Basic Overview: The US Academic System

October 2, 2018

nathan-dumlao-572049-unsplashMany trainees interested in pursuing an academic career path don’t have a clear idea about the hiring landscape in the United States.  This quick overview will discuss a few topics: the kinds of institutions, the types of jobs available, and last but not least definitions for funding.

What kinds of educational institutions are there in the US?

There is an official listing which is referred to as the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.  Here you can look up institutions by a variety of different classifications, including: undergraduate programs, graduate programs, enrollment profile, size and setting, as well as community engagement.  These listings have been updated every few years since 1970 and the most recent version is expected to be released later this year (2018).

The most basic classifications are based on the type of degree conferred; categories include: doctoral universities, master’s college and universities, baccalaureate colleges, baccalaureate/associate’s colleges, associate’s colleges, special focus institutions (including medical schools), and tribal colleges.

Each of these classifications is further subdivided. One example you might be familiar with is how doctoral universities are categorized:

R1: Highest Research Activity
R2: Higher Research Activity
R3: Limited Research Activity

What types of jobs are available within these institutions?

Generally, academic jobs progress in level from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Full Professor. All faculty positions include three main components: 1. Research 2. Teaching 3. Service. However, the amount of time the faculty member is expected to devote to each of these components varies widely by the type of institution.  At R1 doctoral or medical institutions, for example, the research component will be the primary function of the role and the teaching component could be as little as a handful of lectures a year.

Fewer and fewer professors are receiving tenure now. Historically, tenure has meant a lifetime placement at an institution and a job/salary until retirement.  The trends in the academic labor force show that tenure and tenure-track positions are decreasing while part-time faculty and full-time/non-tenure track positions have been increasing.

What about funding?

You have probably heard the terms hard money and soft money, but what do these mean? Hard money denotes an institutionally guaranteed salary. Often times the salaries are for teaching and cover the nine-month academic year (even though they can be paid out over a period of 12 months). Soft money, on the other hand, is money the academic finds on his/her own to supplement a partial salary provided by the institution and covers research costs. This money often comes from grants, which can be one-time funding sources or time-limited, meaning the academic will have to reapply for funding throughout their career.

While the academic career path has been changing dramatically, many scientists and trainees still pursue this option successfully. If you are interested in learning more, the OITE offers a number of in-depth workshops every year about academic jobs and many of these are available for you online. Please check out our videocast on “Academic Job Search – Applying and Interviewing” as well as “Understanding the US Academic System” which is the second presentation in the document.

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Academic Job Search: Telephone Interviews

October 23, 2017

This is the time of year to prepare for telephone interviews.  For many of you, this will be the first step in the academic interviewing process.  This is a cost-effective and time efficient method for many search committees and enables them to narrow down the list of applicants that are invited for campus interviews.  In the OITE academic interview video cast, Sharon Milgram, Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), for the NIH suggests that candidates prepare to practice the following suggestions for managing the process:

  • Use a land-line
  • Find a quiet place free of distractions
  • Prepare for a 30-45-minute telephone interview. Expect up to three interviewers on the line
  • Jot down the names of interviewers and refer to each by name when answering the questions
  • Loss of facial and body-language (non-verbal) cues make it difficult at first
  • Be sure to have questions prepared in advance as this conversation will likely end with them asking if you have questions

Here are some potential questions to help you prepare for telephone interviews

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Tell us about your research. How will you involve students in your research?
  • What courses could you teach here?
  • What research projects/topics could you pursue here?
  • How would you describe your interactions with students?
  • What questions do you have for us?

Of course, after this  step,  you will prepare for campus interviews, job talks, chalk talks and negotiating a job package. We encourage you to visit the OITE website to register for workshops and career counseling appointments that may assist you with your search.  Also view our video casts and blogs related to the academic and industry job search. We encourage our readers beyond NIH to utilize resources at their home academic institutions as well.


Academic Searches: Handling Dual Career Hires

January 15, 2013

Editor’s note: While we originally titled this the Two-body Problem, we changed it to Dual Career Hires to reflect that our partners are not “problems.”

