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So you want to be an academic?

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Calling all graduate students and postdoctoral fellows: do you want to be a university faculty member? This presentation offers advice on how to secure an academic job, and even advice on whether this is right for you. The picture of the black book half way through? That's the book you bring with you to the interview with questions for each meeting, research and teaching plans, and other notes to get you through the interview process confidently.

The presentation was given in fall 2014 at the University of Waterloo, organized and hosted by Co-operative Education & Career Action (CECA).

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So you want to be an academic?

  1. 1. HANDOUT VERSION Josh D. Neufeld University of Waterloo MODIFIED FROM THE VERSION PRESENTED OCTOBER 21, 2014
  2. 2. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  3. 3. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  4. 4. Least stressful jobs 2014 (CareerCast)
  5. 5. Forbes.com What is it like to be an academic? The public face of a typical professor is restricted to class time This doesn’t seem like a lot to most people! Must look behind the scenes…
  6. 6. Typical expectations: “publication record indicative of…” “..independent externally funded research program…” “…contribute to teaching…” What is it like to be an academic?
  7. 7. What is it like to be an academic? Postdoctoral fellow Source: Matt Van Der Meer
  8. 8. Professor What is it like to be an academic? Source: Matt Van Der Meer
  9. 9. What is it like to be an academic?
  10. 10. Often very rewarding. You are able to pursue research and study in a field that interests you. Academic freedom. You are less bound by commercial considerations or social norms while pursuing your research. Job security. When professors achieve tenure, they enjoy enhanced job security. Flexible hours. You work the hours required to get the job done. No dress code. Teaching. Academia gives you the chance to share your interests with others and expand the field of knowledge. Leadership opportunities. You hold a position of stature and get to make a difference in your community. No boss. The people you work with are your colleagues. What is it like to be an academic? Source: https://www.grad.ubc.ca/current-students/graduate-pathways-success/getting-academic-job
  11. 11. PhD student opinions of job attractiveness Sauermann and Roach (2012) PLOS ONE
  12. 12. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  13. 13. What is Plan A? Assistant professor (untenured), Associate professor (tenured), Full Professor •  Teaching faculty •  Research faculty •  Both teaching and research Plan A versus Plans B-Z
  14. 14. Questions to consider for Plan A (academia): Do you really want an academic position? Are you fascinated by research and new ideas? Do you like being on your own (i.e., independent)? Are you self directed? Are you a work-a-holic? Are you a good communicator? Personable? Do you enjoy teaching? Are you comfortable in a mentorship role? Are you willing to work evenings and weekends? Are you comfortable not being paid a good hourly rate? Would you still go to work if unpaid? Plan A versus Plans B-Z
  15. 15. Plan A versus Plans B-Z Faculty positions are relatively rare. •  More job seekers than jobs •  ~14% of PhD graduates have a faculty position within 5-6 years post graduation in the biological sciences (NSF 2006 survey). Advertised positions typically receive >100 applications. There is a bright side.
  16. 16. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  17. 17. Career building towards academia Publications are critical. •  Quantity (more is good, not always better) •  Quality (higher impact is important) •  Story (diversity, direction, depth) Other considerations •  Teaching experience •  Industry work experience •  Science outreach •  Awards
  18. 18. Career building towards academia Research productivity can take many forms (e.g., 2 high-impact publications versus 8 solid contributions) Now: develop a research identity, a coherent and recognizable path that equips you with a set of projects that are realistic, interesting, and “yours”. Become recognized in your field – go to conferences and participate. No substitute for hard work and long hours on your primary projects, but don’t forget about the soft skills… Be passionate about what you do!
  19. 19. Career building towards academia Be aware of available positions; start doing this during graduate school. Subscribe to University Affairs. Many journals (Nature, Science) and societies have job postings. Join academic societies (e.g., Canadian Society for Microbiology). Attend conferences whenever possible; network! Contact senior colleagues familiar with your work to let them know you are looking. Make sure your advisor knows you are interested in an academic job.
