Navigating the academic job market in statistics

DISCLAIMER: This is a guide to navigating the statistics job market that I wrote in June 2019 after having gone on the market myself. All opinions expressed below are my own, and may or may not apply to you. Please reach out to your mentors for advice that is more up to date and/or more tailored to your needs.

There are three phases to the process of getting an assistant professor job: the application phase, the interview phase, and the offer phase. This guide will consider each of these in turn, followed by a timeline as well as a discussion of other related topics.

I. Application Phase

How candidates are judged

At this stage, each university must choose a handful of candidates for interviews, based on candidates’ statements and recommendation letters written on their behalf. Perhaps the two most important components at this stage are the recommendation letters and publication record. Search committees highly value the opinions of established researchers (your recommenders) on your potential. A letter receives more weight based both on its strength and the reputation of the recommender writing it. The publication record is the other important component. The exact quality and quantity of publications (and/or preprints) necessary to be a successful candidate varies, so do not get too caught up in the publication maximization game.

Materials needed to apply

Research Statement

The goal of the research statement is to describe in accessible and compelling fashion the research you have already done as well as your vision for your future research. It should not be too technical, as most of the people reading it will not be experts in your sub-field. Instead, it should communicate on a high level what kinds of problems are interesting to you, why they are interesting, and what new ideas you have proposed to solve them. ​Here is the research statement I used when I applied (pdf, tex).

Teaching Statement

The goal of the teaching statement is to describe your teaching experience, philosophy, and interests. This is the place to talk about the good TA reviews you received, highlight any courses for which you have served as an instructor, and discuss what you have learned about teaching students. It can also identify what kinds of courses you are qualified to teach, as well as what your thoughts are on mentoring and advising students. ​Here is the teaching statement I used when I applied (pdf, tex).

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

The CV is a document that describes your academic history, including education, work experience, awards, and papers (both preprints and publications). The easiest way to make your CV is to use a LaTeX template. ​Here is the CV I used when I applied (pdf, tex).

Cover Letter

The cover letter is a one-page document that (1) states which position you are applying for, (2) summarizes the highlights from all your other application materials, and (3) if you wish, briefly describes why you would be a good fit for the department to which you are applying. This is generally the only part of your application that needs to be tailored for each school you apply to. ​Here is a cover letter I used when I applied (Word).

Recommendation Letters

Each school requires at least three recommendation letters, though in rare cases four are required. Most schools leave room for up to five recommendation letters, so having more than three letters cannot hurt. Recommendation letters are one of the most important components of an application, so make sure to give your recommenders plenty of time to write their letters (at least a month). It is a good idea to ask for recommendations in person. For recommenders other than your advisor, it is helpful to remind them of your work, and if relevant, also the extent of their past interactions with you, before they write their letter. They usually ask for your CV and research statement to this end, but describing your work to them in person is also a good idea, as it can lead to a more enthusiastic recommendation. Sometimes departments will specifically ask for at least one of your recommenders to attest to your teaching abilities in his or her letter, in which case you can ask one of your recommenders to do so and then indicate in your application which recommender has attested to your teaching. Even more rarely, departments will request a separate “teaching recommendation letter,” in which case you could ask a professor for whom you have served as a teaching assistant to provide this.

Most job applications have an optional field where you can provide a link to an academic website. It is a good idea to create an academic website as soon as you have content to add to it. In particular, it should at least have a picture of you where you can clearly see your face (you want people to recognize you!), a CV, a brief description of your research interests, and links to any preprints, publications, or code available online. Email the link to the Student Services Manager when you create a website, so it can be linked to from your listing on the department’s Ph.D. students’ webpage. If relevant, also ask your advisor to add this to their page (to increase your visibility online).

Here are some examples of nice academic websites of PhD students: ​one​, ​two,​ ​three​.

Where to Apply

There are several kinds of departments to apply to, which are listed briefly below. You should choose the mix of departments that best fit your research interests and location preferences.

Traditional statistics departments

This is presumably where most students statistics PhD students would apply.

Business schools

Business schools sometimes have job openings for statisticians, and are attractive because they tend to offer higher salaries. Among these, UPenn’s Wharton School is unique in that it has a statistics department ​inside​ its business school.

(Applied) Math departments

Some math departments that have statistics groups, and other interdisciplinary departments are interested in hiring statisticians. You might be interested in applying to these departments if you are broadly interested in mathematics. Those students whose research focus is in probability will usually apply to probability groups, many of which are in traditional math departments.

Biostatistics departments

If you are interested in applications of statistics to biology and medicine, biostatistics departments are also a good choice. Keep in mind that some of these operate on a “soft money” funding model, where a large part of your salary comes from your grants instead of from the department. There are exceptions to this, however, including Berkeley’s biostatistics department.

Computer science and electrical engineering

If your work has a CS/EE flavor, then you might consider applying to these departments as well.

How to Apply

Unfortunately, unlike some other fields such as math and economics, statistics does not have one centralized portal where jobs are posted and through which one can apply. Instead, applicants must “hunt” for job postings and apply individually to each department through its own portal. In terms of finding job postings, useful resources are ​IMS jobs board​ and ​ASA jobs board​. Most postings will be there, though to be safe it is useful to look at departmental websites as well.

How to Prepare

Preparation for the application process is best done throughout the five year Ph.D. program. If you think you might be interested in an academic job, then the following items should be top priorities for you.

Establish a publication record

Perhaps the most obvious, this is one of the most important factors in getting an academic job.

Develop relationships and/or collaborations with multiple professors

You will need at least three recommendation letters, so you cannot interact only with your advisor. Furthermore, it is beneficial to have multiple people to learn from and talk to during your Ph.D. The third and fourth years of your studies are a good time to branch out and develop collaborations with other professors, either from our department or from outside. Good candidates for doing so are the two members of your dissertation reading committee aside from your advisor.