It is interview season for academic faculty positions.  When visiting campus, one goal is determining if the institution is a good fit – both personally and professionally.  This might include considering the career needs of a spouse or partner.  In today’s tough economic times, some people fear that mentioning the career of a spouse or partner before an offer is made might remove them from the pool of competitive applicants. However, institutions want to know sooner rather than later if they need to consider accommodations or provide job assistance for a second person.  It is against federal law for an employer to ask any applicant about his or her marital or family status or to use such information in making a hiring decision. So no one can legally ask you whether your spouse will need a job too.  If you have been invited for a campus interview, though, chances are the topic will come up casually during meals or other social conversations.

Keep in mind that your potential new employer is not required to offer your spouse or partner a job, so asking for one is the wrong approach.  You can, however, state his or her career interests, and that both of you would appreciate learning more about local opportunities.  Universities are realizing that addressing the needs of dual-career couples is in their best interest.  In the corporate world, unfortunately, the career needs of a spouse or partner are usually not considered at all.  Many universities have formed higher education recruitment consortiums (or HERCs).  This allows applicants and institutions to use a formal network to help find both academic and non-academic openings in the local area.  Even if the institution does not have formal services available, it is still in the department’s best interest to help.  I once compiled a list of local marketing firms and passed it along to my department’s faculty search finalist, so her husband could look for job openings.

Sometimes the university can extend an offer to a spouse or partner.  Often this requires negotiations between the Deans of different divisions or centers in the institution, and those require time.   It may also require your spouse or partner to submit a research statement or do an interview, either by phone or on campus.  The sooner the institution knows of your needs, the sooner it can start to address them.

Academic interviewing can be stressful, but take a deep breath!  The OITE has a series of videos to help you prepare.  The series includes overview of the job interview, preparing a job talk, and evaluating positions and negotiating job offers.


Preparing to Negotiate Non-Academic Job Offers

October 22, 2012

In our last blog post we talked about negotiating for an academic job search.  This week, we will highlight tips for negotiating any non-faculty position.  Like last week, this blog post is intended to give you an overview of how to prepare for negotiations.  For more in-depth information on negotiating for non-academic job offers, view our video here.

Salary: Salary is probably the first thing on everyone’s mind when they think about negotiations.  The biggest question you have is “are they paying me fairly?”  For the most part, organizations are not trying to low-ball you.  It doesn’t make sense to pay you so far under market value, that you leave the organization faster.  That being said, they are looking to get you for the lowest amount of money they can. To make sure you feel like you are getting what you are worth you should connect with your network in similar jobs and organizations to see what salary you should be getting.  Ask these people, “I am looking at a job at organization X.  The position is described like this (insert a brief description here).  I think the salary should be $A-$B.  Do you think that is reasonable?”

Another resource for salary information is salary comparison sites:  Glassdoor.com, monster.com, and salarywizard.com are all good sites.  Be cautious though, sometimes the information is not as updated as you would like.  These sites are good places to start, but you need more information.  Understanding the cost of living changes in different areas of the country is also important.  $80K in the DC area is a lot different than $80 in Topeka.

You should always try to ask for additional salary, but be prepared to give them reasons on why you deserve more.  You may bring a particular skill set, be losing money by taking this position, or just have an understanding based on your salary research that the number they offered is too low.  They may say no to your request, but they can’t say yes if you don’t ask.

Benefits: Sometimes you can negotiate other benefits like time off.  The biggest thing here is to understand what you are worth or what you would be losing that you current employer gives you.  For example, if in your last job you had 15 days off (including some federal holidays), but the new jobs offers you 12 days.  This is now a negotiable item, either to add more days or to add more salary for the days you missed.  Also, if you have religious holidays that you need, this is the time to ask.  Industry jobs have other benefits that are negotiable such as bonuses, profit sharing and stock options. You may be able to get education payments if you need additional training.  Relocation costs are sometimes included, and if they are not you can try to negotiate them.  Moving cost span from a flat payment to full help with finding a house/childcare/packing services.

Typical non-negotiable benefits include health care benefits, other insurance benefits, flexible benefits and retirement packages.

Spousal/Partner hires: Your negotiation can also include help for a position for your other half.  We have seen this work, and not work depending on the organization.  Have a clear idea of what your partner wants to do, the types of jobs that they would like, a list of organizations that their skill sets fit into, and a current CV/resume in order to help your new employer to make the best connections.

