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.


Dont Leave Us Hanging!

July 16, 2013

As you get ready to end your summer internship or your summer rotations as a grad student, don’t forget to keep in touch.

We often hear from our younger trainees that you enjoyed your summer experience.  You like the research and felt you got along great with your mentor(s). Yet, when many of you write to join the lab again the following summer or to get a letter of recommendation your feel like you never hear from the advisor or you get a lukewarm response.  “Why?” you ask,  “I did good work.”   Of course you did, you just forgot to demonstrate how much the work meant to you and how much you want to stay a part of that work.

We know that it can be hard to keep up with your labs when you leave (without feeling like a stalker).  So, here is a suggestion to get started.  Send your PI a brief thank you note within a month of leaving.   This does not need to be a long email, just a few short lines thanking them for letting you be in their research group, something valuable that you learned, and that you hope you can keep in touch.  Write a separate (and different) letter to your day to day mentor or supervisor in the lab, probably your postdoc or graduate student.

You can always follow up anytime with a quick hello, and to let people know that you still are thinking about your experience.  Once a semester is even enough.  Ask about the project you worked on and if there has been any progress.

If your research has helped your coursework or your coursework has finally made something you learned during the summer more clear, let people know.  (i.e. this week we studying signal transduction which made me think about…)

Follow pub-med-watch to see if that paper that the lab was toiling over all summer was finally published.  Then send a note to congratulate the authors.

Connect online, LinkedIn is a terrific way to make a connection.  You should ask your advisor and other labmates if they would like to be connected before you send them an invitation.  Also, remember LinkedIn is static, and not everyone in the scientific community yet uses it to its full ability.  It will not replace an active networking outreach as described above.

When it comes time to return to the research group or to ask for a letter of recommendation, remind them who you are and what you did in their group.

Good luck to you as you wrap up your summer research experience, we are glad you came!

Finding Time for Career-Enhancing Activities

May 6, 2013

Research is your top priority as a graduate student or postdoc. That, coupled with your passion for science, may drive you to devote every waking moment to your research.  You love discovery.  You need to publish.  However, regardless of your career aspirations, your regular routine may benefit from a slight change of pace.  Maybe there is a certain career you’ve always wanted to explore or skill set you’ve wanted to develop.  Participating in activities outside of lab can help you learn a lot about yourself, forge meaningful networks, and potentially guide your future career path.

Earlier, we discussed serving on the career symposium committee and how to make the most out of such opportunities.  Other activities may range from writing an article for a newsletter, organizing a monthly seminar series or social event, teaching a course or leading a journal club, taking the initiative to start a new interest group, or serving as a co-chair of a postdoc or graduate student association (such as FelCom or the Graduate Student Council). There is a variety of opportunities with a range of time commitments to explore.

Choose the right moment, but make the time: Develop a comfortable balance between your research and activities, and never overextend yourself.  For both graduate students and postdocs, the “middle-years” of your fellowships are generally good times to participate.  Don’t get heavily involved when just starting your fellowship or when your lab is in the midst of preparing for a sensitive event like a grant deadline or a BSC review.  For grad students, avoid periods of time when you have a high level of academic responsibilities.  Perhaps it feels like there is no perfect time or personal/family commitments make it difficult to participate in events that extend into the evening.  Though, let’s say you devote 5% of the “standard” 40 hour work to such career-enhancing activities.  That’s 2 hours a week!  Look at your schedule from that perspective and determine how you can find the time.

Do the job right or don’t do it at all: Don’t participate in an activity if you are just looking to add a line to your CV, and don’t agree to take a role if you are not truly enthusiastic about it.  That line on your CV alone won’t do or say anything if you can’t support it by explaining the transferrable skills that you may have acquired.  Make sure you clearly understand what is expected for each one before you volunteer.   If you don’t fulfill your responsibilities, it could irreparably damage your reputation with colleagues and staff.  Give plenty of warning if you have to respectfully miss a meeting or withdraw from an activity.  Again, research is your top priority and everyone understands if extenuating circumstances arise.