Attend conferences and give presentations

This will allow you to start getting to know other people from your field, create visibility for yourself, keep up with the latest developments in your field, and will look good on your CV.

Put effort into teaching, and be a course instructor if the opportunity presents itself

While less important than research, teaching (and communication more broadly) is one of the criteria on which job candidates are judged. Excelling as a TA can get you a departmental teaching award, which is a great asset for an assistant professor application. Being a course instructor (even if it’s for something light like consulting or the quals workshop) will also give you more teaching experiences to draw on in your application than if you only served as a TA.

II. Interview Phase

How candidates are judged

Once you make it to the interview phase, you will be judged based on your ability to (1) effectively and compellingly present your research and (2) create a positive overall impression on faculty who must decide whether they want you as a colleague. These are evaluated via a job talk and one-on-one interviews with faculty members. Do not forget that another purpose of the interview phase is to allow you to assess how desirable a department is for you, which will be relevant should you receive multiple job offers.

Job talk

The job talk should balance the needs to appeal to a broad audience and to showcase your technical accomplishments. It’s a good idea to have a high-level introduction that all audience members will understand. It is also worth spending a little time during the conclusion to discuss open problems and future directions. It’s a good idea to have a generic job talk, and fine-tune it for each school, to highlight aspects of your work that you think will best help you get a job at that individual department. Appropriate attire for the job talk is somewhat more formal than what faculty would usually wear at that department, and the formality level might vary by department (math departments are less formal than statistics departments, which in turn are less formal than business schools). Some candidates wear a suit, while others wear coordinated separates: a button-down shirt, skirt/slacks, blazer/jacket. The best way to get a feel for appropriate attire is to see what the job candidates for your department normally wear to their interviews. ​Here is a job talk I used when I applied (pdf, tex).


The one-on-one interviews with faculty members are meant to assess whether they would like interacting with you as their colleague. Interviews can range from a casual conversation or a technical discussion. These are a good time for you to highlight any connections that exist between your research and that of the faculty who are interviewing you. You should be prepared to give an “elevator pitch” about your research, as well as ask the faculty member about his or her research. It is useful to prepare for these interviews by familiarizing yourself with the research of some of the faculty members you’ll be meeting with, e.g. by skimming a few of their papers. This is not really expected, though, except for faculty whose research is very close to yours. Don’t forget that during your interview visit all dinners, lunches and meetings with other department members (e.g. students, postdocs), are part of your interview.

III. Offer Phase

Offers in statistics are usually extended in late February and early March, although some departments may make offers earlier. (Other fields may have different timing, for example, mathematics departments make most offers in January/February, whereas many EE/CS departments interview only in April/May). At this stage, you will need to navigate negotiations with representatives from the departments that give you offers, and make sure to advance your own interests while not putting off any colleagues with whom you may be interacting professionally in the future. Therefore, it is important to be courteous, e.g. being prompt when responding to offers, when possible. Several things are on the table during the offer discussion including not only salary, but also teaching load for the first few years, the size of your start-up package, and accommodations the department can make for your significant other (if you have a “two-body problem”).


  • Early September: A good time to start working on CV, research and teaching statements.
  • Mid-late September: A good time to ask recommenders for letters. Note that your recommenders will usually ask you for at least your CV and your research statement, so it’s a good idea to have reasonable drafts of those by this time.
  • October 15: First application deadline. By this point, ideally all the statements are done, and all the recommendations are ready.
  • October 15-December 1: Most of the application deadlines are in this window. Perhaps some polishing of the statements can happen in late October and early November, but once all the statements are written it makes sense to just apply to all the places to get it over with.
  • December-January: Interview invitations go out.
  • January-early March: Interviews occur.
  • Late February - early March: Offers go out.

Other topics

Job markets in the US and abroad

All of the advice in this document applies to the US job market, and largely extends to the Canadian market since it is very similar. However, the academic job markets in other countries vary and might not be similar to the US job market; if you would like to apply to those countries then seek special guidance.


While this document addresses how to obtain a faculty job, a related question is how to obtain a postdoc position. There are a few kinds of postdocs to be aware of:

  1. Nationwide. ​These include the ​Schmidt Science Fellowship​ and the ​NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship​.
  2. University-wide.​ These include the ​Miller Fellowship at Berkeley​,​ the ​Harvard Junior Fellowship​, and the ​Simons Junior Fellowship​.
  3. Department-wide. E​ xamples include the Stein Fellowship at Stanford, and the ​Columbia Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship​.
  4. Advisor-specific. T​hese are postdoc positions funded by an individual faculty member’s grant and do not usually have a formal job posting or application process. Instead, these are granted on a case-by-case basis by personally contacting the relevant faculty member.

The prestige of these fellowships generally decreases with their scope, e.g. the nation-wide ones are generally more prestigious than the advisor-specific ones. In terms of their timelines, it is important to note that the more prestigious fellowships have earlier deadlines. In particular, the nation- and university-wide fellowships have deadlines in August and September: even earlier than faculty application deadlines! Therefore, if you think you are a good candidate for these positions, then you will need to operate on an earlier timeline than the one above. The department-wide fellowships have deadlines around December or January, so you cannot really wait for the results of the faculty job market to apply for those (though you can at least get a sense of how you might do based on the interview invitations you receive). Finally, the advisor-specific ones are the most flexible, and can be obtained in March or April after the results of the faculty job search are in. These kinds of postdocs seem to be prevalent, and their flexibility makes them an attractive option.

Considerations to keep in mind when choosing postdocs are the salary, the freedom to pursue one’s own research agenda, and the teaching requirements. More prestigious postdocs will tend to be more favorable along these axes, although certain advisor-specific postdocs can be pretty good as well.