The Plight of the Post-Doc


Science Mag: Late to the party and a total buzzkill

In news of the obvious, Science recently printed a piece entitled "Tenure-Track Jobs Remain Scarce." It describes the phenomenon in which experienced post-docs, unable to land a TT offer, go and do a second post-doc. I presume you're familiar. At first I thought it was a new-decade flashback kind of thing--you know, where they print articles from several years ago out of nostalgia for the aughts?  But then I realized that no, this is current.  Current, yes; new, no.

The piece reads like this:

1. It's hard to get a job.
2. Because there are no jobs.
3. Because universities have no money.
4. Stimulus package money helped a little, but not that much, plus it's all gone anyway, so...not that much.
5. Q: "Where will all the scientists go?"
    A:  Europe, but actually only a few of us will do that.
6. We.  Are.  FUCKED.

Oh, really?

What I find interesting about this article is that it highlights the fact that universities less affected by the economic downturn are able to have their pick of the litter when it comes to TT applicants.  Well!!  How nice for them!!  There is a silver lining after all!  It reminds me of all the articles that came out when the economy started tanking that covered how shitty life was for everyone who had lost their jobs or had their hours cut or whatever, but for those unaffected, there were some fabulous deals to be had on seriously reduced luxury items!

What I also find interesting is that there are no solutions offered.  Not even a suggestion that anyone, anywhere is working on it.  This on the heels of news that NIH will be passing the buck with respect to funding young researchers (go read MsPhD's and DrugMonkey's assessments of Francis Collins's announcement), and it's all one can do not to throw up one's hands in despair.

One thing I've noticed since I've started blogging is that although there are dozens of really amazing post-doc bloggers, I haven't found anyone else who's actively talking about their own job search.  Are you out there?  Even if you're not a blogger, but just a reader, I'd love to hear how things are going for others in my position.  I can't be the only one; if I were, I'd probably have a job by now.


Zen Faulkes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zen Faulkes said...

Blogging about job searches may be scarce because of things like this cautionary little tale:

Having been on search committees for the last few years, I would love to write about more of my experiences in terms of reviewing applications, etc. But confidentiality is a huge obstacle to doing so.

Anonymous said...

I'm there. Looking for a tenure track (or at least not too temporary) teaching position while occasionally being distracted by post-doc ads thinking, "Oh, maybe I could use experience in this area and get a few more papers out."

I wonder what the average number of post-doc positions is for people who ultimately do land tenure track jobs. Is it one, two, three? Do the "superstars" get tenure track jobs right away? If so, would that mean that if you haven't found a TT job by the end of your first or second post-doc that maybe you're just (gasp!) not good enough?

Good luck finding others posting about their job hunt. That's one thing I think most people would want to keep under wraps since they're only a Google search away from curious search committee members.

- Staying anonymous for obvious reasons.

Becca said...

Thanks for the links, Zen. I think in that particular situation, the blogger gave out way more information about the specific circumstances of the interview than I ever would in my blog. But the issue of anonymity is something I've been thinking about a lot, lately.

Look, I realize that it's probably not too hard for any of my readers to figure out who I am. To be honest, I'm not really too concerned about that, unless any of you are crazy stalkers.

The bigger concern for me is the reverse--would anyone (like a search committee member) who knows my real name find the blog if they googled me? This is one of the first few things I posted about, and I think someone would have to really dig around for things to link up in the right way. And if they did, have I said anything on the blog that would hurt me? I've tried to keep things light for the most part, here. I would NEVER reveal specific details about departments or people I meet if/when I start to go on interviews, nor (and especially) negative opinions.

Of course, there's always the chance that someone who's a current reader is a future search committee member of mine, and puts it all together when we meet. But by then, they'll have my charming and brilliant self in front of them, so whatever their opinion of the blog may be, they won't be able to help being swept off their feet!

Bottom line, really, is that it's a little too late. Short of deleting the blog, which I truly don't want to do (and don't think I should have to do), there's not much I can do from here on out except be careful with what I discuss, assuming it will all be out in the open one day.

Zen Faulkes said...

Please don't delete the blog! I wasn't suggesting that. Just sayin' that fear of confidentiality could be a reason many people don't blog about job hunts, even under the guise of pseudonyms.

Anonymous said...

