When to disclose a second body

Apr 08 2012 Published by under academia, hiring

First, just to be clear. I am not talking about when to disclose where you have buried the second body (@Bam294) or thinking about a physics problem set (@eugeneday) or conjoined twins (@BabyAttachMode). I am talking about when you should disclose that you have a partner that will also need a position when you are searching for a tenure-track job.

The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about their recent job search. If there is one thing that can really get you worked up, it is when your junior faculty search fails. You put in all that work, spent so much time with interviews, maybe had an uncomfortable (or damn unpleasant) faculty meeting, only to end up not hiring anyone. Now, Dr. Zen claims that folks in his part of the woods don't get irritated when they have a failed search. That is not my experience. We aren't upset at a candidate that decides to go somewhere else. But it is definitely not a happy time when we don't hire someone at the end of a search. Searches can fail for any number of reasons. A common reason,  the person you want to hire has several other offers and goes somewhere else. You can then find yourself chatting with a colleague trying to figure out why the job candidate didn't pick your department. Did they have an offer from Super Prestigious Uni? Did another program spend more on a startup than us? Did their adviser tell your friend that they really wanted to leave near a corn field? This is often just idle speculation, but after you put a lot of work into a search sometimes you just wanna know. You know?

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post. When I was chatting my colleague, they seemed to think that their search had failed because of a two-body problem. Their top candidate had an offer somewhere else that was able to also provide a nice position for their spouse. Now, I don't really know if my colleague's dept. could have found (or even tried) something for the spouse. What caught my attention was that my colleague expressed the view that they wished candidates would disclose two-body problems up front in the job search process, even in the initial application.

My gut reaction is that this is a horrible idea. But I'm just one person. I went to twitter*:

There was a general consensus that no, you should not disclose this in your application. It is not relevant to your ability to do the job, and it is none of the search committee's business. All it could do would be hurt your chances of getting an interview. Dr. Isis put it bluntly, but this view was shared by many:

But there were a couple of tweeps that raised the same argument that my colleague had:

The argument here is that, if you did disclose your two-body problem, that this would give the department more time to come up with a "solution". The corollary is that if a dept. had no chance of EVER solving a two-body problem that they know that they shouldn't bother interviewing you. Because you would never be able to join their faculty. If you interviewed it would just be a waste of everyone's time. This is bullshit on so many levels. First, as I have argued before, IMO job interviews are almost NEVER a waste of time (for the applicant). There is a lot to be gained from interviews outside of a job offer. Second, I think that it is generally not a great thing when a search committee spends a lot of time thinking about IF a given candidate will choose to join their department. It is true that at some level "recruitability" is going to be something that the committee cares about (see above about not wanting to end up with a failed search). But it is not our job, as a search committee, to decide for someone if they want to take a job on our faculty. There are lots of people that live apart from their spouse. I don't have to, thankfully, but I would be pretty pissed if I wasn't offered a job because this was not an option. Who is the search committee to make this decision for me? DrugMonkey also brought up that another problem with gating on "recruitability" or "fit" can be the exclusion of anyone that is at all "different" (read from bottom to top):

It may be that I have not sat through enough searches, but my limited experience suggests that women are more likely to have a two-body "problem" during a search. I cannot explain this (men get married, too!). I suspect that women are more up-front about the second body.

What would you tell a postdoc that was getting ready to go on the job market with a second-body problem? Would your advice be different for a man vs. woman?

For those of us that have to sit on search committees: what do you think is the best way to handle a two-body problem?



Here is what I would advise my hypothetical postdoc: Bring up the second-body the minute you have an offer, and not a second sooner. At that point, the faculty has decided they REALLY want to hire you. There is incentive to "solve" the "problem". Instead of just avoid it.




*thanks to all the tweeps that jumped into the conversation!