Salary review: A good thing to do is to work out a plan that your salary will be looked at in 6 months to a year in order to see if your performance warrants a salary increase.  We know someone who did this and after six months got a $20, 000 raise.

The original job offer will likely be by phone or email, as will most of your negotiations.  Get the final deal in writing!  Nothing is final until it is written down and signed by all parties.


Preparing to Negotiate an Academic Job Offer

October 9, 2012

If you have been following our Calendar for Career Success, October is the month to prepare yourself to negotiate a job offer.  Because the preparation for negotiating an academic position versus a non-academic position is so divergent, we are going to cover them in separate blog posts.  This week, we will give a brief overview of how to prepare for negotiating academic job offerings.  For more in-depth information, watch the videocast or view the slides from the latest OITE workshop on negotiating an academic job offer.

As you prepare to interview for academic jobs, it is important that you are preparing to negotiate an offer for those positions as well.  Often times the initial negotiation occurs verbally during or shortly after your interview(s).  You may be asked to provide information regarding your needs before the institution is willing to make you an offer.  Thus, it is important that you do your homework and be prepared to know what is reasonable.

Research what a typical offer looks like.   On-line databases can be a good place to start, but you need “real-world” data as well.  Many state universities publish salaries of current faculty.  Also, the Association of American Medical Colleges salary surveys are great resources for knowing your worth.   For those at the NIH, the OITE has the AAMC book that we welcome you to come in and use.  If you are outside the NIH, check to see if your institution has an online subscription to the AAMC web site.  Then you will need to determine your three salary numbers:  Ideal, acceptable and unacceptable.

Understand all the components of an offers. Is your salary is for a 9-month of 12-month appointment? Most 9-month salaries are paid over 12 months, but the duties associated with that salary (e.g. teaching), might only be for 9 months of the year.  You will want to ask if there are realistic ways to find support for the summer months to supplement that salary?  Is it a base salary with the possibility of bonuses?  Will the salary be fully supported by the university?  If not, how much will you be expected to provide from grants and when?  What about insurance (health, life, disability, etc.), retirement plans, sick days, vacations, holidays?  Almost all Universities have a standard benefits package, but you will want to know the details of that package to know if you will need supplement it on your own if it does not meet your needs. Read the rest of this entry »


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Profile 7 – International Academic Research, Israel

December 12, 2011

This is the seventh in a series of profiles about recent NIH postdocs who have found an array of jobs, from academia to industry to communications and beyond, in the U.S. and abroad. What do they do now, and how did they get there? What challenges did they face, and what advice do they have? Read on to find out.

Name: Mona Dvir-Ginzberg

Current position: Lecturer, Institute of Dental Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Location: Israel

Time in current position: 2 years

Postdoc: Histone-modifying enzymes involved in the pathology of osteoarthritis with David Hall at NIAMS

A change in path: I was very lucky during my postdoc to have made some novel observations. But I was held back by thinking it was way too early to look for jobs and that my publication record was insufficient. After my first publication, I felt more confident to start pursuing a position. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about academia at all. I wanted applicability and financial security, and industry seemed very appealing, so I began interviewing in the States and in Israel with several biotech companies.

It turned out some of the requirements did not suit my expectations. I was drawn to R&D, but some of the projects in the industry already had a product which only needed to be optimized. One company had outsourced all R&D. Others had a lot of documents and regulatory affairs, which appeared to me as being extremely technical and not very creative work.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tomorrow’s Professor: Preparing for the Academic Job Market

October 7, 2010

auditoriumDuring the AAAS talk last week on the academic job market, I was encouraged by the opinions shared by current faculty. I imagined that the academic job market was as bleak–if not more so–than the non-academic market. On the contrary…to paraphrase the speakers, “the best people are still finding jobs.” Still, you must put your best foot forward to be a standout candidate on the academic market.

If you find the entire process of applying for academic jobs overwhelming, or are not sure where to start, check out the OITE workshop held last month for an overview of the academic job market and tips on preparing your application package. You might also want to view the OITE videocast on this same topic from the fall of 2009. Additionally, appointments with OITE’s trained career counselors are available to plan your next steps.

Think about the documents you need to submit. Are you satisfied with them? How many people have you shared them with? Consider having your PI review your CV, letter, or entire packet, and remember that staff within OITE can review them as well.

