Professorship at a Research I University FAQ

This FAQ sheet was generated from notes collected during the FEFP workshop in an effort to help engineering students pursuing advanced engineering degrees and post-docs become competitive candidates for faculty positions at research I universities. This FAQ sheet should help applicants get started in preparing an application for a faculty position at a research I university.

Note: The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher EducationTM  previously used the term research I university to describe institutions that conduct large-scale research. For simplicity, this document continues to use the term research I university. However, readers should be aware that there is a new classification system for research intuitions: Research Universities (RU/VH) – very high research activity, Research Universities (RU/H) – high research activity, and Doctoral/Research Universities (DRU).

Students should also review other FEFP career FAQ sheets for additional information.

1.   Where should I publish?

  • Consider these three options when deciding where to publish:

- A good paper in a great journal has high impact.
- A great paper in a good journal has high impact.
- A great paper in a great journal has high impact.

  • Some disciplines have a larger emphasis on publication than others.
  • Some disciplines have a limited number of respected journals. Applicants should be aware of the journals valued in their field.
  • Applicants should make note of the journals where faculty publish within their discipline.
  • Regardless of discipline and publication location, there is nothing better than a high quality, well-written paper. Students should find opportunities to strengthen writing.

2.   What are departments concerned about when reviewing an applicant?

  • Departments are looking for someone that they would want around for the next 30 years.
  • Departments are interested in applicants that are active in service roles within their discipline and their community

3.   Anything else I should know to become a competitive candidate?

  • Departments get hundreds of applications for a single position and approximately 3-5 applicants are invited for interviews on campus. Therefore an applicant’s curriculum vitae should speak on behalf of the applicant, like a strong advocate.
  • Some applications may require a research philosophy statement and a teaching philosophy statement.
  • Be cognizant of the education revolution. Purdue is hiring 100 new engineers over the next 5 years, and other universities are following suit. Government money will stay the same or decrease, therefore hiring 100 new faculty for less government grants available will impact the assessment for tenure. Consider entrepreneurship, as it relates to research,to identify creative funding options.
  • An applicant’s research proposal must have an impact on society that is measurable and positive.
  • Applicants should build a professional reputation during their graduate study. People in the research field need to know about the applicants work before graduation. In order to meet this goal, applicants can present works at conferences as a means to increase paper citations.

4.   How do I get a faculty position at a research I university?

  • The first task is to get your application pulled out of the stack. Stand out from the rest.
  • Tip:

    - Does the university you are applying to have a culture of hard work? Are you going to be pushing students and faculty members to work? Remember that you are interviewing the university as well.

5.   How can I stand out amongst the hundreds of other applicants?

  • Conduct high impact research. Applicants should discuss what they can bring to the faculty (e.g. collaborative research ideas) and what they can bring to enhance the research experiences of the students.
  • Applicants should use their versatility to stand out. Research has an interdisciplinary nature and departments may seek applicants from varying engineering disciplines for a particular faculty position. For example, an applicant with a Materials Science Engineering PhD may be able to apply for aeronautical engineering faculty position in a department looking for a faculty to conduct materials research in aeronautics.
  • Applicants should discuss unique and valuable ideas to introduce a new element to the curriculum.
  • If the applicant was a teaching assistant (TA), they can discuss specific activities they carried out as a TA (e.g. curriculum development) in manner that is valuable to the faculty position.
  • Faculty need to have a network. The applicant’s activities on campus and elsewhere (e.g. serving as student leader for a national organization) are an indication of the network that they will bring to the department and their networking ability as it pertains to research collaboration.

6.   What are important qualities applicants should possess?

  • Evidence of leadership is important. Applicants should select leadership positions that give them more exposure in their research community and give them more leadership responsibility. Applicant letters of recommendation should speak to their ability to lead.
  • Get proposal writing experience. Ask a faculty member if they need some help writing a proposal.
  • Speaking – Take a public speaking class.
  • Get experience in the lab.

7.   How should I present myself in an interview?

  • Applicants should not oversell their qualities. Focus your interests; do not be interested in everything. Be humble; listen to what is being said in the interview. Applicants should ask questions relevant to the work of the department to demonstrate the attention to detail.
  • Know something about the faculty and the curriculum before the interview. The interviewer wants to understand that the applicant is aware of how they fit in the department.
  • Ask questions about structure of the department: Is there a strong mentoring culture amongst faculty in the department?

8.   How do I get a post-doc position?

  • Post-doc openings are discipline specific, and are advertised the same way faculty positions are advertised.
  • Interested students should contact schools, departments, and professors that they are interested in working with for their post-doc.
  • Faculty that are looking to fill a post-doc position often talk to other faculty to get recommendations about current graduate students that would perform well in a post-doc position. Students interested in a post-doc should discuss their interests with their current faculty advisor.
  • Tip:

    - Visiting faculty appointments may also be of interest to those considering a post- doc position. Visiting faculty appointments generally last 1 or 2 years. 

9.    Is industry experience helpful or hurtful? I would like to work in industry and then come back to academia.

  • Industry experience is valuable but is not important to a research I university. The value of industry experience depends on the faculty position and institution where the applicant is interested in starting their faculty career.

10. What is the difference between a teaching university and a research university?

  • Here is an approximation of what the workload could look like for a faculty member at either institution.

