should be a page or two in length, single-spaced. It should not overlap overtly with the content of the teaching and research statements, although you will of course touch on how you engage with diversity in the classroom and scholarship. But here you tell a more personal story of your encounters with diversity in your own life and background, and/or in your work.

Please understand that by “diversity,” most institutions mean populations who have been historically disadvantaged and underrepresented in the academy, usually by race or gender (in clearly male dominated fields), less so by class, ethnicity, or sexuality. You can approach this document in a number of different ways:

  • Talk about your work with students of color in your classrooms.
  • Describe your efforts to bring more people of color or women into your discipline.
  • Mention your administrative support of student groups or initiatives promoting diversity on your campus.
  • Discuss how you engage with race, gender, class, sexuality, and so on in your research.

So even if you are a middle-class white man, you can still speak directly to diversity.

Expectations about the diversity statement are still evolving, as it’s a relatively new genre. But it’s my view that the diversity statement can be effectively tailored to speak to the campus and/or department to which you are applying. Every campus has its own racial, ethnic, gender makeup and initiatives, so it seems to me that focusing on those directly is a good idea.

(You can learn more about all of these documents by reading the relevant chapters in my book, if you’re so inclined).

Dear Readers: Have a question about the academic job market and/or professionalization? Send it to The Professor Is In! Karen welcomes any and all questions related to the job market, preparing for the job market while in graduate school, coping with the adjunct struggle, and assistant professorhood. Send questions to gettenure@gmail.com.

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