applying for TT academic jobs

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applying for TT academic jobs

Postby Erica » Fri May 06, 2005 3:09 pm

You guys in the "5 yr. limit for postdocs" thread totally rock!

I've heard several things about what you need to have before applying for tenure track academic positions. To summarize:
-You need your own grant
-A grant doesn't help much
-You need 5 or 6 first author publications more than you need a grant
-You need a grant more than publications
-You need to have less than 3 years postdoc experience
-You can have up to 7 years postdoc experience
-You have to publish in Science Cell and Nature
-You need to have taught a class by yourself
-you don't need any teaching experience
-don't tell anybody you have a family ever
-if your publication record is weak be open about why, even if it's because you've had a baby.

Now, as you can see, all this advice is completely contradictory. Any thoughts? I'd especially like to hear from people who have gone on the job search already.

applying for TT academic jobs

Postby Kelly » Fri May 06, 2005 3:40 pm

Okay so here's the deal:
we are told one thing through graduate training and post-doc but in my experience in the job market alot of what we are told isn't true.what you are seeing is this contradiction.

I was told publish lots; I see people with 2-3 papers in okay jounrals getting jobs based on the subjective notion of "fit." I literally watched my own department not make an offer to someone with 3 nature neurosci papers, numerous J neurosci papers and make an offer to someone with literally nothing (except a paper that if you read it carefully and the abstracts you knew he didn;t do the experiments because these data were in an abstract before the person even got to the lab).

I was told you need a grant to get a job; not true but you need one to keep a job.

I have seen people with no teaching experience get jobs where they will be teaching a good deal over people with lots of teaching experience.

To make this short, I think getting a job in academic is about luck period the end. If someone wants to hire you (or not hire you) they will find some way to rationalize it.

Solution: start applying early and often. as soon as you have one post-doc paper.
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applying for TT academic jobs

Postby MPB » Fri May 06, 2005 3:43 pm

Disclaimer: I didn't read the "5-year" thread. But it may be that you are lumping together what are really 2 distinct types of tenure-track positions. There are tenure-track professors who are entirely research focused, who rarely if ever set foot in a classroom, and who live and die by their grants, publication track records, and especially their Science/Nature publications.

Then there is a different tenure track, with professors who do the academic triad of research, teaching, and service; who are more likely to benefit from classroom experience and less likely to suffer from a lack of publications in Science/Nature, and who may have little research support from federally funded grants.

So, all of the above adivice is correct: but which particular piece applies to you depends on which "tenure track" you are on.

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applying for TT academic jobs

Postby Kevin » Fri May 06, 2005 4:34 pm

In my experience, the job search process is highly unscientific: you are not prepared for it, you don't know what to expect, you have no examples of it, and you are unlikely to go through the process more than twice (so it's not even a useful skill).

I will be starting a position this fall at a very nice school. So will my wife. This was a factor: she was awesome and totally lit them up, and they took a second look at my application (in a different department). I had two postdoc papers, both "in press", so I would say you need something. Obviously, this is a non-statistical experience. I had three interviews and got two offers, but I applied to about seven schools. There are people who apply to dozens of schools. These people are probably not members of a dual-career couple--there really weren't more than about 6-7 cities with two positions in both our departments.

If I could note one thing that people don't really seem to get on this forum (or at least don't talk about much) is the importance of having your own ideas, your own vision of what you *will do* and not just what you *have done*. I have seen lots of scientists who can carry out someone else's ideas perfectly while being incapable of producing their own. This will not do. It doesn't matter if you have a Science and a Nature if you can't convince the search committee that you will still be producing important work five to ten years from now. Tenure is simple: publish and get grants (even though I love teaching, at my school teaching has to be "good").

Basically no advice I got for my job search was very useful, except maybe about how to do my research proposal. That said, I'm a postdoc in France where they have a totally different system for applying for permanent positions, so I asked my PhD advisor lots of questions.

