Writing a Cover Letter for a Joint Position
It's the beginning of another academic year which means that a new cycle of jobs is starting. Some of these faculty positions are joint positions that require applying to a department but also contributing teaching and service to another academic unit. A key document that helps you to be considered for a position of this nature is your cover letter, one of several components used to evaluate candidates but, in my opinion, is the most important part of your application. Based on my experience of being offered joint academic positions at the assistant and associate professor levels, chairing searches for joint hires, serving on several search committees, and reviewing effective letters of intent, I offer advice on how you should approach this type of cover letter.
The first step is to read the job advertisement carefully, and slowly, so you can see if this is a good job opportunity beyond the fact that it is a paying job. Where's the institution located? Do you want to live where the school is located? Does the ad mention what the teaching load is? What will your responsibilities be if you were to be selected for this position? After reading the ad a couple of times, you should highlight certain areas and then carefully respond to these areas through your letter of intent. What you want to do is research both units, and the institution, to see how you could fit there and make potential contributions to both units, say Anthropology and Africana Studies, as well as how your profile could help multiple actors and entities across that campus. In other words, think in an expansive manner rather than in a siloed manner as we tend to be inculcated in this manner in our respective academic disciplines.
The guiding principle for constructing a letter of this nature is demonstrating how you can contribute to both units through your research, teaching, and service as well as making overall contributions to the college(s) these units are housed in and the institution in general.
If you are applying to a research 1 institution, you can structure your letter with an opening paragraph that introduces how you are a good match for the position the college or university is trying to fill. You do this by discussing your research and teaching interests, where you could help with service and any other areas that the job advertisement mentions (student mentoring, administrative responsibilities, leadership experience, for example). If this is an assistant professor position, be sure that your letter is no longer than 2 pages single-spaced in 12 (or 11.5, if necessary) point font. At the associate and full professor levels, the letters can be longer.
In the next section, discuss your research interests. Whether the position is for an assistant or an associate professor, it's important to write about what you've published and what you plan to work on in the future beyond your current work. Both of these demonstrate that you plan to continue your scholarly activity beyond tenure to associate professor and beyond full professor. The next step is to discuss how they resonate with both units as well as other academic bodies across campus. Does your work resonate with a particular center or initiative on that campus? Remember to research this potential employer through all pertinent websites.
Next, discuss your teaching in a paragraph. Many times, there is a separate teaching statement that is requested as part of the application materials. But you still need to mention it, at least in a paragraph. Some of the most effective paragraphs about teaching that I have encountered in reading a good deal of cover letters are sections that use evidence from teaching evaluations. Specifically, select evidence of effective teaching from these evaluations which highlight what you do well in the classroom. Also, discuss what existing courses on the books of both units you can teach, as well as additional courses that can expand the curricula of both units. Frame these courses (existing and new) in how they could attract potential majors and minors to both units, and how that may align with the educational goals of the university as a whole. Don't forget to discuss how some or many of the courses (new and existing) could not only be cross-listed between both units but could also contribute to the curricula of the majors and minors of interdisciplinary programs at that campus.
Then, discuss how your past service could contribute to both units. Take the time to read through your curriculum vitae to remind yourself of your committee work and service. Also, you can add a brief anecdote of a situation where you stepped into an official, or unofficial, leadership role.
Finally, close with excitement about the potential position and how you could make this college or university your institutional base for research, teaching, and service. Don't forget to thank the search committee for their time and consideration.
I hope my advice helps. Please be sure to share this essay with others as this will be another busy season of letter writing and application assembly. In the meantime, wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance, and get your COVID-19 vaccine. Also, remain vigilant as the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus spreads across the United States and the globe.