Taking the next step: Talk to your mentor about your participation in any activities during normal working hours.  If your mentor isn’t too enthusiastic about your participating in a certain activity, start with an event that doesn’t take up much time.  Explain to your mentor how these activities can be important for your future career path and show, specifically, how small the time commitment really is for many cases.  Show through experience that these activities are not interfering with your ability to get new data or proceed with your research.

The NIH (or your university) is a great place to explore your skills and interests both in and out of the lab.  If you choose the right activity, plan ahead and manage your time efficiently, you can significantly enrich your experience here.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Field Application Scientist

April 16, 2013

Name: Jill Hesse, PhD

Job title and company: Field Application Scientist, GenoLogics

Location: Raleigh, NC

How long you’ve been in your current job: 9 months

Postdoc advisor, IC, and subject: Richard Paules, NIEHS, micro-RNA’s role in damage response

What do you do as a Field Application Scientist? We joke that I drink coffee and run my mouth professionally, but basically my job is divided into two parts: on the pre-sale side, I visit customers and give them demonstrations with high-level information on how my company can help them and their science. On the post-sale side, I help coordinate the implementation of their software and provide computer training to get the customer into the software to get the information they need.

What was the hardest thing about transitioning into your career from bench? I think the interesting thing about moving from bench science is there’s a fear that you’ve never done anything other than bench science, and we know that we are really good at bench science, but what if I am not good at anything else? The second thing is that it’s just a different mindset. Science is very much a you’ll-get-there-when-you-get-there pace. When you go to industry positions, there’s much more of an immediate timeline and things move at a faster pace than the research environment.

What is your favorite aspect being a Field Application Scientist? I like being a Field Application Scientists for two reasons: One, I get to talk about science at the 10,000 foot level. Instead of talking about your favorite mutation or protein, you get to talk about things really affecting critical research and clinical trials. The work also changes all the time. With research, you might get one particular little tiny thing that you do over and over and over again everyday – now I talk to different people all over the country about different things every day.

What was your job search like? I knew relatively soon after coming into my post-doc that I didn’t want to stay at the bench forever, so I started looking to see what was out there and explored what my options were so I’d be ready for the right job when it came along. After I decided that something in the sales side of the world would be interesting, I started looking at field application jobs. They’re a good way to get your foot in the sales door. You can take the science you know and apply it to whatever technology a company happens to sell.
I’m actually one of the very few that applied for a job on-line and had a recruiter call me instead of an HR rep. I had a really good experience with the recruiter. We did a couple of interviews before ever getting passed on to the company that I currently work for. She did some of the initial vetting and helped me throughout the process with the scheduling and giving me interviewing pointers, telling me the most likely interviewers and what they might ask. It was great.

What soft skills are needed for this position? In this job, you need the ability to talk with anyone about anything, including talking about science to talking about items that I’m selling to talking about what happened today in the weather. For researchers, getting out and learning not to be afraid to talk to people is really useful. Additionally, anything you can do that will show that you are a self-starter. Teach yourself to do something new or get a certification you didn’t need for your post-doc. People I interviewed with found it interesting that I had the initiative to learn things on my own, like some basic bioinformatics I taught myself to analyze a data set. These jobs tend to move fairly rapidly. Sometimes you’ll be given a project and told “just work things out”. The fact that you can learn something and not afraid to do so will translate well.

Last bits of advice: Everybody is given advice that you need to network, you need to get out more, and you need to meet people. While I didn’t get my job that way, going out and doing all that networking was very important. I had been involved with the NIEHS Training Association (NTA), which broadened my network my network of postdocs, faculty members, and staff at NIEHS. My involvement as the postdoc representative on several NIEHS wide committees gave me the opportunity to learn more about how government science works and exposed me to people I might not have otherwise met. Additionally, the committee work helped me develop skills in talking and negotiating with my superiors. When I got my job, my previous experience networking had made me unafraid of people even if I didn’t understand their science. Networking is useful, both for getting the job and in developing skills that we sometimes miss at the bench, such as talking about things that aren’t specifically related to our science.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Patent Examiner, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

