Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 13)

Your seminar-giving, interviewing, chalk-talking skills are going to get better and better the more interviews you go on. But you will not get better at waiting for the search committee to decide on their favorite candidates. As Physioprof pointed out in the comments to my last post about this (Pt. 12), it’s very appropriate to inquire about the status of a search, and inform the chair of other offers once you have an offer in an institution of equal or greater quality (I don’t know if that’s the right word but you get my drift). Every search committee I have been on has interviewed all 4-5 candidates they flagged for an interview before they have a discussion about/make a decision on who is the top candidate. I think that sometimes when there is a clear favorite, an offer goes out prior to this- but I haven’t personally seen a situation where that happened. Then, if you are the lucky winner, the chair of the hiring department will give you a call and invite you (and your spouse, if there is one) for a second visit.

The second interview has a little more informal structure than the first interview, and you will have the chance to gather a lot of information about the institution, what it will be like to work there, and what it will be like to LIVE there. At this point the department has decided that you walk on water and will try to recruit you. You will meet with the department chair (AGAIN) and a few other faculty (AGAIN). You will be introduced to various groups on campus to which you might gravitate (women faculty for example). You can (and should) tour and talk to those in charge of any special facilities you might be a user of (animal facilities, and core facilities come to mind) if you haven’t done this already on your first visit (as pointed out by Ewan in the comments). You might be introduced to how grants administration generally works in that institution. You will be shown laboratory space that you might inhabit. You will also get a taste for the area and the cost of housing and such, and will probably be set up to drive around with a real estate agent. You will be able to gather more specific information about schools and childcare, and visit some facilities.

If you have a spouse, he/she should join you on this visit. Spousal job accommodations, which you have introduced to the appropriate person ON YOUR FIRST VISIT (especially if a faculty position is required), will be fully explored during this second visit. Your spouse will have a whole separate schedule of their own in these cases, which will likely include giving their own job seminar in the appropriate department if a second faculty position is being sought.

Remember that I said that you are now being recruited. You will want to come prepared to this visit by making an itemized and detailed list of equipment, supplies and personnel,- including prices- that you will need to fully fund your first 3-4 years on the job. You may be asked for such a list prior to your visit- and you should think carefully about what you will need to get yourself off to a good start. Your goal here now, if you take the position, is to get external funding, write papers and get tenure…. Think about these things while making your list.

You will need to gather some important information during your second visit- much of it you can figure out from what I have already written. All of these things can be asked on the first visit as well- but if you haven’t covered them already here they are.. (and this list isn’t complete for sure):

1. What is the annual cost of a graduate student –stipend, benefits, and tuition? Is any portion of this covered from any other source for any duration? Is there a training grant and how are students selected to receive funding from this training grant?

2. Number of graduate students admitted annually, and what are their origins- are they domestic, are they foreign?

3. Where do the indirect costs from any grants you bring in go, and most importantly- do any fraction of these come directly back to you or your lab???

4. Who has postdocs and how easily are postdocs recruited into XYZ institution/department?

5. Is there shared equipment in the department?

I know there are more, but I’m blanking at this moment. … I also know I am going to have to explain what IDCs are (indirect costs),… this has to wait!!!


3 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 13)

  1. I’m not saying any of the following is a good idea; it’s just an anecdotal data point.

    I didn’t go for a second visit, I didn’t see the lab space I was going to get, I didn’t negotiate for anything. I barely even read the offer letter. I just fucking took it.

  2. A lot of what you describe above is true, *but* takes place on the first visit. This is good for both sides: you don’t spend any further time worrying about it if the space on offer is literally a coffee room and a broom closet (as was the case with one of my offers), and they don’t spend time worrying about it if you note that you need laminar flow hoods in a building that cannot accommodate them, or whatever.

