Guest Post: Thoughts on “How to Get a Postdoc Position” Part II

This is the second part of a two-part post on How to Get a Postdoc Position, written by Amy Boddy, PhD, Arizona State University,  Michelle Kline, PhD, Arizona State University & Simon Fraser University, and Hillary Lenfesty, PhD, Arizona State University.


Part II. Tips for securing a postdoc 

In our previous post, we talked of the what, why, and where of  postdoc positions. As promised, we are now here to guide you in how to find yourself a postdoc, and a good one at that — because even once you’re convinced a postdoc is right for you, it can be challenging to find the right one. As we mentioned in Part I, many kinds of postdocs are not advertised, and postdocs that didn’t exist can sometimes be created (like other collaborations) through social networking. Frustratingly, someone may be planning to hire a postdoc that fits your description, one that would be downright ideal for you,  but if your name doesn’t pop into their head, you may never hear of the position. (We have on occasion heard of a position we would have applied to, after hearing that a co-sufferer on the job market was hired for it!) This is a truly flawed system, yes. But we want you here, and you want that postdoc. So how can you find one?

Our #1 piece of core advice is that you do not depend exclusively on your Phd supervisor, and that you take action as early as possible by doing the following. Keep in mind that while this can be terrifying for academic bookworms, it is also a great opportunity to grow your academic network. Conferences are a great way to do this, but we recognize that there are many, many reasons that you may not be able to make it to conferences. So we’re including here virtual networking tools as well, and would love to see more work-arounds in the comments.

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Guest Post: Thoughts on “How to Get a Postdoc Position” Part I

Today’s guest post is brought to you by three post-docs:  Amy Boddy, PhD, Arizona State University,  Michelle Kline, PhD, Arizona State University & Simon Fraser University, and Hillary Lenfesty, PhD, Arizona State University


Part I. The what, why, and where’s of a postdoc position.

When we first spotted graduation on the horizon and realized, “OMG. I need a job!”, the realm of the postdoc was mysterious and opaque. What exactly is a postdoc? (Answer: Many things). Where are postdoc positions advertised? (Answer: Many places. Or sometimes nowhere.  Or sometimes they only exist if you create them). Can I just ask someone for a postdoc? (Answer: Yep…kinda.) When we each finally scored satisfying postdocs, we met women graduate students with all those same questions, had a chat about it, and decided that our answers could be useful more broadly. So, here they are.

Why you may want a postdoc

Postdocs are pretty standard in the physical sciences where it’s viewed as a necessary extension of Phd training, but postdocs are also becoming more common in the social sciences and the humanities. Why? It’s a little bit about the carrot and a little bit about the stick.

  • Postdocs are a way to get a paycheck for academic work while riding it out for another year on the job market.
  • Postdocs pay better (around $50k in 2015), and look better on your CV than another year in graduate school, or a year of adjunct teaching.
  • Postdocs can provide training in new skills (research, teaching and mentoring).
  • Postdocs can help you build research collaborations with a new lab or school.

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Guest Post: Publishing without supervisors

Today’s guest post is by The Blundering Ecologist, a Ph.D. candidate at a research university in Canada. In addition to research, she is passionate about asking uncomfortable questions and learning the rules so that she can break them properly. 


I can’t do this.

That was my only thought when my class professor told me on the first day of classes I had to list my M.Sc. supervisors as co-authors on all the work I submitted to his class. I anxiously took notes until class was over. Loitering in the hall, I waited until all the other students had left so that I could ask for his advice. Why was I supposed to list my M.Sc. supervisors as co-authors when they have not significantly contributed to my work?

“For my dissertation my PI was just like that. The whole four years I struggled alone and the last thing I wanted to do was put his name on my work. In the end, I didn’t have the guts to publish alone. It was just easier to put his name on it.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I mean, if I was you, and I had the [expletive] to do it I would go back and publish without him… Put him in the acknowledgements. That would really show his co-workers what kind of researcher he was.”

“But, for now?”

“For now, put their names on your work and keep your head down. He has complete control over your M.Sc. and the headache isn’t worth it… at least, not yet. Don’t make things difficult for yourself.”

