Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The inaugural winner of the Banholzer Award: Anon749am at ChemBark

In the midst of the long faculty jobs thread at ChemBark and the current sub-discussion about a postdoc thinking about turning down a faculty position and re-upping for their postdoc, a hiring manager for Ph.D.s at "the big 3" chemical company breaks in about extended postdocs and faculty candidates looking for industrial positions (emphasis mine): 
I work for one of the big 3 chemical companies and lead PhD recruiting for our division. We evaluate hundreds of applications from top 25 schools every year and interview dozens of outstanding PhD and postdoc candidates, many of whom have pedigrees and CV’s worthy of getting TT positions at top schools. The candidate pool is INSANELY deep right now, and excellent candidates really are a dime a dozen. 
@ March 8 10:34: I’d be very careful about “holding out” and adding years to a postdoc. It sounds like you’re determined to work in academia, but you should know that extended postdocs will hurt your chances of landing an industry job as well. I can’t even begin to tell you how many awesome candidates I have interviewed who have tried and failed to get TT jobs and are now trying to get into industry, only to find that the bar is just as high (or higher, if you look at soft skills). You obviously want to minimize regrets in your life, but you have a chance at 5 years of guaranteed job security. That’s more than I have now, and certainly more than most will ever have. I’d hate for you to regret passing up what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
...and later on in the thread:
As I mentioned earlier, the talent pool is much deeper than most people really want to admit. The assumption that you’re making is that an extended postdoc confers broader knowledge, training, and experience? Does it, though? Most of the post-docs I look at are working in areas that could reasonably be considered extensions of their thesis fields, and those few who have stepped out of their comfort zone to get broad experience are generally able to demonstrate their talents within 3 years. Many of the post-docs in their 2nd or 3rd appointment are basically acting as the “synthesis expert” in a non-synthetic group. I’m not trying to disparage the post-doc experience whatsoever. Just recognize that post-doc is not always synonymous with terms like “more” or “better”. Sometimes post-doc is just a synonym for “holding pattern” or “cheap labor”. 
The Banholzer Award is awarded for "Truth-Telling about Chemical Employment" from chemical employers, no matter how uncomfortable, unpopular or annoying. Congratulations, Anon749am and thanks for the insight.

[CJ's editorial re-comment: postdoctoral positions are quite often the scientific equivalent of an inferior good, that is a position that one would not take, if one had a better option.]

19 comments:

  1. Not top 25 schools, no at least 3 years of postdoc, no industry job. Got it.

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    1. I've worked with several associate investigators (BS level technicians) over the years who considered, and in many cases did, leave for graduate study and a PhD. My advice always was that if you want an industrial R&D job go to a top tier university or don't bother going.

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    2. Yup that right, no matter what you do you're boned, you should just accept you fate and never try to do anything ever again.

      Clearly that the best option, because if there was one think I learned in grad school it was quitting.

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  2. Well, looking to be hired for a decent position is not unlike being a guy trying to woo a woman. Companies, schools, and women, are all the same in one regard: they are looking for any reason to reject you.

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    1. Yay for sexism in science!

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    2. CJ -
      Could you weigh in on the appropriateness of the above sexist and insulting comment, in terms of its usefulness to the topic of discussion?

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    3. NMH's comment is illogical, sexist and not useful to the discussion.

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    4. Thanks NMH, just when I start to think that sexism in science is overhyped, maybe even approaching reverse sexism, you bring me back down to earth.

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    5. While the comparison of women with industry and school in terms of rejection may be unnecessary, it need not be viewed as reflecting the overall atmosphere in science.

      Anon 834, way to call in Dad about NMH.

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    6. Now, in regard to the original comment, if an individual or entity can afford to be highly selective from a large pool of candidates, be it for mates or employees, It is not a stretch to assume that even seemingly minor blemishes will lead to rejection of a candidate.

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    7. This thread has reached its useful end.

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    8. Anon 851: Thank you CJ, for calling it like it is!

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  3. Truth.

    If you can't say "doing this postdoc will enable me to do X," and you want to do X, then you shouldn't be doing that postdoc.

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  4. How easy it is to get an industry job of the caliber that seems to be under discussion in that comment after being denied tenure though? I suspect it's very, very hard and now you're five years further along instead of just one year.

    If you hold out one more year to get more pubs so you can get a faculty job with a much bigger start-up and a place with more enthusiastic students, that would give you much better chances of getting tenure in five years, that would change the pros and cons equation there a bit if it's much harder to get an industry job after five years of tenure failure as opposed to just waiting an extra postdoc year.

    (I comment on this because I have this friend...)

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    1. It's never easy to get a good job in industry, but speaking as an industry "insider", I'd say your options are better after 5 years as a PI as opposed to an extra year as a post-doc. To me, a faculty member who has been denied tenure is not necessarily a failure. Often, the institution has failed the faculty member (e.g. insufficient startup, unreasonable publication & award expectations). The difference between a PI and post-doc is that the PI has 5 years of leadership and actual professional experience. Better yet, try this path: Forgo a post-doc, go to industry for 5 years, return to academia for 5 years, don't get tenure, return to your former company as an R&D director. I've seen it happen, and it shaved a few years off the individual's climb up the corporate ladder and he had some fun in the meantime.

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    2. Most of us spend too much time thinking about "what if" scenarios. What if I don't get tenure? What if I don't get a big startup? What if I don't get the top industry job? Truth be told, most of these outcomes are beyond any of our direct controls. A PI could get stuck with a string of bad grad students or post-docs, or his/her ideas just might not work out. A university might have one tight budget year, and it just happens to be the year you get hired. Your favorite company may institute a hiring freeze the week before campus interviews. All of these things have happened to people I know, but you just have to roll up your sleeves and try. You can't hedge your bets at every turn. After all, what is the tenure granting rate for chemistry faculty? Is it greater than 50%? If so, the odds are in your favor. Likewise with the job search.

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    3. Having participated in a couple of recent faculty searches, I would have to say that you need to be careful with that approach. There were a bunch of candidates with double-digit numbers of publications, but that becomes a lot less impressive when accrued over 5-10 years as opposed to 2-3. Further, as the 8:52 anon pointed out, you never know what will happen research-wise or job market-wise within the next year.

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  5. Your first job will generally be the hardest one to get, regardless whether it's industry or academic. I've seen many people easily get industry jobs after not getting tenure. In fact, I can't think of anyone in my circle of friends/acquaintances who had trouble.
    On the other hand, if you turn down an offer and look for jobs the next year, it will definitely be noticed. I did this, because the school that made me an offer had a toxic environment and I didn't realize it until I interviewed. In this case, it had nothing to do with the research at the school, but I couldn't have known it until I visited. I think it did have an impact on my search the following year, and I did end up going to industry.

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  6. Thanks for the valuable comments everyone. Now my, uh... friend doesn't feel as bad about this academia detour.

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