  20. 20. Publications (~1 per year is typical in my field) Build network with peers (future colleagues and collaborators) at different institutions: summer schools, conferences Meet at least a few senior figures in the field (visiting speakers, at conferences, by e-mail, your dept seminar series!) Apply for own funding (PhD and post-doc) Review some papers (typically together with advisor) Take advantage of opportunities to develop soft skills: presentation workshops, “Preparing Future Faculty” type courses, this workshop! Align your expectations and career plans with your advisor’s plans and the lab’s capabilities. Do all of this in moderation: #1 is still research productivity. Career building towards academia MSc and PhD students
  21. 21. Choose lab with pedigree if you can (possible exception: working with a new faculty member). Work on projects that set you up for a compelling independent research proposal. Continue to build network, take a more active role (e.g., proposing workshop topics). Start applying for faculty jobs as soon as your first postdoc paper comes out. Attend grant writing workshops, apply for independent investigator grants if your position allows; ask to be involved in your advisor’s grant writing. Advisor should be promoting your work; ask to be considered for invited talks. Research always #1 priority. Career building towards academia Postdocs
  22. 22. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  23. 23. Applying for a position Cover letter CV Research plan Teaching philosophy References
  24. 24. Career building towards academia Cover letter •  Be brief (2-4 paragraphs). •  Mention you are a citizen of country, if possible. •  Demonstrate how you are a good fit to the described position and the Department. •  Mention existing connections to location. You want the letter to help convince the committee that you would have a good career there, will continue to be excellent, and want to live there for a long time.
  25. 25. Universityletterhead Signed
  26. 26. Career building towards academia CV •  Be brief (2-3 pages). •  Publication list is key. •  Grant proposal writing experience a plus. •  Avoid mentioning manuscripts in preparation. •  Seek example CVs from your supervisor. •  Pay attention to design (first impression). •  Career Services can help you.
  27. 27. Josh Neufeld, ca. 2006
  28. 28. Career building towards academia Research vision •  Be brief (2-3 pages) and clear; committee has broad backgrounds. •  Include overarching research direction and short- term research goals. •  Be careful not to look like a copy of your current lab’s projects, yet blending your past training and with future research a plus. It’s a balance. •  Convince committee that you have a realistic plan and help them envision what your first students will do and what your lab will look like in 10 years.
  29. 29. Career building towards academia Teaching vision •  Teaching experience for entry position usually limited among applicants – research is the focus. •  Include overarching teaching direction and short- term teaching interests. •  Sound enthusiastic about teaching and use your teaching experience to demonstrate how this has shaped your approach to teaching. •  Mention 1-2 courses in the department you could teach if needed and 1-2 courses that you would be interested in developing (this is the challenge).
  30. 30. Career building towards academia References •  Two of the three should be from your PhD and postdoctoral supervisor. If not, this will be a red flag for you. IMPRESS YOUR SUPERVISOR NOW. •  The third will ideally come from your MSc supervisor (if applicable), or someone else at arm’s length. Perhaps a committee member. •  Letters should provide specific examples and be extremely positive. •  Letters are critical. People are consistent and track records are the best judge of future success.
  31. 31. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  32. 32. The Interview Process Usually one day, the busiest day of your life. Dress well. Ask in advance to meet with specific people of interest (not just faculty, but also techs/managers), and tour key facilities. If not given an agenda 1 week ahead of interview, ask the chair’s secretary to send you one. Meetings: the chair, the dean, one-on-ones with hiring committee members, grad student(s), group meeting with committee, lunch, dinner. Presentation(s): 50 minute research talk. Primary purpose is to sell yourself to the university, but be prepared to explain what you need to be successful.
