Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘applying for jobs’

Applying for a Postdoc – Take 2

Work for foodI am teaching at a short course and I spent dinner mentoring some senior graduate students in the course about how best to apply for postdocs. I wrote about this a while ago, but I like this advice better, so read this one!!

The students I was talking to are at just the right time to really plan for the next step – about a year out from getting their PhD. While I was talking, I realized this would make a pretty good blog post full of advice. Of course, this is just one WomanOfScience’s idea of what works. It is certainly from my position as a hirer of postdocs. These are the things I do and do not want to see when you approach me for a position. If anyone else has things they want to add or other strategies that work, please post of comment.

  1. How do you find a postdoc? Unlike applying for grad school, there is no one place to particularly apply. There is no clear application process. Being a postdoc is like being a gun for hire. You just have to go where the job is. But, how does one find that job? You have to approach people individually. When reading papers or at conferences, find stuff you like and see who the PI is. Be systematic about it. Make a list and see what is in common about those then maybe look for more working on those problems or with those techniques that interest you. Think to yourself: “How does this position fit into my life goals? Will this position help me to achieve my goals?” You should be able to answer that question should the PI ask when interviewed. You should also be able to answer the question, “What do you want to do for your career? (Or as I say, “What do you want to do when you grow up?) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” If you cannot answer these questions, then perhaps a postdoc is not right for you. If you can, double check that you need a postdoc to achieve your goals.
  2. Now that you have a list of people to approach, you need to reach out to those people. The best way to do this is via an email. What should be in your email?
    • First, make sure you address the person personally. Do not write “Dear Sir.” This is for two reasons: 1. The person you are writing to might be a woman, and she will be mad if you say “dear sir” (don’t believe me, see this post). 2. “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” is impersonal. It sounds like you are writing a form letter and have no idea who you are writing to. If you are applying to a postdoc, you should not spam (send a million emails to a million people)  nor should you sound like you are spamming. I will not read your email if it sounds impersonal.  You should always write, “Dear Dr. SoAndSo,” or “Dear Prof. WomanOfScience.” This is formal because you are using my title, but it is also personal, because you used my name.
    • Next, write something that identifies you, “My name is Wendy Scientist, and I am a 5th year graduate student at BigStateU working in the lab of Dr. BigName.” Now add a sentence or two about how you know of the PI you are writing to, “I saw your work at the ScienceOfImportantStuff Conference last March and was very excited about it.” Or, even better, “We talked at the ScienceOfImportantStuff Conference about my work on ReallyCoolScience.” The second is better because you actually talked to the person. Will the PI you are applying to remember you? Who knows, but if he/she should, he/she will try to remember and continue reading to hear what you have to say. Of course, only say you talked to the person if you actually talked to them. Don’t lie. Scientists are not supposed to be liars.
    • Now write something about your work and their work and how you are excited about the opportunity to do a postdoc with them. This should be brief – not more than 1-2 sentences. They get the point that you are asking about postdoc opportunities.
    • Thank them for their time and sign off. Don’t write a long email because professors get 100s – 1000s of emails every day. You don’t want to waste their time. If they are not interested, they will let you know. If they are, make sure you include some information for them to read more about you.
    • Give them your information. What should you give them?
      • Your full CV. See this post for a lot of information about CVs. In a postdoc application, you need your contact information, your education, research, and work experience, any awards or honors you have won, and your publications in that order. After that, you can add anything else you want. A full CV can be long – it is full. Do not put a picture of yourself on your CV.
      • A one-page summary of your work. The PI you are applying to is not going to read your papers. Besides, they are listed on your CV, so he/she can look them up. Better to give a one-page summary of your thesis work and any technical skills you have. Yes, you can include a picture.
      • A list of references. These are people who can write you a recommendation. You should have at least three references. You can list them at the end of your CV or in a separate document. My university requires three letters for hiring. I will not only ask for the letters, I will also call at least a couple of them to ask about your abilities, skill set, and mentality in the lab.
  3. What to do if you do not hear back? If you don’t hear back in a week and you didn’t get an away message that they were out of the country for a month, send a short email to ping them. This should be very brief and remind them that you applied. Sometimes people won’t write back ever. That’s OK. They are busy or jerks, to whatever. You don’t want to work for someone who doesn’t have time for you, and we are all guilty of this at some point.
  4. What to do it they reject you? Accept it and move on. Sometimes people do not have money. Sometimes they need different skills? Sometimes it just isn’t a good fit. The relationship is about both of you, and it has to work for you both. If the PI senses something isn’t going to work, it isn’t going to work, and you should not push it. Try, try, try again. Just remember that this job is full of ups and downs (see this post) and that criticism is part of the game (see this post), but you have to push forward and keep applying.

