research assistant professor

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research assistant professor

Postby Lisa » Sun Jan 22, 2006 1:00 pm

Hi everyone,
Thanks to all for a very valuble and informative forum. I would like to hear people's thoughts on the "research assistant professor (RAP)" positions. I would like to know if these positions are considered as a step up, down, or sideways? Also, does industry view RAP positions differently than academia?

I ask because I am into my second year of a post-doc. I have a very good relationship with my P.I. and it seems reasonable to expect that we'll publish some good papers together. Since I wasn't able to publish more than 1 paper with my Ph.D. advisor, a RAP position seems to be a good way to build-up my C.V.

My reasons for NOT wanting to go this route are: I would like to work within industry (CNS pharmaceuticals). My overall impression is that lots of pubs are not as important for industry (though this seems to be changing from what I see?). I am hesitant to gain "too much" experience within academia, as I don't want industry to view me as a scientist who is too indepenent in her research focus and in her ways, in general.

My second reason for not wanting to go this route is purely based on my own views about this subject- I think that after 5 years of a Ph.D. and 2 years of a post-doc, I don't require more training, but deserve an investment in me.

Any thoughts?
Thanks, Lisa
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research assistant professor

Postby Kelly » Sun Jan 22, 2006 1:45 pm

I can't comment much on the industry perspective. It may singal that you were intent enough on an academic career that you were willing to stay in soft money positions to try to make this happen.

The only real reason to take an RAP is that it gives you the ability to submit your own grants. But don't stay in it too long (no more than 2 years) even for an academic interest. First, if you go looking for tt positions, the subtle inference for staying too long in RAP is that you couldn't get a job. This suggests that no one wanted either you or your work (for whatever reason). No one likes the idea that they are "taking in the trash"). Second, it is a death blow to full time teaching positions. It conveys the impression that you stuck out research as long as you could hoping for an independent research positions which didn't happened and now teaching is your back-up.

All in all, I can't think on any benefit for going RAP unless you want to get a grant to try to get a position somewhere else (don't even think that your present institution will convert this to a tenure track position even if you get funded) or if you need publications and your present institution has some 2-3 limit on post-doc. I would think it would be better to build your skills, re-tool your thinking and CV to suit industy while still a post-doc.

"I have a very good relationship with my P.I."-----famous last words. Do not hitch your long-term career goals to anyone other than you. Relationships change, other people come along with more utility to a PI, PIs move and can't take you with them (or you can't go). Expunge this type of thinking. This doesn't preclude a good working relationship or anything else. Just don't depend on this relationship for any thing other than a place to work, an opportunity to be productive and a good reference. The road to career success is littered with people that had a very good relationship with their PI. Trust me, this means/implies much more to you than it does to your PI.
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research assistant professor

Postby Emil Chuck » Sun Jan 22, 2006 2:19 pm

Yes, the RAP is rather insidious. It's a red flag for academics who think that you were holding out until a good academic position came along but you're not independent enough to run your own ship. For industry, I can see Kelly's point that it may be a signal that you were holding out to being involved with academia but weren't good enough to get your own t-t spot. Basically the only good for an RAP is that you could run a project on soft money or your own grant... but otherwise, you're expendable.

Things brings up the obvious question: why did these positions get formed in the first place? If there is no obvious value to these positions in academe or industry, why take on one of these positions? I guess the cynical answer is because "you love to do science" and institutions like to have your grant money and your brain-power... but wouldn't give you a real job if they could help it. Thus the growth of the contingent faculty is born.
Emil Chuck
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research assistant professor

Postby Kelly » Sun Jan 22, 2006 3:10 pm

RAPs are a reflection of the job market and this may have always been the case. However, it used to be much mmore common to "work your way up the ladder" in the same institution: a post-doc that is very productive with a good relationship with a supervisor (who may or may not have any ability to do any thing other than get you a research appointment; as a post-doc you have no way of knowing what your PI's real standing is with regard to this and they certainly aren't going to tell you).

Bottomline: RAPS are craps. If they were really interested in you they would create a tt position with start-up. But bet if the resources exist for a tt, they will fill it by shopping. The grass is always greener.
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research assistant professor

Postby James1 » Mon Jan 23, 2006 8:19 am

I was a RAP (and still am, technically, until Feb). The fact is you can get a t-t job after being a RAP for 2-3 yrs. You will not likely get a t-t job at the same institute were you are a RAP! People will accidently refer to you as a postdoc. You are really a postdoc! They allow for you the write grants (benefits both, with no institutional support, matching funds) and give you faculty benefits (this was good), but other than that you are a postdoc.

Avoid my mistake: only do a RAP at the top institute / top lab!!!!!!
These are the RAPs who are successful at obtaining top t-t jobs. I turned down such an opportunity for a RAP with more "freedom". More freedom meant no help what-so-ever!

