Friday, November 19, 2010

How much help (and what kind) in finding a job should PIs give?

From bullybloggers
Anon201011181220p would like to see "PIs take more interest in the career development of their students & postdocs. I am dismayed to hear from my friends in some flagship groups that their PIs are still taking employment prospects of their academic progeny for granted."

What is desired from a chemistry PI from their grad students and postdocs? I don't know what others expect, but here's what I would desire from any PI I were to work for*:

- An acknowledgement that most, if not all, of their students will not end up in academia as tenure-track professors.
- Use of their personal network to help their workers get hired.
- Being willing to pick up the phone and make a call (or take a call) on behalf of their students.
- Willingness to support training in graduate school in basic business savvy (gee, how should I act during an interview?) and communications skills (what should my research summary, CV and presentation look like? Do you present your work well?)

My PI in grad school was willing to do all of this for me, and all of his workers. (I'll note that I was, at best, an average student in the group.) For that, I'm forever grateful.  But it surprises me that other PIs don't necessarily do that. That's just surprising, and depressing.

Readers, what do you (or did you) expect from your PI?

*I should do a post on what PIs should expect in return; this is obviously a two-way street.


  1. I think those are (or at least should be) reasonable expectations of a PI. Of the organic profs in my department, I can only think of one that used his connections to helps his students get postdocs/jobs. The rest were completely uninvolved aside from writing a letter of rec.

  2. Mine wouldn't even pick up the phone. Landing a postdoc is damn hard all by yourself.

  3. It seems to me that most PI's are out of touch on this matter. When I was interviewing PI's at the start of graduate school, one of the questions I asked was, "Where do your graduate students end up." I wish I would have put more weight on the answer to those questions. I think that PIs get plenty in return from their students/postdocs. But, it should be implicit to the PIs that they MUST play an active role in getting their students placed well.

  4. Maybe the underlying problem is that the PIs are not capable of providing this help. Most PIs spent a long time in school, then went and found 1 job where they spent the rest of their careers. What do they know about networking, industry, basic interviewing techniques, let alone basic social skills obtained by interaction with others? My brillant well-respected PI was once described by another person who knew him well as "socially retarded". He spent all his time working. When was he going to develop the skills that are useful in finding his students jobs?

    Perhaps the best information that students can get from a PI is that shared by the group alumni. I've written my PI to tell the group about where industry is headed. It is a two way street. You want some juicy industrial information from your PI, your fellow alumni (and you in the future) need to supply them that information.

  5. I work for a well known established senior organic professor. If you want to do a postdoc then great! My PI will help you narrow down your choices from your list of potential labs. He'll edit your application materials (research summary, CV), write a letter, and (I've been told) in the past he has made a phone call or two on the student's behalf.
    However if you want to just a get job he seems to abandon you. I have made my decision clear to avoid a postdoc and get a job, preferably one closer to my family. I knew from folks in the past that have gone this route that I would not get much help. Indeed I haven't been given much help/sympathy other than essentially a good luck wish. No looking over my resume/cover letter, no suggestion of what types of jobs I would be good at, no discussion of how to exploit my strengths, no mention of "I have a contact at this company, let me give them a call", and there haven't been any "Hey I saw so-and-so is hiring, maybe give them a try." A fellow in my lab is going the job route and actually got a technical interview with a company. When he asked the PI for advice on what might be asked of him and how he should prepare, the PI said (no joke) "Pffft, how should I know". Really? Thirty years in this field and you can't even make an effort to guess at what might come up in a technical interview?! I get the vibe that he prefers us to go to a postdoc just so that the employment issue becomes the problem of someone else. I am envious of the experience Chemjobber had.
    If I had to do it all over again I would have selected an adviser based off of the help they provide students in getting a job rather than based off of prestige/reputation.

  6. If you want help getting a job then go to trade school and become a plumber or electrician: these are both honorable endeavours that pay well.

    There is no magic to getting a job: do good work and publish it. A PI should publish work from her/his lab, that's his job as an academic. A PI is not a job counsellor.

    That said, asking a PI where students from the lab end up 2 and 5 years after graduation is a fair and prudent question.

  7. @bbooooooya: "There is no magic to getting a job: do good work and publish it. A PI should publish work from her/his lab, that's his job as an academic. A PI is not a job counsellor."

    Oh please, save the Ivory Tower sanctimony of academic research for a Gordon Conference. A PI is a salesperson, just like any other hawker at a flea market. Publishing serves mainly to foist his/her merchandise (proprietary chemistry & mentored chemists) upon customers (funding agencies & industry). Academic research has become a business, so it would behoove any PI to ensure that his/her people end up in appropriate professions, both IN and OUT of chemistry. The incentives for greater PI involvement are invaluable: recognition and representation in academia, industry, and government.

  8. @bbooooooya:

    Re 'job counselor', note I said "willingness to support training" and not "train." i.e. "I encourage you to go down to the career center and talk to someone who knows better about this stuff than I do" or something like that.

  9. Getting a Ph. D. for my own intellectual curiosity and not as a means to building career would have totally changed my attitude toward my schooling.

    1) I would not have worked slave hours out of fear, I would have tried to explore my pure enthusiasm for science, which there was plenty, but let's face it, some days it's just not enough.

    2) I would have taken more classes that piqued my interest, and not just the courses relevant to my thesis. A foreign language? Maybe, management, business (ugh!)?

    3) I would have probably gotten a second job in the service industry. Not because I needed the money (though I really couldn't stand those lonely weekends with nothing but me and my raman!) It would have gotten me into the real world more, and kept my service resume still active, because well, let's face it, between postdocs and schools, you don't get unemployment insurance, and you might need something else to pay the bills. Especially if you need some rent money and you are tied down or can't afford another relocation.

    Lastly, I would have certainly lived for the moment more. I think all things together would have probably made myself a better chemist, and a less anxious person. Of course hindsight being 20/20, nobody, none of the powers that be expected the economy to be so crappy. We all assumed that we were "paying dues". While for the longest time, the value of chemistry skills significantly offset the crappiness of our networking ability.

    Blaming our mentors will only get you so far, because they don't have a magic wand to wave and make the 9.7% unemployment away.

  10. 9.7% are dreaming that it is that low. The unpublished rates are closer to 22% in some places because people have given up looking or are underemployed.

  11. If your PI doesn't actively help you, you are at a disadvantage. You are competing against some people who have full, enthusiastic PI support, and it makes a big difference. I think if more PIs knew how the competition is like these days, they would make more of an effort to help their people succeed (and make themselves look good).

  12. @booyaaaa "There is no magic to getting a job: do good work and publish it"

    I wish. For every qualified candidate with 4+ papers from a decent school, there's a well-connected advisor who places a middling student with 1 Tet Lett that he needs to get out of his group.

    On top of that - I've known advisors who are wholly unsupportive unless you apply to a job they consider "good" for THEIR reputation...e.g. you aren't leaving my group unless it's for BigPharma or Ivy League.

  13. "do good work and publish it"? are you kidding? Hands up everyone who gets a cold call from an employer when their paper hits the ASAP pages.

    Look, first off lots of grad students don't know the basic skills of finding a job, like networking, dressing professionally, etc. (my current school has an office that gives free courses in many of these things.) But beyond that it is 'who you know' and what they say about you to each other that provides 70-90% of jobs out there. If your advisor has connections and won't use them on your behalf you are really competing with one arm tied behind your back.


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