36 responses so far

Not the time to say No

Jan 05 2012 Published by under academia, tenure-track OTJT

Hey everyone! I'm still buried under my grant. I'm trying desperately to beat it into submission. Right now I think the odds are pretty even about who is going to win, but I'm working hard to not get beaten up too bad. I'm lucky to have supportive friends like Namnezia and PLS to make me feel better about freaking out. Here are their responses to one of my tweets (read from the bottom up):

Fig. 1: thanks, guys...I think

That's right. I might be peaking in my freaking. Awesome. While I duke it out with this grant, though, I realize that some of you out there are having your own struggles. One tweet earlier today caught my attention, from @dr_gena:

I agree with PLS's reaction to this that turning down an interview isn't really a good idea. Negotiating a two-body problem can be tough, even if the other body is not looking for a spot on the tenure-track. And it may very well be that there is not really anything for Body #2 at this institution. But (as mentioned by @SciTriGirl), interviews are about more than just trying to get a job. Interviewing for tenure-track positions is a networking gold mine. You will get to speak to a lot of people, some who are very important. You will automatically be on the radar as a person that is "good" (I mean, you interviewed in their Dept., right?) and as a new independent PI. So I say, go to interviews. You never really know what is going to happen until it does. There can be surprises. At the very least you get practice interviewing, have a chance to market yourself and may even get an offer that you can use for negotiating.

My advice: keep your options open, and don't limit your possibilities before you even have the offer.

What do you all think? Are there good reasons NOT to accept an interview when you are on the job market?




18 responses so far

Sink or swim

Aug 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Dr O over at the Tightrope has been recently thinking a lot about what it takes to get a tenure-track job, and whether one needs R01-like cash to land a position at a "top tier" university. And, since she used one of my comments to kick off her latest post, I will respond here.

Now, before anyone gets too wound up, I think it is nearly/totally impossible to define a "standard" for what is required to get a job on the tenure track. Every position and hiring committee is going to be different and trying to say that ANYTHING is absolutely required is an exercise in futility. Yes, you will need to publish and/or demonstrate some capacity to bring in funding $. But there is no formula that will guarantee you get a job. Also, I'm not even going to TRY to get into what "top-tier" might mean.

I digress. What I would really like to talk about is how the "culture" of a department can influence your job. As far as I can tell as a junior faculty*, department cultures can range from Care Bear Tea Party to Sink or Swim. Dr. O, though she doesn't want to judge, comes across as a person that values the Care Bear side of the spectrum. A place where everyone cares that the new assistant professor does well and succeeds, and eventually gets tenure. You know, where student have "great mentors who are respected in their field and actually invest in their students and postdocs". In this world, the Dept. Chair and senior faculty presumably mentor the n00b faculty so that they are gently introduced into the world of the tenure track.

Now, I get why this sounds...comforting. The problem is that it is bullshit. Even in the most gentle environment the transition to assistant professor is tough. AND, it is not necessarily uncomfortable or even unpleasant to be in a more...intense place. Sure, the stakes are high, but that will always be true for anyone that is on the tenure track. Does it really matter if the folks you are competing with are down the hall or across the country? Yes, there are places where more than one junior faculty member are hired for a single tenure track position. Places where tenure is a (more obvious) competition from the beginning. And I get why folks would think that such an environment could be intense or even unpleasant. But many of the places that do this routinely produce totally kick-ass science. This is where big-swinging-dicks are born, by design. These environments that are so intense also chock-full of incredibly smart, ambitious people. They recruit the "best" young scientists on the market, and the junior faculty are set off to prove their mettle with the understanding that resources will not be an excuse for having failed. In other words, SHIT-TONS of CASH and ALL THE EQUIPMENT you could ever need. That doesn't really sound so bad, does it?

The trade-off is that the "intense" places are sometimes willing to take a chance on someone that could be great...but they could be wrong. Because in these environments if someone fails it is not considered a reflection on the entire system. In Care Bear environments these "risky" hires are generally not made. Instead, hiring committees are more conservative because they want to make sure that the person they hire won't fail.

I guess the take home is that everyone has to find a home that is best for them. This is why "fit" is key when doing a job search. Not just for the department, but for the scientist, too. If you are looking for a place on the tenure track, and you have been good+lucky enough so far to be able to land in an "intense" place, it could be FANTASTIC. Or not. Just make sure your expectations match the environment.

But really, from what I can tell it is Sink or Swim for everyone in the end.



16 responses so far

the chalk talk (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 11 Dec 2010

In a recent post, I threw out a few tips regarding the academic job search. In the comments, Odyssey raised a super point:

I'd like to emphasize the importance of the chalk talk. If you don't nail it, you're screwed. It's really, really important to show you've thought about what you're going to do and how you're going to try to fund things.