- Research Universities:

  • 60% research
  • 30% teaching
  • 10% service

- Teaching Universities:

  •  30% teaching
  • 60% teaching
  • 10% service

11. How do I start funding my lab as a new professor?

  • Sometimes faculty are given a small start-up package and need to plan to find funding elsewhere. For example, some faculty have written as many as 50 proposals in their first year, and 2 out of those 50 were successful. Being a new faculty member is a great deal of work, but the learning process is healthy and strengthens problem solving abilities.
  • In the past, some new engineering faculty have received large funding packages. For example, someone without post-doc experience could receive $1,000,000 as an assistant professor. Recently, packages for new faculty (experimentalists) tend to be a few hundred thousand dollars.

12. Any suggestions about how I can build more professional connections?

  • Students should look for opportunities to conduct research at companies or at other universities in the summer. Students should look for summer research opportunities early in their program.
  • The federal government may not be as generous with research funding over the next 10 years. Students may want to consider a hybrid research/entrepreneurship model to secure funding when writing grants.

13. If I come from a group that conducts high impact research in my field, how do I distinguish myself and have an independent research identity?

  • Students should consider that if they continue to do the exact same research that they were conducting with their advisor, they will be competing against their advisor for the same research funds when they graduate.
  • Students should look for opportunities to demonstrate that they can do work beyond what they are doing now.

14. What is the faculty environment going to be like 5 years from now?

  • In the next 5 years there will be a lot of new faculty coming into a very challenging funding environment.

15. If I were to make an applicant preparation calendar, what would it look like?

  • January is peak season for fall hiring and is full of search committee meetings.
  • Invitations to applicants go out January – February.
  • Interviews go from February – April.
  • Interested applicants should start searching and applying for faculty positions one year prior to graduation.
  • Students should share the names of the institutions and programs to which they will apply for faculty positions with their advisor. This should be done before submitting an application. The advisor may be able to provide insight about the particular institution or share a point of contact. It is best that the advisor is aware of the student’s interests, in the event a potential employer contacts the advisor.

16. If I were to leave one research institution for another, how would this choice impact my professional reputation? (e.g. spouse gets a good job elsewher

  •  The impact of this choice has to be considered on case by case basis.

  17. How important is it that I have global experiences as a new faculty member?

  • Again, this should be considered on a case by case basis. New faculty should travel wisely. For example, junior faculty members may find it challenging to balance the initial
  • workload (research, teaching, service) with extensive global travel.
  • Rule of thumb, new faculty should aim to be known nationally in their area of expertise before moving to associate professor.

18. When the search committee receives applications do they look up applicants on Google?

  • Yes.
  • Search committees may look-up your online scholarly profile.
  • Search committees do look into social network profiles, for background check purposes.

19. Should I earn a teaching certificate?

  • It might be OK or good to have a teaching certificate but it is not mandatory.

20. I am always told to publish, publish, publish. How do I publish large quantities as a graduate student?

  • Publish quality. Do not publish in multiple little units. Incremental publishing may not have a large impact.
  • It is almost just as important to have a large number of citations as it is to have a large paper count.
  • When the number of authors is greater than the number of pages… search committee members may take caution.

21. Is it sending a bad message if I have more publications in my previous research than in my current research area?

  • Applicants should state their research visions, and tie their past and current research together.
  • If an applicant is a post-doc, they should talk about what their most recent work in that position.

22. Should I include my unrelated or previous research work?

  • Yes, applicants are selling all of their qualities, not a slice.

23. How are papers valued with multiple authors?

  • If applicants are on a paper with 2 authors, for example, it easier for the applicant to demonstrate that the ideas within the paper are their own. It is important that students have lead author on some papers.

24. How do I distinguish myself from the advisors?

  • Applicants should have a direct conversation with their advisor about the need to develop their own scholarly identity through research publications.

25. I really want a faculty position at this particular school. What should I do?

  • The applicant’s first university of choice should probably be the last place they interview (if possible). Applicants will perfect their interviewing skills as they continue to interview at different universities. Mess-ups happen, but it is OK.
  • Be relaxed, and do not over prepare. The search committee should learn something from the applicant during the interview. How does the applicant fit with the institution? Is their research interesting?

26. How do I exhibit my creativity during the application process?

  • Creativity is difficult. Applicant should not take up space embellishing in their cover letter. Applicants can suggest a bulleted list of topics that highlight their creativity to the faculty that are going to write their recommendation letters. Recommendation letters are a good place for the applicant’s creativity to be discussed.

27. How do I strengthen my writing as a faculty member?

  • Continuously read and stay abreast on content in the area. In order to be a good faculty member, professors need to be a good writer. In order to be a good writer, professors need to read high quality literature. It helps overcome writers block.

28.  How do I discuss my start-up account as a new faculty member?

  • When negotiating startup funds, applicants should not answer the question in a dollar amount. Applicants should answer the question describing the things (equipment) that they will need to function.
  • Applicants should discuss all of the research activities that they want to do that will benefit the university. This will demonstrate to the search committee that they need more start-up funding and their purchases are valuable on a larger scale.

29. Does my doctorate GPA matter?

  • If applicants do not have a B or higher as a graduate student, they may not be ready to interview for faculty positions.
  • If applicants are applying to a top I 0 school, then the applicant should be at or near the top of their class. This is an opinion, but an opinion that will be at the table when applications are considered.