Perfecting the Teaching and Research Statement

If You Have a Job in Anthropology, Agree to be a Workshop Panelist About Getting a Job in Anthropology

Hi [Chris]!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving [watching Alabama kick Auburn’s @ss]!

Thanks again for agreeing to be part of our BAS student workshop. The workshop will be held Saturday December 6, 2014 from 3:15-5:15pm in the Cleveland 1 (Marriott Wardman Park).

Would you be willing to lead the table entitled “Perfecting the teaching and research statement”? I think you would be fantastic.

Please let me know if you need me to photocopy any handouts to bring to the meeting.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Best,

Michaela


Sure [Michaela]! I will make/gather some handouts to make myself look unusually prepared & professional.

Chris


Make sure you make your mustache extra curly!!

Michaela

handlebar
Working on it

 

Why You Need Research & Teaching Statements (Even if No One Ever Told You About Them)

Research & Teaching Statements are in the same category for graduate students as Student Opinions of Instruction—things you may think don’t apply to you. In fact, they are in an even lower class of things you don’t think apply to you—things you’ve probably never even heard of.

Rest assured, your life as a academic will be an endless series of documents that you never knew you would need, have no template for, & that may or may not ever be read by anyone. Consider it good practice to compose these documents now & have them in your package. And good practice for, er, other aspects of academic life.

But, more importantly, consider them an important exercise. In composing these documents, you may find yourself giving structure to what was previously only loosely connected in your mind. And this is only the start. There is actual theory on teaching that we anthropologists are not taught in graduate school (or anywhere else, more likely than not). You will likely learn it along the way as a series of professional development workshops your chair or dean will “suggest” you (& sometimes even pay you to) go to when you get an academic job.

The Research Statement may be even more important, especially if the institutions to which you apply consider it important (chances are, they do, very important), so have a clear sense of how your research interests integrate is critical, whether it’s written down or not. But humor me—write it down.

The Research Statement Connects Your Research Past to Your Research Future

Here’s the thing about getting a job—you get hired to do a thing. You don’t get hired because of what you’ve done. Likely, the thing you’ve done is related to the thing you’re going to do, or you probably won’t get hired. That means you’re still not done with your dissertation. You will be hired based on the expertise you have developed & need to describe how that expertise will come to bear on developing your next project. It’s important that these connect because you won’t have the time to develop the expertise to study something completely new & publish enough to get tenure. You need to translate your current skill set into a new project that makes sense to your dean & tenure & promotion committee & that results in continual production.

You will start this process by enticing search committees with the arc of your vision. Here are the important bullets about a research statement based on my experience in writing them to get a job, reading ones composed by colleagues, & as a member of half a dozen faculty hiring committees.

DO

  • outline your overarching research agenda. This should demonstrate how your various research projects fit together.
  • mention why this agenda is important and how it contributes to the discipline (think NSF’s “intellectual merit” and “broader impacts”).
  • briefly summarize your important findings.
  • mention any grants you’ve received related to these projects and what they are for.
  • mention any publications that have resulted from this research.
  • mention your unique contributions to the field.
  • demonstrate that you are a team player without giving away the credit for what you have done.
  • mention the direction your research will be taking and the grant proposal you are or will soon be working on to fund this.
  • mention how you have involved community members and/or students in your research.

DON’T

  • talk about your research in linear narrative, starting with your master’s, then your dissertation, etc.
  • reiterate methods and statistics.
  • use jargon. I know it’s tough, but the degree you’re getting shows how smart you are. Big words just make you look insecure.
  • be flip or conversational like I’m doing here.
  • use passive voice. Own your research and your findings.
  • go over two pages. Editing your genius to clear & concise nuggets is a skill you will have to develop.
  • produce less than a page. It looks like you haven’t done anything or don’t know how to communicate. We don’t know what’s in your head, so you have to unpack.

