Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Resolved: Applying to Advertised Postdoctoral Positions May Be Unwise. Discuss.

I would like to hear people's opinions about advertised academic (i.e. non-industrial) postdoctoral positions. Isn't it a truism to say that most of the desirable postdoctoral employers do not advertise, yet still manage to fill their labs with armies of fellows?

Aren't advertised academic positions basically saying, "We can't find anyone who wants to work for me unbidden?" Is there anything wrong with that? Assistant professors and such gotta start somewhere, right?

So it might be good for the professor to get experienced hands in the lab. Is it good for the postdoc? I'm not so sure. Even if they manage to do awesome science (and of course, they will), will their employer have the influence to get their postdoc a good next position?

Readers, what say you? 

30 comments:

  1. Applying to any academic postdoc that doesn't result in you sending out job applications with letterhead from Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Caltech, or Stanford is unwise. Also, your potential postdoc advisor had better be deeply entrenched in the NSF/NIH "Good Ol' Boys" network.

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  2. ^ Sure, those are some great *physical* chemistry institutions.

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  3. It could be one of those cases in which institutional policy requires them to post an advertisement even if they already have the warm body lined up.

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    1. That's a good point, but then, why don't we see a spate of Berkeley/Harvard/MIT/Caltech/Stanford/TSRI postdocs advertised?

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    2. Ahh, it could be covered by those periodic "We occasionally have postdoctoral positions posted; send your CV in to our (round) file so that we can keep them around" ads you see now and again.

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    3. Berkeley/Harvard/MIT/Caltech/Stanford/TSRI are all private institution and can write the rules as they see fit for themselves.

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    4. Which school in Berkeley are you thinking of? Because I'm pretty sure Chemjobber was referring to the University of California at Berkeley.

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    5. Thanks for correcting me, guess I only get an 83% on that test.

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    6. Berkeley/Harvard/MIT/Caltech/Stanford/TSRI dont advertise for postdocs because in my experience, most of their professors dont ever have to fund any of them! They usually expect the postdoc to win their own money (ie. fellowship)

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    7. Fair enough, i would have missed one on that list myself. And I think you're right about their freedom of action.

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  4. The rules don't apply to them

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  5. In my lab, we aren't connected to "chemistry" networks and so we have to advertise to get postdocs with the skills we need. My boss has done an excellent job placing his former chemistry postdocs, with several in academia and industrial positions. We don't have to advertise for pharmaceutical science postdocs, they are always sending in resumes.

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  6. As a graduate student applying for postdocs I find myself between a rock and hard place. I interviewed about 3 months ago for not-advertised position in a big name lab and I'm still waiting to find out if they have the funding to hire me. So now I'm starting to apply for posted positions elsewhere because I think there's a better chance of those labs actually having enough money to hire someone.

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    1. I was in the same position last year. The position with the big name lab did not work out. Best of luck.

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  7. I will offer a different opinion. I did PhD research in a small lab where the PI was very focused on his students getting academic positions. Hence, the research tended to be very basic science oriented and a hard sell to industry groups. A postdoc for a more industrial-friendly research area was advertised in C&EN and I applied for it. The situation was as you described, this was a young assistant prof in desperate need of some postdocs to get his group going. The institution he was at was prestigious, but not a household name. I got the position, and after a couple years of experience I landed an industry position. Although he didn't have any personal connections that helped me get a job, the skills I learned there (and his letter of rec) enabled me to get the job offers that I did. I can say with confidence I would not have gotten into industry without doing that postdoc.

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  8. Speaking of TSRI postdoc postions, check out the latest scandal.

    http://www.mitbbs.com/article_t/Chemistry/31394051.html

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    1. Whoa!!! Meetings at 9AM!

      Outrageous. Ya, it's probably OK to roll inot the lab 10 or 11ish---definitely want to get there before lunch.

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    2. If this student-immigrant was unhappy with the Dr. Disney he could always return to his home country....

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    3. It would seem that Dr. Disney himself has joined the discussion as bboooooya and Anonymous.

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    4. Wow, when you make a blacklist of chinese lab workers, what are you going to do?

      Oh, and thanks Anon 10:35. We never would have figured out that someone might have to come from another country and work under adverse conditions without your generous input. "Plenty more where that came from", eh?

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    5. This sounds _exactly_ like my ph.D "advisor". I don't know anything about this situation but everything in this email sounds entirely plausible to me...

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    6. I got my PhD in chemistry at highly ranked school in the Midwest. We had group meetings on Saturdays at 10am. I made it through, but not everyone did. At that time I'd bought in to the dedicated=80-hour weeks all the time mentality. It's funny how having kids changes that.

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    7. I assumed this was satire until I checked out the like to http://smart-therapeutics.com/ and found there is indeed a Dr. Matthew Disney on the advisory board. They guy sounds exactly like my old advisor from grad school, which is why I quit with a master's!

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    8. Group meetings on weekends always struck me as maniacal. I assume these PIs are either unmarried with no kids, or don't like the spouse/kids. Of course, if you're the type of person to schedule meetings on a Saturday, your spouse/kids probably wouldn't like you.....

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  9. An obligation to advertise does not mean an obligation to advertise on the Internet. A small advert in a local paper may suffice to address this requirement.

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    1. I know of a situation where a tenured professorship at a large state university was advertised in the local paper in some little college town in Louisiana to comply with a policy on advertising the position, hoping no one would actually apply (of course they already had chosen the candidate; it was one of my old grad school classmates).

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  10. Unstable IsotopeMay 15, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    I don't know anyone who has found a postdoc through an advertisement. I think an advertised position is more likely to have money so I don't see any issue with applying for one. If, as some commenters above said, it's a new prof looking to start a group it sounds like it could be a good deal. I'd apply the same caution I would to new grad students looking for a group - find out how the PI treats their students/postdocs since they have a lot of power over your future.

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  11. I found a postdoc at one of the institutions discussed above from an advertisement, with no personal connection. Of course, this was job app ~200.

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  12. NIH has been using "career fairs" and a competitive application process for them to staff post doc positions. Considering how awful some of the actual jobs are when they arrive (yes, it varies by lab - but, oh, do I have stories) it's horribly unfair.

    The lab were I did my PhD work uses online postings to hire postdocs. I'm not sure exactly what the process is because I never saw the postings, but it usually ends up in only 1-2 people being interviewed for each position.

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