Research Assistant Professor

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Research Assistant Professor

Postby Kelly » Wed Jul 13, 2005 12:34 pm

I agree entirely with James. If you are good enough for him to hire to run a lab, at this point the only lab you should be running is your own.

Bargin with him: you will come for 1 year as a reserach assistant professor during which time you will get his new lab up and running. After one year in this "position" you will then be shifted to tenure track with space, start-up and salary support congruent with others in the Department (i.e., if they cover 50%; you cover 50%).

GET THIS ALL IN WRITING. do not under any circumstances go in under some sort of "understanding."
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Somebody has to take up for the lowly research prof...

Postby Jim Austin » Wed Jul 13, 2005 12:36 pm I will.

Been there, done that, switched careers. That might be all you need to know.

But in fact times are changing in some fields, and people are starting to recognize the value of alternative ways of making the transition to scientific independence. Are these second-rate faculty jobs? Yes, at best. But if you can use them to do very good work, they can indeed lead to first-rate faculty jobs.

Ultimately you will be measured by the quality of the work you do. So if your position offers you lab space, adequate resources, access to core facilities,etc.--in short, if you know exactly what you want to do and you think you can get it done there, then go for it.

The advantages: no teaching.
The disadvantages: not much chance of a nice startup package. You'll pretty much have to use what's lying around until you've strung together a few grants and equipped your lab.

One other disadvantage, and this one can be HUGE. Even if you're doing great work, your colleagues may not know it. Since you're in a second-rate position, they're likely to kick you out if they get funded for another tenure-track position. If they need the space you occupy for something else, you're out of there.

On the other hand, somewhere somebody knows you've been doing good work. So if you use your time well it can bve a bridge into something better. Just keep your aspirations high.
That's a lukewarm endorsement, I know.

Jim Austin, Editor
Science's Next Wave
Jim Austin
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Somebody has to take up for the lowly research prof...

Postby James1 » Wed Jul 13, 2005 1:24 pm

Good points Jim, that is exactly what i am doing with my RAP position, plus i was given a free ticket to use funds and equipment for my own research interests and the PI i work with will retire in 4yrs. However, H was a postdoc for 9yrs!!!!!! I was one for 1 1/2 yrs. I don't think that a RAP is a good choice for him, unless he gets something in writing like Kelly said.
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Somebody has to take up for the lowly research prof...

Postby Emil Chuck » Wed Jul 13, 2005 1:27 pm

I will agree with previous posters. I would say if the new Director values you, he'll find a way to negotiate for you to get a t-t Assistant Professor position. The statement that you see yourself as being valuable to "running his lab" means you really don't view yourself as independent. Staying in industry or moving on to an academic position: you've got to figure that out yourself, but there is also the choice that you can find your own next position and find out just how valuable you really are in the marketplace. Scary as it sounds, sometimes you have to think of yourself because it's your happiness and career goals that matter.

There is potentially one more advantage to an non t-t position, and that is the flexibility in some cases to be able to stay in the same area instead of searching anywhere but home. Granted, this may also change as more departments see those in RAP positions as being "competitive" or "sought after."

If someone recognizes how good your work is, someone will hire you and it won't just be your former PI.
Emil Chuck
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Yes, but you've got to be realistic

Postby Jim Austin » Wed Jul 13, 2005 2:19 pm


I think we agree up to a point; the question is what you ought to do with yourself until the right job comes along. It's great to say that if people value you they'll make you a tenure-track offer, but what if they don't make you that offer? Heck, what if they don't value you? What then?

My answer: keep working. Seize whatever opportunities you have to do good science. If you're current situation is better for that than a research professorship, stay put. But if the research prof position positions you better for doing good, independent work, then take that instead.

If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.

Jim Austin
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Being realistic & thanks

Postby Charles Allen » Wed Jul 13, 2005 4:53 pm

Thank you all for your insights and frank advice. I feel that James and Kelly are correct when they question the intentions of my former boss. The state of denial has lifted! Emil Thomas Chuck (ETC)- thank's for the words of encouragement!

Over the nine (long) years (post-PhD) I've been able to publish consistently in good journals (though not as often as I would like), including New Engl J. Med (recently). But, I do agree with Kelly (an earlier posting) that T-T hiring decisions do NOT appear to be based upon tangibles (or none that I can fathom): it's like industry- it's largely who you know. And yes... we are taught to believe it is otherwise (in academia at least)!