This was followed by requests for me to write a post about what goes into a chalk talk. I love it when I get input on topics, so of course I'm going to oblige!! But first you have to go read PhysioProf's excellent post on this exact topic. While you are at it, you should read his other posts on the job search. And also go visit drdrA at Blue Lab Coats. There are a whole host of fantastic posts on the job search, interviews, negotiating, etc. Read them all!

Go ahead, I'll wait.


Alright then. So, after your reading you will understand that the chalk talk is much different than the job talk. And in many cases, even more important. Job talks can be practiced and perfected. But you can't fake a chalk talk. It is one of the best ways to separate the top applicant from all the others. The chalk talk is your chance to convince the faculty that not only have you done well (in the past) but you have a real plan to be succesful in the future. And that you have really, really thought about how you want to run your own lab.

Going into the chalk-talk, you should be prepared to go through your first R01 application (but you knew that from your previous reading, right?). Based on my experiences, you should actually have reasonable plans (with timelines) for 2 R01 applications. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have thought about how graduate students and postdocs will have projects that will get your shit done. And that you know how to split these projects up into Aims for grants that will be fundable. Make it clear that you have thought about the timeline to get preliminary data, publish papers, etc. in order to be able to submit competetive grant applications.

Be prepared to answer these kinds of questions (in addition to attacks of your science, as in CPP):
-What will your first graduate student work on?
-What are the first papers that will come out of your lab? (hint: they better be preliminary data)
-When do you plan to write your first grant?
-Who would want to fund your research? (NIH? which institute?)
-How is your field? What makes your research unique in your field, and how can you compete against established labs (including your postdoc mentor)?

OK, assuming that you have thought about all of these things, what do you actually do when you are standing in front of the room? Everyone will have their own style, of course. I have seen 10-15 chalk talks (not including the ones I have given), because at my postdoc institute anyone that was interested could go to the chalk talk. The most common way to fail is to get defensive with the questions, or otherwise be an ass. So don't do that. Always be polite and answer every question with data and logic, no matter how "mean" it is.

This was my strategy: Before the chalk talk, I wrote the "title" of three projects across the top of the board. Each of these was an R01 (some more developed than others). Below each title I wrote 3-5 Aims. At the beginning of the talk I spent 5 min recapping the highlights of my postdoc research that were most important for what I wanted to talk about. My first "grant" was based largely on my K99 (clearly fundable!). I added a couple of Aims that I could see being the basis of the follow up R01. I also highlighted aspects that I could submit for the fancy foundation fellowships. My second application had a reasonable amount of preliminary data to support it. The third was less developed, but I had a few unpublished observations that were the key data. When it was time to start, I launched into the first project: experimental approaches, pitfalls, alternatives, what I expected to find, etc. This went pretty quick, because it was already funded. Then I started in on the second grant. This almost always took the rest of the hour, so I almost never even got to #3, which was OK because I think the main point is that I had thought about it. (I was actually freaked out about this, but several people told me that I did a super job, so it was apparently OK).

There were always a lot of questions. One of my current colleagues told me that they "threw hardballs right at my head". So be prepared. I actually really like these kinds of audiences, and my postdoc had given me plenty of practice. So I had a lot of fun. But it was intense.

Anywho, I hope that clears up the chalk talk. If I missed something, you know where to find me!

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the joy of the interview (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 29 Nov 2010

We are entering the season of the job interviews for folks that are looking for a tenure-track job this year. Just 1 year ago -almost exactly!- I was myself on my very first interview. So, as a service to folks going through the interview process this year, including our very own LabSpaces Aces, Dr. Becca (WOO HOO, Dr. Becca!!), I decided to share some survival tips*.

The TT job interview is usually  2-day ordeal. Over the course of the interview you will give a seminar to the dept., talk to many faculty members and perhaps give a chalk talk. You should get an itenerary before you visit so that you know what to expect. The first day will usually start between 8 and 9 am (depending on if someone takes you to breakfast). TIP #1: Every interaction is part of the interview. From the first moment that you start interacting with the department arranging travel, in fact. So don't be a douche! Don't be rude to the secretarial staff, don't blow off random student interactions in the hallways, etc.

