What a difference a year can make

Jul 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Now that I can finally stop stressing about being homeless in New Job City, let's get back to business, shall we?

Summer's in full swing, and if you're thinking of throwing your hat into the TT ring this fall, it's time to start working on your application packet. What's that? You'd prefer to be lounging on the dock of a lakeside cabin? Too bad! There are plenty of non-lakeside loungers who would gladly sign that offer letter instead of you.

Those of you who've been following me from the beginning know that in the '09-10 hiring season, I truly struck out looking. Dozens of applications, and not a whisper of interest from anyone, despite my Classy Institution-filled CV, letters of rec from Famous Dudes (and Dudette), and (what I naively thought was a) brilliant Research Plan. Ahem.

It was super depressing, and the whole experience made me want, at times, to throw in the towel completely. But I picked up my sad, wilted ego, regrouped, and as you well know, the '10-11 hiring cycle went much better. So, what was it that made the difference? How does a person go from gut-churning despair to confetti and revelry in the course of just one year? Here are a few things that, for those of you about to have another (or even a first) go at it, may be worth thinking about.

1. New data. In late spring/early summer '10, I got some data that turned my frown upside down. Not a whole paper's worth, but enough that it gave me a lot to think about, and even better still, another line of research I could add to my research statement. My excitement about this new avenue came through in my proposal, and made my statement much, much stronger.

2. More eyes. I cannot say this enough--get as many people as you can to give you feedback on your statements. In '10-11 I expanded my sources of criticism advice, and it made a huge difference. Honestly, a one-sentence suggestion from a new reader inspired me to restructure my whole research statement, and all of a sudden, everything just clicked.

3. More teaching. One interesting trend I noticed between the job ads of '09-10 and '10-11 is that way more of them started asking for teaching statements, even at very research-heavy R1-type places. Luckily, I had the opportunity to co-teach a course during the spring '10 semester, and I was able to add what I'd learned from that experience to my previous teaching statement, using concrete examples. For more on the teaching statement, check out Dr Zen's latest.

4. Broaden your options. As has been discussed at length by Drugmonkey/Risottoproffe, the benefits of casting a wide net when applying greatly outweigh whatever negatives you could come up with. In round 2 I expanded my application submissions to places I probably would have passed over in round 1, and it paid off immensely; when I went to interview at NJU (one of my top choices), I had an offer in hand from my first interview U, and NJU worked their butts off to get me a far superior offer as quickly as possible.

These are the biggies for me, I'd say, but I'd love to hear from others who also had better experiences this year than last. How did you effectively change your game?

7 responses so far

  • Matt says:

    Great post, Becca!
    What made a difference for me, I think, was reframing my proposal in terms of my training. What I mean by that is that in year 1, I wrote about some ideas for research that I thought were really interesting. In year 2, I rewrote those proposals to specifically highlight how my training (PhD and Postdoc) had led me to these ideas.

    Point of clarification Year 1 and year 2 in this case don't necessarily indicate my first and second year of applying for TT jobs 😉

    • Dr Becca says:

      Yes, Matt, exactly! Your goal in the research statement should be to express why YOU are THE ONE to do the research you're proposing.

      Also, I'm trying to figure out what else "year 1" and "year 2" could refer to besides, um...years.

  • Dr 27 says:

    Great post! I agree 😀

    As you know I did not apply to TT positions, but instead I looked for staff positions. I can say that time indeed was beneficial during my job search. Right after finishing my degree in '09, I started looking for any kind of science or science-related positions in Canada. I needed to pay the bills somehow and I was mostly focused on that. I put the "thinking about your future/steering things in that direction" to rest at the time, while I looked for a source of income (not very smart). I was afraid of thinking about career prospects and I also felt too young and immature, scientifically speaking, to take on the challenges of joining industry or anything outside of academia, without further training. It didn't work, I got 2 interviews for postdoc positions and that was it. Granted, this was in the middle of the economic downturn, I I thank my lucky stars everyday that something appeared which allowed me to learn new techniques, live abroad and eat something other than ramen noodles.

    But even without a clear career plan, in those 2 years I went to seminars and workshops, volunteered as judge for talks and sessions, and was an instructor for my department for part of a course, did some networking, and of course experiments (which had no relationship to my current professional life, but hey, that's what I was brought in for, right?) and overall used that time to discover what it was/is that got my creative juices flowing. It wasn't easy, it was rather painful. I chose to join a postdoc lab in a completely different discipline/expertise than my graduate one, and in doing so, I got to really miss, appreciate and stay somewhat current on my field of training. So, I do believe time made a difference, and it helped to focus and choose a path and stick to it, regardless of how disheartening it was at times. While at the moment it sucked to have some rejections and get some offers, which then didn't work out, in the end I think I got to the place I was meant to be, and everything else was just training for this, even the heartbreaks.

    Time does help, and it's important, and I do believe that things happen for a reason and that destiny or life or whatever are preparing us to be at the right place. Good luck to you and I am so glad you got the chance to show your awesome/mad skillz and train new generations 🙂

  • Dr. Dad, PhD says:

    Thanks for the post!

    I'm definitely feeling a bit intimidated by the whole prospect of casting my application packet out into the ether. I think parts of my background make me competitive (NIH funding history, teaching experience, networking, communication skills) but I have some huge holes (more papers - always need more papers....) that I hope won't sink my applications.

    Oh yeah, to add to my... shall we say nervousness.... is that lab funding may mean that I only get one shot at this, so I'm scouring the internet and hitting everyone I know for advice. I'm hoping to retool a recent K99 application into a research statement, but I'm afraid I'm dragging my feet since I'm not exactly sure what the heck I'm doing...

    In any case, thank you for re-inspiring me to get back on track (no more using Facebook to go to sleep at night). Time to take some advice from Risky Business... http://youtu.be/geDCtBQeN8c

    • Dr Becca says:

      Do it, Dr Dad! Just make sure you've read everything in my TT job search advice aggregator (see far right of my menu bar) before you do!

      We could all always have more papers, but I think a history of NIH funding will help outweigh that.

      Now, get to it--no feet dragging! Good luck!

      • Dr. Dad, PhD says:

        LOL! I'm (re)reading it as we speak! And by the way, I wanted to thank you for putting it all together - it's helped in the realize where I was weak, and allowed me to bolster certain aspects of my background (especially teaching).

        I suppose I'm not in too bad of shape, but I still feel a wave of anxiety when I contemplate what I haven't done yet, and more importantly what I'll do if it doesn't work out (has anyone else seen Mr. Mom?)....

        I always have an updated CV handy (a trick I learned from my PhD advisor) and I finished a draft of my teaching statement last week. Now I need to buckle down and write the research statement. I had sorta assumed I'd just be able to plug in my K99 research proposal, but I just realized how much work it would take to turn it into a readable and coherent document.

        I've always been a DIY, low-maintenance kinda guy, and I always feel awkward handing of drafts that are far from perfect. I never considered myself a perfectionist, but I do like to make a good impression. So it seems that a big part of my nervousness is in seeking mentoring help. Time to get over that, I suppose....

        Thanks for the encouragement and I'll keep you updated (yes, I swear I'll be better about blogging...)

        Dr. Dad

Leave a Reply