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Worth even applying for TT?

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Apply-here's why!

Postby M. Peabody » Sat Jan 07, 2012 2:50 pm

I haven't heard of anyone getting a TT position who didn't have a grant already in hand.

Now you have. Our department (Chemical Engineering) hasn't hired anyone in 20 years that came in with a grant. We are a competitive R1 university. Things may be different in medical schools, but one needs to be careful about these "training" grants. A lot of it has to do with who your boss is and what lab you work in. Just like Science and Nature papers...
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Apply-here's why!

Postby SWR » Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:18 pm

This is all very helpful.

The thought of applying terrifies me, though this probably means I should start now. I'm afraid I might be one of those people with more flash and pedigree than content. I've one competitive fellowship and 1.5 first-author C/N/S papers (the 0.5 was shared first-author in grad school) but not that much else. Speaking openly, I've probably been working at 60-70% capacity since starting grad school because I've been so anxious about whether I'm good enough.

Applications (and, I'm realizing, some counseling) sound in order. Thanks.
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Apply-here's why!

Postby Bill Jones » Sun Jan 08, 2012 1:02 am

SWR, I know what you mean and share your thoughts of being afraid to apply. My field is cancer immunology and having just completed my 5th year of postdoc I think I'm ready for the next step though it's scary out there, especially in this tough funding climate. I feel like a deer in front of the headlights! I guess we just have to push ourselves to apply. I have a good number of first and coauthor publications, 15 total with a 16th in submission, and won 3 fellowships and training grants which I wrote myself, a patent, two travel awards and a poster award. Now if I can just take that next step.
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Apply-here's why!

Postby SWR » Sun Jan 08, 2012 9:10 am

Bill, admittedly without knowing your subfield, it seems like you're in a good position to apply!

I think this is so hard because (1) it's probably one of the biggest professional jumps we've tried to take, and (2) the thought of not succeeding can be very painful (in a potentially deep, how-will-I-feed-myself, has-this-all-been-a-waste sort of way). From what I understand, successful applications require a touch of grandiosity--*this* is my 5- or 10-year plan, and I can *totally* do it, and it's the *most exciting* research you could bring to your department. (I realize that if anyone actually wrote or talked like that directly, they'd be snubbed, but that general sentiment seems critical.) And it's all very personal with no definite schedule. The last jump of this magnitude I probably took was getting into college, but the process was generally more distant and temporally constrained, and my odds were probably higher.

Because we all know that hiring is stochastic--that elusive "fit" you mentioned and variability in other candidates--it's probably a better strategy to start applying before we think we might be the ideal candidate. And with our minds' powers to reduce cognitive dissonance, we might just start convincing ourselves that we completely deserve what we're going after.

I just stumbled on this thread, which I find pretty reassuring and hilarious. It might help you too, Bill! http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php?topic=73013.0
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Apply-here's why!

Postby Bill Jones » Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:09 pm

Thanks for the encouragement and advice SWR and best of luck to you. That article was hilarious. One issue I struggle with is concern over the long-term viability of a research career in academic science these days. I'm seeing faculty with excellent track records unable to secure funding and have never seen it this bad. Sorry to be the doom and gloom guy. I just feel like I'm at a career fork and can't get the bad thoughts out of my head about the sustainability of career path "A" when maybe path "B" might be the better choice? mmmmmm
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Apply-here's why!

Postby SWR » Sun Jan 08, 2012 5:21 pm

"I'm seeing faculty with excellent track records unable to secure funding and have never seen it this bad. Sorry to be the doom and gloom guy. I just feel like I'm at a career fork and can't get the bad thoughts out of my head about the sustainability of career path "A" when maybe path "B" might be the better choice? mmmmmm"

Do you have any idea where we can get data on how many labs do "go under" or through a very severe bottleneck? I worry about the same thing too, especially with the soft money positions I see advertised--are they really viable options? I know funding rates have dropped for various awards, but I also know people are spending more time applying. How has overall survival been affected?
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Worth even applying for TT?

Postby Kelly » Mon Jan 09, 2012 9:07 am

No you have to apply and you need to no drop everything to do so. You need to be able to do several things at the same time.
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Re: Worth even applying for TT?

Postby RGM » Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:09 pm

I should be more clear. I never said you won't get a TT position without a grant in hand. I only wrote I never heard of someone getting one w/out a grant. I should also note I am referring to the past few years when the economy since the world economy is now terrible.

I'm in the medical biology fields (as opposed to field biology, like marine biology) if that helps any.

Also, whenever someone says "well so and so obtained one w/out a grant" It's important to know WHEN they did (when money was flowing well in the research world, or not) and how they did (ie just a basic application, did they know someone, phone call from their mentor help etc).

I never meant to imply it isn't possible.

Anything is possible, but what you need to ask yourself is "is it probable?"
"Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say why not"
"If you think research is expensive, try disease." - Mary Lasker
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Re: Worth even applying for TT?

Postby SWR » Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:29 am

I wanted to follow up and thank everyone for their encouragement.

I applied for three positions and interviewed at two. The interviews were harrowing. I received one offer from a really fantastic place, and I accepted.

This experience taught me the importance of posturing--not misleading people, but projecting a calm confidence and authority in the presence of uncertainty. I don't normally walk around like that in my day-to-day research. I tend to obsess over what's not working and whatever's taking too long. I also learned the importance of rolling the dice, a useful principle for grants and awards. Finally, I learned that the process is incredibly time-consuming and draining, so I'm grateful I lucked out.

I hope this also serves as a lesson to others to just get out there. I never felt like I was a sure shot, but I gritted my teeth and did it anyway. We have this image in science, maybe just academic science, of success going only to confident demi-geniuses who are 110% passionate about research. I'm sure as heck not one of those people, but I (on paper) look like I might be, and I think I can do some great (though inevitably imperfect) work at my next job. Thanks for pushing me!
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Re: Worth even applying for TT?

Postby Ana » Wed Jun 20, 2012 10:39 am

That's fantastic!!

Congratulations and thanks for bringing back the old thread to wrap the story up with the news and with such great advice.
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