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Research assistant professor

Postby Emil Chuck » Wed May 17, 2006 10:57 pm

Addressing Beth's questions: I know plenty of faculty members who did two postdocs, but for the most part, their applications for being faculty came within 5-7 years of their Ph.D. Their applications however were very competitive and productive, though that was not sufficient to guaranteeing a faculty position (plenty of times I thought a good candidate would make the cut but did not).

But what is the most telling is how PV's advisor is acting. If PV is really ready for a faculty position, wouldn't his PI do whatever he can to promote PV's work and encourage him to develop a specific plan or strategy to apply for competitive faculty positions in the next year or two? There is a season for academic positions, and if you miss out -- unlike non-academic faculty searches -- it will take one an additional year to apply again. Imagine 500 CV's per tenure-track spot.

It's also possible we could be completely wrong in assessing PV's position, but then again, he didn't really pitch much with the initial post. What is perhaps really outrageous is that despite a fairly good publication rate, he is still offered an RAP... that's odd.

Certainly my suggestion is if you had to choose between the choice of titles, I'd go with an RAP. However, I also see that your leaning to accept what is essentially a lateral position after 7 years is going to brand you as someone who is NOT a "go-getter", or someone who fails to seize independent initiative in research.

It is not yet clear if people who become RAP's tend to stay in RAP positions "forever", but I am certainly under the impression that an RAP is NOT really considered a true professional step to a tt position. Fair or not, the fact you can sustain yourself with your own soft money means that the institution where you work doesn't feel obligated to commit itself to your success. Hence, when the grant money and funding dries up, you can be let go a lot quicker. Even worse, even if you pulled in $1M in grant funding over the course of your working tenure, you can still be let go rather easily because you have no tenure.

The other thing to consider is your viability as a job candidate. You will be competing against "hot shots" coming out of very productive postdoc positions, many of whom will eventually be carrying F99/R00 or other career transition awards. You could even be competing against other assistant professors trying to move up the academic ladder. In short, you're competing against ambitious investigators as evidenced by their research programs, their productivity, and their potential as shown by their grants. Seven years of being a postdoc followed by an RAP position... it may help, but you are still going to be at a disadvantage, especially if that RAP is positioned close to your immediate past supervisor.

Why are you not interested in going into industry? If salary is your concern, what's wrong with doing what you can to take that plunge? What is it about being "faculty" that keeps you wanting to stay in the academic game?

Most of the people I know from the NPA got faculty positions but I do not believe they were postdocs for more than 5 years. I finally got my position after 8 years post-Ph.D., but it is NOT tenure-track (though to me it was even better suited to my interests and talents). What should be more disturbing is that more "new" faculty members tend to get tenure if they got their assistant professorship within 5 years of their Ph.D. compared to other new assistant professors who got their positions after 5+ years post-Ph.D.
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Research assistant professor

Postby Elizabeth » Wed May 17, 2006 11:08 pm

I think RAP is okay as long as you go in fully aware of all the caveats. Being able to apply for R01 is definitely a plus.

Our department had a faculty search (open rank) last year, and there was only one postoc who was invited to give a seminar. Everybody else (I think we had 7-8 people in total) was already a faculty, including RAPs. This postdoc person came from a certain mega big-shot's lab (that was the primary reason he was invited to give a talk), but we all felt that there must have been something wrong with this person that he remained a postdoc for so many years (it was 7-8 years, I think) in this big-shot's lab. So that's the reason I would advocate for you to change your job title if you are presented with an appropriate opportunity.

Moreover, many trainee grants have restrictions on how many years you have been a postdoc. For example, you can't apply for K99/R00 any more because you have been a postdoc for more than 5 years. (Personally, I think this is unfair to mouse geneticists, but that's the reality.) You said you had a mentored research award that is coming out positive. You really need to leverage it and turn it into your own R01.
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Research assistant professor

Postby Wendy » Wed May 17, 2006 11:10 pm

From what you described in your latest post, taking the RAP position could be a more reasonable option for you. If you have a good relationship with your current PI, he may support you to achieve a tt faculty position finally by sponsoring your grant application. Once you have a RO1 grant in your hand, your chance to land on a tt position will be much greater than now. But I am not sure that you can publish all your 3 first-author papers and get a RO1 or othr funding from privated fundations in coming 6-8 months, particular under the circumstance of NIH budget cut and only fund the applications from tt position.