As for Kelly's distaste of "fit", I would say that you will probably be able to feel this pretty clearly. At the one place I didn't get an offer, I realized quickly that they really didn't have a clue what I was doing, and that I would be largely on my own. Don't get me wrong, Kelly's posts here have be super-high-quality, I would just say that I think that fit is not so mysterious as (s)he would have us believe. That said, at the school where I'm going to go, I felt a really amazing connection with basically everyone I met with, and that just can't be beat.

applying for TT academic jobs

Postby Kevin » Fri May 06, 2005 4:43 pm


Saw your post in the thread about postdoc time (q to Madison). Just to be clear, the three other candidates for my position were postdocs from Berkeley, MIT and Stanford. There's no question that everyone likes the look of a Ferrari in the parking lot.

applying for TT academic jobs

Postby Rich Lemert » Fri May 06, 2005 6:00 pm

Preliminary Disclaimer: My comments are based on my experience both in seeking a tenure-track position and in viewing the process from within the department once I'd obtained the position. However, this experience is in the College of Engineering.

The first thing that's going to happen when you submit your application for a tenure-track position is that the search committee chair is going to be looking for reasons to reject your application. When you consider that there might be anywhere from 100-500 applications for a single position, they're not going to have time to thoroughly examine every application. Things they'll look for to reject you include;

- poor communication skills - i.e. grammatical errors in your cover letter, a large number of types in your c.v., etc. (even the most outstanding candidate is going to have trouble overcoming the poor first impression that a bad cover letter is going to convey)

- not addressing/meeting the requirements of the position as listed in the vacancy announcement

- not listing the "implicit" requirements of the position by e.g. not having research interests that are compatible with those of the current faculty

- general "clueless-ness"

(This last item requires a little explanation. We were a small chemical engineering department, which meant that all of our faculty needed to be able to teach the core curriculum. This meant that they pretty much needed at least one degree in chemical engineering - preferably at the undergraduate level. We got lots of chemists, physicists, and biologists apply. While these people might have been outstanding otherwise, they were completely useless to us. By submitting their application to us, they were pretty much demonstrating that they hadn't really looked at us to try to figure out what our needs were.)

After doing the above, about 80% of the applications have been rejected. Now the search committee chairman has to work . This is where he starts really reading the c.v.'s, and maybe he starts making up a spreadsheet listing everybodies research interests, availability, school/advisor, experience, etc.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how to guarantee that you'll land in the "final four" from this point. I can say that the better you do your job of tieing your experience and interests into the needs of the department, the more likely you'll fall into the "finalist" category. It's also going to be very helpful if you can develop a "champion" in the department. They don't need to be completely familiar with you, but maybe they've heard your name mentioned by some of their buddies at other places. It may be a "reputation by hear-say", but it's better than no reputation at all.
Rich Lemert
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applying for TT academic jobs

Postby P.C. » Sat May 07, 2005 11:41 am

for R. L.
Very informative post on job app. problem, with tips for other disciplines.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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applying for TT academic jobs

Postby Kelly » Sun May 08, 2005 12:39 pm

I have no problem with the broad notion of fit (but fit doesn't get one tenure; fit-NESS does).

I think grad students and post-doc need to be more award of this: fit matters. choose a question (like one actually chooses their question) that you can spin to fit in many places. secondly, since fit is it: there is no sense doing a protracted post-doc. you and your interests are either going to fit or not. start applying very early (as soon as you have 1 post-doc paper) to increase your chances to find a place where you fit.

I think fit is more important than number of papers, quality of papers, grants. The only thing I think equals import in fit is coming from a big name institution with a big name supervisor.

I think someone's tangible accomplishments in post-doc particularly in a high quality environment should give one a pretty good idea of the candidate's potential.

