February 5, 2018
Ask a candidate: how to get feedback and advice on your academic work
Ask a Candidate | Topics in Higher Education
This post continues our series—begun last fall during faculty hiring “high season”—by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on good practices for academic career success.
When you’re on the academic job market, looking ahead to a professional review or applying for grants, it’s a great time to break your lingering undergrad habit of sweatily completing applications 15 minutes before midnight on deadline day. The reason? You should get feedback—from your dissertation advisor, the jobs coordinator in your department, a professor you’re friendly with, even a slightly-farther-along peer who’s been there and knows what it’s about. Your letters of recommendation, teaching statements, and project statements will improve accordingly.
Here’s how to get the most out of getting feedback.
1. Pick the right person to comment.
The “right person” is going to vary depending on the job, placement, or funding opportunity that you’re shooting for, and your particular concerns about your application.
- If you’re fretting about your grasp of the subject matter at hand, ask someone who’s got it down—and let them know that’s why you’re asking.
- If you’re most worried about your writing, ask somebody with good prose style—or, even better, a person with good prose style who you already know is great at commenting on other people’s writing.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a connection with someone who has experience with the department or program you’re aiming for, ask them to use their institutional knowledge to assess whether your materials strike the right tone.
2. Leave plenty of time.
The person who’s willing to comment on your materials is doing you a solid. Reciprocate by making the experience as seamless as possible for them. That means finishing drafts of your documents with time to spare, and sending them along so that the commentator can fit reading them into his or her own schedule. Ask your commentator how much time they need, and set yourself a new deadline accordingly. And be sure to budget on the other end for your own turnaround time. You don’t want to give your commentator three weeks with a document, only to have them send it back on the eve of the deadline with revision suggestions that will require heavy lifting.
3. Provide context.
Your commentator needs to know what kind of promotion or funding opportunity you’re applying for, at the bare minimum. After she has agreed to read your materials and comment, and you’re ready to share your documents, include an email in which you send along the link to the desired role or opportunity. In brief (don’t rattle on), provide a bit of framing and summary to help them understand your approach.
Include answers to questions like:
- What do you think your chances of getting this job or grant might be, and why do you think you might be a good fit?
- What are your concerns about the draft materials you have produced?
- Are there any problem areas you want the person to address?
The more explicit you can be about the kind of feedback you’re seeking, the better. You don’t want a person you’ve asked for subject matter expertise to get hung up on comma placement. (They may not be able to help themselves! But by making it clear, in a gentle way, that you’re asking for a particular kind of feedback, you may make the experience easier on everyone.)
4. Be cool about the feedback when it comes.
It is only human to bristle when criticized. But try to remember, again: they are doing you a solid. In this context, there’s very little to be gained from defending yourself. Send an extremely polite reply email (or even a handwritten note!) thanking them effusively; if there are things you need clarified, ask, but make sure you truly don’t understand, and you’re not just being reactive. If you know it will take you a while to get over hurt feelings and get on with revisions, build that recovery space into your timeline.
With some preparation and the right mindset, getting feedback on the materials you’re using to present yourself when applying for jobs, fellowships, grants, future study (such as medical or graduate school) can help you sharpen your portfolio—while strengthening your relationships along the way.
One final rule: When somebody asks you for feedback in a couple years, say yes! Keep that karma flowing.
Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.