    The timing changes things, though: as you note, on the first visit you are being evaluated, whereas after that you’re being begged to come. It can’t be noted too often that *this moment* is when you have power. Especially if you have more than one offer, which is likely (if one place likes you, so will another). Anything you need or want, ask for it **NOW** before saying yes. Salary, startup, students, space, personal espresso machine, whatever: make your case for it now. (Yes, I realise this was probably coming in a later post.) Once you have been decided upon, the department and chair have every incentive to get you everything that they can – they’re now very much on your side, because they have selected you and need you to succeed.

    Back on topic: so on the first visit, while it may feel scary to be assertive/inquisitive, it again is good for both sides. If you need a colony space for transgenic mice, or an electron microscope, or a mass spec – ok, you don’t want to appear *at all* difficult to work with, but more info is good. Frankly, interview schedules can be annoying enough without having to make more than one second visit if you can avoid it: you want to get all of the info so that you know what _your_ order of preference probably is. All of my initial trips included discussions regarding exact space, at least passing discussion of housing etc., a tour of the animal colony, and so on.

    I was lucky to get one offer within 24h of the first visit, because I was the last candidate to give the talk; that made the ensuing process easy, because it was a ready-made reason for inquiry: “I just want you to know that I’ve received offers elsewhere, and I’ve promised to let them know by X-date; I would very much like to come to [Inquiry U], so I thought I would check what the status of your search is…”. As others have noted, this also raises your perceived value and makes getting the multiple offers more likely. I didn’t feel the need to disclose from where exactly my other offers were (and in one case politely declined to give details; I don’t know what the approved protocol is here) but I suppose if they had been from Yale, Harvard, and Scripps I might have been slightly more forthcoming. As it was, one offer was in NYC, so that gave a usefully high salary point to mention to other places. At that stage, though, it’s basically a fun game in which you have total control. Make the most of it – as soon as you say ‘yes,’ it’s gone :-).

    OK, this is way too long – but one other thing that’s slightly at odds with your description is that in every case the initial trip included meetings with the dept. chair, the dean (or their rep) and so on; in two cases the institution’s president. Basically anyone involved in the decision process – I would guess that’s very much the norm. Oh, sorry, one more thing: several places asked for my startup list on the first visit, and I think the fact that I had one to hand was a favourable mark. So do as much prep as you can beforehand.

    [Starting my first ‘real’ PI position July 1. So this is all very fresh right now! Anyone looking for a behavioural neuroscience postdoc? {That’s not a joke.}]

  3. Ewan-

    Thanks for your extensive and specific comments. They add a different perspective that I think will be helpful to many!

    I sure didn’t mean to imply that any or all of these things can’t take place on the first visit, and many of them do. I simply can’t cover everything in a single post. Meetings with the chair (which I have previously mentioned) and various deans and deanletts certainly take place on the first visit (this I failed to mention so thanks for adding that on). I didn’t however, think the meetings with deans and deanletts were particularly useful during the first visit- they basically just want to eyeball you and hear the reader’s digest version of your work. …and of the search committees I have served on they have never had power in the decision about who the offers are made to- but I am sure that this is highly variable by institution.

    And while you are shown A LOT of things on the first visit and you would be wise to ask many questions and take notes, it is not my experience that details of these things are worked out on a first visit. You are generally in no position to ask for anything at this point. Furthermore, it is my opinion that nearly everything can be negotiated- even space…. so if someone shows you a broom closet on the first visit- you shouldn’t leave with the assumption that this is as good as things will ever get or that things won’t change during the negotiation itself.

    You are quite correct that major equipment – core facility type stuff like transgenic mouse facility, NMR etc- should be brought up in the first visit, and usually is by search committee members. Astute search committee members have a pretty reasonable idea of these kinds of needs by looking at your application – and you will get asked about them and you can feel free to inquire if not asked. I eyeballed some animal facilities on my visits and asked about what species they could house (as non-traditional species are necessary for my projects), but didn’t talk about this particularly extensively with anyone.

    As for startup lists- it was not my experience to be asked for one at the first interview- but I did have one prepared and was asked to send one to the chair upon my return home, so as you note it can be useful to have this prepared way in advance.

    And hey- good luck in your first faculty position!

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