April 4, 2013

Last year we had a number of postdocs from the NIH Intramural Research Program leave to start their careers with USPTO, here we interview 3 that started in May of 2012

Names: Sean Barron, PhD; Andrea McCollum, PhD; and Julie Wu, PhD
Location: Alexandria, VA
Time in current positions: 8 months (all started at the same time)

  • Sean: the affect of nicotine on the hippocampus with Chris McBain at NICHD.
  • Andrea: biomarkers in ovarian cancer with Elise Kohn at NCI.
  • Julie: the role of mTOR for aged related processes with Toren Finkel at NHLBI.

What is a patent examiner? A patent examiner reviews applications and determines their patentability according to the laws and regulations for the US government. Patent applications need to comply with US laws in their format, organization, subject matter, etc., and contain strong support for the claims. Investigating the evidence of those claims and making sure that no one else patented or published the idea is where the patent examiner turns sleuth. The work requires checking publications, conferences, books, and other potential outlets to ensure that the item being patented is not already in the public domain.
How did they find this job? Andrea conducted informational interviews early on to determine where she wanted to go next in her career. With her interest sparked by speaking to people in patent work, Andrea took the FAES course: Intellectual Property and Patent Prosecution for Scientists. Sean took the same course as a way of introduction to the patent world after hearing about technology transfer at an OITE event. Julie applied for the position after researching a job post on an organizational e-mail. So each person had a different level of preparation for the job.

What skills are needed? Everyone agreed that an ideal candidate would have a good attention to detail, be quick to learn, and, as Sean put it, “be comfortable being uncomfortable”. The USPTO reads patents on every sector of science (and more), and a patent examiner needs be able to quickly process an application that may be barely related to the science they have previously seen. Additionally, examining patents is a high-paced environment, and there is an expectation that a certain number of patents will be reviewed each pay period. Sean views these targets as a positive in that you always have a good idea of how well you are performing. Excellent time management and organizational skills help an examiner deal with the fast pace necessary for the high turn around requirement.

What adjustments did you make moving to the USPTO? Becoming a patent examiner requires a change in mindset from that of a bench scientist. As a bench scientist, you are expected to be an expert at everything you do and to know your field in great detail. As a patent examiner, time is a luxury. You need to learn just enough to be able to accept or deny a patent with confidence. This fast pace requires a big shift from knowing a lot about a little to knowing a little about a lot.

What preparation can people do to follow in your path? In addition to the course previously mentioned, FAES offers several technology transfer related courses that can be applied for credit for a Masters of Science degree at the University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Graduate School of Management and Technology. Detailing in the Office of Technology Transfer is also a good way to check if intellectual property is a field you are interested in (see the recent Catalyst article: Details, details, details: Leaving the bench, but staying in science). A nice thing about working as a patent examiner is there is no previous experience required. You will be trained (extensively) in the patent process after placing in the job.

Keep in mind when applying to emphasize the breadth of your knowledge rather than the depth. You probably will not be placed in the area you researched, so it is important to show intellectual flexibility.

Is this career for everyone? Although all three of our alumni love their jobs, they also recognized that the career of a patent examiner is not for everyone. The pay and work life balance is excellent, the science is fascinating, and you can quickly gain control of your own career in the USPTO. However, the work is pretty independent, desk-based, and fast-paced. But, for the right people this is a career they can love.

Interviewing advice from the hiring partners perspectives

March 6, 2013

We had a workshop on interviewing this week, here is a wrap-up of what was said, and more information to make your interviews a success.  If you want to watch the videocast, it is archived here.  We had three speakers to highlight multiple aspects of the hiring process; a hiring manager, a human resources person, and a recruiter.  The advice here is mostly for non-faculty positions (although we have information on the faculty job hunt at

Interviews questions are best answered in the Situation-Action-Response format.  The basics of this format is that you need to have a story that you can tell that gives background to the situation, tells about the action that you did, then finishes by telling a result or the outcome of the challenge.  You should be able to tell this story in about 90 seconds.  The hiring manager emphasized the need to practice these stories, which gives you the ability to stick to your script and not get led down tangents in the interview process.  He also mentioned that by practicing you are able to maintain your poise and a positive tone of voice, even under difficult questioning.