In all the interviews I went on, your first meeting will be with the Dept. Chair, who will talk to you about the dept. and university environment and perhaps show you some lab space.This is very exciting, but don't get too worked up. You have a long day ahead! You seminar "job talk" will usually be on the first day. TIP #2: Give a fantastic talk. Practice it in advance, and get feedback from everyone you can. Especially people that have sat on a search committee recently. It is also good to get some old-timers to give you feedback. There will undoubtedly be some of these in your new dept., and they vote! Sometimes, the deadwood old-timers may throw around a lot of weight. Your job talk may also be used to judge your potential as a teacher (unless you are on an interview where you have to teach a class. I've heard of these, but have no experience with them whatsoever). So make sure it is clear, logical and easy to follow. The job talk is slightly different than a normal seminar. It is not just about data. Your job is to get the faculty excited about your problem, your approaches and YOU! This may be the only time you get to interact with some of the people that will be voting on the hiring decision. Spend time on background to set up the "big picture" of your research and why it is awesome. Folks are probably going to be sitting through a lot of these talks, so make yours memorable (in a good way). Tell a story that gives me a sense of what you are interested in doing and how you approach your science. Do not try to beat me into submission with data slides. Show me how your career so far has set you up to be succesful. BE EXCITED ABOUT YOUR WORK! And most importantly, whatever you do: TIP #3 DO NOT GO OVER TIME. In fact, end your talk early (aim for 45-50 min). You want to give everyone a chance to ask questions. The more questions, the better. Questions mean that your audience is engaged and are interacting with you. Win!

TIP #4: Bring water. Seriously, you will be talking for 10-12 h straight. Very few people will offer you anything to drink. I carried a 1L bottle and was still totally dehydrated by the end of the day. You may also want to bring some snacks. or Gu. I am not kidding. The job interview is like a marathon - it just keeps going. Also, you probably won't get to eat much lunch. I mean, there will be food for you. But you will also be talking to someone over lunch-maybe even a whole group of grad students. So don't expect to eat much. I was in the middle of training for a marathon when I was on interviews, and it sucked!

When you are going from office to office for the 1-on-1 interviews, your job is to show them that you will be a good colleague. You don't necessarily have to already be an expert on their work, but you have to be able to have a good conversation. The may ask you about your seminar or go straight into what they work on. I know some folks spend a lot of energy reading everything from everyone in the department. I didn't do this. I figured that I can talk about science with anyone, so I didn't do much interview-specific reading. But I am really comfortable asking questions about all sorts of random things. If you need some background, then read away. TIP #5: do not look at your watch/clock. I know you want to stay on time, but this is not your problem. It is the responsibility of the person you are speaking with to get you to the next place on time.

The chalk-talk can seem intimidating, but it is the most fun part of the interview IMO. About 75% of interviews that I am familiar with do a chalk-talk. These are informal presentations to the faculty (and sometimes others) about your future research directions. They are usually on day 2. I highly recommend that you DO NOT bring slides for your chalk-talk, even if you are allowed to. Your goal in a chalk-talk is to show the committee that you have thought about how you are going to organize your lab and funding. In my field, a common framework is to lay out the aims for your first 1-2 R01 applications (One of my interviews told me to be prepared to talk about 4-5 proposals!!). Be prepared to discuss how the projects will be split into graduate student projects. A common question I heard was "what will your first rotation student work on?". The audience will interrupt you to ask questions that challenge your approach, background, etc. The most important advice: TIP #6: DO NOT GET DEFENSIVE. Even if the questions are very aggresive or even hostile. Be receptive and responsive to criticism but stand up for yourself (respectfully). Try to control the room so that you don't get off topic, but don't be crushed if you don't get to everything you want to talk about. It is more important to show that you can interact with the other faculty.

During the course of your interview you will be asked many, many times if you have any questions. TIP #7: ask questions! But use some common sense - this is not the time to start negotiating for startup. It is appropriate, however, to ask about things like environment (Do you collaborate with anyone in the dept.? What about other depts. in the university? How are collaborations viewed wrt tenure decisions? Is there a faculty seminar series?) or shared resources (can I get access to the fancy machine? How is it maintained? Can I see it? Is is ridiculously expensive?) or grad students (are they good? Are the admitted directly to the dept. or an umbrella program? are there training grants?). It is important that you determine if you can be succesful at the place you are visiting.

