I will be finishing my PhD in pure math next semester, so I'm applying for jobs. I've noticed that on Mathjobs.org, listings for tenure-track positions do not say that one must have experience beyond completing the PhD. In some cases it will say this is preferred, but I have not seen any listings saying it is required, and most don't even mention it.

According to my adviser, one of the first things done by a hiring committee for a TT job, is to toss out an annoying quantity of under-qualified applications. He said I should not bother applying for most of those jobs. Yet he also said that my teaching qualifications are above average, so that I would actually be considered for some "teaching" tenure-track jobs. I asked him how I identify these jobs, and he said they will be at small colleges and have little research activity. But it can be hard to tell if this is the case just looking online.

Is there some good indicator that a certain position might consider me for a TT position, even though I'll be a new PhD? On the one hand it costs me nothing to submit applications to TT jobs, but on the other hand I don't want to waste people's time. I'll include what I've been going by: if a TT position does not require a publication list, I've been considering it worth applying to.

I also wonder why this state of affairs exists. If hiring committees are in fact burdened with such a quantity of under-qualified applications, why don't they filter some by clearly delineating what they are looking for in the job listing?

  • 9
    If you are interested in the so-called teaching positions, make sure to check also EIMS in addition to MathJobs. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 4:20
  • @WillieWong I actually had no idea that site existed! Looking into it, I'm finding some appealing jobs but I need a teaching portfolio for them. I'm currently debating whether I want to create one... I was pretty happy to be done with making application materials and get back to working on my thesis.
    – j0equ1nn
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 8:46
  • 4
    If you don't already have a teaching portfolio, December of the hiring year is a bit late to start creating one (no offense), unless you are the meticulous type that already have all your past syllabi, sample past homeworks, past exams, student/peer/faculty evaluations etc. all filed away conveniently at your finger tips. On top of that you still need to write a reflective essay on your teaching. See e.g. cte.virginia.edu/resources/developing-a-teaching-portfolio/… (OTOH, EIMS may still be useful to you on a future date!) Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 14:11
  • 1
    @WillieWong Actually I do have all that stuff saved and organized both as computer directories and in binders, but still the time investment may be too great since my focus is now supposed to be on my thesis.
    – j0equ1nn
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 17:40

3 Answers 3


You've gotten solid advice from your advisor. At the math departments at many research universities, it is very rare to seriously consider an applicant straight out of a PhD. However at most teaching jobs this is not rare at all.

These are rules of thumb, not absolutes. Eleven years ago in my department (UGA) we hired someone straight of a PhD program. This was a joint hire with engineering. Sixteen years ago we seem to have done something like this: we hired someone to be an NSF postdoctoral research fellow and an assistant professor. Nevertheless I think the chance that we would hire someone straight out of graduate school in 2015/2016 is essentially zero, and when someone decent applies only for an assistant professor position who is still a PhD student, I sometimes write to them to tell them that they should apply for a postdoc instead.

The number of postdoctoral jobs is safely smaller than the number of tenure track jobs at research universities, so we can conclude that some research universities are hiring tenure track faculty straight out of their PhD. For top 50 departments, this is very rare, but not impossible. On the other hand, you should feel free to apply to any university without a PhD program straight out of a PhD.

If you are not sure whether you are too junior to be seriously considered, what should you do? You should apply anyway. I've been on the "seeing hundreds of applications" side of it, and yes it is slightly annoying to see an application from someone who is too junior to be seriously considered. But that's ten seconds of annoyance, and it carries no lasting stigma against the applicant. In fact, often my reaction when reading the application is "Definitely not this year, but..."

I will risk a personal anecdote. When I was a graduating student, I was so naive about things that I assumed that even departments that didn't advertise postdocs nevertheless had postdocs to offer. (Oops.) In one case I got a reply, from a professor at an Ivy League school thanking me for my application for a tenure track job but telling me that they would go for someone more senior. (I will not name names, but suffice it to say that he wrote the book on elliptic curves, then wrote its sequel, and has written several other seminal texts in the years since.) He was remarkably gracious. About ten years later he visited my department, and during a group lunch I told this story. His response: "You never know who the young student will turn out to be in the years to come. So you might as well be nice." (Which was really a nice thing to say!) Anyway, clearly I had burned no bridges with my silly application. You shouldn't worry too much about this.

I also wonder why this state of affairs exists. If hiring committees are in fact burdened with such a quantity of under-qualified applications, why don't they filter some by clearly delineating what they are looking for in the job listing?

Job postings are heavily scrutinized for EEOC issues. If what you wrote last year got approved and worked decently enough, it is easiest not to mess with it. Here is a line from this year's job posting in my department:

A Ph.D., or equivalent foreign degree, in Mathematics or a closely related field is required.

