An Open Letter

Dear Persistent Administrative Assistant (in department I have no relationship with):

Sorry it took me (2 whole days) so long to answer your email.  I looked at my calendar and am not able to meet with your faculty candidate on Monday afternoon as you requested in your first email, because I have a previously scheduled meeting. I am also not able to meet with your faculty candidate, whose CV I have now looked at and that has no cross-over with my work AT ALL, on Monday morning as requested in your second email- because that is when we have lab meeting. I do not know the candidate, I know nothing about your search, I am not affiliated with your department and I have no idea why you are asking me to meet with this person. So, I guess that answers your third email – I have no time on my schedule on Tuesday to meet with this candidate.

My apologies for being cranky, I’ll have to learn to be more direct so we don’t get three emails in next time.



From Non-TT to TT In This Academic Job Market??!!

A reader of the blog recently wrote me the following question:

I noticed in your bio you list your past experience as including a stint as a non-TT faculty member, and I was hoping you could detail a bit more about what that position entailed (rights and responsibilities, degree of independence) and offer some advice on how to make the transition from that to TT.

So, I’ll oblige.

Indeed, my first faculty position was a non-tenure track position. In my case this was a faculty position in title only (i.e. I was not was not yet independent), and was awarded to me basically so that I could submit my own grants. I had no service responsibilities, neither did I have any rights. In my institution truly ‘independent’ non-TT positions (where you are not reliant on another PI for space, salary etc) are incredibly rare. More usually- those on the non-TT faculty track remain employed in their postdoc lab… and are simply elevated to grant submission status. Continue reading

Candid Engineer’s NIFPW Wisdom

Candid Engineer has a post up (since yesterday) about her recent experience at the Negotiating the Ideal Faculty Position Workshop (at Rice)… her post is an excellent summary of what should be in your application package, plus other collective advice. I think generally the posts I have written on this topic, the posts Comrade Physioprof and Drugmonkey have written (I’ll find the links for y’all I just can’t do it this minute), and Candid’s post of yesterday all echo the same bits of wisdom again and again.

Grad School, Academic Careers, and Babies…

I saw this post over at Isis place this morning, and I have to say I had a couple of strong feelings about it. For those of you that have not read it- commenter Fia forwards questions she’s been asked about the intersection of motherhood and academia:

* Is it reasonable to have children during grad school?
* I found out I am pregnant, we want a child but I just accepted a PhD position. Should I have an abortion?
* Should I wait until later in my career to have children?
* I just finished grad school and am pregnant now. If I have the child, what are my chance on the job market a year later?

Yikes, that’s a lot of material to answer. But, as you all know I have two children and I’m an academic scientist- so I’ll throw my hard-learned lessons out there in case you are interested.  A little background first, my older daughter was born while I was doing my thesis work, and my younger daughter was born while I was doing my post-doctoral training, so I’ve been in all the different possible stages of motherhood and academic careerdom. From my perspective, I tended to worry a lot about how I would care for young children while in the early parts of my training, just assuming that things would get easier as the children grew older. I can tell you that as the children get older things don’t really get easier- but the kinds of tasks that you are doing for and with the children change, but they don’t lessen in amount or time commitment (with the possible exception of when the kids go to college themselves, but we are not there yet). Anyway, I digress, let’s start with this:

* Is it reasonable to have children during grad school?

Hmm. Well, as someone who had children during grad school, I’d have to say yes. Is it stressful? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it reasonable? I suppose that depends on your definition of reasonable.  In my experience people who are highly motivated to do their best at both these tasks, can handle this.

* I found out I am pregnant, we want a child but I just accepted a PhD position. Should I have an abortion?

WOW, just WOW. To me the decision whether or not to bear a child and start a family should be based on whether or not one wants to be a parent. Period. If the answer to that question is yes, then you just figure out how to work around everything else. Is it going to be tough? Yes. Is it going to be stressful? Yes. Can it be done- OH FOR SURE!

* Should I wait until later in my career to have children?

Having kids and an academic career isn’t easy no matter what stage you choose to have the children, unless perhaps, you wait until after you have tenure. In my opinion and experience, there is no perfect time to have children- vanishingly rare are the cases where you can plan exactly what events you want in your life and have them happen exactly when you want them to happen. Waiting until later in one’s career, like maybe after you have tenure,  comes with a whole different set of problems, including, but not limited to the fact, that this will likely take you into your 40s when fertility declines precipitously. So, decide what your priorities are- if being a parent is a priority in your life- … then learn to live with the fact that there is no perfect timing for this.

* I just finished grad school and am pregnant now. If I have the child, what are my chance on the job market a year later?

First, it is totally impossible to know what your chances are on the job market are a year in advance- REGARDLESS of whether or not you have children. Second and more importantly, your chances on the job marked should be related only to your qualifications and past performance on the job, and not to whether or not you have children! Goodness. I’ve never EVER heard a man say something like that, and it pains me to see that we women still feel we should have this conversation.