For tips on writing/editing your CV and letter, check out these OITE resources:

Also, check out this blog post for the review of a real CV from a trainee interested in teaching-intensive faculty positions.

If you would like to see more CV and letter samples and read more about the academic job market, take a look at the 4th edition of the Academic Job Search Handbook Exit Disclaimer, the standard bearer on this topic. This book is also available via OITE’s circulating library. Visit the 2nd floor of Building 2 to check it out.

When should you be lining up letters of recommendation? When are positions typically posted? When should you put together and practice your job talk? For a comprehensive timeline of the academic job search, check out this OITE resource.

To prepare for a potential interview, don’t miss OITE’s upcoming workshop, Academic Job Interviews, taking place on December 6, 2010, from 3-5pm in the Natcher Conference Center, E1/E2. This workshop is the second in the CAT tracks series on academic jobs.

The third session in the series, Academic Job Seach: Recent Success Stories, is a panel discussion featuring former NIH fellows who will share their experiences with the academic job search and answer questions on applications, interviews, negotiating, and getting started with the teaching, research, and/or patient care responsibilities. This program will take place on February 1, 2011.

If you would like to learn more about interviews before the December workshop, check out last year’s OITE presentation and accompanying videocast on the same topic, or read through the OITE handout on academic interviewing.

Once you reach the negotiating stage, you will need to be prepared with all the information necessary to secure a fair package. For more guidance in this preparation, attend the 4th OITE workshop in the CAT tracks series, Evaluating Positions and Negotiating Offers, taking place on March 2, 2011. Last year’s slides and videocast are available through OITE for viewing, as is a sample offer letter, which may prove very helpful if you are unsure of what to look for.

Once you have accepted a position, you might consider the following to assist you with the transition to full-time faculty work:

  • Transitioning Successfully from Postdoc to Faculty, OITE workshop (3-16-2010)
  • Tomorrow’s  Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering, Rick Reis. Available via OITE’s circulating library.
  • Tomorrow’s Professor listserv Exit Disclaimer (helpful resource for all faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and administrators)
  • At the Helm: A Laboratory Navigator, Kathy Barker. Available via OITE’s circulating library.

Best of luck exploring and preparing to enter this challenging and rewarding career!


The Biggest Mistake on PhD’s LinkedIn Profiles

April 22, 2019

14Many PhD students and postdocs wonder if they really need a LinkedIn profile. Very often they are told by their advisors that using LinkedIn is a waste of their time. Perhaps it might not be the best go to website for academic job searches; however, if you are exploring any non-academic options, then you need to start using LinkedIn.

To ignore this huge platform would be a mistake and especially disadvantageous for an industry job search. Recruiters are actively sourcing job candidates via LinkedIn. With 590 million users worldwide, one of the keys to standing out is maintaining an active presence on the site. Another key to effectively marketing yourself on this site is to use keywords effectively.

With that in mind, the biggest mistake PhDs make on their LinkedIn profile is often one of the first things a viewer will see – your job title. If you are seeking non-academic positions, you should remove “PhD Candidate”, “Graduate Student”, or “Postdoctoral Fellow” from your LinkedIn headline.

When recruiters search, your headline and professional summary are the first things to appear and recruiters aren’t usually headhunting for a lab’s new postdoc. In fact, if you keep your actual title as your headline, you probably won’t even appear in the recruiter’s search because LinkedIn uses algorithms to help sort profiles based on relevant keywords and skill sets.

Instead of having your actual title listed, consider the jargon of the industry you are targeting. Don’t feel beholden to past academic titles. Add in keywords for the industry positions you are targeting. This could mean a running list of key skills and areas of interest. This will quickly signal to recruiters the types of positions you would be interested in and can help ensure that you will start showing up in their searches.

Examples include:

Research Scientist – Project Manager – Science Communications and Outreach – Event Planning

Or

Microbiologist – Health Policy – Global Health

In conclusion, LinkedIn weighs your headline and professional summary very heavily, so when creating your profile, be sure to pay extra attention to those sections.


Career Exploration Road Map

April 15, 2019

career exploration road map 300dpi

The career exploration road map is a tool that was developed by Bill Lindstaedt and Jennie Dorman to help students/trainees visualize the career exploration process and track their progress. This tool was initially developed for graduate students and postdocs at the University of California, San Francisco, but is now available for all to use.

