Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 2)

Its tough to know where to start on that list of topics to cover (see ‘suggested topics’ page), but since I have already started on the job search- maybe I’ll just go step-by-step down that road for a while. There are so many areas to cover here, from the initial looking at ads to see what jobs are out there to application packages, search committees, interviewing, negotiating and spousal hiring. When I was going through the job search process – I hung onto this book, ‘Making the Right Moves… bla bla bla’ from HHMI and Burroughs (the full citation is listed under ‘Useful Books’, #5), for dear life. This a terrific book and as available from HHMI for free, either as a download or print copy, – but, although very useful, it just never seemed to go as far into detail as I felt I needed (or wanted). But, I guess no two job searches/search committees/candidates etc. are alike, so perhaps this is understandable.

So, I’ll start from the beginning. You are getting postdoc PMS- and, although you love the lab you are in,…. you think you are ready for an academic job of your own. But what to do first? Well, here are a couple of reasonable ideas..

1. Start reading the ads. Even if you aren’t going to go on the job market tomorrow, it never hurts to educate yourself about what is out there. I personally like Science careers online, which can be found on the web page of the journal ‘Science’. Many, many jobs are listed here, its free to access, and is searchable. Although other top journals also have services like this, I tended to mostly use Science, and all the search committees I have been on (a grand total of 6) have used Science to post ads. I also liked ASM Career Connections (American Society for Microbiology, you have to be a member for this), and for me JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association)- … but I am certain that other specialty journals that focus on a particular field you may be working in will be appropriate.

2. Have a serious talk with your postdoc mentor. If you haven’t discussed with your mentor what projects or parts of projects you are free to take from the lab, this would be the time to have such a conversation. Also, if you trust your mentor to give you career advice, this might be the time to ask that person to give you an honest assessment about your prospects for an academic career. In some cases your postdoc mentor might not be the right person to talk with about your prospects for an academic career- if that is the case, choose someone that you trust to give you an honest assessment- maybe another senior faculty member that you know well.

3. Update your CV, and write a couple of pages about your research interests, and possibly a teaching statement. This paperwork, along with a cover letter, will be your application package. Enlist the help of colleagues whom you trust and know to be good at these things to look over these documents, this is extremely important- you don’t want the search committees’ eyes to be the first pairs of eyes besides your own that look at these documents. SPELL CHECK EVERYTHING…. I know it seems dumb to have to spell that out, but you would be shocked by how many times this doesn’t get done.

A. The CV should be EASY to read (A SAMPLE IS POSTED UNDER THE APPLICATION PACKAGES TAB, UNDER CV) and generally include the following sections (there may be additional sections depending on your background, for example Patents, Service):


Contact Information (it is not necessary to write whether or not you are married or have children in this section- I have seen this, and think it’s not a good idea)

Academic Training

Positions Held

Fellowships and Awards


Invited Presentations

Professional Licenses and Society Memberships

Teaching (both classroom, and individual)


References (names of 3-5 individuals whom you have already asked, and KNOW to be able to provide you a good letter of recommendation – you don’t want any surprises here).

Some candidates also include a list of meetings attended/poster presentations and abstracts submitted- I personally don’t include this information and don’t generally look at it when looking at a bunch of CVs.

B. Research interests should be concise and summarize what project you will focus on and where you will take this project in the first 5 years of your new job. Personally, I like sort of an NIHesque format- research interests written with a brief summary up front, and then broken down in terms of specific aims, with experimental approaches under each aim, then briefly and generally how this will get you toward your long term goals. If you have already written a grant for independent funding- then the hard work of planning for the first 5 years of your faculty position has already been done. DO NOT try to cover everything that you have done and everything that you may, at some point in the near and distant future even think about doing in the statement of research interests. Your goal here is to be focused and convey to the search committee that you have defined a problem you are interested in, it’s an important problem, and you have developed a reasonable approach to this problem that is likely to give a big payoff.

C. Teaching statement. Some institutions have a heavy emphasis on teaching- and they want to know what you see yourself as capable of teaching, and what your ‘teaching philosophy’ is. You are on your own with this one, I don’t have any very good advice- other than to summarize this in no more than 1 page.

4. Start talking to colleagues at meetings/in your department/those that you know in other institutions about what positions may be available currently or in the next couple of years in their departments. It would be a huge mistake to underestimate the power of networking for academic scientists. You never know who is on what search committee at any given moment, and strange coincidences happen all the time. If you are a shy person- email is a great way to approach people about these topics…


1 thought on “Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 2)

  1. Pingback: It’s the season…Academic Job Search Reposts.. « Blue Lab Coats

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s