The Sassy Scientist – Stating The (not so) Obvious

The Sassy Scientist – Stating The (not so) Obvious

Applying for tenure-track (or something close to that) positions is the very reason for many brilliant scientists to eventually run away from academia as fast as they can. Finding an opening, preparing your application and bracing yourself for the n-th `no thank you, but you should really try again!’ is a tedious, time-consuming, numbing, soul-destroying, kill-me-now process. Among the many documents you are asked to produce usually is something called a “teaching statement”. Jarelis is, understandibly, trying to figure this out and asks:

What should you include in your “teaching statement”?

Dear Jarelis,

The truth is that nobody knows for sure. It is, it has always been, and it will remain in perpetuity one of the unsolved mysteries of the academic world. Up there with: `why none of my 10 collaborators ever seem to find the time to read the paper that has their name on it?’ and `how is it possible that “University managers” don’t have the faintest clue how academia actually works?’. My personal opinion is that this document has been introduced at some point in the past with the honest intent of preventing selection committee members from actually talking to their candidates (why on Earth would you want to actually do that, right?), but in their eagerness to simplify the hiring processes (aka: not skipping tea time), these legendary founding fathers did not really agree on the purpose nor the content of this document.

But I digress…

What should you actually write in this document? As you try to look this one up on the internet you quickly enter a spiralling hell of pseudo-philosophical mumbo-jumbo. You may find that it is claimed that a teaching statement serves `professional, pedagogical and personal’ purposes, or that it must contain `your personal take on how the learning process and tow-way exchange with the students occurs’. So…now we need to be philosophers, apart from being brilliant geoscientists, personal secretaries, life coaches and funny at dinner? We don’t have enough to do already? Do we need to write an essay on why Aristoteles’ method was superior to Plato’s? By the way, Plato’s was just based on the wrong principles, but then again those were different times.

Here I go, digressing again…

At the end of the day, the reason it is so hard to find clear information and simple answers to your question, is because the teaching statement is easier to write if you have already done some teaching, or if you have clear role models in mind (or if you are a natural, that’s always possible). If you did in fact teach, you should draw from your personal experience to write down what worked for you and what your successes were. `Show, don’t tell’ is always a good advice in preparing your application package. If you cannot draw from your personal experience, you should refer to some of your role models, and reflect on how you will apply the same techniques and the same general philosophy, but also add a pinch of yourself in the mix.

Right…this sounds clear enough to me!

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: Allright! Allright!! I have no idea!

PS2: Yeah…Just look this one up online…

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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