  33. 33. The Interview Process Sample questions you should be prepared to answer: How will you start your research program? Where do you expect to be in 1, 5, 10 years? How will you attract students and trainees? What is your strategy in applying for (more) external funding? *What grants will you apply for first? What specific projects do you have planned? First experiment? How will you supervise and manage your lab? What equipment/resources/facilities do you need? What collaborations do you see here? What courses can you teach? How will you approach this? How big will your lab be ideally? How do you resolve conflicts? What are your strengths and weaknesses? The committee wants to know if you will be a “good fit”, both professionally and personally. Smile.
  34. 34. The Interview Process Have your own relevant and specific questions ready, for each and every meeting. Be prepared. Questions show that you are curious and eager, and help avoid interview awkwardness. The absence of questions is a red flag. Avoid asking questions that you should have known by looking at websites for individual faculty members, the department, or faculty. Instead, use online info to develop your questions. General questions Lab space (who allocates? renovation budget?) Start-up funds? Teaching reduction for new faculty members? How is the graduate program and funding implemented? What administrative or technical support is available? Tenure success rate? Teaching load?
  35. 35. The Black Book (bring it with you)
  36. 36. The Interview Process Have your own relevant and specific questions ready, for each and every meeting. Chair meeting (as appropriate) How long have you been Chair? Why did you choose to come to this university? How collegial is the department? Sharing of equipment common? Does this department have a core facility for equipment? Are grants reviewed internally in this department? What will be expected of me teaching-wise in the first year? Will lab space be ready when I am expected to start? What start-up funding is available for this position? Will I be allocated CFI dollars for equipment? How does this position fit with the department’s vision? How much does a graduate student cost? Does this department have a strategic plan? Could I see it?
  37. 37. The Interview Process Have your own relevant and specific questions ready, for each and every meeting. One-on-one faculty meetings How long have you been at this university? How collegial is the department? Sharing of equipment common? Where do most of your graduate students come from? How supportive is the chair and dean? How rapidly has lab space been renovated for recent hires? Who is the department’s most recent hire? Where do you live in relation to the university? Do you like living here? Are you happy with the schools in this area? What was the tenure process like for you? What is your teaching load?
  38. 38. The Interview Process Have your own relevant and specific questions ready, for each and every meeting. Hiring committee meeting (as appropriate) How does this position fit with the direction of the department? Sharing of equipment common? Does this department have a core facility for equipment? Are grants reviewed internally in this department? What will be expected of me teaching-wise in the first year? Will lab space be ready when I am expected to start? Can I see the lab space allocated to this position? Will renovations be possible for this lab? What start-up funding is available for this position? Will I be allocated CFI dollars for equipment? Does this department have a strategic plan? Can I see it? ***“I plan to explore the area tomorrow, what places should I see and do you have any neighborhoods to recommend I look as an idea of where I could live?”
  39. 39. The Interview Process Have your own relevant and specific questions ready, for each and every meeting. Grad student meetings What type of stipend do graduate students receive? Are there specific awards available for grad students? Is the an active grad student association? Do the grad students have a place to socialize on campus? What is the social atmosphere like in this department? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this department? Is this the kind of department you’d choose to work one day? What could make a grad student’s life better in this dept? How active is the seminar series? Good talks? Mandatory? Is there a professional development course for all graduate students? For credit? Would you like one? Do you feel training for a career is part of this department’s mentorship?
  40. 40. The Interview Process Have your own relevant and specific questions ready, for each and every meeting. Dean meeting Do the departments in this faculty collaborate with one another? Do you have specific examples of highly successful new faculty members to suggest that I might use as a model or mentor? Does this faculty have a strategic plan? May I see it? Are there plans for future buildings or space that may be relevant as I consider this university as an academic home? Is there additional support from the faculty for undergraduate or graduate student stipends? Is there teaching and research training available? What is expected for tenure? Are there teaching and research awards available for faculty members?