One of my supervisors was an urban geographer (primary M.Sc. supervisor) at my university and the other an ornithologist (secondary M.Sc. supervisor) at a university in another city. My M.Sc. work was in Ecology and on mammals. My project was handed to my primary M.Sc. supervisor from the funding agency. The funding agency’s questions were clear and decisive, all I needed to do was the fieldwork, data collection, statistics, and interpret the results.

Twelve months later… Continue reading

Crowdsourcing solutions to tenure-track concerns

The tenure process is probably unsettling for everyone on some level.

Even if everything goes well, the process of being judged by your peers and others, with the possible outcome of losing your career can pretty much give anyone a stomachache. Sometimes we can channel worry into productivity and use it to keep from coasting or becoming complacent. Sometimes it is just discouraging or paralyzing.

Maybe some level of worry is unavoidable, and we just need to push through.  But what about when a concern calls for action?

The following concerns are based on real situations that have occurred at a variety of institutions.  What would you suggest? Continue reading

How to fail better (and even succeed!) in the academic job market

I’ve been on a few searches now, and observed a dozen or more hires across every stage in my academic career. There have been barrels of ink spilled on how to do better in today’s awful job market, and academic job consulting is now a thing (if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with The Professor is In).

So why write (another) post on the job search? Two reasons. First, I’ve been through both processes in the last few years, so I’ve got a recenlt perspective from both sides of the process. And secondly, I see a lot — a LOT — of really easy, fixable mistakes made by people vying for academic jobs. I was almost tempted to title this post, “If the job market sucks this much, why aren’t you trying harder?” because there have been a surprising number of times that I’ve had this thought as I’ve gone through terrible cover letters or struggled through painful interviews or downright awful job talks. But the fact is, the market sucks, and a lot of the search process is out of your control. Most people are probably trying about as hard as they can. They just may not realize what they’re doing wrong, because the process can be obtuse from the outside, and a lot of us don’t get the mentoring we need.

I’m not going to talk about what you can’t control in this post, because while that will account for a number of your specific rejections, it’s not going to be the systematic cause of failure over the long-term. If you’ve been trying for a long time and you just cannot reach the next level of the search process, it’s likely to be something you can fix.

So, your goal should be to fail better. Let me explain:  Continue reading

Not Just Returning From Industry But Changing Careers

Returning to academia after years in industry is hard. People have already disclosed how difficult it is. “It was a shock,” says molecular endocrinologist Steven Kliewer to Nature when recalling the move from industry to academic research. Assistant professor Jeannie Holstein says in The Guardian that she “won’t pretend it has been easy because it hasn’t” to pursue a PhD after an MBA. Those people, however, are commenting on returning to academia from jobs in related fields. What do you do if you’re making a complete career change?

In my case, I am moving from fashion to neuroscience, with very little to bridge the two fields. This transition between related fields is not easy. The transition between disparate fields is harder. But luckily, as one commenter in an Ask Metafliter query said, “a couple-year absence from [your chosen] field would be a hurdle, but not a deal-breaker”.

So how do you break into academia? What do you do? I’m in the middle of the transition, having been accepted into a graduate program but still looking for a job in my field, so I have a few tips to share about getting started. Continue reading

Guest Post: How to improve the job search process, from the perspective of a candidate

Job openings are both a blessing and a curse. They can infuse both search committees and applicants with a sense of hope for the opportunities to come, but at the same time the search process is stressful for everyone involved.  Search committees and departments spend their time and energy reading through applications, selecting candidates, and making choices. Are they making the right decisions? Are they selecting the ideal candidate for the job?  But, no matter the stress the current faculty are under, the applicants are under more.  Each of us applicants are applying for dozens of jobs, possibly year after year.  What’s a minor annoyance in one application, such as a system that keeps crashing, or having to ask for yet another letter of recommendation that may never be read, can become a heavy burden when you multiply those annoyances by 10, 20, or 30. The same goes for interviews, both on the phone or in person.

I’ve submitted close to 40 applications over multiple years, and I have seen the worst the application and interview process has to offer.  I’ve also had some really great experiences that have helped me feel more comfortable, that I think would be great if other search committees adopted.  So what can search committees do at each stage of the process to make the search better for future searchers so the emotional toll can be reduced? Continue reading