TIP #8 Have fun.This is a rare opportunity. You will have many smart people that will spend 20-30 min focused exclusively on you and your work. Besides the interview, this is a networking dream! So try to relax and have some fun with all the attention Smile



*OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER: these are based on my own experiences, or of those people I talk to. Your experiences may vary. Please feel free to add in tips that I mis in the comments!


PS: I am sure that there are a lot of other great posts on interview strategies out there. But I didn't have time to track them down. Please link in the comments! Much appreciated.

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are you writing a tenure-track job application? (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

originally posted 22 Nov 2010

I've been pretty busy this last week, mostly because I have spent a LOT of time reading job applications for the TT postion in my dept. I'm probably getting more sleep than Dr. O, but still. This has kept me from having time to come up with anything reasonable to post*. So, for your enjoyment, and because I can't help myself, I have compiled a list of some things that have stuck in my head from all this application-reading. Consider it an extra addendum to Odyssey's excellent advice on how to stand out in a pile of applicants (with a slightly more rant-y tone). My brain is a little too bruised and exhausted from the workout this past week to write coherent paragraphs. So, I am going to do this bullet-list syle.


  • Research statements less than 3 pages long. Trust me, your work is not so complicated that it requires 8 pg of single-space type to get the point across. All the best applications I have seen are ~2 pages.
  • white space
  • Links to pubmed abstracts of publications in the CV pdf. So handy!
  • Summary paragraph at the front of the statement.
  • reverse chronological order
  • judicious and logical use of bold


  • Two (or more) separate research plans. Choose one already!
  • A table of contents for your application. Why are you trying to crush my spirit?
  • Publications listed at the very end of the CV (or separate from the CV). Srsly, put the things I care about most first. For a basic bio/medical position like my dept., I want to know about publications and funding. There are no official rules about what has to be in here or in what order so use the space to put your best foot forward.
  • every other sentence in bold or italics.
  • unformatted CV. Are you even trying?
  • CV at the end of the 50 pg application.
  • comic sans for labels of figures in research statement. Really!??
  • cover letters that mention how you fit so well with the dept., then list examples from outside the dept. or school.



*If you don't think this is reasonable, well...I guess I don't care. If you want, drop me an email/comment with a "reasonable" idea. If CPP can ask for topic suggestions, maybe I can too?

2 responses so far

lost in translation? (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

originally posted 6 Nov 2010

A few days ago I learned the number of applications we have received for our TT job in my department. It was A LOT, which led me to write a little post about how, from what I can tell, we are going to sort through this giant pile to come up with a short-list. This post was written from a very one-sided perspective (mine, right after a faculty meeting). Odyssey jumped in with a more thoughtful and excellent post about how to make your application stand out. If you are going out on the job market go read it! Then Prof-Like Substance raised up something unexpected, to me at least, first in a comment at Odyssey's and then a whole post. PLS asserted that the fact that we wrote a fairly general job advertisement that it suggested the department was dysfunctional. I started to comment over at PLS's place, but it turns out I have a lot to say about this so I moved it over here.

First, I think my current department is pretty great. One of the main strengths, IMO, is the the fact that we have very diverse faculty research interests, yet the group is very collaborative. This has led to some interesting science that may not have come up in a different environment. We did discuss whether to make a more directed advert this year, but decided against it. We are looking for a colleague that can interact with all of us, whether a NMR spectroscopist, geneticist or cell biologist. The dearth of junior faculty is a problem-but not one that arises from dysfunction. It turns out that our department went through a major expansion in the 1950's. Then there were some hard times during which hiring was effectively shut down by the state. So now many of the faculty are nearing retirement, and we have open tenure lines to fill. Of course, I didn't include those details in my original post, so I can see how other interpretations were possible.

I would like to specifically address some of the points that PLS makes to clarify what I was trying to say.
"What a candidate reads – Divided department can’t or won’t decide on a specialty of interest for this position."
I don't think we are "divided" so much as "diverse". Even though it is more work, I was very much against a narrow search. You never know who is going to be on the market, and I really think that we could miss out on someone that would be a good fit if we went in with blinders on. And, it is much easier to discuss the merits of individual candidates rather than "sub-fields". It would be hard to decide whether we were going to hire a developmental geneticist vs. crystallographer in the abstract, BUT, in the past the structural contingent has happily supported developmental geneticists that they felt would make a good colleague (and vice versa).

