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Assistant Professor positions in mechanics, Harvard University

Zhigang Suo's picture

The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (HSEAS) seeks applicants for openings at the level of tenure-track assistant professors in mechanics in association with all areas of engineering. The ideal candidate will have high expertise in fluid and/or solid mechanics and will also have a demonstrated commitment to significant and innovative applications in engineering.  Here is a pdf file of this advertisement.  We would be grateful if you could print and post it in your Department.

The position requires a Ph.D. in engineering or a closely related field, the ability to develop a leading research program, and enthusiasm for teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses in engineering.  Successful candidates will work with HSEAS faculty to develop a curriculum for our ABET-accredited engineering program.

Harvard University is committed to increasing its investment in engineering, as exemplified by the recent reorganization of the engineering program into the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. New construction of facilities and a substantial increase in the size of faculty are in progress. HSEAS benefits from outstanding undergraduate and graduate students and a collaborative research environment without departmental boundaries.

Applicants should send a cover letter, CV, a statement of teaching interests, a statement of research plans, copies of three publications, and names and contact information for at least three references. These documents should be submitted as pdf attachments to

We encourage applications before 15 November 2008, but will continue to review new applications until the positions are filled.  Harvard University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer and applications from women and underrepresented minorities are strongly encouraged.

Related post. A previous post, Recruiting PhD students to study solid mechanics at Harvard, linked to additional information about people and activities related to mechanics at Harvard. 


Prof. Zhigang

Actually, I am just a first semseter graduate student, but i am very eager to know which factors have importance in getting such positions in good universities such as Harvard. I saw most of faculty Have degrees from other famous american universites.  Is it important?

Best Regards.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Not sure I can provide any useful answer to this difficult question.  Different places may have different practices.  Not sure what I'll say is of any generality.

For an open search for assistant professors, when applications are in, members of the search committee will read the applications.  The object is to select a few candidates to interview face to face.  People seemed to be affected by the following factors (in no particular order):

  • The advisor of the candidate.  Does the candidate come from a dynamic group, led by an advisor with good reputation?
  • The Department of the candidate.  Does the Department have other excellent professors?  Do they have any influence on the candidate?
  • The University of the candidate.  This may become less relevant if the previous two are very positive.
  • The depth of the subject.  Is the subject deep and lasting?
  • The originality of the work.  Has the candidate broken any new ground?
  • The usefulness of the work.  Has the candidate done anything useful?

When a candidate is interviewed, a few other factors come into play (again in no particular order):

  • The seminar
  • The interview between the candidate and individual members of the faculty.
  • The meals.

All along, people may look for answers to the following questions.  Can the candiate motivate the work?  Is the motivation novel, or does the candidate regurgitate some popular motivations (e.g., nano-xyz, multiscale simulations, energy, bio-xyz) thoughtlessly?  Is the work new and useful?  Can the candidate defend the conclusions of the work?  Does the candidate answer questions well?  Is the candidate really the resourceful person behind the work?  Will the candidate likely identify new and significant areas of research?  Will the candidate enjoy the job?  Will the candidate complement the strength of the existing members of the faculty?

Discouraged?  No need.  It is unrealistic to expect anyone to do something really new and useful and deep and lasting, all in a few years of graduate study.  One hopes to find evidence for brilliance of mind, and capacity of work. 

Dear Zhigang,

Permit me to be blunt. The following is not written to you in your personal capacity. The "you" is to be taken in a general sense.

Two points.


-- The advisor. Who do you intend to hire---the advisor or the graduate? In case the point has not sunk in: Who do you expect will show up in your class-room---the advisor or the graduate? Another point: Do you prefer to hire indoctrinated people with narrow vision?

-- The Department. The first part of the above argument, extended.

-- The University. No comments. If even the selection committee can ignore it, sure, I can, too!

Overall, do you think Srinivas Ramanujan would stand any chance with this part of the procedure, today, at Harvard? This was not a rhetorical question. I meant to ask it. ... Please be thoroughly honest---i.e., if you would answer it. (I suppose Harvard does, even today, give you enough rope to be honest on matters like these, without in the process jeopardizing your own position there.)

2. More importantly:

If the only candidates to be shortlisted are going to be those who would have gotten to know of the existence of the post through their advisors or departments anyway and therefore do not need to read it here (at iMechanica), then, why bother posting such ads here?

Is the idea simply to help others in showing off "prestige"?

Or is it, rather, entertainment for the rest of us?

Never mind. A lot of useless stuff does pass one by, as one lives life. (... Just think of a typical American newspaper / magazine---e.g., "Span" of the yesteryears... Why, even so many journal articles!! )

Zhigang Suo's picture

A broad search will likely miss someone like Ramanujan.  At most universities, however, there is another procedure of recruiting, called target of opportunity.  When a movable Ramanujan is identified, by whatever means, one can go through a process to convince the faculty and the university that this Ramanujan is indeed special.  By contrast, a broad search is often used to recruit assistant professors.

Zhigang Suo's picture

After the release of this letter from the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), we have received emails asking if this particular search in mechanics is still open.

The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a unit of FAS, has several open faculty positions.  The Dean of the School has decided to keep all searches open, but has indicated that cut may be necessary in the coming months.

So this particular search in mechanics is open.  We have received over 180 applications, and are reading through them.  We wiill schedule on-campus interviews in the coming months.

Zhigang Suo's picture

We are delighted that Katia Bertoldi has accepted our offer of an Assistant Professorship in Applied Mechanics beginning 1 January 2010. 

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