The past four months have been a whirlwind. I’ve been mindlessly applying to positions; sending nearly the same generic application to 70-80 schools hoping for at least a phone call. It turns out even this was a poor strategy. Because even though search committees know the market is tight, they want to see some bit of personal, university-specific narrative in the application. They’ve got hundreds to sift through and are most interested in “fit” scientifically and who they can have coffee with. So, after going through several phone interviews, a few on-campus interviews from very contrasting institutions–the former being a huge academic (and athletic) enterprise and the latter being a liberal arts college–I feel that I have SOME experience. Plus, I was actively part of a massive job search in graduate school so I already have some advice to lend.
First off, when you are on the market, scour how the Internet perceives you as a being. If you have had some alternative, questionable, or controversial career path, press release, or images/videos of you, find a way to remove them and/or be ready to explain them and ask for forgiveness. Make your social media private. It is actually a violation of academic freedom for job search committees or universities to discriminate applicants based on social media and Internet excavations (see: http://www.aaup.org/news/social-media-policy-violates-academic-freedom), but humans thrive on gossip.
For the phone call…..
1. Don’t sell yourself short. It is OK to brag. I may have more reason to with a last name like “Brager” (terrible joke), but you’ve worked long days, late nights, and weekends to get to this moment. Embrace it.
2. Even if you don’t know where your research will take you in 10 years, find a way to have a 10 year plan. Science is a marathon not a sprint. Basically, I will do this in my pre-tenure years, then move onto this in my post-tenure years, etc. Or when I have this grant, I will then move on to that grant.
3. Have an idea of what you want to teach and are capable of teaching (even if you are applying to a medical school).
For the on-campus interview…..
4. Dress for the job you want not the job you have. Appearance does make a difference. You may wear jeans and sneaks in the lab (I do), but people won’t take you seriously talking about serious science if you are wearing ripped jeans, Rainbow sandals, and a “Keep Calm and Carry On” Shirt. Business casual it is.
5. Don’t go out with the graduate students and get drunk enough that you are puking for your talk and meetings with faculty the next day. You may laugh, but it has happened.
6. Expect hostility. Don’t let your ego get in the way and be defensive. Hostility and lack of emotion are part of the game the search committee is trying to play to see how well you can perform under pressure and confidently answer questions that may appear naive and rude like, “why do we care to study mice when we have the capability to study humans?” Also, don’t lose focus. If a faculty member asks if you can do this, answer honestly, and if it is a ” yes”, remind them that getting your lab up-and-running and funded is priority.
7. Do your research on the faculty. You may have way more in common than you think. For example, at one of my interviews I discovered that one of the faculty members and I went to the same high school given that we are from the same hometown. But don’t do research just for “small talk” but for the purpose of cross-collaboration. Collaboration is key in today’s funding climate.
8. Even if you don’t feel the place is for you a few hours in, don’t burn bridges. Science is a small world. Real small.
9. Keep your head up if you get a rejection. It may not be you, it may be an issue of “fit”. Even if it is you, listen and correct. Besides, the market looks like this anyways.
Statistical breakdown of postdocs entering faculty positions
In the end, I’m taking a risk and holding out for that 60-40-ish balance of teaching and research. I’ve decided that I”m not going to settle for what I don’t truly want. 30 years is a LONG time.