I have a very serious gap in my CV and I know that it is killing my chances on the job market. I feel like I have to explain why there is a gap (particularly since it would give me a chance to point out that the precipitating situation is permanently remedied). However, it is a personal situation and I feel it would be inappropriate to discuss it, not to mention completely out of the ordinary for my (private) personality. I could ask letter writers to address it, but that's not all that desirable because (1) I would have to explain it to them, and (2) my application would have to get to a point where they were reading letters for it to make a difference. Therefore, I thought perhaps I should address it more vaguely in the cover letter. But, how? Has anyone faced a similar situation or have any advice? Thank you.
Date: 22 Apr 2011 18:13
Number of posts: 9
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I definitely suggest talking to your letter writers and having them mention it. You don't necessarily have to explain the situation fully - could you just say, "Due to a very personal situation that I would prefer not to discuss, I have a gap of xx years on my CV. I would love for you to address this and point out that the situation is no longer such a constraint for me" - something like that? If your CV is strong except for the gap, then hopefully committees will be curious enough to check out your letters (perhaps even hoping for some explanation of the gap). If you think it's such an issue that they won't get to the letter-reading stage, then maybe addressing it obliquely in your letter is a good idea, but I wouldn't belabor it or go into any more detail than to point out that the situation is now resolved.
If you missed work due to illness or personal reasons, don't worry because it probably isn't a factor, even for 5-10 year gaps (really!). I've seen people provide detailed descriptions for these kinds of gaps and almost every one seemed to backfire. More common are very short descriptions and unexplained gaps and these seemed to work fine (e.g., "I took temporary medical/family leave in XXXX and returned to full time work in XXXX").
I should clarify. The gap is a productivity gap. I did not take time off, per se, although now I wish I had. Does that change opinions at all? Thanks!
Imo, raising the issue in your cover letter is the best of several not-so-terrific options. Ignoring the productivity gap is not a good idea; it will be glaringly obvious to the search committee whether you say anything about it or not. Offering an explanation for the gap may backfire, too, especially if it comes across as "too much information." Stay brief, matter of fact, and focus on the main message, which is that your productivity now reflects your potential and is what should be paid the most attention. For example, I'd recommend a sentence like "As you will see on my vita, I did not publish anything in 2005-2007. This was due to a family health crisis I was experiencing at the time that has since been resolved. My vita from 2008 is a more accurate reflection of my productivity, and given what I have in various stages in the pipeline, I anticipate that my productivity will only continue to increase."
That may still not be enough, though, depending on how long your gap was and/or how recently it ended. It could be that your best strategy is to find a postdoc (or two) where you can publish like crazy and leave no doubt whatsoever in a search committee's mind that you are able to maintain sustained scholarly productivity.
I agree, but think this information could also be communicated well by annonyone's letter writers. I think the advantage of going this route is that a) you don't have to worry about sounding apologetic or defensive, or seeming to make excuses for yourself; b) letter writers can better convey their confidence in your ability to be productive going forward (unless you want to take a postdoc and PROVE your ability to pick up productivity as search committee vet suggests, which is not a bad idea…)
Ideally, a letter writer could say something like, "I know annonyone to be a dedicated and focused researcher. However, annonyone had an unfortunate family/health/personal/etc. situation that severely compromised his/her productivity from 2005-2007. I know from talking to annonyone that this situation has now been remediated and that his/her publication record is likely to pick up steam going forward. Annonyone believes, and I agree, that his/her record after 2008 is a better reflection of his/her potential…"
Thanks so much committee member and anotheranon. I like both of those ideas, and even the wording search recommended is quite close to what I was thinking (and the level of detail I am comfortable with). If I can get a writer to do it, I will consider that route, but the more I think about it the more I feel the need to address it myself as well… briefly, but as a way of demonstrating that yeah, I recognize it and yeah, I know it's not good… but I also know I am back on track now.
My two cents: if the gap is less than two years, with bursts of good publications on either side, and continuous employment in academia, I don't really know that it requires an explanation at all, especially if recent years have the expected number of pubs. Most people appreciate that research is cyclical and that the grad school and post-doc years don't typically entail having projects at every stage of the pipeline at all times. Dissertation and post-doc publications naturally come in non-periodic bursts, if you will. Even for someone who submits new manuscripts for publication at perfectly even intervals, the unpredictable time course of peer review can mean a year goes by without a pub. I had a bunch of pubs the year after finishing grad school and then another bunch 2 years into my postdoc. It doesn't reflect inconsistency in my research productivity during those years, but reflects when projects naturally came to a close and the unpredictable nature of peer review. Depending on where the gap is, viewers of your CV may give you credit along these lines, unless you provide them with too much information and make them think otherwise.
Good thinking anon-sequitur. Certainly something to think about, thank you!