If your PI has made the commitment to financially support your RAP position, it's better to take it. Raising salary in this position means more job or responsibility for you. It is not easy to fulfill all expectations.
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Research assistant professor

Postby P.V. » Wed May 17, 2006 11:20 pm

I appreciate, Emil.

(But what is the most telling is how PV's advisor is acting. If PV is really ready for a faculty position), --- While I am almost there, I am not ready for a faculty position, with one first author publication.

(that despite a fairly good publication rate, he is still offered an RAP... that's odd). --- My PI is in fact NOT offering me RPA in my own interest, in his view. And that is what I am trying to find out, while I see all logic in his view, whether that view is better than my view.


(Why are you not interested in going into industry?)--- Becasue I think I can still make a cut in academia, which is my main interest.


(If salary is your concern, what's wrong with doing what you can to take that plunge? )---Salary is not my concern, if such was the case, I would have stuck to my MD background (not to make matters complicated and not immdediately being branded a fool, I didn't bring up this fact, but the fact is, I want to do pure research, without any, any, clinical responsibilities). Salary is just one of those positive points, not a major one, given two equally stinking options.

What is it about being "faculty" that keeps you wanting to stay in the academic game? (Independent research programs with unwavering focus for a lifetime, despite grant hurdles, which I am ready to take on).

I just tried to address your questions, I really appreciate all your feedback and giving of your time. Thanks.




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Postby Emil Chuck » Thu May 18, 2006 9:24 am

Okay... an interesting exercise. Pretend I were a facilitator. You and your PI are in separate rooms. I'm hoping that you could perhaps answer the follow-up question (write it down for yourself; it's not so important writing it down here unless you want to)... then I'd like to see if any of the faculty posters (like Kelly) can pipe in with a response.

PV: "While I am almost there, I am not ready for a faculty position, with one first author publication."
Given this information and your previous indications of other papers you have published, what do you need to be ready for a faculty position?

Now swap papers with your PI. Begin conversation.

I did miss the fact you have been on a mentored research award (K award) for the last three years. That is extremely important to know (because that MD time does make a little difference in the perception of one's readiness for a faculty position). If we're talking about your last two? years of funding, then the raise in your title should help, but I would also think you have to be in position to start applying for faculty positions "now" (before you hit year 4), at least to give you an extra year to really find out what you need to land a tt spot. Applying encompasses all aspects of networking/presenting your work at conferences, with "invited visiting lectures," and talking with other faculty members who could eventually be your paper and grant reviewers. Your communications skills need to be polished. Your scientific creativity and research critical thinking must be honed.

How well have you been following the mentoring plan which should be listed in detail on your grant? How has the plan met your needs, your PI's expectations, and your research?

What is important about the above question is to see the gap between what you think you need and what your advisor thinks you need. Then find out what you need from each other to craft a plan to get you into the faculty position that you want. Within that conversation you need to ask your supervisor how an RAP helps achieve your goal; no more assumptions about YOUR life.

Just remember, your difficulties in publishing are also going to be a factor in your ability to get an RO1 as well. Writing a major research grant will take a significant amount of time and a lot of informal institutional support to get it right. Even so, if you think you can handle rejection (what 6% of new R01's get funded on the first try???), over the course of many years, that's fine... but are you entrepreneureal enough to run your own lab?

With your PI insisting that you remain a postdoc to help your status in getting grants, that's not going to be true after you have already attained a K award. You'd be taking a step backward. The expectation once you complete your K is that you should be ready to send in an R as an independent investigator (anyone from NIH could please correct me).

Talk to the person in charge of your K award or at least another academic faculty member/administrator who deals with grant administration. You need to really know your options in grant-writing given each choice, but you also really need to know what you have to do when your K runs out.