Examples

Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Research Statement” & “The Golden Rule of the Research Statement” from The Professor Is In.
Will Bridewell’s advice from the Stanford Cognitive Systems Laboratory page
How and Why You Research What You Do” by Caroline Eisner

The Teaching Statement Should Portray Your Passion for Teaching, Not Say “I Am Passionate About Teaching”

It’s difficult to write a teaching statement that does not sound completely schmaltzy & full of cliches, on the one hand, or overly hip & cool-sounding on the other. As others have pointed out, the best way to tread the middle is to stay as concrete as possible. You start with a generalization—e.g., “I employ use activities to emphasize and explore issues inside and outside of class.” OK, well enough. You should be doing that, but how do you do that? Give an example. “For instance, I have sent students out to observe human courtship behavior using checklists designed for non-human primate observation and discussed the similarities and differences to behaviors we observed among zoo primates or read about in the literature.” Finally, explain the importance of your activity. “In reflecting on their experiences in class, students remarked on easy it was to notice stereotypical courtship behaviors but also how frequently their own prolonged staring were misinterpreted as signals of desire.” As Dr. Karen points out, these are the stories that are going to be remembered by search committees.

DO

  • mention your overarching ethos in the classroom. I say something like, “My primary teaching modality is through experiential learning.” Actually, I don’t think I do, but I say it in so many words (since going on the market, I’ve split between a Philosophy of Teaching & Teaching Methods & Strategies). This is, of course, all the rage, but some faculty still say, “I’m a traditional lecturer.” That’s OK too, but
  • justify your ethos. Don’t just say what it is & move on. Explain why you feel that is a good way for you to teach, give some examples of how you employ that strategy, & mention the results of implementing your approach in one of your courses.
  • use the word “pedagogy.” Yes, it’s jargony, but in this case, it signals that you take teaching seriously enough to know there is a method to the madness. But don’t go overboard. It’s like salt—a necessary enhancer in moderation but can make the reader blanch if overused.
  • mention your varied experience at teaching undergraduates, graduates, and other students of varied backgrounds if you have it.
  • summarize the student evaluations of instruction you’ve received, and briefly reflect on the good and the bad. Show that you’re valued and that you take constructive criticism.

DON’T

  • fail to have a teaching statement simply because you’ve only been a GTA or haven’t taught. If you plan to become an academic, get yourself some teaching experience. Period. Teach an outreach class. Teach at the local museum. Something. And formulate a philosophy of teaching. Or borrow one you like.
  • be as stiff as I told you to be in your Research Statement. Students like being taught by humans. Show a little humanity, but, again, don’t be flip or smug.
  • tell the linear narrative of your teaching story.
  • simply relive past glories about going to the zoo (I did this, I admit it). Talk about your teaching style as something you do apply & will apply, & only draw on past experiences to provide clarity or illustrate your vision.
    plagiarize. This goes without say, really, but it is very tempting to find something online that sounds good & adapt it to your experience. Read a few, then close the browser, think a minute about what is most important to you in your teaching style, & type that.”
    use words like “epistemology” or “synergy” or “constructivist” (even though, again, I am guilty of this). Show that you’re familiar with how to teach, not just words you think would be used in papers by people with EdD’s.

Examples

From The Professor Is In. (who was an anthropologist & knows our field well)
From Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching
One with examples from Columbia
Six Tips
…there are a gazillion of these online (now a gazillion & one)…

The Future of Teaching and Research Statements

These statements are the kinds of things you will cull from & craft to put on your website to attract students to come work with you or want to take your classes. In other words, they will have more importance to you going forward. Why do you think the verbiage about the work of Professor So-and-So is always the same? S/he uses the same statement over & over. These are like press releases for your research & teaching. You can & should tweak these documents throughout your career, & it is appropriate to start on them now, even though stretching them up to a page might be challenging. Very soon, whittling them down will be the labor.

And if you have a great statement & want to share (which you should–consider it service & put it on your CV), send a link in the comments below.

Finally, if you support your discipline & want to see it grow, do what all the other growth industries with good PR do, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, post this to your page, RT, email it to your mom, & print it out & mail it to your grandma.


Dr. Chris Lynn

Christopher Lynn is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama. He is a part of the biocultural medical anthropology program, runs the Human Behavioral Ecology Research Group, and co-director of the Evolutionary Studies program. His Research & Teaching Statements are available upon request, when he has edited them to reflect his own advice.

 

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