I don't maintain a blog in part because I think even a small amount of detail would pretty effectively out me professionally, and in general I am a fairly private person. But I do think the job search process should be less mysterious. I went through a job search last year after >2 yrs of postdoc, during which I had one high-profile first author pub and two middle author pubs. It was nerve-wracking because my significant other had already landed the "dream job" in a particular geographic location and I was doing my best to find something nearby. I applied to 15 positions and got 2 interviews and 1 offer which I took. Two of the positions disappeared due to budget cuts during the search and according to the jobs wiki on scratchpad many others had > 100 applicants. Basically I focused on almost nothing but the job search for 2-3 months (thankfully postdoc advisor did not object) and poured a ton of time into designing a research plan. My impression is that the chalk talk was absolutely key in persuading people that I had a viable, interesting plan that would fit into the department. My advice is to absolutely not underestimate the importance of this. Your CV only goes so far- they want to hear your ideas. Now that I have started I find the empty room and lab somewhat terrifying though :-)

Zen Faulkes said...

Giving a good research talk is the unfair advantage. (It may not literally be a "chalk talk," though.) Candidates' departmental seminars have been the single most consistent bellweather for which short-listed applicant gets the offer.

Get Presentation Zen. Get Slide:ology. Practice, practice, practice.

Anonymous said...

I personally wouldn't blog about my job search (at least while it is on going). Who knows who might be reading and how they might take it.
If you want to provide your opinions and insight about the whole process as a public service (which I agree has some worth and is of interest to me and others reading, I would wait until you've got the job).

i usually never post a comment, so i'll throw out another opinion while i'm at it for those of you blogging. i find it extremely annoying when people include private/personal stuff in their "professional" blogs. it makes people come across as narcissistic which is probably not an image you want to present to your colleagues, even if people think they are being anonymous.

then again, i don't know really get the point of personal blogs or twitters other than narcissism and the opportunity for voyeurism. if you feel the need to express your private (non-professional) thoughts, just write it in a diary. if you want to share it with your friends, send a mass email to your closest contacts. consider this my "professional/ public" service announcement.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Dr. Becca, there is absolutely nothing you have ever posted on this blog that any search committee member would ever give a flying fuck about, even if they were to ever connect you the job applicant with this blog. Nothing.

Candid Engineer said...

i usually never post a comment, so i'll throw out another opinion while i'm at it for those of you blogging. i find it extremely annoying when people include private/personal stuff in their "professional" blogs.

Haha, thanks for the suggestion. My suggestion to you is that you stop reading these non-professional "professional" blogs if you find them so narcissistic. There are plenty of other readers out there who are actually interested in getting to know who scientists are as people.

thise said...

Hi Becca! I've been following your blog with interest, being in a similar situation -- I've just had my first neuroscience TT interview (3 years into my first postdoc) and I'm very grateful for the advice and experience related in your and others' blogs! An earlier post of yours about the painful letting go of geographical privilege entitlement feelings struck a chord with me. :-S

Becca said...

Anon 6 pm, you're confusing me! If you don't like the style of this blog, why are you reading it? And if you do like this blog (as one might infer, given your interest), why would you say that you don't? Makes no sense!

But to answer your question as to why I don't just write in a private diary or send my friends and family updates: you can learn stuff from strangers on teh interwebz!! Starting a public blog about my job search has been one of the best things I've done for myself in the last five years. The science blogger community has given me so much great feedback and advice in response to my posts that I'm positive I'm in a better place now than I would be had I gone through this with only my "real life" community for support and wisdom.

CPP, thanks--I suspected as much!

CE, I find the term 'non-professional "professional"' tragically accurate for the post-doc existence...

Candid Engineer said...

CE, I find the term 'non-professional "professional"' tragically accurate for the post-doc existence...

Haha, totes agree. I can talk like a complete and utter professional, yet I can (and do) go to work in yoga pants. I'm not convinced, however, that this unprofessional professionalism ends with postdoc-hood, however- our dear PP is living proof.

Anonymous said...

i know three people (myself included), who left the US and did PDs in Europe and are starting groups with 5-year contracts and start-ups that make TT positions in the US look bad.

in addition, they love getting Americans over here, and if you do a PD over here, you've already made the cultural adjustments necessary to be functional.

it's more common than people think and is becoming more common as time progresses.

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