Archive for: January, 2011

The art of the thank-you

Jan 29 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I have vivid memories of my thirteen year-old self sprawled on the living room carpet--long, lanky legs, limp perm, retainer--grumpily eyeing two piles in front of me. The first was a colorful assortment of envelopes, fancily-wrapped boxes, and ribbony gift bags; the second, a neat stack of notecards in my theme colors, peach and turquoise (hey, it was 1989).

The rule was that thank you notes had to be written as I opened my presents. And so with each check or bond or engraved Cross™ pen and pencil set  that I opened, I dejectedly pulled another card off the pile, and began scribbling.

"Dear relative I probably haven't met,

I'm so glad you came to my Bat Mitzvah. It was nice to see you. I hope you had fun. Thank you so much for your generous check/bond/Cross™ pen and pencil set. I'm sure I will put it to good use.


Gosh, but I was an ungrateful, miserable, young woman*. I hated writing thank you notes then, and I hate writing them now only slightly less, but alas, they are a part of basic etiquette--especially when you've been on faculty interviews.

Have you just returned from an interview? Congrats! I'm sure you rocked their world. To rock their world further, I'd recommend waiting no more than 3-5 days to send a few thank you's out. The chair and your host, for sure, and maybe if there's anyone you especially enjoyed talking to. I do not think these need to be actual paper snail-mail cards, but use your judgment--if you met someone you think would particularly appreciate a little old school gesture, by all means go right ahead and dig out a stamp. Personally, I think email is fine, and perhaps even preferable for its guaranteeable-ness and instantaneousness. Who knows what gets lost in the bowels of a research institution's mailroom, you know? Certainly several of my rejection letters.

But what do you say in a thank you note? That doesn't make you sound like a robot? Well. To put it succinctly, say things that are nice, and also specific. And try your best to be genuine! Don't be post-Bat Mitzvah Becca**. What did you *really* like about the department? Did you find that there was a happy, community-like feeling? Say that! Did you have fun with the students (so far, this has been one of the highlights of both my interviews)? Say that too--even research-heavy programs want you to care about the students, and not just be all give me my sweet-ass lab, bitches! If you're writing to someone you could see as a future collaborator, say something about how well your research interests jive, and again, be specific! The more personal these notes are, the better they will like you and the more they will see you as a potentially awesome colleague. Which is, if I'm not mistaken, the goal here, no?

*according to Jewish law

**You could instead, of course, always just quote Wayne Newton, although the decision to call the department chair "Darling" should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

9 responses so far

Self-promotion tour 2011

Jan 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

If you followed the recent haps at ScienceOnline 2011, you’ve no doubt heard about the hush that fell over meeting room B when Ed Yong dropped a bomb at the Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name session. Ed remarked that while he gets plenty of direct messages on Twitter from men who hope he’ll pass on word of their latest blog post, not a single female writer had ever asked him to promote one of their pieces. WTF, ladies? This gender discrepancy in self-promotion reaches far beyond the world of blogging—in many professional realms, women just don’t ask for things as much as men do. But why?

The answer is of course incredibly complicated, and is discussed beautifully by Kate Clancy (and her commenters) over at Context and Variation. It's an issue that's been on my mind lately, even before Ed's now legendary words were uttered. But rather than write  a lesser post that (let's be honest) mostly reiterates Kate's many excellent points, I thought I’d write a lesser post that describes what I have been doing to promote myself.

My sister lives in a part of the country that has several Big Research Institutions within an hour or two’s drive, and when I made plans to visit her, it occurred to me that I had some semi-peeps at those BRIs. Why not get in touch? I thought. I wrote to two faculty dudes--one, a brand new asst prof whom I'd met through a friend at SfN and whose interests overlap lots with my own, and two, a more established prof running a big-ish lab whom I've met at several meetings over the past year.

I dropped each a casual note mentioning that I'd be in the area, and that it would be great to see them if possible. Both immediately responded, and invited me to their respective BRIs to give a talk to their department. Seriously, it was that easy.

My trip, then, was both business and pleasure, and I hope it comes as no surprise to you to hear that the business side was also quite pleasurable! I had great visits at both BRIs--I got to meet lots of new people, practice my job talk, get oodles of good TT-search advice from the faculty types I met, and--most importantly--promote the shit out of myself and my research. It was nice being able to do all that without the stress and pressure of being at a faculty interview, too; just one scientist, visiting some other scientists and talking about science. And really, aside from the DataRush™, isn't that why we're in this game?