Again, my own belief is that getting those first-authors out is going to be crucial, but you cannot overcome the fallow period without first-authors very easily. You should be prepared to explain that (which may be a bit easier depending on what you had to do post-MD). While you need to start getting consistent publications, you also have to develop the personal strength to survive an arduous faculty search. What will make you stand out among 500 CV's from which at most 5 interviews are picked (over the course of 4-6 months including negotiation)? What type of start-up funds will you need to get off the ground? What type of environment would you like to work in?
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Research assistant professor

Postby Kelly » Thu May 18, 2006 11:59 am

(a) once I become RAP, I will have a lesser chance for getting K01 and equivalent grants than a postdoc.

Kelly writes: K funding is down in any case and with 8 years of post-doc, you are beyond what is reasonable for a K award.


(b) There is no difference between a postdoc applying for a faculty position or a K01 funded RAP, because RAP achievements are considered to be just dependent on the mentor.

K01 are not very portable because they are mentored. It doesn't really matter because you want to start looking for a job next year (I agree with Rich on this point), couldn't move the bulk of the K and it is late for you to apply for one of these anyway.

(c) RAPs don't get R01 or R23 in the current NIH budget situation. Only independent new and senior facutly get these.

I think you are better off in this situation of lesser of evils, in getting a position that allows you to at least submit R grants.

I hope you meant an R21 not R23. An R23 mechanism does not appear to exist based on IMPAC codes. In any regard, all the points your PI makes are valid but you best shot right now is an RAP that allows you to submit Rs as opposed to the K that ties you to at least 3 more years of post-doc assuming you can get one.
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Postby Kelly » Thu May 18, 2006 12:15 pm

Now I'm confused:

1. Do you currently hold a K award?
2. how many first author papers do you have published?
3. how many papers do you have in the hopper (from which you could glean data for use as preliminary data)?

If you have a K award, then I do not understand the rationale for not having an RAP. One of the goals of the K is that you will submit an R.

If you only have 1 first author paper in 7 years of post-doc, it is going to be very difficult for you to be competitive, with or w/o a grant. Fit is the critical thing but there are limits to even this.

It would really help if we had a profile, even just a general one like:

K award 2001-present
2 first author papers (1 in top jounral)
4 additional papers with non-first authorship.

For an academic position the MD (I'm also not clear on this; you have an MD not a PhD?) hurts you more at this point than helps you. The MD combined with a protracted post-doc with few pubs is a red flag flapping in the direction of indicating someone who doesn't understand how to work in a lab productively, mouse genetics aside.

Please clarify precisely your publication record, funding status and educational background.
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Research assistant professor

Postby P.C. » Thu May 18, 2006 3:31 pm

The tenor of the original poster suggests a possible troll post, or some very unfortunate person trapped in a dead-end.
Either way, I would suggest a strong recommendation that P.V. work hard on moving away from the present situation. Seven years as a post doc In one place!! That may raise some eyebrows of a reader of PVs CV, when he wants to move on. P.V. writes that if he gets enough publications in the year he will have a good shot at getting a faculty position, in the institution where his supervisor is going to be the dept head. I am not sure that it is realistic that a dept head can promise such favorable treatment, and further, it is uncertain that PV will be able to perform accordingly. To me it sounds like a vague enticement to get more out of PV. Such vague promises to postdocs are made all the time, and are not enforcible as a contract. Unless you have it in writing.
For my money if you got advanced to a RAP title and even a pay raise, it is not going to help your career development. What would work better is if you started a job search and found the RAP at another place of worked towards a more permanent goal instead of as a post doc lackey of your present supervisor.
For my money, if you had to stay, the RAP title would work better for you and your career, rather than staying a post doc.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Postby Larein » Thu May 18, 2006 6:01 pm

I agree some of the posters have been too nice. This is an internet forum, if we don't get the straight truth here, where else?
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Postby Dave Jensen » Thu May 18, 2006 6:46 pm

Larein says, "I agree some of the posters have been too nice. This is an internet forum, if we don't get the straight truth here, where else?"

Larein, if you think that you are not getting a good dose of the truth here on this forum, you are incorrect. This is one of the only forums I've ever seen where people go out of their way to help others, share advice, or even pass along networking leads. No one here is "too nice." And we only have the occasional nasty comments, generally from the same people . . .

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