Overall, it looks like these RAP positions are at a minimum, very risky, representing an incremental increase in status over that of Res. Assoc./postdoc and it is probably worthwhile waiting until a T-T offer opens up elsewhere or through negotiation (in writing) with my former boss. This advice is likely generally applicable to others in a similar predicament.

Fortunately, in my current position, I am able to submit (SBIR) grants as PI, establishing a funding record, and we can and do publish our work. With the Company it is pure research (& development), no teaching, no committees. The Chief Scientific Officer (my boss) also has an academic appointment (he's a senior scientist, Full Professor) & is a trustworthy individual.

My experience with this start-up biotech company has been very positive and I would suggest to younger postdocs/scientists to not discount biotech as a career option.

Do you think that with the current bottleneck in landing bona fide faculty positions, plus the new restrictions on foreign scientists & the funding crunch that we are likely to see anytime soon a shortage of good postdocs and Ph.D. students in the US? If so, this could spell disaster.

Again, James, Jim, Kelly, ETC- thanks for the advice & comments.
Charles Allen
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How realistic?

Postby Xathres » Wed Jul 13, 2005 5:20 pm

That really hits hard - "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." So all that sacrifice in getting a PhD, going through several years of post-docs amounts to settling with the least dangerous option, again with no immediate benefits and no guarantee of the future. This stick-and-carrot routine has got to stop! As frustrated as I am, please tell me what options are open to post-docs and pre-TT? Industrial post-docs does not sound that promising either. Going back to school for reeducation? That lawnkeeping job doesn't sound so bad after all ......

How realistic?

Postby Alfred » Wed Jul 13, 2005 6:47 pm

Xathres, if you are currently a post-doc or further past the Ph.D., than an industrial post-doc SHOULD not sound promising. A research scientist position in biotech or pharma would be a very realistic industry option for someone disillusioned with the academic world. We do great, fun and worthwhile science in biotech!


How realistic?

Postby Charles Allen » Wed Jul 13, 2005 7:00 pm


I agree about the lawnkeeping job! As with anything, luck has a lot to do with it. I hav e found that good mentorship is a rapidly vanishing entity. If you are lucky enough to find a well established scientist who takes mentorship seriously (good luck) things could turn out well. Mentorship means more than just supervision of a project but also helping you to prepare for a job search, how to present a talk (feedback) and a proactive attitude about finding you a good job (when this happens, it works like a charm).

My best advice is to be skeptical and not naive. Science is cool but so is a secure future.

I do not see that there is or will be a real incentive for those who are in a position to hire (the current generation of PIs, university administrators) to change the status quo since it works to their advantage. There is a large pool of well qualified, idealistic young Ph.D.s willing to work long hours for little pay and few benefits. Perhaps this is why so many labs are filled wih foreign postdocs, (instead of US citizens) who have few options and are seeking a better life.It is very easy to land in a dysfunctional lab and then find yourself scrambling to get out. Before you know it, if you're not careful, you'll find yourself bouncing from one bad lab to the next. There's no Better Business Bureau for evaluating potential PIs you can post doc with (maybe their former postdocs?). Beware of lofty promises.

Combining a Ph.D. with an MBA might be one option (I'm actually thinking about this). There are other career trajectories besides the traditional academic route. Most pay more and require you work fewer hours. Career advancement in industry can be meteoric compared to academia. I have friends who have taken this route and are doing extremely well now. Otherwise, seek out a senior scientist who has a reputation for being sympathetic and seek out his/her best advice. Also, be aggressive in promoting yourself and make yourself visible (presenting at conferences helps). NETWORK. NETWORKING may be more important than publishing in landing a good position.

I wish I could offer you more (useful) advice but, as you can see, I'm at somewhat of a loss myself. Persistence is good but to what point? It's a judgement call.
Charles Allen
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Yes, but you've got to be realistic

Postby Kelly » Thu Jul 14, 2005 8:42 am

"If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. "

My father who is very wise told me once, if you don't want to be happy, then marry someone you don't really love and take a job you don't really love.

I know this "take what you can get to keep going" hoping that it might get better is the prevailing attitude in science. I disagree with it. It makes people feel under-valued, exploited, miserable and bitter.

Get what you need to do your science and to make you feel good about yourself.
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