I have asked in the past what a "closely related field" means and been told "Maybe nothing; we'll know it when we see it." I think I was involved in adding the "equivalent foreign degree" part: I believe that in Russia the degree is not called a PhD...The idea here is that if you list something as a requirement and then hire someone that doesn't meet the requirement, all hell could break loose. So even if we think that the chance that we'll hire someone without post-PhD training is 0.01%, that's still probably enough not to make that training a requirement.

Added: David Z points out that the possibility of taking multiple postdocs shows that the "we can conclude" above is not a watertight proof. I think a more protracted analysis of the number of tenure track jobs versus the number of postdocs and the number of postdocs one can take and still be competitive for a tenure track job would lead to the same conclusion.

  • 1
    Thanks for the thoughtful response! Assuming I've put together who that prof. you mentioned was, I exchanged emails with him as an undergrad at an RTG and got a friendly answer, he is a really nice guy. Still your point remains that there is no reason for someone to blacklist you based on a naive application.
    – j0equ1nn
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 2:56
  • 3
    Also I now remember my adviser saying to look at what degrees the school offers. If the top degree they grant is an MA, it's possible to get hired, if it's a BA it's more possible. I think this gives me what I need to know.
    – j0equ1nn
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 2:59
  • 6
    Although there are more TT jobs than postdoc positions, I would think there more postdocs being hired per year than faculty positions, because postdocs are short-term. That would mean it's not necessarily the case that some departments are hiring fresh PhD graduates for faculty positions. (Of course they do, I'm just saying that if the numbers work out how I think they do, this argument doesn't prove it.)
    – David Z
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 7:32
  • 1
    "in Mathematics or a closely related field is required" could be a PHd in Comp Sci or Physics if it included advancing mathematical knowledge, but the candidate was just in the "wrong" department.
    – Ian
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 12:08
  • 3
    I once got an e-mail back saying You might want to apply for a job for which you are qualified.. Oops.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 12:58

I will answer your second question first:

I also wonder why this state of affairs exists.

In a math department at a research-intensive university in the U.S., the quantity and quality of research that one needs to have published in order to be seriously considered for a tenure-track position is such that in practice, 99% of qualified candidates will have some postdoctoral experience. However, this is not an absolute rule, and every once in a while there will be a new graduate who is sufficiently impressive to be worth hiring (this has happened a couple of times in my department, and is an option that is occasionally discussed). In any case, it seems virtually impossible to delineate a minimum set of achievements, since neither the number of publications, nor a specific set of journals one might have published in, is either a necessary or sufficient indicator of the quality of a candidate's work.

As for your first question, I am not aware of an indicator that guarantees that you would be considered seriously for a tenure-track position. But you needn't feel too sorry for search committees (hint: MathJobs has some pretty good filtering mechanisms...), so if in doubt, just apply.


Is there some good indicator that a certain position might consider me for a TT position, even though I'll be a new PhD?

Not really - this is one reason that many people apply so broadly. If you knew ahead of time which schools would like you, you could apply in a much more focused way.

The other answer(s) are correct that most "R-1" schools look for more experience than just a PhD. So, you may be able to deduce you are not likely to find a position at one of these schools. But, there are many schools that are not R-1 schools. The Carnegie classification is an imperfect tool, but it can help you tell the general level of a school. Of course, some schools may have a few doctoral degrees (e.g. in education) but not have one in mathematics.

You mentioned in the question that you were considering only schools that do not require a publication list. This might be because your only publication is your dissertation? I think you may be setting the bar too low. Many programs will ask for a publication list, but that does not mean it absolutely needs to have more than your dissertation. And your publication list will be on your vita anyway, so it is no secret. I think that some schools may ask for a separate list (duplicating your vita) just to make their job easier.

Unfortunately, it seems you have waited until now to begin thinking about the type of school to apply to. That is a little late. Fortunately, your advisor thinks your teaching is above average - and can presumably write something to that effect in a letter. That can only help.

Two kinds of schools to consider for a tenure-track position directly after your PhD are:

  • Public comprehensive universities - including many of the "directional" public schools such as fabled "Northeast Idaho University". Not all of these have states in their name (e.g. James Madison University). Look for programs with the maximum degree being a master's or bachelor's degree. The U.S. News magazine on undergraduate colleges has a comprehensive directory at the back with info at your fingertips.

  • Non-elite liberal arts colleges - there are a lot of small liberal arts colleges you have never heard of. Some of them are exceptionally selective, others less so.

These types of schools often look for very different things, so you should talk to advisors about how to tailor you application for each kind of school.

  • 1
    This is the first I'm hearing of the Carnegie Classification. It's not accurate to say I waited until now to think about... I started applying in November and spent a long time preparing application materials. My question is arriving from trying to decide if I should bother making additional application materials such as a teaching portfolio, to apply to certain additional positions.
    – j0equ1nn
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 21:14
  • Fair enough, I apologize for my misinterpretation. Good luck! Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 21:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .