The Plight of the Post-Doc


Glamour Mag(ic)!

I hope you all enjoyed your soup!  I know I did.  There will be more Ph.Dishes (with pictures!) very soon--I've got to get in all my wintry meals before it's too warm for things like slow-cooked short ribs with cheesy grits!

For now, though, let's get back to some career issues, and by "issues" I mean "journal issues."  Glamour journals, to be specific--Science, Nature, Cell, etc.  You know!  They're kind of a big deal.  Having a Glamour Mag publication on your CV is often considered to be an indication of extreme hotness; your work is cutting edge, important, and interesting to pretty much everybody (HA)!  For a young investigator, it may play an important part in whether potential employers want to interview you, or in whether your Pathway to Independence grant gets funded (or, in my case, even scored).  

Biochem Belle has an open thread going right now that asks whether it's better, in general, to have one S/N/C paper or a couple of solid PNASes or JBCs.  Her commenters so far seem to be leaning toward the latter option, including one who's been reviewing many job applications.  If this is actually reflective of the attitudes of the science community as a whole, then I'd be very happy, because as Zen points out, some of us might never have a Glamour Mag paper.

Does this mean that I'm not doing hot science that's relevant and important to the world?  Of course not. Are all my publications in Neuroreport?  Not a one.  I'm just a little...niche-y, that's all.  I'm totally happy with my niche, and having projects that aren't part of my lab's primary grants has afforded me a level of independence that other trainees don't necessarily have.  The downside, though, is that I may have missed out on being on a higher-profile paper or two.  And until recently, I was comfortable with the trade-off.

Look, I know you won't believe me when I say this, but I never cared all that much about having a Glamour Mag paper.  As long as I've had the means to ask the questions I wanted to ask and got the work into solidly respected journals, I've been happy.  I've been asked to speak at conferences, won "Best Poster" and travel awards, got Ye Olde NRSA...the cap's got some feathers, you understand? 

But to continue the metaphor, my cap is missing that big shiny jewel (or really rare and exquisite feather) that is or isn't a must, depending on who you ask.  So I'm asking you:  in the current job market, is it even worth sending in applications without a Glamour pub? And if it's unlikely that S/N/C will be publishing a Dr Becca first author any time soon, what's a niche-y gal to do?


Zen Faulkes said...

"Is it even worth sending in applications without a Glamour pub?"

Yes. Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

This is a classic case of people working against themselves. "Oh, I'm not good enough, so why should I even bother?"

The fact is, you never know who else has applied for a position.

You never know what search committees are looking for. Sometimes, search committees can't clearly articulate for themselves what will be deal-makers or deal-breakers in advance of actually reviewing applications or talking to candidates.

I've seen too many cases of searches that have bucked the conventional wisdom. "Everybody knows faculty searches get huge stacks of applications," "everybody knows you can't get hired to a tenure-track position without a postdoc," "Everybody knows that it's hard to get a new tenure-track position if you're already in a tenure-track position..." I've seen counter-examples to all those, among others.

Never take yourself out of an application pool by not applying. That's what search committees are for: to take people out of the pool. Make them do their job.

And did I mention? Yes!

Anonymous said...

The last TT faculty my current dept hired had 3 solid papers from postdoc work and absolutely zero GM papers (or funding), and we're an R1 institution. I think (profs, please correct me if I'm wrong about this) search committees are mostly looking for a sustainable, fund-able project and steady publication record. I'm sure a GM pub gets you noticed, and might even get you an interview. But I just don't believe it's a must-have at most, if any, big U's (even R1s).

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The answer to this question depends on what kind of position you are applying for. If you want to get an interview in a non-clinical department at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Northwestern, UCSF, UPenn, Columbia, etc, then your chances are extremely slim if you don't have a C/N/S or C/N subjournal paper, no matter how many JBC, Journal of Neuroscience, or PNAS papers you have.

Liz said...

I'm wondering what percentage of folks applying for TT positions actually do have a glamour mag pub. I suppose maybe it is quite field dependent? You call yourself "nichey" and maybe my whole subfield is "nichey" because thinking about recently hired assistant prof in my area (at high quality schools), I would say the vast majority did NOT have a glamour pub when they were hired.

Is my area just an exception or is this whole glamour mag hype maybe somewhat blown out of proportion?

Ewan said...

