Getting a Faculty Job

August 26, 2013

‘Tis the season for academic faculty job searches.  From summer until late fall, the bulk of faculty jobs are accepting applications to fill positions that begin in the fall of the following year.  If you are considering this route, here are some things you need to think about:

  1. What kind of school do you want to be at?
    Do you want to be at a large research university (like Columbia University in NYC), a state school that terminates in a master’s program (like Eastern Michigan University), or a liberal arts environment (like Swarthmore College).  Each of these types of institutions has different expectations regarding the amount of teaching and research expected from faculty.  Different institutions/schools have different expectations for grant funding, teaching, and service. Be sure to consider the type of position you are looking for so you can prepare the strongest possible package.Another question to consider: does the location and setting (urban/suburban) matter to you? To research schools, look at the Carnegie Classifications.
  2. Find positions that interest you.
    Many schools post their openings on-line at sites including:  Science Careers, New Scientist Jobs, Academic 360, Nature, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Cell Careers, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, The Chronicle of Higher Education.  You should also look at your favorite schools’ websites.  Network with faculty at meetings or conferences to get the insider’s information on openings.
  3. Start to prepare your job application package.
    a.   CV – a record of your academic career.  Your CV will be tailored differently if it is a research-intensive position or if it is a teaching-intensive position.b.   Cover Letter – This is a document that is very tailored to the job for which you are applying.  This document allows you to explain why you are interested in this particular college, and how you see your research goals fitting into their overall department.

    c.   Research Plan – The goal here is to get your future colleagues to be excited about you and your science.  This document typically includes some discussion of prior research accomplishments, but you should specifically highlight the work most relevant to your proposed work.  You need to lay out a do-able research plan for the next 5+ years with a focus on explaining how the work you are currently proposing fits into your broader long-term goals. Depending on the position, you may want to explain how you will tailor your research for students at the institution; this is especially important if the expectation is that you will engage large numbers of undergrads in your research.

    d.   Teaching Plan – If you will have a teaching component of your job, this part of your application tells them about your personal beliefs on teaching and gives a description of how you teach. It should have specific examples and reflect that you understand the student population at that specific institution.

    e.   Letters of recommendation – You should start to line your letters up early.  They need to be very strong.

In this tight academic job market, one major key to success is preparation. You need to be sure you have your papers published, that you have obtained the appropriate amount of teaching experience, and that you have researched the institution to be sure it is the right fit. Starting early and getting a lot of input is key. If you are an NIH trainee (or local to the DC area) join us for the first of our series on securing a faculty job on Aug 28: Academic Job Search.  If you cannot make this event, watch our videos online: Academic Job Search Overview.


Two-Part Series on Government Jobs — PART ONE: HOW TO FIND & READ JOB ADS

August 22, 2013

Federal jobs, positions where you are an employee of the government, are all listed at USAjobs.gov.  This website is a one-stop shop for all positions across the entire US government.  There are other opportunities to work with the government, one of the largest being a contractor, which we will talk about more in Part Two.

USAjobs has a reputation of being hard to search, but it is not that bad.  Take some time to familiarize yourself with the site and find some keywords and job titles that work for you.

Some Job Search Tips:

  • UNDERSTAND THE SYSTEM
    Occupations are classified in the government system based on what you do, for example biomedical scientists will typically be in the 400 (biology), or the 600 (medical, hospital, dental, and public health) series.  A recent search for the 400 series brought up 255 openings across the US.  The list can also be sorted based on college major
  • USE SEARCH CRITERIA TO FILTER RESULTS
    You can refine your search by pay grade, or the salary level that you expect to be paid.  We are seeing bachelor level scientists starting at a pay level of GS-07, master’s level at a pay grade of GS-09, and PhDs at a pay level of GS-12.  This is not to say any of these are guaranteed and you may want a job that is above or below these pay scales.
  • UTILIZE JOB SEARCH AGENTS
    After you log in to your USAjobs account, you will want to set up a few saved job search agents.  From the home page, click on the “Advanced Search” tab which allows you to search by: keyword, occupation series, geographic location, salary range, specific agencies, and much more. When asked to create a name for this saved search, you can enter whatever phrase will help jog your memory, such as: “Science Policy in DC” or “San Diego Scientist.” You will have the option to select to receive email notifications (daily, weekly, or monthly) when new positions are posted that match your saved search criteria. It is highly recommended that you utilize this option. Usually the weekly option is best since you will still see what is being posted but your inbox won’t be inundated by emails. You can create and save up to ten different search agents, so try to make each one as different as possible which will enable you to receive that widest variety of matches.

