I am about to finish a PhD in computer science and am on the job market. I'm mostly interested in small liberal arts schools, and have been working on application materials directed towards SLACs for the last month or so.

Almost every search committee wants a teaching statement, a research statement, and a cover letter and I've found plenty of resources for writing and honing these documents.

However, one position wants a teaching statement, a cover letter, and a description of professional interest. What is a description of professional interest? I cannot find any information as to what this document should contain, how long it should be, etc. And I haven't seen any other positions that ask for it. Is it just my research statement? Or is it an expanded version of the cover letter?

  • 2
    It sounds to me like a research statement, but I think you have to ask them for specifics. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 3:31
  • They may well be interested in professional interests that go beyond conventional teaching and disciplinary research into other areas- involvement in research on teaching and learning, expository writing, public service, etc. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 3:31

3 Answers 3


It's legitimate to contact the school and ask how they define that term, you know. There's nothing wrong with admitting that you haven't run into this particular phrase before, or that you're concerned that their definition might not be exactly the one you're familiar with.

"Better to ask and have them suspect you're a fool, than to assume and remove all doubt."


I ran into the same, I was assuming it was a research statement, but as this school is mainly focused on teaching I am not 100% confident. I feel that it is the research statement but more focused on how it can support teaching as a whole......maybe.


As a professor at a small liberal arts college (SLAC), I've come across this terminology. The point is that some people want to define scholarship more generally and don't want to attach the label "research" to it. One thing to remember is that at a large state school, the organizational structure goes Department -> Division -> College -> University, whereas at a liberal arts college it's more like Department -> Division -> University. We don't have a Dean of Science. We have department chairs and above them is the Dean of Faculty. We only have around 250 faculty total, spread across four divisions (science, social science, humanities, and arts). It's weird to use the word "research" to describe scholarly activities in the arts like directing the philharmonic or writing poetry.

So, in some internal documents, "scholarship" or "professional activities" are used instead of "research." We also count things as scholarship that might not be considered research at an R1 university, including:

  • Unfunded grant proposals
  • Scholarship of teaching and learning (e.g., papers in PRIMUS)
  • Peer-reviewed expository writing
  • Textbooks for undergraduate courses
  • Other peer-reviewed teaching materials, like labs you could use to teach calculus using Sage, if it was part of an NSF grant and had to be hosted on a webpage somewhere.

I've seen other liberal arts colleges that also count as scholarship:

  • Blog posts
  • Appearances in/on media
  • Activism that uses your professional expertise
  • Non-peer-reviewed expository writing
  • Public service
  • Serving in the AMS or MAA (these are mathematical professional organizations)
  • Serving as an external reviewer for a department, a tenure case, a PhD thesis, etc.

We stop short of counting those as scholarship. At Denison, peer reviewed research papers are still the number one way of assessing scholarship, and especially when it comes to getting tenure, these are indispensible. However, after tenure, your scholarly profile could grow in various directions as listed in the first set of bullet points, and it's entirely possible that you could still get top marks in scholarship for such activities.

If you're applying for a job and they want a "description of professional interests" then by all means write a research statement. But feel free to make it even more personal than you'd do elsewhere. You can include ideas for supervising undergraduate research. You can include organizations you do/hope to do statistical consulting for (I've done this). One candidate wrote that he hoped to investigate how good AI could get at writing poetry. We felt that would be a great project to work on with a student. If there's no other place to put "service" goals, you could also put them in such a statement, e.g., serving on editorial boards, founding a new journal, outreach to high schools to improve their data science offerings, etc. Feel free to interpret "description of professional interests" literally, and not limit your vision of the profession to just journal articles.

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