I recently accepted an offer with Mississippi State University as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences with a joint appointment in African American Studies. I am grateful. So grateful that I am paying it forward to scholars still on the job market by sharing my cover letter that resulted in my getting interviews for every job I applied for (4). Good luckChristy Hyman
Dear *insert name of SEARCH CHAIR* and Members of the Search Committee:
I extend my kindest wishes to you as we all continue to grapple with the adjustments needed to survive in the ongoing events of this era of COVID-19. As a scholarly community and individually we have contended with the challenges of this time. Despite this uncertain climate where austerity measures have limited university budgets, your department has found a way to create this amazing opportunity which I am delighted to apply for.
I was elated to learn via twitter that the Department of REDACTED at REDACTED was hiring an Assistant Professor with an emphasis in Race and Environment. Your department’s impressive standing with its expertise in the social and environmental dimensions of water and global climate change as well as efforts to expand the Geographic Information Science research and teaching interest me greatly. [This paragraph should point out something unique about the department’s initiative]
My work uses Geographic Information Systems to observe to what extent critical geography can inform us of the human experience while acknowledging phenomena deriving from oppressive systems in society threatening sustainable futures. [short paragraph that encapsulates research goals]
In my dissertation project, I focus on enslaved people’s movement by land and water across a six-county area bordering the Great Dismal Swamp. Utilizing a mixed-methods approach to GIS, my research models the physical, political, and social costs of escaping from bondage during the era of slavery in the United States. I employ a multi-criteria cost surface that models human movement using least cost analysis GIS tools based on archival evidence of published advertisements of enslaved runaways near the Great Dismal Swamp alongside historical attribute data related to roads, waterways, towns, and sites of bondage. This exploration of the areas near the Great Dismal Swamp reveals the peril and promise for those seeking freedom in historical geographies of containment and enrich understanding of the multivariate traces—social, political, and ideological—embedded in landscape and the impacts that these meanings have had in history. [this paragraph points out a creative aspect of my research that is not already located on my CV]
My training in Geographic Information Systems began through humanities focused investigations, however when I took classes from GIS faculty rooted in the natural sciences, my competencies were expanded due to my learning new geoprocessing tools, however it did require a more solid basis in statistics which I’d not had since undergrad. Should I advance in the selection process you will notice that my performance one year was not my best. Ironically, that was the same year that I revised my National Science Foundation grant which the NSF review panel recognized that “looking at the role of landscape in impeding or facilitating human movement is a creative approach” and “that [it]could potentially connect streams of literature from across the sciences in novel ways.” The review panel noted that the “proposed use of GIS methods was also interesting and creative.” Additionally, some of the labs I produced for that class were used as work samples which resulted in my landing a GIS contract with The Wilderness Society. I ask that the committee take these triumphs into account if and when my transcript is assessed. [I was advised by mentors to explain two marks on my graduate transcript that were not very good. The way I handled it was to pivot to successful aspects of my journey that stemmed from the knowledge gained in those courses despite my not very good marks]
As an historical geographer committed to social justice, I hold strong personal and professional commitments to documenting, protecting, and preserving the unique relationships that Indigenous, Afro-descendant, Latinx, and other culturally or ethnically marginalized communities hold to the landscape and ecology of the United States. In my work as a GIS consultant and Project Manager for Kedge Conservation, LLC my contributions have been utilized in projects concerning global environmental governance, African American and Indigenous communities, public history, and community outreach. [a paragraph on commitment to social justice and how research or service activities demonstrate this]
My interdisciplinarity has led to new theoretical and historical perspectives, helping me to tell histories that see human actors in their maximum complexity—as human agents, and as bound by structural positions. I insist on dynamic methodologies that require gender, race, and class analyses, as well as careful attention to constructions of nationhood, belonging, and citizenship. I have presented my work at invited talks and national conferences, and these exchanges serve as a generative foundation of my scholarship. [how has interdisciplinarity animated your research?]
The Department of REDACTED’s desire to embrace developing multi-disciplinary, integrative approaches is certainly in line with my research agenda as it stands in the present as well as my future forays. I envision my future research to utilize findings from my environmental justice work which has compelled my interest in developing ways of locating historical African American neighborhoods in the South and studying the available community amenities within a five-mile radius. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief how vital such amenities such as parks, gardens, and various greenspaces are in times of social isolation. Identifying inequities present in over-burdened neighborhoods will create possibilities for collaboration aimed at finding solutions to underserved communities and landscapes. I plan to use qualitative and quantitative methods for this future research. The qualitative research I have done so far has allowed me to cultivate relationships with global leaders in the conservation community. If given the opportunity to join your faculty I would leverage the relationships I have with conservation leaders for possible partnerships and/or outreach opportunities that would serve the university as well as public interest. Given that your department is dedicated to deepening collaborations with non-profit organizations, I am certain that my connections and experience with conservation organizations and federal agencies will make me an ideal candidate. [use this paragraph to point to future research directions, bonus points for initiatives that align with the campus for which you are applying]
In all, my work demonstrates the rigorous interdisciplinary innovation sought by your department. Thank you for your time and your consideration. [summary statement that is short that points out a strength of your work/candidacy]
Should you need any further information from me, or require any additional documents, please do not hesitate to reach out by email REDACTED or phone REDACTED.