RTM Notes: January 22nd, 2010.

Panel on Interviews at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, San Francisco 2010.

Panelists: Alex Capaldi, Mindy Capaldi, Michael Allocca, Janine Haugh, Ellen Peterson

There were around 5500 people at the JMM this year. Students and postdocs interested in positions could use the Mathematical Sciences Employment Center.


This involves registration and setting up interviews with prospective employers electronically.

At the RTM, each panelist made a short statement describing their experiences with interviews and the employment center. Then the panelists took questions from the audience of around 30 students and postdocs. The following is a summary of points raised.

Most of the interviews were for teaching faculty and postdoctoral positions at undergraduate colleges and universities, but there were at least three industrial interviewers as well, and a small number of places interviewing for postdoctoral research positions. One suggestion is that if you are looking for a postdoc in applied mathematics, then it is better to attend a conference in your field, and make contacts with professors there, or to attend the SIAM Annual Meeting, where there is a career fair.



Preparation of materials to put online.

Be sure to spend time and careful effort with online materials such as teaching and research statements and the cover letter.

The cover letter is important.

It should be tailored to the specific position.  You can have two templates, one for positions emphasizing research, and one for teaching positions.

Be careful when using a template letter to change the names, etc. to the institution you are targeting.

It should be 1 page, and include a sentence or two describing why you are a good fit for the job; a brief description of your dissertation research and other research experience you have, including mentoring students in an REU or REG. It should have a short statement about teaching, especially if you have a noteworthy experience such as PTP (Preparing the Professoriate) or FYI (First Year Inquiry). Finally, you can state that you will be at the JMM, when you will be available, and when your talk is scheduled.


In the teaching and research statements, be sure to emphasize experience you have with mentoring students, or working in research contexts such as helping to organize an REU or REG, or assisting with a conference.

You can put two versions of statements online. For example, your teaching and research statement should probably be different for teaching positions and research positions.


Tips for preparation before an interview:

Stay at a hotel very close to the conference, so you can easily go back to your room to relax.

Research the school online. You can take notes into your interview.

Print the job ad before attending the meeting so you know the nature of the job. Print the ad before the job application deadline. Many of the ads were gone long before the JMM.

Take a list of questions to ask the interviewers. For example:

           What classes will I teach?

How many preps (preparations) will that be? (Fewer preps if you teach two or more sections of the same course.)

What is the next step in the interview process?

           What resources are available, for example funds for student/faculty travel?

           Does the department have a math club for students?

           Does the department have a mentoring program for beginning or junior faculty?

           Does the faculty have social activities? What do you like about the town/area?

Interview format:

Interviews can be of varied length, and can be either in the employment center, or at a mutually agreed venue such as a coffee shop. In the latter case, the interview may be less formal, and longer.

At the employment center, candidates wait in a room with other interviewees, which can be unnerving or interesting, depending on your point of view. The interviews take place in a large room, set up with tables. There may be 1-5 interviewers.

It is important to schedule interviews so you have at least 15-30 minutes between interviews. The break is an opportunity to use the bathroom, and to review notes about the next interview.

It is fine to take notes during the interview. If you donŐt, be sure to write some notes immediately after your interview.

Questions to expect from interviewers:

Why did you apply for this job?

What courses can you teach?

Can you teach Statistics?

Tell us about your research.

What was the most challenging situation you have faced as a student (for example as a TA in class)? And how did you deal with it?

What resources do you need to do research?

Who on the faculty might you interact with for research? (You can prepare a list of faculty with interests close to your own, and consult it.)


Miscellaneous tips:


The NSA (National Security Agency) actively recruits mathematics PhDs, and was interviewing at the JMM.


Sign up to give a talk at the conference, and include the time, location, etc. in your cover letter.


Show the full breadth of your mathematics interests to demonstrate your flexibility and ability to supervise undergraduate research.


Be aware that networking at conferences is very important to establish yourself in a field of research, and it can help with job opportunities. Be sure to attend lectures by people in your field, and when possible engage the speaker in conversation after the talk, or at lunch, etc.  It is also helpful to network with other students, who might introduce you to their faculty contacts (ŇThis is my advisorÓ).


Seek out conferences and workshops, including instructional workshops, in your field.

Talk to your advisor about opportunities to attend. Apply for travel funds to conferences. It helps to be giving a talk or poster. Check on opportunities at mathematics institutes such as the US National Science Foundation centers IMA (Institute of Mathematics and Applications, Minneapolis), MSRI, AIM,  BMI, IPAM, SAMSI (NC); and at the Fields Institute (Toronto), PIMS (BC, Canada), Newton Institute (UK) etc., and at conference centers such as BIRS (Banff, Canada):



The JMM has a message board next to registration that you can use for message notes, and may well be used by some of your interviewers to set up a meeting.


Be aware that people who interview you are also attending the meeting. Be careful when discussing your interviews in casual conversation that your interviewers are not within earshot.


Creating a good impression: Wear smart clothes; smart casual is appropriate for less formal interviews.  Smile during your interview. Send thank you emails to people who interviewed you.