The Plight of the Post-Doc


Interview with a new-hire

I opened my inbox recently to find a mass email from someone I'd known in grad school.  He was in a different program and I wouldn't say we were good friends, but if life is a Venn diagram--and oh, it is--our circles most definitely overlapped.  I hadn't spoken to him since I left, but it seems he's done very well for himself in that time, because the purpose of the email was to notify apparently everyone on the planet that he'd just taken a faculty position at a very Classy Institution here in the city.  I had two thoughts:

1.  Three words, dude.  Blind. Carbon. Copy.  Perhaps you're familiar?
2.  I have got to pick this guy's brain.

So I sent him a quick email congratulating him on his new job and asking if we could grab coffee so I could grill him on his techniques and strategies for successfully navigating the current market.  He happily agreed, and we met up yesterday at the local Pain Quotidien for a little tartine and tenure-track talk. 

The first piece of advice he offered was, "Be sure to have multiple offers, so you have some negotiating leverage."  First, not last.  I cleared my throat and asked if we might back up a few steps?  As it turns out, his story is quite awesome, and his path somewhat unconventional.  Apparently he hadn't been planning on looking for jobs until this current cycle, but last spring he was invited to give a job talk at one of NYCs Classy Institutions.  When that went well, he thought it might be a good idea to shop himself around a bit, so he asked friends and friends of friends if they knew of any departments that were also looking, sent out a few CVs, gave a few more talks, and here he is, just a few months later, an Assistant Professor with what I understand to be a ridiculously kick ass start-up package.

Now, this guy is a real superstar.  His research is achingly (and I mean achingly) sexy, and he has genuine expertise in very specific and powerful techniques.  He was surprisingly modest, attributing his success partly to being in the right place at the right time with respect to his post-doc work.  This may be true, but I think that he also recognized that he was in the right place at the right time, and knew how to take advantage of that. 

But additionally, he must have had some good interviewing skills, so I asked him about that.  He said that everyone is going to ask you where you see yourself in five years, so to be very, very prepared to answer that in as concrete terms as possible--meaning, knowing exactly what sciencey questions you want to have answered, what techniques you'll use, how that will set you up for work further down the line...etc.  You have to have your life all planned out, essentially.  No biggie.  This is fine for me, actually; since the research proposal part of my K99 application was well-received, I in fact do have a 5-year research plan that I know well and am excited to talk about.

When I got home, I checked the job boards and there was a new one:  THE job.  The ad said something like, "we have two open faculty positions in the area of Dr Becca's Big Ideas." I mean really, it's like they read my K99 proposal and created the job (two of them!) just for me.  I am so excited to apply for this job I almost can't sit still.  The ad states that I have up to 4 pages to describe my research, which is a lot, and means I can really hash out my plans.  I am going to wow the pants off that search committee! 

PS--are you dying from how clever the title of this post is?  I'm really patting myself on the back, here.


pinus said...

the funny thing...they ask you where you think you will be...and of course you have some answer...but if you talk to more senior folks, they say that things never work out like you plan (CPP says this all the time). Good luck with the apps!

DrDudeChick said...

First, thanks for your blog. It is so useful to be able to read about your job-hunting experiences, I would otherwise not have a clue how this process works.

The guy's comment about multiple offers (and your reaction to it) made me think about the book I read about negotiation "Women do not ask" (L. Babcock).

Our gender is so strongly preconditioned not to negotiate, that we are surprised to hear how men do to get more than they need... It seems almost like they play games.

But this is the main reason why there is a pay gap. If you have not read the book, I urge you to read it as soon as possible, before your interviews begin, and before offers come pouring in, ;-) so that you position yourself strategically like this guy did!

Thanks for this post, it was a useful reminder for me about the importance and power of asking (or negotiating).

Comrade PhysioProf said...

It is great to be excited, but remember that applying for faculty positions is a statistical process. Except under very, very rare circumstances, the likelihood that you will receive an offer for any single given position is very small.

Becca said...

@CPP I know...I'm really trying to find a balance of being optimistic but non-delusional. There's a very real possibility I won't get any offers, or possibly even any interviews--it's a terrible market right now, and even people with much better publishing records than mine aren't having a lot of success.

On a semi-related note, there's a good chance I'll have a big-ish paper accepted in the next month--if/when that happens, is it worth sending an update to the places I've applied?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

On a semi-related note, there's a good chance I'll have a big-ish paper accepted in the next month--if/when that happens, is it worth sending an update to the places I've applied?


Ms.PhD said...

good luck. and good blog title.

my cynical side says the 2 positions advertised in your area mean the school in question already has a couple-hire lined up, and they are covering their not-so-equal opportunity asses.

but hey, go for it. you never know if the couple hire might have to back out at the last minute or something.

Becca said...

Ms.PhD I hadn't thought of that, but it makes a lot of sense. Well, hmph. I guess I have nothing to lose, though, plus I've started re-writing my research statement for this position, and I think it's much improved. So some good is coming out of it, no matter what.

Anonymous said...

Def apply and take it very seriously. I've seen "spoilers" twice now. Where the university had someone from the inside lined up, and someone external came in and blew the internal choice out of the water. This crap happens all the time in Germany. Once was for a full tenured professorship (W3) and once was for a junior group leader.

Zen Faulkes said...

Advice from someone who's been on multiple search committees: We repeatedly see people who put almost *no* thought or effort into their teaching plans. The contrast between the detail of the research plans and the bland, generic statements about teaching "philosophy" is stunning.

Similarly, we have *never* asked anyone where they see themselves in five years. The tenure process is six years long, so the answers are either:

1. "I'll be preparing for my last year before tenure review." (Right answer.)

2. "I'll be at another institution, having gotten out of this hell-hole as fast as I could." (Wrong answer.)

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