To help clarify these tips, let’s take apart a recent job at the FDA posted on USAjobs.gov.

Reading a Job Ad:

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Lots more information can be found at OPM’s website.  Be sure to continue checking the blog for part two in this series — Government Jobs: Part 2// Which Federal Agencies & Contractors Hire Scientists?

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Disclaimer: The information expressed in this post is solely the views and opinions of the OITE authors and do not necessarily reflect the official hiring policies of any agency of the U.S. government.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Communications Manager

August 12, 2013

Name: Benjamin Porter, PhD

Job Title & Company: Communications Manager, Office of Communications; The University of Texas at Dallas

Location: Dallas, Texas

How long you’ve been in your current job: 3 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC and subject: Alan Koretsky, NINDS, Behavioral fMRI

What do you do as a Communications Manager?
Basically, my job is public relations — I handle both internal and external public relations matters for the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. When researchers do interesting work or if they just received a grant or published a paper, I will write up a story for the University website. If we think it could be a bigger news story, then we try pitching it to a newspaper or TV station. Similarly, if there is a current events topic going on at a time when it makes sense for an expert to comment, then we will also pitch our faculty as experts. A recent example is the explosion at the chemical plant in West, Texas. We were able to pitch a chemist who could explain the basic science behind that event.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
A lot of it is listening and being able to interpret what is being said. One of the reasons I was hired is because I have a PhD, and I am able to understand the science behind what the faculty are doing. I can then take that and translate it into layman’s terms. I can also understand the faculty’s concerns in talking to the media and the fear that they might be misrepresented.  On the other side, I understand what the media needs and what they need the faculty to say, and I can interact between the two parties well.

I write press releases and internal newsletters, so being able to write and edit goes a long way.  I am currently learning AP style and how to write for the news, but these are things you can pick up as long as you have the basic skill. Writing for the NIH Catalyst or the Record are great ways to practice writing for the public.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
For me, I like to be absolutely certain about what I’m doing and know that I am doing it well, so not necessarily knowing every aspect of the job and having to keep asking people if this is correct has been an adjustment. But I think that comes with transitioning careers.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love getting to hear about everybody’s research and getting to meet with the faculty. There are about 80 faculty members that I work with and getting to meet all of them and hearing what they are doing is great. Then I get to brag about them, which is also fun.

What was your job search like?
My job search was weird. I started off looking for a job in DC because I was planning on going into science policy. I spent the last year of my postdoc getting prepared to find a job in science policy – making all of the connections and laying the groundwork. Then, the sequestration came around and my wife’s job at the Department of Defense became less stable. It was no longer feasible to live in DC and provide the life for our kids that we wanted, so we decided to move to Dallas because of our family connections here. I shifted my career path somewhat, but the part of science policy that I really liked the most was promoting science, which I still get to do.

My job search was remote at the time, so I used my network as much as possible. I also did a lot of cold calls and cold emails to find job leads in the area.   It turned out that a friend worked at UT Dallas and promoted the school as a great place to work. Then I just applied to an online job posting and worked my way in from there.

What was the response to your cold calls and emails?
A lot of the time, I would be told that the company wasn’t hiring, but they almost always gave me somebody else to call or another direction to go. One contact always led to two or three others.  I did probably 15 cold calls and only three or four didn’t get back to me. Just be sure to be upfront that you are looking for job leads in a cold call and not necessarily inquiring for a specific position. Limiting yourself to an inquiry into if the company is hiring will result in a simple yes or no answer. Leave it more open-ended than that.