If you have the opportunity to go on a self-promotion tour of your own, I highly recommend it. Hell, you know what? I highly demand it. Until we're at the point where people are banging down our doors and flooding our inboxes with seminar invites, it is our job to make people know who we are, and that is simply not going to happen from our pubs and conference posters alone. Get out there and tell everyone how awesome you are!

(And, uh, please don't make too much fun of the crappy tour poster I put together in like 5 min on PowerPoint)

27 responses so far

Introducing...the tenure-track job search advice aggregator!

Jan 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

The last few months have been pretty action-packed here in FTTT-land, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the amazing faculty bloggers who've posted detailed, thoughtful advice to TT-hopefuls over the years. I found myself revisiting many of their posts, but often it was tough to remember who said what, and my browser would end up with 30 open tabs, and it was all just a big mess. I thought to myself, "Self, wouldn't it be great if you had all these amazing posts in one easy-to-find place?" Self felt that this was a no-brainer.

And so, lovely readers, I give you the TT job search advice aggregator, up there in my main menu bar. Advice from some of your favorite faculty position-holding peeps in the blogosphere, organized by topic. I hope that those of you who are or will be on the TT market will find it useful, and please let me know if there's something you think should be added to it; it's without question a work in progress.

I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner.

5 responses so far

Do you have any idea how big my interlibrary loan privileges are?

Jan 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized


I'm currently camped out in Penn Station, waiting for stupid Amtrak to get its act together so I can go kick ass at my next interview, but it's not looking good; the entire Northeast Corridor is shut down. But at least there's wi-fi, and at least there's my excellent friend LM to send me hilarious links to pass the time.

HEY, LADIES: CHECK OUT MY FACULTY ID is in McSweeny's today, and ohmyfreakinggod, it is going to Make. Your. Day.

"Damn straight I'm on track for tenure. Soon enough, I'll have a dozen PhD students. We'll publish the shit out of our research."

4 responses so far

A day in the life of an unemployed neuroscientist

Jan 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I've heard on several occasions that when a person first learns they'll be losing their job, the number one stressful thought isn't "How will I provide for myself and my family?" but "What on earth am I supposed to do all day?" I can imagine--while the idea of long, drawn-out days with nowhere to go, nothing required of you may initially sound pretty OK, as they start to add up, a growing sense of  lack-of-purpose might start to nag. And then that nag might turn into something bigger--a slow, twisting pang of hopelessness that gets more pronounced with every turn of the calendar page.

Thankfully, I'm not there yet--not even close. Between the holidays, the first faculty interview (no. 2 very soon!), plus a little side project I've been working on, the days have been different and busy enough that I haven't yet lapsed into a daily routine of boredom-fueled binge eating and video games.

I made a couple of rules for myself, the first being that I have to leave the house every day. Even if it's just to walk to the store to buy cat food, I am under no circumstances allowed to spend the entire day indoors in my sweatpants. Second, I must exercise often. Exercise is good not only for getting rid of those nasty love handles that mysteriously popped up around the time I went to three holiday "cookie parties" in one weekend, but also for generally feeling good in my brain. I've decided that even if I end up with a little credit card debt, I'm keeping my gym membership; going to the gym gives me energy and makes me happy, and those are two things that an unemployed person needs, badly.

The money thing is a much bigger problem--as you might imagine, the NIH post-doctoral minimum salary doth not very far stretch here in the Big Apple, and my savings are, one could say, lilliputian. Now, I will be the first to admit that I haven't exactly lived an ascetic's lifestyle in the last five years, but that is currently neither here nor there. The reality is that J and I may have to move, probably to Queens, where rents are substantially cheaper than in Brooklyn. I went out there earlier this week to check out our options, and was greeted by a woman carrying a live parrot on her shoulder who showed me an apartment with blood on the bedroom floor. I wish I were kidding.

I also signed up to receive unemployment benefits, which is one of the most humbling things I've ever done. I felt bad, like I was taking it from someone who "really" needed it (and yes, I realize that the fact that I had that thought speaks loads of my privileged existence thus far). But I do need it, or I will not be able to pay my rent, even if it is in a blood-spattered apartment in Queens. This week, I have to go to a Career Assistance appointment at the NY State Department of Labor. I wonder if they have an in at  SUNY?

But life is not all sadness and dismay!  I cashed in some credit card miles, and in a couple of weeks I travel to a warm state to visit my sister, and will give two seminars while I'm down there. I went to the opthamologist and dentist, and received reports that my eyes haven't worsened and that I'm a good brusher. Without saying too much, things are...progressing...on the faculty front, and even possibly on the interim-job front. I am optimistic that life will not be horrible.

15 responses so far