Archive for: December, 2013

A random walk through job interview observations

Dec 30 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Here are some random observations about the job market and interviewing for jobs. More than anything I’ve learned that the academic job market really is a rational meritocracy…

LOL, naw. But it’s tempting to start thinking that since I have apparently successfully traversed it.


(after 3ys and 100+ applications). Before I become an entrenched lifeboater (is that the term? I don’t even know). Let me get out some ramblings while I can still remember the feelings of desperation.

Interviews are grueling. If you are a high energy person it will be fun. If not, I recommend your good friend caffeine. I am going to go ahead and assume that for me strategic caffeine consumption was the difference maker. That may seem like an exaggeration but when you need to be energetic enthusiastic and polished at dinner after 9 straight hours of interviewing it can be helpful.

Bathroom breaks are your friend. Take some breaks, even if you don’t have to go. Being constantly ‘on’ is exhausting and even a 5 min break can be helpful. Find a way to keep a few things on you, like a small snack.

 There are a million post-hoc justifications of why you may be rated better (or worse) than another candidate. Maybe you complained about the weather. Maybe you didn’t complain about the weather. Maybe your shoe laced came untied. Your clothes weren’t fancy enough. Your clothes were too fancy. You mispronounced someone’s name. Your accent sounded fake. You ordered that dish that nobody likes at the restaurant. Your talk went 30 seconds over time. Or somehow somewhat during a grueling 2 day, meeting-palooza, you showed a real lack of polish.

Don’t worry about this, as you have no control over it. The applicant pool is deep enough that there's a bit of coin flipping going on to select short lists. Prepare as much as you can, and know that at some point something, no matter how small, will go wrong.

Every interview has a few awkward moments. Some related to research, like a skeptical professor saying that your entire research area is a waste of time. Others may be personal, like asking what your spouse does (happened more often than not for me) or if you're planning on having kids.

The most consistently awkward moment of  interviews for me? The casual chit-chat about what the local city is like. “This neighborhood is nice, this one is more trendy, oh no you don’t want to live that other area, it's full of crime and min-*awkward pause* umm…I mean, that’s where they live, it’s historical, and a shame, we really should do something about it.” Just an FYI for those of you that 'encourage diversity'. I usually just nodded and smiled so as not to display a lack of polish.

All of this will be slightly less stressful when you have a fully developed plan B. When there is nothing between striking out on the academic job market and oblivion (perceived or real) the whole thing has a real desperation to it. Spend some time developing a plan B. Having a plan B will help you with your plan A.

If you get an offer celebrate! Because it’s going to get weird. Right in the middle of all the fuzzy feels you’ll have to start actually negotiating the offer. This may be more or less complicated depending on your research laboratory needs and other issues (spousal considerations). I’ve head a million “I wish I negotiated X” stories from new professors. Even if not required work with your PI to make a draft of a start up requests before you go on interviews. I also recommend a brief read of this book Getting to Yes. It’s not exactly rocket science but helpful I think.


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Go to job talks

Dec 11 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

PSA: Are you a graduate student or postdoc thinking about applying for academic jobs in the future?

Watch. Job. Talks.

Watch them when not your area.
Watch them even if they don’t seem interesting
Watch them in the mornin’.
Watch them if you have to sneak in.

You’ll find out what a good job talk is like. Job talks aren’t quite the same animal as seminar talks. The goal of the speaker isn’t quite the same. It’s not just “here’s some cool data and a story”, more “look upon my fledgling research program and despair!” The talk is part of the application package designed to make people think “that person would be a great PI. Throw a bag of money at him!”

You’ll find out what a bad job talk is like. I have seen plenty of bad talks. Not overall awful but with a clear problem or two. Too much detail. Not enough detail. Awful slides with tiny fonts. A speaker that didn't know how to answer questions. (That is perhaps an underrated skill.  Learn to answer questions well.)

You’ll see which candidates the department likes & which it doesn’t. Ask for people’s opinions about the talks. This is the profession you have chosen. Try to figure out how it works beyond your PI’s stump speech about fit and working hard.

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What Makes a Competitive Faculty Application Package?

Dec 10 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm working on a few posts about applying for academic jobs (and developing additional plans). For now check out this article. Her experience is very similar to mine. 3 years on the market. 100+ applications. Increasing attention each year but no job offer yet. My PI has even trotted out the standard line "there will be some retirements soon!" We'll see how it all plays out.

5 responses so far