How did you find people to call?
I did a lot of informational interviews when I was in DC. I did something like 50 informational interviews. From those interviews, I was able to ask people for connections. Also, my mentor at NIH encouraged me to get involved in extracurricular activities. I joined AAAS (The American Association for the Advancement of Science) and I started the Washington, DC, Metro Area Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, which is still running strong. These involvements helped me to meet people and develop soft skills; plus, I was very lucky to have my mentor — my success seemed like his priority. Dr. Koretsky was one of my biggest assets.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
The ability to get along well with people, especially with multiple bosses and multiple demands. You have to be able to work with others and compromise with them. I did a wonderful detail with the Office of Extramural Research, which allowed me to report to both my mentor and my detail manager. Balancing the needs of two very different jobs was a great preparation.

Open and straightforward communication is hugely important in my position, as is being able to jump right in. If you are switching careers, you don’t necessarily have to be comfortable, but try to be comfortable with your discomfort.

In hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently with your job search?
I might have started earlier and looked a little more aggressively. And by that I mean meeting people. The connections that I made in DC were fairly limited to NIH. Towards the end, I was starting to branch out to some of the nonprofits in the DC area, and I wish I had started doing that earlier. I would recommend establishing your network fairly early and making it a broad net.

Any last bits of advice?
Don’t do it alone! NIH is a fantastic resource. OITE is a fantastic resource.  The people there are really great about helping out. Get to know the folks there well and early.  Plus, with all of the informational interviews that I did at NIH, I can say that almost everybody is willing to help you.

From the over 50 informational interviews, I only had about five that never got back to me.  Of those 50, I probably only cold called five to ten people.  All of the other connections were sparked from those first few calls, so always be sure to ask the person for another connection recommendation. The informational interviews also helped make me more comfortable when the time came for an actual job interview.  NIH is a great place for career development, so use it as much as you can.


Letters of Recommendation – Our Recommendations for Getting Them

August 7, 2013

References are an extremely important part of any application.  However, many people struggle with knowing what is the best way, and whom do you ask, for great letters of recommendation.

Generally speaking, you should aim to get at least three letters of recommendation. Although the common thread throughout these should be you, each letter should be unique, helping elucidate a different aspect of your candidacy—whether that is your education, technical and research skills, leadership abilities or beyond.

Whom to ask?
Ask someone who knows you very well! Although this might sound obvious, many individuals are lured by the appeal of having a well-known scientist write a recommendation.  It is much better to ask someone who is exceptionally familiar with your work, and who can clearly speak to your strengths.

Your recommenders will vary depending on your specific career plans and focus, but may include:

  • Dissertation/academic advisers
  • Supervisors if you are a postdoc
  • Someone who can speak to your teaching abilities and/or your experience in industry or non-bench activities
  • If you are looking for a letter for medical school or graduate school:
    — Summer research experience mentor
    — Faculty member who taught a hard science course

When to ask?
Ask early! A surefire way to receive a lukewarm, or worse—a negative, letter of recommendation is to not give enough advanced notice to your recommender. Four to six weeks of advance notice is standard; however, as an added courtesy, you could ask earlier and see what would be a feasible timeline for your recommender. It is always better to ask in advance and then as the deadline approaches, you can send friendly reminders of the impending due date. Periodic reminders will not be resented and will reflect favorably on your organizational skills.

You can also ask for letters of recommendation as you are wrapping up an experience.  If you are graduating, finishing an internship or completing your postdoc, it is a good idea to ask for a recommendation now. Even if these letters aren’t immediately used, it can be helpful to ask while your work is still fresh in their minds. If needed and/or appropriate, you can always ask for updates at a later time.

How to ask?
Ask personally! It is to your advantage to ask face-to-face. By having an in-person meeting, you can explain your career plans and have a thoughtful conversation about what could give you a competitive edge during the application process. This is also your opportunity to candidly ask if they are willing to write a positive letter for you and to ensure that they don’t have any reservations about your candidacy. In the moment, this can be a difficult conversation to have; however, in the long run, this is a necessary starting point to ensure your work is getting the best endorsement possible.