"“Good science” will be arbitrarily defined by a small number of overburdened committee members looking for any excuse to toss your application."
I suspect this is true no matter if there are 250 applications or 600. In fact, the "search committee math" that Prodigal Academic describes for how they narrow the candidate pool is very similar to what I was trying to explain. To clarify how our search works: First, there is a quick triage round to get rid of applicants that are clearly not qualified or in the wrong field. We are a biomedical dept., so you have to at least hit that target. We require a PhD and at least one first-author publication from postdoc to get past this round. If you make it over this bar, I will assign your application to one of the "sub-field categories" based on a quick overview of your research statement. Yes, this will take < 2 min per applicant. Each sub-field group of applications will be read by faculty in that field, who will identify the top 10-20%. This is where Oydessey's advice really comes into play. Your application has to really stand out to rise to the top of this pile. I would argue that if you haven't caught my attention within 10 minutes you are probably not going to make it. So, yes, spend time crafting your application - research, teaching and CV. Make sure that the important points that show how awesome you are are easy to find impossible to miss and easy to understand. When the pool has been narrowed to the top 10-20%, the search committee members will read all of the applications and rank them. This will be the starting point for the discussions that will end up with a list of folks that we will have out for interviews.

We loosely define our needs because we don’t care about your time, your letter writer’s time (because we probably want LoRs up front) or that of our own administrative staff who have to process all this shit.
Wow. We clearly read job application advertisements differently. I never even considered this as a possibility when I was applying for jobs last year. In fact, I always liked the more general advertisements because I felt like they were willing to at least consider the possibility that there was interesting science outside of what was already represented in their department. For the record, LoR are submitted electronically so I'm not sure that it is such a burden on the writers. I remember being concerned with the burden to my writers last year and was informed by every last one that it was not a big deal. As for our administrative staff, they don't deal with the search at this stage. All the files are electronic, so the chair just scans in the few letters that will inevitably be sent on paper, and then sends them along electronically.

p.s. If you don’t make the short list don’t expect to ever hear from us again.
I only ever heard back from ~25% of places that I didn't get an interview. Even when I did get some form of rejection it was always a crappy form letter. So I don't really know if it matters. But, I hear that we do sent out the form letter so I guess everyone will hear from us at least one more time. 

p.p.s. We also hate the environment because we’re printing all these apps out in triplicate for the committee.
Really? Who doesn't do this all electronically these day??

"But if I applied for that position and got an interview, I’m still polishin’ up my eff you shoes for that trip. I’m going there looking extra hard for signs of a dysfunctional department."
I suspect that if you go into an interview wearing your "eff you shoes" that you won't be getting an offer. And I would strongly recommend that you poke around for signed of dysfunction no matter how warm and fuzzy the job advert made you feel. Every department is different and the interview process should help you gather information about how well you fit with them and how well they match what you are looking for.

"But chances are, if you rose to the top of a 600 applicant pile, you are likely to have competing offers. Maybe with departments who care more about the time and effort of 600 people."
It is true that most folks we hire have competing offers. When I went on the market, it was assumed that you would have competing offers when negotiating your position. In fact, the last 3 people my current dept. offered the job to ended up going somewhere else. At PostDoc Inst. only 3 of 5 searches that I saw ended up actually hiring someone. That is pretty standard in my field: if everyone has 2-3 offers, then 50-60% of all jobs aren't going to get filled. That is a fact of life for the TT search. And yes, this means that even though we get 600 applicants, there will be 15-20 people that get most of the interviews at all of the schools. I sometimes wonder how, in such a random process, these people always float to the top. Last year, I noticed that 2-3 other folks ended up interviewing at the same places as I did. And they were not in my sub-field. This did not make me feel like the dept. was wasting my time. Nor did it cross my mind that the number of applicants would in any way affect how much they cared about the person that they hired. There are certainly programs that "eat the young", but we are not one of them.

Perhaps the difference in perspective between PLS and me arises from our different sub-fields. I'm interested to hear how other experiences line up on this spectrum. Another interesting point, I think, is the fact that the same job advertisement that got 600 applications this year only had ~400 last year when I applied. What is different this year? Some of my colleagues think that this is a good sign that the market is loosening up and the postdocs that have been in a "holding pattern" are feeling more confident and therefore applying for jobs. The more pessimistic view would be that things are hard, and that folks can't afford to have postdocs in a holding pattern anymore...and that folks are being pressured to go out on the market even if they are not "ready".

