Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Good rantlet

Here's a bit of a rant from my experiences on a search committee this year: 
1) Directed @ interviewees: Take 5 minutes and look up the SPECIFIC NSF/DOD/DOE/NIH program that you think might be interested in funding your research. It's really easy, but I'm surprised by how many people haven't given any thought to programs, solicitations, etc. Also, I've found that candidates who have put the time into creating an extensive, line-item budgets are usually ranked higher than those with nebulous budgets. My school doesn't offer a million dollars in startup, so we have to see if a) you can get a research program going using what you're given and b) have you really considered the details of setting up a lab. If you get the job, that line-item budget then becomes a supply list and you'll be glad that you put the time in up front. 
2) Directed @ my faculty peers: You've got to stop assuming that every candidate should be walking into an interview with a Nobel-worthy set of ideas that are going to change science forever. How many of us are actually working on one of the projects that we proposed during our interviews after 3-5 years? The straw poll that I took in our department was about 10%, meaning that most research doesn't work and eventually evolves into something different (and perhaps more interesting). Give these candidates a break and try to look for a track record of perseverance and initiative. 
3) Directed @ the 95% who didn't get an interview: I know it sucks that we didn't call you, but that's on us. There's a lot more that goes into consideration of an applicant besides CV, research plan, and letters of recommendation. We do take cover letters and personal statements seriously. We've passed on candidates with 50+ publications and interviewed others with 3, based solely on the fit with existing departmental needs. Getting an academic job is the biggest crap shoot out there, so don't take it personally if you don't get a call back. There are no "ringers" in this business anymore. 
My advice to those of you looking primarily to teach at the college level would be to dump your research postdoc and start hitting the lecturer/adjunct/visiting professor circuit. A lot of colleges with a teaching emphasis place a higher premium on your teaching credentials, as opposed to years as a postdoc. There's a reason why faculty at research schools who are denied tenure often move to teaching schools--they have extensive relevant experience and are often a great value.
The amount of debate around the path from "visiting professor" or "teaching postdoc" to "tenure-track assistant professor at a PUI" is fascinating to me.  

12 comments:

  1. "Getting an academic job is the biggest crap shoot out there"

    An unfortunate truth.....I assume the corollary is that finding a really good faculty member is also a big crap shoot....

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    1. Yes, a lot of people just want to get tenure and go to sleep. It seems that search committees aren't very good at finding people who really love chemistry. It seems passion for the field has taken a back seat.

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    2. Original rant poster here: It's also hard to strike a balance between pushing for grant $$ and encouraging people to pursue research directions that they truly want to pursue. We want F&A returns at the department level, but people get tired of daily reminders that they aren't bringing in enough grant money or publishing papers. Eventually, folks just "go to sleep" because they are burned out on administrators' ambitions. When I was in industry, management took "demoralization" very seriously. My VP used to come around and ask us if we were having fun every other week. Of course he didn't actually care, but he recognized that there are diminishing returns to leading from behind. Academia just hasn't caught on to this yet, and we end up stifling ambition rather than encouraging it.

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  2. Only VAP if:

    1) there's a chance it can convert to TT (they're usually very up-front about this)
    2) you'd be happy in a TT position the next tier down.

    A cooperative PI will let you adjunct once or twice if you're shooting for a PUI job.

    Re: potential funding, be realistic. Many PUIs will tell you NSF career is not feasible, others may expect it. I went through "R03? I think you mean R15."

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  3. From my own experience on the PUI job market last year, the research postdoc was more important than a VAP position. If you had no teaching experience in your PhD, then maybe try to get experience as an adjunct for one semester, but don't stop doing research. Pretty much all BA/BS granting institutions are going to expect that you're going to do some kind of research with students these days. They want to see that you can direct that research and VAP position won't do that. A teaching postdoc might show you can direct research, but you lose a lot of research productivity once you're teaching.

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  4. I personally think search committees are making a mistake when they reject people for not having "teaching experience" (other than TA work). I don't think one year of teaching changes much in the long run. Here's why: if you are given the position, which is basically a 5 year position pre-tenure, after the first year you now have 1 year of teaching experience. Very diminishing returns when you extrapolate out to the future. Also, having 1 year of teaching experience prior to applying does not mean you are a good teacher. There are many people who have been teaching for a long time who are not in anyway above the average (I'm being nice). So my advice is to look for the most high quality candidate rather than just fill in check boxes. And as a bonus, give people credit for their TA work.

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  5. As a follow-up to previous comment I will say if you get a faculty position you are eligible for grants, which come from precious government resources. Search committee members have a responsibility to find someone who is worthy of the grant money. Only a very select few have access to having a chance at this money. Basing the hiring choice on whether or not they have taught lecture for a year risks people the wrong people in a position where they can compete for grant money, and potentially tosses someone who could make a difference out the window (there are not enough positions at Ph.D. granting institutes).

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    1. "Only a very select few have access to having a chance at this money": Is this referring to the individual's competence in grantwriting, or the general ability to do research at a PUI? If chemical education is the emphasis at a university, I don't think hiring a rookie with R1 research aspirations is going to be a wise decision for a department. On the other hand, a PhD-granting department looking to grow a program through F&A returns probably wouldn't want to gamble with someone who is not interested in research.

      "Search committee members have a responsibility to find someone who is worthy of the grant money": IMO, search committees have the responsibility to find someone who fits well with the department's mission and values. If that mission is focused on grant $$, then your statement is true. However, if all faculty in the department are teaching 2:2 or 3:3 loads, grantwriting could become a secondary priority. "Making a difference" means different things at different institutions.

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    2. First quote: I mean just getting a job where you can apply for grants. PUI faculty may not value it, but they do have opportunities to apply for research grants, assuming they have a lab space. If PUI faculty do not take this seriously then perhaps we should re-think how public funds are given.

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    3. I have never heard of a PUI tenure track faculty job where you were not expected to gain at least a small amount of external funding to get tenure. No you are not going to be applying for an R01, but you might apply for an NIH R15, NSF RUI, or any number of other smaller grants geared towards the mission of PUIs. I recently had a Skype interview at a fairly low ranked PUI, and this was a major component that was discussed, right down the agencies I would apply to! For lecturer positions, this is clearly not important, but even PUI faculty have small active research programs that need to be funded somehow.

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  6. A question for the faculty member who posted the rantlet: can you state the numbers of TT + tenured faculty + VAP + work at will lectuers + teaching post-docs, or at least the ratio of (TT + tenured faculty):(VAP + work at will lectuers + teaching post-docs) in your department? -thanks.

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    1. 20 TT + tenured
      7 VAP + lecturers (all PhDs)
      We don't have any active teaching postdocs at present, but we're doing a search for another VAP. Our VAP's typically have often gone off to teach at PUIs.

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