  41. 41. The Interview Process Have your own relevant and specific questions ready, for each and every meeting. Meals Ask about department collegiality, where people live, whether they have children, whether the chair is supportive, whether the faculty members interact socially. How do these faculty members blend applied and basic research? What was the tenure process like? Where do most students recruited from? Lots of choice? Do not order the most expensive food. Avoid messy food. Check the menu beforehand if restaurant on the agenda. Sit with your back to the room to avoid distraction. If others are having alcohol, allow yourself one drink. Decide beforehand what personal information you are willing to share – be careful.
  42. 42. The Interview Process Research (and teaching?) seminars The goal is to show the breadth of your research. Give tastes of research results and publications but avoid this talk being like all other departmental seminars. It is not. Show how the research you present has ideally positioned you to begin an independent research career. Paint a picture of what this research career will look like (match to your research vision statement). Mention possible collaborations with the Department. Bring your own laser pointer. Have talk on USB and on your computer. Smile and come out from behind the podium. Interact with the screen. The research talk is often used to provide an idea of teaching quality as well. If doing a teaching talk, make it the most interesting and interactive lecture you can. Ask questions, be enthusiastic, look at audience. Bring something to show. Come alive.
  43. 43. The Interview Process General Advice Do not get into a salary negotiation now. Avoid the discussion. If it comes up, “a salary commensurate with my experience and comparable to other new faculty would seem reasonable”. Be prepared with specific courses in mind you would develop. Be prepared with outline of specific grants you would apply for. Bring your black book with you everywhere. Take notes. Make sure you have a good handshake. Ask for feedback beforehand if unsure. Make sure there are breaks in your agenda schedule. If not, request a break, especially before your talk. Consider slipping a thank-you card onto the Chair’s secretary desk if he or she was particularly helpful in organizing your trip.
  44. 44. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  45. 45. Landing the job General Advice After the interview, consider a thank-you email to each of those you met with on interview day. If they contact you with an offer, it means they very much want you to come. Now is the time for negotiations. Ask for what you need to be successful and back this up with a detailed budget (ask advisor, recent new faculty for advice) Two-body problem? Ask about spousal positions. Do negotiate salary. Any increase pays off yearly, for life. Get salary, start-up, space, teaching load, and other critical components specified in writing. Don’t overdo the negotiations. This should be a brief process.
  46. 46. Today’s workshop What is it like to be an academic? Plan A versus Plans B-Z Career building towards academia Applying for an academic position The interview process Landing the job Resources
  47. 47. Booklets from sciencecareers.sciencemag.org (AAAS)
  48. 48. Books to consider *
  49. 49. http://sceomasincukraljevo.blog.com/files/2011/04/di-0356.pdf
  50. 50. http://www.inspiredleadership.org.uk/
  51. 51. http://www.manager-tools.com/
  52. 52. http://www.manager-tools.com/
  53. 53. Things I wish I had done earlier Learned R Learned Python Learned the Adobe Creative Suite •  Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign
  54. 54. Parting advice Serendipity a big part of the process. Some things cannot be planned. Be practical about career aspirations, be prepared for Plans B-Z. Make career choices that match your interests and skills, not your idea of a perfect job. Be content for life. Ask: how am I uniquely qualified? What do I do well? Use StrengthsFinder wisely. Beware imposter syndrome (feeling like a fake, attributing successes to luck, downplaying success). Strategic plan (dept, faculty, university, you?)
  55. 55. Resources and sources Many departments have a graduate “skills” course (e.g., BIOL 690 – Scientific Communication) Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) Co-operative Education & Career Action (CECA) Dr. Matt van der Meer (Biology) workshop presentation, used as template and some content Dr. Mark MacLachlan (UBC) https://www.grad.ubc.ca/current-students/graduate-pathways-success/getting-academic-job https://www.grad.ubc.ca/current-students/graduate-pathways-success/sample-interview-questions
  56. 56. HANDOUT VERSION Josh D. Neufeld University of Waterloo MODIFIED FROM THE VERSION PRESENTED OCTOBER 21, 2014

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