26 October 2015

The next career project

You know, I used to talk a lot more about career-related projects here on the blog. Mostly about finishing grad school, a lot about my postdoctoral job search, and some about training and funding. And yet, it still seems weird to talk about this other big project going on in the background. But you might as well know what’s been keeping me from working on all the blog projects lately:

I’m on the job market.

Don’t misunderstand, this is a good thing! It’s not like I’m currently out of work, nor that I’m unhappy in my current job (I still love it). It is understood that a postdoctoral fellowship is a temporary stepping stone on the path to professorship, and my current boss is actually helping me out with this. And because faculty jobs are posted a full year in advance, it’s time to put myself out there and try to get into the next phase of my career.

I’ve kept quiet about it for a few reasons. First of all, I don’t need to get a job this “cycle” (almost all tenure-track academic jobs are posted in the fall, not year-round). I have funding to stay put in my current job for another two years, so I’m being really picky about where I apply this year, with only great schools and good locations. Which brings me to my second reason for staying quiet: I very well might not get a job this year. That’s okay; I’m really just testing the waters, learning how to interview, and seeing what happens. Better to do that this year than next! And third, it is definitely a humbling experience. I want the sort of niche job that doesn’t just want the best qualifications (and mine are competitive), but also the best fit. Even if I have the best record, I might not do something that another candidate does, which is what they want for their department. There’s nothing I can do about that.

All of those reasons are fine with me – I’ve developed a thick skin in this career already – but talking about them is awkward. Especially because most people will say some variation of, “Oh, they’re crazy if they don’t offer you a job!” (which is a profound misunderstanding of my academic job search), or perhaps, “So where will you be next year?!” (I have no idea, maybe right here? Maybe at a different place from where I’m applying? Maybe exactly right where you want me to be, which is of course an opinion you volunteered as if I have a substantial amount of control over it?). Even with the low stakes this year, it’s still incredibly stressful, and just not good conversation fodder.

(selectively redacted because REAL SCIENCE REAL PERSON REAL JOB)

But I might as well admit it. I’ve juggled deadlines and marked my calendar with deadlines spanning months. I’ve written and rewritten research plans, teaching statements, diversity statements, commitment to mission statements, and about twenty different versions of a cover letter. I’ve cobbled together all my teaching evaluations, I’ve scanned my transcripts, I’ve created accounts at too many application submission websites to count. It’s been a freaking ton of work, one that comes after my real job, after taking care of my family, even after my blog writing a few days a week. I’m getting back to new-mom levels of sleep deprivation some nights, which is so ironic given how Baby P goes down for eleven hours a night without a peep. (I couldn’t do this if he didn’t!)

The deadlines are just starting to come up, so I’m only now hearing back from places. I’ve gotten some nos, a few requests for more info, and a Skype interview, which required its own hours of preparations. (Pro tip: post-its around the computer monitor means you never look down! Genius!) Even when an application hasn’t panned out, it’s still been an incredible learning experience. Fingers crossed they’ll be more to come, although at this point, if they all just turned me down I could be like “WELL AT LEAST THAT’S OVER, THANK GOODNESS.”

So now you know what’s up, and a little bit of why I have been so terribly low on home and DIY projects lately. And now that you know, you might not hear about it again until I actually make forward progress, because, as I explained above, it is awkward. But even when I’m not baring my soul about it here, I’m still working hard on that in the background. It’s another time-consuming, life-improving project – even if you don’t get the stepwise, play-by-play for this one!


Emily said...

Random person here who reads your blog sometimes -- also an academic (social science) and just wanted to express my sympathy for being on the market...it's really tough. And explaining the weirdnesses of the academic job market to people who aren't academics is challenging ("Why don't you just apply for a job at [random university]? They're good!")*. I've found it helpful to break down the numbers for them. So, say "There are only about 30 jobs open right now in the entire country that are looking for someone even sort of like me. Of those, only 15 are in places I would actually want to live. And only eight of those are places where I would actually want to work. And about a hundred people -- at least -- are applying for each of those eight jobs." This seems to help clarify matters somewhat -- I think people just don't realize how few jobs there are at any given time.

*and I'm in a dual-academic couple, which makes this even worse -- "why doesn't your husband just get a job at your university?"

PS on the up side, given how well you write, I bet your applications are light-years better than most!

Janice said...

Am certain when the right position comes along, you'll be the one they pick and you will pick them. In the mean time, wishing you only the very best in the hunt.

Rachel C said...

Congrats and good luck on being in the job market! Hopefully the correct position will scoop you up at the right time and you'll be off and running for Team P City #3!

Just for curiousity sake, could you explain what your "dream" or "ideal" situation and position would be? I hope this isn't too personal and/or crosses the line between blog and personal too much, but not being in the academic world and knowing nothing about science, I would love to know what you hope to do.

Sarah said...

@Emily, that is an excellent way to put it! I also get the "Why don't you just work at X?" question, and I get a blank look when I reply, "They don't have a position this year," or "The posting isn't in my field." Honestly, I even have trouble talking with some of my professors here at my (major research) institution, because they don't realize that dual teaching-research careers aren't a dime a dozen. They assume those jobs are far easier to get and don't immediately appreciate how a position at Smith or Grinnell can be as competitive as one at Stanford or Harvard. And my sincere sympathy for job-hunting as a dual-career couple. I'm lucky that Mr. P is portable, but some of my friends have had the "two-body problem", and in each couple one scientist moved into industry because two academic positions just wasn't going to happen.

@Rachel, I can explain more! My dream job is to be an assistant professor at a primarily undergraduate, small liberal arts college. This means several things: first, the "professor" part means a tenure-track position (all new professors start as "assistant" and move up the ranks to "associate" and finally "full"). There are non-tenure-track positions, but those are typically contractual lectureships, and I want the long-term commitment to an institution that a professorship allows. Second, tenure-track professorships usually have some elements of both teaching and research. At some universities, it's nearly all teaching (like our alma mater); at others, it's nearly all research (like at my current job - my boss teaches maybe 1-2 lectures a year). I would like to be at a school where I teach a few classes each semester and run a small research laboratory, so kind of in between the two extremes above. Third, I want to be at an institution that confers at most master's degrees, preferably not PhDs. This goes hand-in-hand with how much research is expected of me. Usually, if a biology department confers terminal degrees, the professor runs a lab that requires quite a lot of money, which means writing a lot of grants and publishing in good journals. I would prefer to run a laboratory of undergraduates, which publishes infrequently because it "moves slowly" (more time spent training novices and higher turnover compared to PhD students and postdocs that stay 5+ years in one lab). It also requires less grant-writing to support that sort of lab, which is good because my time would be spent teaching instead. And finally, if I am being super picky (which I am), I would like to be at a nationally ranked, small- to medium-sized private school within driving distance of my family. This last one is the hardest of all, as many of the best schools are located in the northeast - so I just narrowed my list of ideal schools to down to a few dozen! Then add on the fact that they have to be actually advertising a position (they don't hire every year) AND in an area I can fill - say genetics or neuroscience, as opposed to physiology or immunology - and the "needle in a haystack" feeling becomes even more pronounced. Nonetheless... I am optimistic! Mr. P and I have had a lot of conversations about what "dream job" means - if it's the best school but very demanding and far from our families, is it truly a dream job, etc. That was long-winded but hopefully it gives you a good idea of what I'm up to!

Clay Spencer said...

Hey! Best of luck with the job search. I'm starting to prepare stuff and do a couple of apps. I'll get more serious about it in next year's search. I'm glad we won't be looking for the same type of job, so I don't have to compete against you!