So, what do you think? I think this advice is more concrete than the last set about applying for postdocs. I hope you find it helpful. Please feel free to add comments or other suggestions – especially those professors who have been doing this a long time. To get an email every time I post, push the +Follow button.

Application Season: Advice on the PUI

Science on a Sphere exhibitThanks for this post on Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs)  – what they are and how to apply from an excellent WomanOfScience:

In honor of the most recently passing holiday (Halloween), I thought I would try to demystify the application process for tenure-track appointments at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs). Over 85% of professoriate jobs are at PUIs, so more than likely and right about now, you are weighing your options and trying to decide if that second or third postdoc is right for you. I know that some people have a misconception about what it means to be a professor at a PUI, and I’ll admit my family does too. They think that professors at small schools don’t do research, they only teach and that they only have to work for 9-10 months of the year. This is just not the case! We do teach, we do research and we perform extraordinary feats of service. We just can’t usually do research at the pace of a research one school, or like we did when we were postdocs. At PUIs, we usually don’t have access to graduate students, lab technicians, or postdocs to run our labs while we teach. There are at least three tiers of teaching institutions and maybe more depending on whom you ask. Here’s the skinny on what I know…

There are the elite liberal arts colleges, where one teaches on average two lecture courses per semester, about 8 contact hours. At these schools, one is definitely expected to conduct research with students. There’s the middle-tier school where one has about 12 contact hours per semester. A typical schedule maybe split over some combination of one to two lectures, along with the labs associated with that lecture course and an advanced majors lab type course. There is still an expectation that one will perform some student-centered research. Here’s an option which might be a nice bonus if you are at an institution or in a department where they built-in research release time into their teaching load. This is the case at my institution. And then there is the high-contact-hour liberal arts college department. At these schools one is in contact with students for about 12-15ish hours. At these schools, there is not the expectation of research. Some professors have even told me that they are even discouraged from doing research. Here’s some application material to think about in preparation…

You will need, at the least, a curriculum vitae, a teaching statement, and a research statement, all wrapped up in a cover letter. Some schools will ask for names and contacts of references to phone later, others will ask for formal letter. Some will also ask for student evaluation forms or course material, as well. If you are going to a place where you are expected to start a new class, you should feel free to submit your syllabus along with any course outline or material you may have on hand.

Although the vita is pretty much self-explanatory, I will share with you a few tips to adjust your vitae depending on type of teaching institution you are going for. First of all remember to highlight your teaching. You should probably not really change the order from highlighting the research first, especially if you are applying to the upper-tier liberal art institutions. Just remember, “This group of schools really want good researchers who can learn how to teach.” Move the teaching sections right below your educational background. If you don’t have any teaching, which is pretty much a must have for the middle and lower tier school, you should try to highlight any TAing or guest lecturing you’ve done in the past. If you have been associated with any outreach, perhaps it can be mentioned there or if you’ve lead any activities. The biggest difference for the two resumes for elite and middle is that the closer the institution is to the elite schools, the more they will be interested in your research and deciding if it fits into their department. For the lower tier school, they want to see that you can teach and that you can hit the ground running. So make your resume reflect that.

The teaching statement should reflect that you’ve given some thought to teaching. It should show that you are conscientious and care about your students and it should convey how you intend to get this point across to your students. It’s basically a statement of how you teach, what techniques you use in your teaching (pedagogy), how you reflect and improved in your teaching, and perhaps a summarized list of your courses taught throughout your teaching career. I also like to include some statement about how I also use my lab to mentor and train students in research. If you have been asked to teach a new class at the institution you are applying to, I would integrate that into my teaching statement as well. You can also add any teaching ideas you would like to introduce or classes on the books you would like to teach from. This will show your diversity.

The research statement should reflect projects that are student centered.  Then you should introduce the reader to your line of research and detail, without being jargonny or overwhelming, noting the fact that the reader has a Ph.D. in your general field, but perhaps not in your specific topic. Use the opportunity to teach them about your research. Being careful to convey how you would interact with a student in your research group. If you have supervised or mentored any students’ prior, you should highlight your achievements. You should convey how students can access your work and list specific projects they can work on in your group.

The cover letter should tie your application together. It should highlight your activities from you resume, research and teaching statements. And most of all remember it has to speak for you to the application reader.

So get your interview suit cleaned and get ready to start interviewing. Carpe diem!

Thanks for this great post! Do you have suggestions for applying to PUIs? Comment or send a post!

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