Any more questions?

(and Fia, I’m totally and completely hurt that I wasn’t included in your list of sciencey-parenty-academic type goddesses… sniff, …. SOB)

The Academic Job Season… it happens every year…

For those of you out looking for a tenure track academic job- I’m re-posting many of my previous posts on finding an academic position. This seems like a good time of year for this, as ads for academic jobs should be really rolling out now and for the next several months.

I have collected all of my previous posts on looking for an academic job here.  And you can find additional things up under the Academic Job Applications tab at the top right of this page. (Drugmonkey and Comrade Physioprof at Drugmonkey at both new and old sites also have many posts on this subject for anyone who is interested, you can search both these blogs)

A few words about the academic job search climate. We are not running a search right now, so I don’t have a good feeling for how this will go this year. Last year, though, was terrible for the applicants. There seemed to me to be a huge supply of applicants, and really good ones, for very few jobs. The downturn in the economy really affected hiring at academic institutions and lots of searches were either canceled, or initiated and put on indefinite hold, and I’m betting that this TT job scarcity will continue for a while.

My advice if you plan to go out this year- give it everything you’ve got, apply for every job you can, you are in a MUCH stronger position if you have $$ of your own to bring with you, … and make a contingency plan if you can… (if you can sit another year where you are, make a backup plan right now!!)…

It seems like such a big bummer to write that…but it is as it is.

Figuring Startup $$

I received the following question in my email in box earlier today:

Hi DrDrA,
I recently discovered your blog, and have found it extremely useful. So now I’m contacting you directly for some help.
I had an extremely successful interview at my dream university for my dream TT job. In a couple weeks I go back for a second visit, and I’m preparing for negotiations. It’s a large state school, so I have a ball-park idea of what kind of salary to expect, but nowhere can I find information on what a reasonable start-up package is. I have a list of equipment I need, plan on requesting salary for a tech and a student or two, etc., but I have no idea whether this total dollar amount is reasonable. I can’t find hard, cold $$ amounts anywhere. I’ve asked around at my current department, and to other postdocs that have recently started TT jobs (n=2), but these figures vary widely and aren’t at institutions that are comparable to where I (hope) will be going.
If you have any thoughts, or can point me in the right direction, I’d appreciate it!


About to be TT faculty (ATBTT faculty)

How awesome is that!? I think it is really excellent timing because I’m imagining this scenario going on all over the country- it is prime time for second visits and offers for academic faculty positions in the US right now… so I offer to you my reply to the question, and solicit your opinions and helpful suggestions for this intrepid junior faculty to be:

Dear ATBTT faculty:

Thanks for your question. I’m glad you find the blog useful, and congratulations on your second visit!

There are really two parts to your question, I’ll take them one at a time.

1.  Salary- you should be able to get a good idea of the salary range if this is a state university.  State universities have operating budgets, and these are usually public information. You will have to do some asking around as to how to obtain information from the operating budget- sometimes this can be found online, sometimes not. At my large state institution, one just walks into the library on campus and asks to see a copy of the operating budget- the library reference desk has a copy you can look at, ours is broken down by system component, then colleges within the system component, then by department- and it is very, very detailed. You can see the salaries of everyone- and if you know who the most recent hires were and what their training was- you should be able to hit salary spot on. Do not feel badly about seeking out these numbers- this information is very important for your ability to negotiate for a reasonable salary.  Probably the most important reason to do this (as I think I’ve discussed on this blog before) is that every raise you will ever receive is a percentage of your base salary- negotiating a higher base salary can add up to earnings of hundreds of thousands of dollars more over your lifetime of working.

2.  Startup. This is A LOT trickier, as you have realized- and good numbers are hard to come by.  This is because the amount of startup really depends on what you do, how much – i.e. do you need a FACS machine with all the bells and whistles to the tune of 500K, or are you a field biologist that goes out into the field with your eyes, a shovel and a notebook… you get my point, I think.  But with that said- and because we do similar things (I think)- I started the status quo was to ask for the $$ you would need to set up and run your lab for 3 years.  With the current funding climate, you may want to extend this time a little bit. Figuring this number will be based on figuring out what kind of stuff you need to buy to set up your lab, and how much you will need for salaries. Several years ago when I myself was looking for a job, the opening salvo at a large state university  was 500K- and this was the beginning of the negotiation. I know that this is currently the opening offer from places I am familiar with that might employ someone like you.

For equipment- you’ve probably got a list already, figure supplies for 2-3 employees for 3-4 years. A rule of thumb is $1000/month per employee (sounds like a lot, but look at the price of kits these days)- if you want a guestimate. If you use any particularly expensive reagents (Cy3 costs can kill ya,… or research animals and per diem etc.), you will need to figure that in. For personnel- you should be able to find out what is the starting salary for technical help in the department where you are going for the second visit, through casual conversation during that visit. You probably already know how grad students are supported there, and what the cost in stipend, fringe, and tuition if applicable- and if you don’t know this already- the second visit is the time to ask. I think it is reasonable to ask for the equipment you need, supplies/animals/etc costs for 3-4 years, and then personnel – including a tech or postdoc, and a student- then include this all in the number that you ask for.

