NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Assistant Professor

**TWO-PART SERIES — Part 2: Job Search**

Name: Veronica Irvin

Job Title & Organization:  Assistant Professor; Oregon State University, College of Public Health

Location: Corvallis, Oregon

What was your job search like?
I really did want to get back to academia but I was also realistic that I might not be able to. I definitely had other career options in mind because I knew how difficult it was to find a tenure-track faculty position. Not only that, my position is actually hard money, which is even harder to find.

So, I tried to keep my options open in terms of career field, but I was also willing to move anywhere in the country. If you are fixed on a certain geographic area, that can be limiting. While I was at the NIH, I really focused on publications. I didn’t have any grants going to the university. Coming from the NIH, there was only one mechanism that I could apply through which was the K’s and the university was very forgiving of that because they also realized that by being at the NIH, I was aware of the grant process. So, during my postdoc, I focused on publications and that did matter quite a bit. I know that is what everyone says but it really is that way. It is just easier for them to see what you have done and to count. I also think that networking is important, but networking only takes you so far. My postdoc advisor could help me look at job postings and let me know if he knew anybody in that department or university and what that might actually mean when you look at the job descriptions. He helped me decipher the nuances between them and would help point me to his contacts at universities and on search committees.

Can you tell us about your timeline? How early did you begin your job search?
I attended almost every single training that I could from OITE. I cannot say how helpful they were. Specifically, I went to one that Sharon Milgram facilitated on Applying for Tenure Track Positions. She had mentioned that you should apply one year before you are ready, and I think that is some of the best advice I have ever been given. You have to apply to tenure track positions in the fall, almost one year prior to starting. So, I applied one year before I was ready and it was a great experience because you have to write your research statement and teaching philosophy. It was a great activity to sit down and realize where my holes were and how I wanted to try and focus my next year’s work in my postdoc. It took a lot of time to put together an application for a tenure track position, so I was glad that I started a year out. My postdoc advisor told me that you should consider this: every position that you apply for is one less paper you will get because of the amount of time you have to spend tailoring your application for that university and the job description. I think that helped me a lot because I went online and read a lot about OSU and I knew people who worked there, so I asked them a lot about it. So, applying one year before you are ready is really useful because you get to see what goes into preparing a tenure track application and then it still gives you a year to fill in the holes that you see in your application for the next year. And what happened for me is I actually ended up getting the job during my first year of applying. When I wrote the application, I never thought I was actually going to get this job but I was still so happy I did it because it really did help me focus.

You mentioned publications mattered a lot in your academic job search. Does that mean the quantity, quality or both?
I know this is hard to hear but for a research position or for a research-intensive university, it is still so true. Everyone says both, but it is hard to do it all. First of all, it is really hard to get into really good journals. For example, I don’t have any papers in Science or Nature or JAMA and you don’t necessarily have to have that. I think that one paper in JAMA or Science will help you tremendously. So, I had multiple papers in the next level journal and I still think that they were very good journals but they weren’t the top seven. For me, it was having multiple papers in journals that matched the research disciplines I was focusing on.

What was the interview like?
So, everything happened very quickly for me. This university posted early, the due date was October 15th. I was called within a week for references and then a week later for a phone interview. I did a phone interview with four to five individuals probably a month after I applied and then I heard back two weeks later for an in-person interview.

I flew out in January for the two-day interview process. Essentially, it was from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm each day. I met with someone for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between meals, every moment was scheduled with meeting and interviews. I started off with the search committee and then the directors of the school. Then I did a presentation about my research which was an hour total. Next, I had an interview with the dean and I also met with a bunch of different faculty from within my school. The deans and directors asked a lot of questions about productivity and what courses I could teach and ideas for the future. The other faculty I met with were really trying to assess if I was going to be a good colleague. These interviews were a lot more low key and more about trying to see if you have common research interests. My feeling about those interviews was that they were trying to see if I was going to be a good fit and if I was going to be able to contribute to meetings and communicate with them. Some concerns could arise if there was nobody that you could collaborate with on your research. If that was the case, then that could be a hiring downside.

Is there anything you wish you had known going into this interview?
No, because I had asked a lot of people about their experiences interviewing and I also practiced interviewing at the OITE. I also went over my research presentation with people who had interviewed and/or worked in academia, so I wasn’t really surprised by anything in the interview process. But one question that others had warned me about getting and which I actually got in my interview was, “How do you bring diversity into the classroom? How do you bring diversity to your research?” Diversity was undefined and vague.

In hindsight, would you have changed anything about your search? Any last bits of advice?
My job search worked really well and I was fortunate to get a job during my first year of applying, but even if that hadn’t happened, I am so happy I started a year out. I can’t say how helpful that was in focusing me during my last year of my postdoc. I took the advice of applying a year before I was really ready, so everything felt like practice to me. Actually, during my interview, I felt really calm because I didn’t think I was going to get the job and I thought it was just good practice. My postdoc advisor gave me great advice before I flew out for the interview, he said, “Just have fun.” At this stage, they aren’t flying you if they really don’t like you and they aren’t trying to embarrass you. It helped take the stress off because I met so many people during my interview and there was no way I could know everybody’s research background.

In terms of advice: I would try to talk to faculty at the university within the same college or school who have the same dean because they will have a sense about how decisions are made regarding teaching load and money goes within the college/school. Talk to people (of course they can’t be on the search committee) to see what advice they would give. Once you have a phone interview, you will know who is on the search committee. I would look for other people and call or email them, or even better ask colleagues for referrals. That way you can know what kind of support they got their first year and it will make it clearer for you.

***

Last week, we posted Part 1 – Job Overview.

 

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