Thursday, July 26, 2012

Job Search: The happy outcome

Done... over... FINALLY!! I have signed on the dotted line - okay it wasn't dotted but solid line doesn't quite sound right. It was a long journey, but the end result was worth it. I am now a new Assistant Professor at Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences... well I will be in Sept 2013.

I'm really excited... mostly because I think they actually get me. There's a tradition of deep sea research, a contingent that brings cutting edge molecular approaches to oceanography, and a core of people that consistently work across disciplinary boundaries. The institute was set up this way from the get go. A pioneering deep-sea biologist founded the institute and purposely created a small (relative to other major oceanography institutes) but elite faculty housed under one roof, removing any physical barriers to collaboration. I look forward to making that roof part of my new academic home.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Job search - Advantage of Order


The Usual Suspects... its always the one at the end.
Percentage of offers from interviewing first = 0%, middle = 0%, end = 100%. All of my job offers, thus far have come from the places I went last or very near the end.

Everyone said, go first or go last. The first one sets the bar. The last one is freshest in their brains.  I guess I just didn't set the bar high enough... or it wasn't memorable enough... or maybe its a coincidence. The other common denominator was a broad job description for the places I've gotten offers - any marine science or biological oceanography. So 'fitting' the job ad wasn't an issue.

Granted, it is only an n = 13 and for one person... but its enough that my new superstition is to always go last.

Anyone have any additional data to add?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Job Search - the worst interview

I've been on quite a whirlwind adventure interviewing. Of course, there were the places that impressed, and there were a couple that fell short.

The first short coming was when I got into my temporary residence late at night to find a twin bed from (I swear) the 1920s awaiting me. I haven't slept in a twin since middle school. I'm not exactly tall (a nice average 5'5"), but my feet were still dangerously close to dangling off the end of the bed. The bed also had a nice bi-level appeal with one half significantly lower than the other from years of people 'sleeping'. Needless to say it was not the most pleasant few nights, and no doubt I wasn't on my best game in the morning.

The bed is relatively minor compared to my actual worst interview. Though, I did come to gauge my chances based on how well I slept the night before and the temperature and pressure of my morning shower.

To the worse interview... First misstep - the invitation to interview for ... huh... "which position did you apply for?" This should have been my first sign that all was not well. Indeed, it didn't get better from there.

This was my one and only interview in which I flew out (or drove out) the day of the interview, per their instructions.  I believe this is generally a bad idea - flight delays, traffic, weather, etc. The one good thing about the interview was that the trip out was smooth.

If at all possible, someone should pick you up at the airport - saves taxi fare and saves the candidate hassle. I was not picked up when I arrived at 11 am. I made my way to a cab and to the hotel where I was informed that the cabbie didn't have any change. Are you kidding? What cabbie doesn't have $4 in change? So a $13 cab fare became a $20 cab fare. Hello, ripping off your customers.

I rang my host to let him know I had arrived and to figure out lunch plans (11:30 am). He had not made any lunch plans, because apparently I don't need to eat... but I did have a 1 pm meeting with the dean.  We could squeeze something in beforehand. Unfortunately, a 12:15 pick up in a new jag convertible from the hotel and a 15 min drive to the dean meant that we were still late after quickly scarfing down a burger and my hair was a disaster.

Apparently, the meeting with the dean and an evening seminar were the only things planned for the day. We roamed the halls searching for someone for me to talk to. I ended up in one 'interview' over the copy machine for 20 min. Another meeting consisted of 10 mins of discussion followed by 15 mins of a discussion between the interviewer and a student.

I'm generally a go with the flow gal, but this was getting ridiculous. The second day was an improvement, but there was really no where to go but up... and it was still pretty bad.

Dinners were well attended though. Each dinner consisted of a lively bunch consuming multiple courses and copious amounts of alcohol. It was like port call after a cruise, so it brought back good memories of debauchery in my youth. However, I felt rather miffed when after two dinner bills over $750, I was informed that transportation 'on my side' was my responsibility.  They wouldn't pay for my parking ($36) or mileage to the airport ($30). Note to the search committee - it helps to keep a candidate happy. Instead of inviting 10 people to dinner, inviting 8 and reimbursing the candidate would have been the better route and cheaper!

And to end the interview with a bang, I arrived to the airport to be informed that my seat had been given away and that I was put on standby for the next flight. I had a lovely flight stuck between two larger gents who had been on holiday, arriving back home just late enough to miss tucking my kids in bed.


I'm glad that most of my interviews were enjoyable. Only one bad apple in the barrel.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Science careers: More scientists, less jobs

The Washington Post ran an article over the weekend, U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren't there, that has sparked quite a bit of discussion - sciencey and political. I'll stay away from politics for a variety of reasons and stick to a more science perspective focused on the latter part of the title.

First off, for those of us on the job market... duh!! We didn't need a headline to tell us this. We know the job market is tough. It seems like many grad students have gotten the message as well.

A group of students at an interview at a highly ranked school asked me why I wanted to come there.  I mentioned the great resources - people and facilities. Then I said that I would feel more comfortable training people with a brand name like University X behind them. I have moral dilemmas about training new cohorts of scientists that don't have anywhere to go. Where you were trained and with whom matters in today's competitive market. You need every advantage you can get.

To my surprise, the students were surprised by my answer. 'We've never heard anyone on the faculty talk about this.  We, of course, think about it all the time.'

One of my fellow postdocs is purposefully leaving academia, not because he can't hack it, but because he refuses to train students in this context.

So, are faculty really that ambivalent? Are they the slave drivers the Post article makes them out to be - using cheap labor as hands in the lab for the benefit of their own career? I (maybe naively) like to think that they are neither. Faculty benefit from successful students. It is in their own best interest to help their students thrive and land a great job.

Maybe the problem is that training can no longer be focused on academia as an end goal. So many professors are (or seem to be) set on the pursuit of academia is the only option. Of course, the stars will rise and have that option... But with only 14% of PhDs within 5 years of degree landing a faculty position (stats from Post article), students must be prepared for other career tracks. The analytical skills help in this regard, but its not enough.

Heck, grad students at many universities aren't even trained well to be professors - what about personnel management skills, budgeting, grant writing, project management, curriculum development? Essentially, a professor runs a small business and also teaches. To run that business, the prof must 'sell' themselves and their science in grants, presentations, and publications. If you want to get into high impact journals you need to tell a story. The usual summary of literature search, methods, results and dry discussion won't do it. I'm surprised at how few students are taught how to sell their science.

These more 'practical' skills are often overlooked, but can be very translational to other venues -- consulting (project management & budgets), policy ('selling' science), K-12 education (teaching), industry (project management), etc.

Above all, I believe there needs to be a shift in culture from preparing students to become professors to preparing them to contribute to society in multifaceted paths. Once this can be accepted, I think the career development support will come - new networks, translational skills, etc. And with it, the ivory tower may forge new collaborations with policy makers, industry, government, education sectors, and endless other places where society can benefit from scientists.

In the end, I agree that we still need more scientists (... really, more science education). A more science literate population, can only mean more appreciation (and hopefully funding) for science and an increase in innovation. They just probably shouldn't be all PhDs.