I know that’s probably not very helpful in terms of specific numbers for your particular case- but this should at least get you in the ballpark. Remember going in -that this is a negotiation. So, going in you know you probably won’t get everything that you ask for- but the goal is to get what you need to be successful and get tenure!

If you are game, we can ask the BLC readers what they think as well- they always have bundles of useful advice!

Good luck and feel free to contact me with any additional questions you may have,


So there you go, followers of the blog- got opinions on this topic?

Job Search Question(s)…(UPDATED)

I’ve had a couple of questions about the academic job search in the last couple of days. You all know that demistifying this process is one of my favorite things to do….. and since I’m re-submission writing with renewed energy- y’all get to help me answer this one for DSKS:

Job application question.

If you are a Newbie and, although not in the fundable zone, you reckon you got an okay score and addressable criticisms for your first shot at an R01, can you (should you?) express this in an initial job application? (in this instance, the R01 goals are very much an integral part of the research statement?)

If so, in the cover letter or in the CV or both?

Or is this of absolutely no value whatsoever to a search committee, or even straightforwardly deleterious because it’s tantamount to drawing attention to failure?

It’s not for me. It’s for an, erm, acquaintance of mine… Bob Bobson’s his name. Haw haw. Silly bugger’s trying to get a job in 2009, and he’s to old to join the Navy.

I say ol’ Bob should definitely include the fact that he got a scored R01 application- and on the first submission – on his CV (Should appear under pending grant applications- or some such).  Search committees definitely, definitely care about that kind of stuff, and they know how freaking difficult it is out there right now. If this were me, I’d probably include the score itself and the percentile ranking, and my plan for resubmission dates -on the CV as well. I’m not sure I would write a bunch of bla bla bla about what appeared in the summary statement either in the letter or on the CV- because it would seem obvious to me as a search committee member that if a candidate had a scored R01 they would be pretty foolish NOT to try to resubmit it. As a search committee member if I saw the scored R01 bit on a candidate’s CV- and we chose to interview that candidate- I would likely have a conversation with the candidate about what was in the summary statement- and how they think the criticisms could/should be answered. I imagine that this kind of conversation might come up in a chalk-talk as well.

As for whether or not this information should appear in the cover letter- I’m still undecided on that one.  If I mentioned this in the cover letter my gut feeling would be to say – I submitted an R01 and it got scored on it’s A0 submission…. we think the criticisms are easily addressable and will do this and resubmit on XYZ date. I just don’t think the cover letter is the place to do a lot of explaining about how the reviewer’s issues could be rectified- and so bringing up a score here might lead the applicant into feeling like they must to explain. I could EASILY be wrong about this though.

What say you, readers of teh blog… to Q #1?

On to Q#2…from Enrique:

is it a no-no for a postdoc looking for a TT position to include significant contributions towards said postdoc advisor’s grants on a CV?

Never having encountered this situation myself, I’m not sure what advice to give on this one. My sense is that it would be difficult to fit this in on a CV… but I really need your combined opinions!

On Hiring… the subjectivity of it all.

On my recent post on hiring, written in response to MsPhD’s survey- MsPhD left the following comment. I find it sufficiently interesting that I’ll reply point by point… (I’m gearing up for grant-re-writing, can you tell?)…

MsPhD said:

Great post! Mostly what I suspected.

But do you see my point? How SUBJECTIVE it is? If every person on a hiring committee has a different ranking system for assigning points and cutting people from the list?

I say-  Actually, I don’t know how this works elsewhere- but you would probably be surprised by how quite overlapping the faculty search committee members short lists are (let’s say the top 10 candidates or something) when we actually get around to comparing them and deciding who to invite.  However, yes- there are people that fall from the list here and there Continue reading

On Hiring.

Over at YoungFemaleScientist, MsPhD has a brief survey up for those of us in the biomedical sciences that either make or participate in hiring decisions for faculty (I can only presume that she meant faculty). The opening question is this:

Which single criterion is most important for making the first cut?

And the options are:

  • Name of Postdoc’s PI
  • Institution of Postdoc’s PI
  • Minimum number of papers (regardless of journal)
  • Minimum one high impact paper
  • Other (please explain)

Wow. Thinking about my own experiences in this area I can honestly say it’s not so simple for me. Allow me to explain.

First, let’s define the ‘first cut’. When I have a big stack of applications on my desk, I have to have an efficient way to go through them and figure out which applicants in that pile are competitive for the open position. This makes the first cut divide the non-competitive applications from those that are competitive- even moderately so. Continue reading