The Plight of the Post-Doc


Searching Highs and Lows

Are you a chemical engineer? Nor am I, but browsing through the job ads on the Science and Nature websites kind of makes me wish I were. Business is booming! But why do I know this?

I have not quite mastered the art of the Advanced Search. My three sources for job ads (not including my thesis advisor) are Science, Nature, and NeuroJobs on the Society for Neuroscience website, and I haven't found any to be completely user-friendly (if you know of any other good resources, by all means share!). Of course, the paranoid part of me is wondering whether this is some sort of test; if I'm not savvy enough find the right job to apply to, I can't possibly be qualified to fill the position, now can I?

I went through a similar period of self-doubt when I applied for a K99-R00 Pathway to Independence award from NIMH earlier this year. The NIH grants website is nearly impenetrable, and you need to cross-reference the guidelines there with a 250-page pdf manual, out of which you must extract the scattered instructions specific to your particular grant. It's a real exercise in Not Repeatedly Smashing Your Laptop Into the Wall, and I quickly became certain that it was all part of an elaborate filtration process by which most people would, in frustration, give up on science altogether. Wheat from the chaff, you know?

So here I am again questioning my worth, only now it's according to the ease with which I come across listings for The Perfect Job. How useful I'm finding these search engines varies by website, with Nature coming in dead last. It's terrible. As far as I can tell, there's no easy way to sort out tenure track faculty jobs from, say, post-doc jobs, and there are a LOT of post-doc jobs. Thousands. When you put "professor" into the search, it comes up with post-doc jobs that ask you to send your application to Dr Joe Scientist, Professor of Chemical Engineering. To try to eliminate post-doc jobs in your results, you can use the "-" symbol to leave out anything that says "post-doc" in it, putting the expression "-post-doc" in the search bar along with "+neuroscience". However, this poses at least two problems, the most important being, do you know how many different ways people choose to write the word "post-doc"?

Well, there's "post-doc", "postdoc", "post doc", but then you need to also include "postdoctoral", "post doctoral" etc.,'s a pain! The second problem is that you end up ruling out ads that say something like, "minimum 2 years post-doctoral experience required for this very excellent tenure-track faculty job." And then you still need to narrow things down so as to rule out all the Chemical Engineering positions.

Science is much better, with a nice big button that says "Faculty Jobs". Thank you! That was easy, wasn't it? Once you click through you get a nice list of the job posting, plus the school and location. You can narrow this search with "neuroscience" or "neurobiology" or "psychology" (my big three), to get a pretty streamlined list of jobs you may want. Neurojobs is basically the reverse, since all posts are at the very least neuro-related (no chemical engineering positions here!), but then you need to narrow with "professor" or "faculty" (apparently there are far fewer post-doc positions listed here). You can also easily filter the jobs by "academic", "not-for-profit", "industry" etc, in case your experience with the K-99 made you never want to write another grant again. It should be noted that Neurojobs is free for SfN members, but $25 A DAY if you're not.

One thing that seems so obvious to me is that there should be some kind of uniformity in the way these jobs are listed. For example, when the department chair goes to list the position, he or she should have to click a box that says "assistant professor" "post-doc" "technician", etc., rather than making up the name of the job. That way job searchers can easily search by category, and not have to guess whether "Position in Neuroscience" is something we'd like to apply for.

Hmmm...perhaps I should be looking in these sites for openings in web design?


noah said...

Do neuroscientists not use the Chronicle of Higher Education?

Let me know if you're out in the midwest - anywhere NEAR Madison. It would be fun to see you.


Unknown said...

Seriously, this reminds me of Craigslist. Like trying to find a refrigerator for a small apartment featured many similar steps, including posters who did not know how to spell "refrigerator". Perhaps they should start using CL in your field - sounds like the perfect fit. (Good luck!!)

Becca said...

Thanks for the tip, Noah! I'll definitely get in touch if I'm out by you. UW Madison has a really good Neuroscience Dept, so it could happen!

LM said...

Do any of these sites have RSS feeds? More and more job websites have added this feature, and with some you can do a search (or multiple searches with specific words, like "post-doc" "postdoc" etc) and subscribe to each search feed. It means not having to do that search ever again because any results will appear in your Google Reader - it feels like magic. I subscribe to six very specific craigslist job searches plus a bunch of others and it has made my life so much easier!

Andrea B. (Natalie's mom :) said...

I'm curious if you will use Linked In at all in your search. I am on it (because invited by others). It has not served me any use professionally...just linked to 6 random friends right now, and I'm not currently looking for a job anyway. Notably, I am 3 links away from President Obama...neat, huh? Best of luck! I'm enjoying your blog and will keep following! (I've never followed a blog before). Oh, and my mom (2 links from Obama) likes your blog too! :)

Becca said...

If anyone has ever used LinkedIn for anything useful, I'd love to hear about it. Like you, Natalie's Mom (yay!), I've accepted connection invites from my friends, but that as far as I've gotten.

I'm thrilled to hear, though, that I'm just 4 links away from Obama!!

Lena said...

LinkedIn is most useful when you want to look up colleagues you've lost touch with. When you have a career as long as mine ("20+ years" so we say) it comes in handy. Some people do post openings on LInkedIn. I have had luck finding resources that way. But I don't know if this applies to academia . . .

Natalie's granny, gammy or grammy (identify crisis in the works)

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Cell Press has a good jobs Web site as well.

MRW said...

This may be a bit late - I'm not sure of the application timing in your field - but here's a list of sites I used:

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