moving on up (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under academia, tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 25 Aug 2010

Let me start by saying that I don't fall victim to panic attacks frequently. At least, I haven't in the past. But, seriously, thank you to everyone for the encouraging words. I am no zen master, but I am closer to the state suggested by The Tideliar (CHILL THE FUCK OUT). OK, now. Moving on.

Get ready for the 2010 academic job market!

I have been thinking recently about the academic job search. 'Tis the season, after all. And also I have been asked to sit on a panel to discuss "getting a TT job" with a group of postdocs. I have NO IDEA what I am going to say to these pour souls. I sat in a similar workshop last year (it was part of my career development plan for the K99). The air stinks of desperation. I want to be positive, but I don't want to give any false hopes. In any event, I have been thinking a lot about what to tell folks going out on the market this year.

My credentials for giving this type of advice are pretty weak. Sure, I went through it. The past two years I have been pretty attentive to the job market. First as a spectator, then as a full-fledged participant. And, hell, it worked for me (I have a job, after all). But I don't think that there is a formula that will work for everyone. My experience is n=1. Nevertheless, I'm going to share some of the things that I feel like really helped. This year I will see how this whole process works from the other side, so I'm sure after that I will have a different perspective.

Before I start, some disclaimers and crappy statistics: I am speaking from the perspective of someone in the biomedical sciences. Generally, in my field, you have done at least 1 postdoc (probably 5-6 years). To be competitive you must have secured funding (a fellowship) and high-quality pubs. Realize that for every job advertised 200-500 people will apply. The most important thing you have to do is make it into the favorite 1-5% of those (most places will interview 5-8 people). Then you have to have the "best" interview out of those. This post is NOT about the interview process. And I am not going to duplicate drdrA's super advice on putting together a job application. Instead, these are general tips that helped me get through the process.

First, don't fly solo. I was surprised when I started advertising that I was going out on the market how helpful people were (you should have been in full-on advert mode for several months by now!). People, even big wig faculty(!), offered to read my research statement and cover letter and I got really good feedback. I am even more indebted to these people now that I know how busy they really were. Sure, some of these offers were made after a few beers at various poster sessions. But you know what, when I followed up later they were all SO helpful. So, my first and most important nugget of advice: if someone offers to help, take them up on it!

Second (but related), band together with your fellow job-seekers. We had an informal "support group" for postdocs that were going on the market last year. A friend of mine told me how useful this had been when he went out and IT IS TRUE! We set up a Google spreadsheet with all the job listings we could find, we had coffee/beer to bitch talk about how things were going, we went to practice talks. Even if you are applying to the same positions, you are probably NOT competing. In my group, there were many of us with similar credentials but with our interests and personalities there was no real way that we would ever be considered by the same programs. When folks started to get interviews and offers, I genuinely felt happy for them (and vice versa).

BTW, I operate under the philosophy that the more people you can get feedback from the better. Realize that there is not a "right" answer when it comes to the job search. You have to please everyone on the search committee (and most of the other faculty). Even if you don't agree with some feedback, take it seriously. It could be a view that someone in your *future* department shares.

Don't feel awkward about asking for letters from your references. I applied to a LOT of positions. I made some comment about the letter-writing burden to my PI and he set me straight quick-fast. Everyone needs letters. Everyone writes letters. It's part of the business. That being said, make it as easy as possible for your letter-writers. Be organized and as helpful as possible.

OK, this last bit is probably more opinion-based than others (but what the hell, it is my space): don't try to be something you aren't. Now, I really believe that you have to try for everything that is even remotely related to your field, as I indicated in my comments to Dr. Becca . Places can be a lot different than you expect when you go to interview (good OR bad), and you shouldn't limit your options based on YOUR interpretation of one little paragraph in Nature Jobs or wherever. Not to mention that the more places you have to compare the better. At this stage, there is no such thing as a throw-away interview, and you can't get interviews if you don't apply. Whatever you do, make sure that your application reflects what you actually want to do. I may have mentioned I applied to A LOT of positions. It really was A LOT (~100). But every place got the same research plan (and the cover letters weren't very different). I just threw my hat in the ring.

Anyhoo, I think that is enough for now. Please let me know in the comments if there is some aspect of the job search that you would like me to talk about more. I was considering making this a mini-series, since it is on my mind so much right now. I figured that the next one would be a more personal story of my search, and how I dealt with the whole lesbian thing. But I'm open to suggestions.

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