But very werid things are construded as fit. Certainly, sometimes it's clear. but other times it is the funniest thing. I'll tell you this one situation:

A relatively poor candidate got a great job because one, yes one member of the search committee was a strong advocate for him. Why? this search committee member has a very strong bias toward physicists (I call it physics envy). this otherwise weak candidate got the job because he had a PhD in physics and then had shifted to experimental biology. Shifted, at least in theory. He was a post-doc for 7 years at one of the best places and really had nothing in terms of publications. one paper where he was first author it was clear he hadn't done the epxeriments just the analysis, another first author paper in a journal with a SCI index of 1.3, and second author on a paper where the acknowledgement indicated that he had only helped with experiments (no really grounds for authorship especially for a 6th year post-doc). This is really weak for 7 years of post-doc and he didn't have a single published paper with him as first author using the major methodology he was hired for. there were other really terrific candidates that didn't get offers because of a strong bias of one member of the search committee.

As for fit, I leave you with this, I can't remember who said it so I can't give credit:

a society that values mediocre philosophy over outstanding plumming will have neither pipes nor theorms that hold water.

a hiring committee that values fit over fitness will soon have a faculty member that fits right back out the door (following tenure review).
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Postby Madison » Mon May 09, 2005 4:42 pm

I can only tell you of my experiences. Here's my pedigree:
Grad school at Washington U.-St. Louis. Not a big-name lab, but fairly respectible. 4 first author publications, 2 JBC, 2 biochem. A national pre-doc award. A fabulous rec letter from my PI. 4.5 years.

Postdoc (changing fields) at Harvard Med, in a fairly big-name lab. One Cell paper (that got written about by others quite a bit). a post-doc award from a private foundation. Competitive slot for 2 years on the institutional NRSA. Invited talks at 2 prestegous meetings (one at cold spring harbor). Ad-hoc reviewer for a crummy journal. Burroughs-Welcome harvard nominee and finalist (but not recipient). Received a fundable score on my K22 application. Strong rec letter from my PI here.

Went on the job market at the end of my 3rd year.
I sent out 49 applications. Got 17 first interview offers (I didn't go on all of them, only 14). Went to second interviews at some schools. Got 11 offers (2 top-10 schools, 4 top-10-20 schools, and the others). I chose one of the top 20 schools - primarely because of fit (but the start-up package is nice too! :)

Fit is very important. At some of these schools, it was obvious that I totally wouldn't fit in. Sometimes the rest of the work going on in the department was very weak. Frankly, at these schools the offers (money, space) were just not good enough. There was only one "very good" school that I went to, that had lots of money to offer, where it was obvious from the beginning that the fit between me and them was not good at all. Needless to say, they didn't contact me further. I think fit is the biggest reason I didn't hear from more schools I applied to - I obviously wasn't what they were looking for. C'est la vie!

I think it's really important to have your own ideas, and to have them fully fleshed out. I think it really helped to start applying for fellowships early on in my postdoc (even though I didn't have to, and my PI actually discouraged it since he has plenty of money), because I had to start thinking out, in a very concrete way, where I wanted to take my project, and what I wanted to get out of it. Going through the process of continuously writing about my ideas really helped crystalize them, so that I could get grant money, and could really pick a good angle from which to sell my research plan. I think you also have to keep pushing the whole time; trying to get your name out - always applying for things, always trying to get talk slots at some of the big meetings.

But there is also the group of people that get positions, at good schools, by staying in a postdoc an extra year, and perhaps don't have a "big three" paper, but have several first-authors from 2nd tier, good journals. You need to present yourself as a leader. You are in charge of your project, and you know where you are going to take it next, and you are the world-leader on your topic. Your rec letters should back up that you do have independence, now. You need to show the capacity for independence by demonstrating a certain "attitude" (confidence) out on your interviews, and it also has to come through in your writing. Work on your writing - it's your most valuable asset, and it's how you will always be judged as a scientist.

I hope this helps, somewhat.

BTW: Your post really made me laugh! You're right - always lots of contradictions!!!

applying for TT academic jobs

Postby Emil Chuck » Mon May 09, 2005 8:54 pm

Rich: Wow... thanks for the insight.

My other suggestion to add: if you are interested at all in T-T positions, go to the candidate talks during the year and evaluate them yourself. Nothing beats seeing how other people perform under pressure, and nothing may surprise you more than who gets selected for offers (and who turns you down).
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