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

How I finally got NSF funding

Being tenure-track in the sciences these days means being stressed about funding. Compared to my advisors, who were getting their labs started in the wake of Sputnik and increased governmental investment in science, grant writing is probably what early-stage professors spend most of their time on.

I hated grant writing my first two years; I wanted to do science, not write about it.  My first federal grants got triaged, and looking back I wish I had given myself a year or even 18 months (you can probably guess from this that I have a hard money position) before submitting a federal grant. But, as most of us are, I was advised by my senior colleagues to use my teaching release to draft grants, and so I submitted what I can only call ridiculous proposals. I will say that it helped to see how many pieces go into a federal grant early on, so that I could properly estimate the time needed in the future.  Still, I was a lamb heading to slaughter when I submitted that first full grant. It’s hard to get preliminary data when your lab’s only member is you, the PI, and you have to teach and advise and learn how to get reimbursed and where to order toner and all those other things our advisors hid from us about the academic life.

My reviews in my first couple years left me utterly deflated. Continue reading

Are you supporting your pre-tenure faculty?

When I got my job, I asked as many folks as I could for advice about the first few years on the tenure track. One thing that struck me was that most people said that, at the end of the day, my university would want me to succeed. As nervous as I was about getting out papers, bringing in students, starting a research program, and negotiating the socio-political landscape at my new position, I knew I’d have people rooting for me.

Lately, I’m just not feeling it. It’s not that I’m sensing any disappointment or hostility (my Year 2 review was glowing), but I’m just not feeling that support I was promised. People are nice, and I’m well-liked (to my knowledge!), but I don’t really need nice. I need to feel like I’m valued. Here are some examples that might illustrate what I mean: Continue reading

It’s Letter Writing Season!

It’s that time of the year: letter writing season!  In my field, GRFP letters are due today, but there are letters for many other things –faculty jobs, grad school, fellowships, etc– typically due around now as well.

(As an important side note: get your letters for the NSF GRFP in on time!  A bit less than 10% of the GRFP proposals are not reviewed simply because us letter writers have failed and not submitted our letters by the deadline)

As I’ve been writing GRFP letters of rec, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good letter, and realizing that this is yet another part of our jobs for which we are simply not trained.  Instead, we muddle along and seek out advice where we can get it, often at the last minute.  So one of my goals here is pass along the little that I *think* I know about letters, and also to aggregate advice for the future me into a handy resource. Continue reading