So, dear readers, what is your perspective:
1. What do "general bio" job adverts say to you?
2. Why do you think there are so many folks on the market this year?

No responses yet

spooky! (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 31 Oct 2010

In honor of Hallowe'en, I'm going to talk about the TT job search. If you are a postdoc that wants to stay in academia, thinking about a job search may be a scary proposition. I remember being a little freaked out by the whole process. After you spend several years trying to do kick-ass science (6 for me), you spend a summer writing up your work and thinking about your future plans. In 5 pages you try to capture why you are awesome, what you think is cool and how you are going to be a RockStar within 5 years. Then you send this out...and wait. Spooky, right?

I remember. Last year at this time, I was in the process of sending out job applications. LOTS of job applications. Now, the tables have turned. My department is hiring again this year, and I'm on the search committee. And I am finding this even more spooky.

We had a faculty meeting last week (kinda freaky, but not the really scary part). At the end, we had a discussion about our search this year. Turns out that we have almost 600 applications. And we haven't made it to the deadline yet!

I'm sorry, what? how many!?!
(It's more spooky with a black cat, yes?)

The large number of applications stems from the fact that I am in a pretty basic dept. that is looking for someone that "does good science". Anyone from a molecular biophysicist to systems biologist to development geneticist to a physiologist could be at home here. That is part of the reason I like it so much. But that means that everyone has apparently responded to our advert. Oh yeah, and the reason that we are hiring again this year, even with the crappy economy, is that our dept. is in desperate need of junior faculty. Which means that there aren't many people to sit on the search committee. In other words, only 2-3 of us are going to sift through this giant pile. Our first task is triage: apparently it will be relatively easy to "weed out" at least 150-200. I say "apparently" because I have no experience with this yet (we are waiting for the deadline). I've been told not to spend more than 2 min per application.

Yep, you read correctly. In less than 2 minutes one person is going to decide if anyone will ever actually read your application. Those that are not "out" will be assigned to themes and circulated to appropriate faculty to identify the top 10-20%. This is what really terrified me. Some applications may get read here, but I wouldn't count on it. I am told to expect to spend ~10 min per application at this level. In other words, if you make it past triage you have 10 min to convince someone you are the best thing since Howard Hughes.

So, what is the moral of this story? I promised some nuggets of wisdom, but this is all I've got:
1. if there is something that you want me to read, make it easy to find!
2. Use bold judiciously. If you bold something that I find irritating, that is bad.
3. pictures break up pages of text and are usually more memorable (this can be good or bad)
4. The first thing I am reading is the research statement. The first 2 sentences better be really good!
5. Make it clear how you are going to distinguish yourself from your advisor. No one believes that you can compete with an established lab right out of the gate.


Seriously, how did I ever get a job?!

Happy  Hallowe'en!

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out on the job market (archived from LabSpaces)

Dec 05 2010 Published by under tenure-track OTJT

originally posted 15 Oct 2010

Fair warning: this feels like a kind of rambling post. I have not written about this before, and I'm afraid it is a little awkward. Consider yourself warned, if this sort of thing bothers you.

A while ago, when I was wondering exactly how I was able to so efficiently ruin so many families, I mentioned that I would write about what it was like to be a lesbian on the academic job market. Since National Coming Out Day was last week, I figured that now was a reasonable time to tell my story.

Before I start, I would like to stress that I have had it really, really easy. I do not worry about my safety, or that I will be assaulted because of my sexual orientation. I was not ostracized by my family or friends. I was not prevented from having a job that I love. I have a super partner, and we are raising an incredible child together. I have put off writing this post for a while, because I do not really feel qualified to be a token lesbian assistant professor. I am not convinced that my experience is "normal". But I really believe that it is important for me to be out. Maybe I can be a role model for other folks coming up through the ranks. And that would be great. But I think it has bigger effects than just in academia. I am sure that some people I know are more tolerant now because they know me. It is much harder to generically hate a group of people when you know individuals that belong to this group.