I got lucky and was offered an industry job after 1 and 1/2 yrs RAP. My RAP had nothing to do with this job. The hiring manager knew my Ph.D. advisor. Things other than publications/grants are going to get you positions (academic/industry, maybe not government). These things are:

1) Pedigree
2) networking
3) experiences /fit
4) luck /being positive during interviews

I stole some of this from Kelly.
If your highest degree is not from a top institute, good luck!
If you did not ever work with a well-recognized PI, find one now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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research assistant professor

Postby Jane » Mon Jan 23, 2006 4:09 pm

In my previous lab, we used to have one very productive RAP, in grant applications and publications. But eventually he broke up with our PI for our PI did not want to share the second (and third) patent with that RAP. They had the first patent together but that RAP did not feel justified for his intellectual "property" to be taken. Thus a friendly 10 year relationship (PhD+postdoc+RAP) was torn apart for the issue of patents.

Yes, don't count on anyone except oneself. And yes, RAP is not a real independent position in the university system. When one breaks up with his PI (i.e. his invisible boss), one has to leave!
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research assistant professor

Postby Kelly » Mon Jan 23, 2006 4:44 pm

So it seems that we have a consensus here that unless one plans a life of lackey-hood (which for some people works and that's ok) RAP is a pretty dangerous thing to do.

Look, I don't want to be too negative here but....most people in academics are pretty self serving. Is it different in other professions? I don't know. All I know is that you don't count for much as a post-doc/RAP to your institution, they relaly don't care. Hell, some institutions don't care about their very senior PIs. how do you know? watch when someone talks of leaving as a senior PI (all monied up). if the institution doesn't counter then don't expect anything from them; its all about them.
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research assistant professor

Postby Jerry » Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:06 pm

Is there any distinction (in terms of how a future employerer say industry views it) between a RAP that is just a glorified long-term postdoc and a RAP that has a ~5-year NIH grant (lets say K-grant) which would put his/hers salary at 1.5x a postdoc salary but which would still be a soft-money position?

In the latter case, doesn't it demonstrate to industry that you are able to lead a research program in today's constrictive NIH budget? Also in the latter case, if one is trying to 'cross on to other side' to industry but unable to get a full-fledged staff scientist position, should one take an industry postdoc? Career-wise an industry postdoc puts one on the right trajectory but it would be hard to leave a $75K salary RAP with 5 years in front of you. Does an industry postdoc seem like a step down from being a semi(soft)-independent RAP with grant in hand and better salary.

research assistant professor

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:20 pm

Hi Jerry,

You ask a couple of tough questions, because I think that people have to answer you in generalities in order to give a response. So much of what your decision involves concerns things that only you would know about (the strength, or "marketabilty" of the work you are doing in academia -- in other words, how desireable a candidate you'd be to industry).

You are right that an industry postdoc is a 'foot in the door.' But, you are also correct when you say that a RAP with a competitive grant is more marketable than the RAP who is a glorified postdoc. On the other hand, I think that industry people view ALL RAP positions as "glorified postdocs." Even one CEO I saw (I wrote about this in an earlier postdoc) denigrated his own RAP job in front of an audience of 600 people.

I'd say, if you are on a track with your RAP that is going to "appeal" to industry --- something that they'd appreciate, not a system that no one cares about on the other side --- than sticking it out a bit longer would be OK. My concern is that if you go another 5 years in academia, after a postdoc of a couple or three, plus 6 or 7 years of PhD training, you may start to look (real soon) as "an academic." Man, does it get tough moving to industry after you've been too long in the tooth on the other side of the fence . . .

Would I take an industry postdoc? I guess I'd give strong consideration to one if it came along, but for the most part I would be targeting a Research Scientist position (as it sounds like you are). I'd go a year or so with a heavy marketing program of networking, responding to ads, talking to recruiters, etc, until you decide to step back a bit and do an industry postdoc. Just remember to put in the effort each week and don't allow five years to go by before you start to develop your contacts on "the dark side."

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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research assistant professor

Postby Jerry » Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:37 pm

You are right on target Dave with this specific dilemma. Since I have been looking for a 'Research Scientist' position for the past 1.5 years (as an ~4-year experienced postdoc) with (only) 2 full-day interviews but good fits but no offers yet (alas), do you think NOW is the time to 'step down' to a industry postdoc (if get offer) OR enjoy the better RAP version for ~1 year concurrent with another heavy job push? I guess it is a close call, a gray zone decision that only I can make. It sounds like it is much better to play up that I am capable of leading an independent research program via competitive grants than the actual RAP position since as you say industry (wrongly) groups all RAPs as just postdocs. I hope I don't expire as industry marketable as my area of work is a reasonably good fit to industry. Then, I'll have to go the tenured-track assistant professor route which is not my first preference, but a potential 2nd or 3rd preference if the current research program matures well (ie. data, papers, R01). Or a pipeliner.


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