It doesn't seem to be that big a deal. I got my position at Yale (2004), my tenure-track R1 (2008) and expect to get tenure later this year, all without a first-author GM paper.

Which is not to say that I haven't sent a few in; two in particular I, and at least one reviewer, thought were suitable - but thus far, no go. I'll probably try again next month with one of the first papers entirely from the new lab... but will not be surprised not to succeed. And it will not bother me :).

Ewan said...

p.s. I'm in neuroscience, if it helps gauge relevance.

pinus said...

I got a TT job in a great department at a great medical center with no C/N/S paper.

I did have
-a good history of obtaining funding (NRSA, then K99)

-4 1st authors from my post-doc in good (IF > 6) journals, a couple of middle authors and a senior author (in a specialist journal)

-4 1st authors from my phd, one in a glamour mag. now...I am not going to say that this didn't help, but I am not convinced that a grad school paper is that helpful when you are faculty job hunting.

Now, like cPP says, some places use presence of glamour mag pubs as a screen. In fact, a senior professor once advised me to not apply for anything until i got one as a post-doc. Fuck that. I say apply for anything, you have no fucking clue what will happen. Sometimes you get lucky.

biochem belle said...

a senior professor once advised me to not apply for anything until i got one as a post-doc

This is going to come off a bit cynical, but who does this benefit? I realize that if the planets align and you do get your GM pub, that it can provide an extra little boost (if you're first author). But from what I've seen, GM pubs require a tremendous amount of time and manpower. Is it worth staying another year? Two? Or five? Clearly pinus decided it was not worth it.

I wish publications (GMs especially) included time and effort reporting: "This paper took 7 postdocs, 4 grad students, 2 PIs, and 3 core facilities 6.8 years to complete. Reviews and experiments to respond to reviewers took another 10 months and 2 postdocs. Grad student #3 and postdoc #5 sacrificed their own (less sexy) first author manuscripts to get this one into GM."

pinus said...

I think said senior professor really only thought I had a shot if I had a GM paper, and thus I was just wasting my time applying for jobs without one. I think his thought process may have been skewed by the type of people his department hires...only people who have GM papers.

Kate said...

For another data point: my institution is hiring. Field is dev bio. 85% of candidates interviewed have a GM pub. So again with the limited perspective :)

I wonder: does the ballooning length of GM manuscripts (and the resulting increased collaborations) mean that more grad students (and postdocs?) are getting screwed out of their first author paper?

Candid Engineer said...

If you want to get an interview in a non-clinical department at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Northwestern, UCSF, UPenn, Columbia, etc, then your chances are extremely slim if you don't have a C/N/S or C/N subjournal paper, no matter how many JBC, Journal of Neuroscience, or PNAS papers you have.

From an engineering department perspective, I find this fascinating. People in my field just don't regularly get these kinds of papers. If you have a PNAS paper in engineering, you're a superstar! Nature subjournals are extremely rare. Actual Nature/Science are nearly unheard of, and of course engineers have no prayer of publishing in Cell.

The concept of someone out there being able to land 2-3 PNAS papers, or 2 Nature papers positively confuses me. The nature of our work is different, and I guess we don't do the whole 5-year post-doc thing... but gosh. That's extremely productive *and* extremely lucky.

I am glad my field does not hold me to such a high standard. :)

Anonymous said...

I just have to say here that my current PI landed a non-clinical job at one of CPP's listed institutions with *zero* publications from their six year postdoc. They did get one accepted (not C/N/S, but one step below) after arriving at said institution. They also bagged a load of private funding and an R01 on the first try. I attribute this partially to their stellar research plan, but mainly to letters from Important People. So, yeah, try to get to know some of those.

Professor in Training said...

I got my current position (TT at R1) with a record of solid publications in good journals in my field (mostly during grad school as my postdoc stuff has been slow to be published). To my knowledge, nobody in my field has ever published in a glamour mag ... that's not to say I can't/won't try, though. From my perspective, publishing in the glamour mags is highly field-dependent and the more applied your work the less chance you have of getting anything accepted there. The question should be: what is considered to be outstanding or high achieving in your field? And as PP said, it is also dependent on the school you're applying to.

Mike said...

A month late to the discussion, but...

It's definitely field-dependent and matters more at some schools than at others. I thought I'd share my personal experience, for what it's worth. I got multiple offers without a Glamour Mag publication.

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