So, there is the disclaimer. Now, where to start. Well, I would never have gone on the market as a lesbian unless I was out as a postdoc, which leads to how I ended up being out as a postdoc. This was sort of an accident, really. I wasn't out when I started grad school. In fact, that is where I finally figured out the whole thing for myself*. Then I started dating a classmate. It wasn't long before our fellow grad student friends figured out what was going on. But, no one ever really had a problem. So coming out wasn't all that hard. I'm sure that the faculty in the Dept. that knew me also figured this out, but it was not a normal topic of discussion. I brought my girlfriend to lab functions and everyone no one acted like it was anything out of the normal. When I took a postdoc across the country, it was not surprising to most that she moved with me. There were exceptions. People that were confused about why another female student in the program just "happened" to be moving across the country to the same place I was going. Generally this was followed by awkward questions. When I started my postdoc, the it was more of the same. When you move to a new city to start a postdoc, the first people that you meet are inevitably in your new lab. And I got along with all those folks. Of course everyone knew about my partner. This trend continued throughout my postdoc. I would go to meetings, you talk with people. I didn't bring up my "situation", but I never lied about it. If people asked me about my husband, I would just say "actually, I'm married to a woman". And there you go. I'm out in my postdoc, out to many of the scientists in my community. But I did not ever have a "strategy" or plan for how this should go. It just happened. And this doesn't seem to have been detrimental to my career, as far as I can tell.

The time had come for me to start sending out job applications. And send I did. I applied to almost every job that was even remotely related to what I do. The only exception was that I did not apply to schools in places that I did not think would be good environments for my family. Places where my parental rights as a same-sex couple would be in jeapordy, for instance. When I started getting interviews was when I had a choice to make. Even though it is illegal to ask many personal questions on a job interview, over the course of a two-day academic interview these questions always come up. Generally over dinner, as folks are trying to get to know you or when someone you are talking to wants to tell you something great about the environment related to the schools, child care, etc. I knew that answering these questions honestly could cost me a job, depending on who I was talking to. I know a couple of folks that are gay academics. The general situation, that I saw, was that these folks were out to some of the people they worked with. But not all. And I heard some horror stories about being on the tenure track. These people didn't feel like they had the option to be out in their Dept. This made their lives harder. I can't imagine having to not talk about my wife or daughter with colleagues. And I didn't need anything extra stress when starting out. So, I decided that if someone was going to cancel me out for being gay, I was going to make them do it at the interview. I would not give them 5 years (or so) to mess with my family and my sanity. When I was asked about my family on the interview I was honest. No one reacted poorly, at least not in my presence. For all I know, the folks that interviewed me already knew. It is entirely possible that any place that would have had an issue with me never interviewed me in the first place. Did I narrow the number of interviews/offers that I got? Perhaps. There is no way to know. In the end, it worked out well for me.

So, I'm out on the tenure track. I am sure that this is the right choice for me and my family. But, like I said before-I am one of the lucky ones. Being out is something I can do to try to make life easier for those that are not so lucky as I have been. But there is clearly much more that needs to be done. The recent series of teenagers that are (or are perceived to be) gay and are bullied to the point that they commit suicide makes it clear that there are too many young folks, in particular, that need our help (I'm not going to link to any names, because I have been told that glorifying the suicides of some can actually increase the liklihood of others). If you are heartbroken** by these events and want to do something, here is a non-exhuastive list of some ideas (please feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments):

1. If you are considering suicide, please don't. Talk to someone. If you don't have someone to talk to try The Trevor Project online or call 866-488-7386.

2. If you are a parent, watch this video. Learn to recognize if your child is being bullied, or being a bully.

3. If you would like to hear the success stories of other non-heterosexual folks (many that had a much harder time than me), check out the It Gets Better Project.

3. Realize that your words matter. Don't make antigay disparaging remarks, and don't sit silently when others do. You may think that these "jokes" are funny or harmless. But they aren't, they are part of a culture that uses homophobia as a tool for bullying.

4. Don't vote for homophobes (one example: Carl Paladino).





*I was a little late to the party. I suspect that this was influenced in part by growing up in a big, red conservative state. I don't really think I knew what being gay was until I was in college. All I knew growing up is that that when someone called you "gay" or "fag" that it was a bad thing.

**If you aren't, there is something wrong with you.

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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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