The road map is intended to be career neutral as it is often understood that many trainees are considering both academic and non-academic career fields at the same time. The map guides you through six different stages of career exploration with a color to match each stage.

1. Self-Assessment (green)
2. Investigation (yellow)
3. Reflection (orange)
4. Synthesis (red)
5. Job Search (purple)
6. Reassessment (blue)

It is a board game style which walks you through key questions you should be asking yourself at every stage of the process. For example, in the first self-assessment stage, questions include: What am I interested in? What am I good at? What is important to me/What do I care about? What careers do I have a hunch I might like? What careers fit my interests, skills, and values?

The creators designed this specifically to help break down the process into more manageable steps. We all know that thinking about career exploration is important – vital even – to future success, but it can feel so overwhelming and time-consuming. Career exploration and decision-making is rarely a linear process hence the map’s circular outline. You may find yourself going through each stage multiple times for varied different options. While that can feel frustrating, it is also a part of the process that helps you eliminate bad choices and zero in on good fit options.

If you are feeling stuck and unsure about where to go with your career, give the questions in the career roadmap a try; and remember, if you are at the NIH, you have access to a variety of career resources and services, including many workshops/events as well as one-on-one career counseling. If the career roadmap is of interest, you might find the OITE workshop on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success particularly helpful as well.


Are Millennials the Burnout Generation?

April 1, 2019

12In her viral BuzzFeed essay, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” Anne Helen Petersen thoroughly details how economic and social demands/constraints have led millennials to feel burnt out. Unlike previous generations, millennials accrued more education, more debt, and were more willing to put career progression ahead of anything else.

Millennials are seen as the generation to have killed various objects and industries. One example is the diamond industry. Many millennials are not getting married and, if they do, it is later in life and partners rarely have the financial stability to spend on a diamond engagement ring. But, many millennials feel the promises made to them growing up have been killed off, too.

Petersen notes millennial “parents – a mix of young boomers and old Gen-Xers – reared us during an age of economic and political stability. As with previous generations, there was an expectation that the next one would be better off – both in terms of health and finances. But as millennials enter into mid-adulthood, that prognosis has been proven false.” This doesn’t seem to be afflicting a generational few, but rather is seen as the condition for the whole. This feeling of instability and of always needing to catch up is the basis of the generational burn out millennials are experiencing.

Petersen argues that burnout is “not limited to workers in acutely high-stress environments. And it’s not a temporary affliction: it’s the millennial condition.” It can be seen by the high numbers of people patching together jobs in a gig economy operating on their own schedule but without health care or paid time off. It can be seen as “academics teaching four adjunct classes and surviving on food stamps while trying to publish research in one last attempt at snagging a tenure-track job.”

Older millennials had their early careers rocked by the dot com bust. It was even worse for millennials entering the job market during the 2008 recession. But, it seems many millennials still have this underlying feeling of constant anxiety that they should be doing more to optimize their time and their work in order to try and get ahead. Even self-care techniques like getting an oxygen facial or keeping a bullet journal are implemented to help you become a better person but do little to help ease your burnout.

Petersen addressed this point on Twitter when she tweeted:

THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE WILL NOT CURE YOUR BURNOUT

THE HEADSPACE APP WILL NOT CURE YOUR BURNOUT

DRUNK ELEPHANT WILL NOT CURE YOUR BURNOUT

Petersen’s essay doesn’t actually offer any solutions to help you cure your burnout. Rather she asks the reader in earnest:

“So what now? Should I meditate more, negotiate for more time off, delegate tasks within my relationship, perform acts of self-care, and institute timers on my social media? How, in other words, can I optimize myself to get those mundane tasks done and theoretically cure my burnout?”

Many other generational groups have argued that millennials aren’t the only ones that experience burnt out. Jonathan Melsic, a Gen Xer, wrote an article “Millennials Don’t Have a Monopoly on Burnout” where he contends that Petersen understates the scope of the burnout problem stating that about a quarter of all U.S. workers exhibit symptoms of burnout – it seems to be a societal problem, not a generational one.

If you are feeling burnt out, or if you want to understand the psychological landscape for millennials a bit better, Petersen’s BuzzFeed essay is a must read.