The human resources manager and the recruiter are looking for the skills specifically based towards the job you are applying to.  Neither of these partners in the hiring process will likely be subject matter experts, so they may not understand the full details of your science.  Rather, they are looking for technical skills and perhaps even specific instrumentation.  They are also looking for good responses to the opportunity questions, such as “Tell me about yourself”.  Being able to answer these questions clearly and concisely is a benefit to getting past these hiring partners.  Answer these questions based on the job ad, to always link how you would be a terrific fit for the position you are applying to.  Here are two examples:

Tell Me About Yourself: “I am a scientist with strong program management, communication and leadership skills.  I have taken on responsibility to organize events, influence leadership with respect to the needs of my fellow postdocs, and have defended scientific ideas. I am looking to use my strong analytical and people skills to move into science policy to help direct science.” (for a non-bench job)

What interests you about this job: “This job utilizes my strengths as an innovative scientist, specifically with XX diseases.  I have had success utilizing new technologies such as XX to explore (my subject matter) can be used for drug development.  Based on the ad, you are also looking for someone who can lead and influence other scientist.  I enjoy that, and have had success in the lab as seen by the numerous collaborations with other scientists and by direct and informal mentoring of other lab members.  I enjoy working with people, and this job seems to have a nice mix of cutting-edge science with leading a team of people to accomplish that science.”

This is just the start of your preparation and the information available from the OITE.  The OITE has posted here on the blog many other articles on interviewing, and have also videocast many in the past.  Here are some links that you may want to read/watch:


You Got an Interview, Not a Job Offer: How to Impress Your Way into a Position

How to Manage Stress in Interviews

Phone Interviews

Preparing for interviews


Interviewing Skills

Interviewing outside the Ivory Tower

You forgot your job packet email attachment– What now?

February 25, 2013

You found an awesome job posting or graduate program, crafted the perfect curriculum vitae, and created a cover letter capable of convincing the staunchest of holdouts that you are a vital addition to their team. The only problem is you remembered to attach your resume after pressing send on your cover letter e-mail. Forgotten attachments happen to everyone, but the job application process is where you are supposed to distinguish yourself as a better candidate than everyone else. So – now what?

Unlike many career advice searches on the internet, there are not a lot of professional sites with comments on forgotten attachments. The obvious action requires you to send the forgotten materials; otherwise there is no chance for success. The real question remains: How do provide the missing information while saving face?

Do you apologize for the mistake? Do you try to act as if it never happened? The best route is to resend the same e-mail (with the attachment this time) with a comment in the title about the inclusion. Do not write a long, apologetic paragraph about forgetting the attachment. This reaction makes a big deal out of a common mistake and can make you seem insecure. At the same time you need to say something to differentiate the new e-mail from the old one so the hiring manager or principal investigator does not think you are spamming them. One postdoc recently forgot to attach their resume to a cold call e-mail and recovered by simply sending the same e-mail entitled “Employment inquiry at blah with attached resume”, and received a positive response.

For the most part, human resources and principal investigators tend to be pretty forgiving. Just keep in mind they are judging you at every interaction – this can be a time to show your ability to recover gracefully from a difficult situation.

Mistakes made during the application process may come back to haunt you during the interview. Keep in mind that if you are being interviewed that the company/ principal investigator thinks you might be a good fit for them. Do not be the one to bring up a past mistake. Do not give them a reason to deny you the position. Only talk about a past error from your application process if they ask about it. Be prepared with an answer that puts you in a positive light, not something like you were too busy applying to their competitor and forgot the attachment to them.

Of course, the better strategy is to remember the attachment. Make a list of things, mentally or written down, that you always check before submitting any application. Some items to include can be; properly addressing the cover letter, attaching the required documentation, filling in the subject line, and using spell check (spell check will not reliably catch names).  Leave a comment with other items you think the email proof-reading list should include.