Archive for: November, 2012

The recipe for landing a tenure track job

Nov 29 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

So there's cooking and there's baking, right? You've heard the metaphor a million times. Baking requires sticking relatively rigorously to the recipe, lest your cake turn out dry or your (hypothetically speaking) pie crust comes out tough and chewy. Cooking, on the other hand, lends itself to a little more...personal flair. Leave an ingredient out, add a couple in, and NBD, right? Your dish still tastes awesome, and your dinner guests think you're a culinary genius.

Is finding a tenure track job cooking or baking? I think we all know deep down that it's cooking, but we WANT it to be baking, don't we? We are, after all, scientists. Give us the protocol! Tell us the exact ingredients, and we'll do them, we swear, as long as a well-funded position at an R1 with minimal teaching load comes out of the oven when the timer goes off.

I've noticed a lot of conversations in the 'sphere lately about what is "needed" in order to land a job. I can't be bothered to look them all up, but just go read all the comment threads over at Drug Monkey. Today, Arseny Khakhalin did a neat little analysis of the "cumulative impact factor" (literally adding the IFs of all 1st author pubs, plus a little extra for non 1st authors and reviews) of his friends, and divided them up based on their TT job situation. Putting aside the issue of whether his criteria for judging a uni as "really cool" vs. "quite decent" vs. "terrible offers at some weird places" are in any way scientifically legitimate (let's face it, we all have our biases), his findings were inarguably fascinating/terrifying. Those in the first two categories had cumulative IFs of at least 60, within ~8 years of getting their PhD (he does not show for each person what their CIF was when they actually got their TT offer).

So we can now add "cumulative IF of 60+" to the growing list of must-have ingredients in your quest to bake yourself into the perfect TT candidate. Others include:

-at least one first author paper in Cell/Nature/Science
-working 80 hrs/week
-Ph.D. from a top 20 institution
-post-doc with incredibly famous person

Am I missing anything? For the record, my cumulative IF is hovering somewhere around 40.

As you may remember, this past September I traveled to our country's Bethesd-er regions to sit on a panel of faculty-type people, in front of several dozen post-docs with many burning questions. The most common, though, was: How do I know if I'm a competitive candidate for a tenure-track job? It was clear that they were looking for some sort of validation--that we'd tick off a list of must-haves, and they'd be able to say to themselves, OK, got it, got it, need it, got it.

And I think that that's why we have all these conversations here, as well. If there were just some tangible way to know exactly what it takes in order to guarantee success in this biz, we'd all at least stop feeling like we're standing blindfolded on the edge of a cliff. Or like we're cooking with a bunch of unmarked canisters. Or some other relevant metaphor. More to the point, I also think that it may help us subconsciously justify the glaringly high number of people who would like TT jobs but just don't get them.  Well, they didn't have any glamour pubs/external funding/anyone famous write letters for them/took a vacation, so. And that may make us feel just a tiny bit better.

Look, you guys. I wish I had better answers for you. I wish getting a job were baking, but it's just not. It's cooking. But if you know anything about cooking (or have watched Chopped ever), you know that things that look like they're turning into disasters can be salvaged, sometimes to an even more elevated place than they were originally headed. So stay aware of where you are, talk to people, and be passionate about what you want to do. Try to keep perspective, and good luck.

23 responses so far

"No strong dramatic situations"

Nov 26 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

If, like me, you are a general lover of old things, then I presume you already know about Retronaut, a superb online collection of photos and other media from decades past. Seriously, you could get lost in there for hours. Today I happened upon this gem, a screenplay rejection form letter from an early 20th century movie studio in Chicago.

So many of these are not so far off from scientific manuscript rejections, that I had to chuckle at the idea of today's journals sending out a similar checklist. Wouldn't that make it so much easier? Just eliminate all harrowing death bed scenes from your paper, and you're golden!

9 responses so far

Cocktail contest video winner!!

Nov 15 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

And another month of the Donors Choose Science Bloggers for Students Drive comes to an end. Thanks to all who gave in the name of kids learning about science! As promised, I've chosen one lucky donor who gave through my Giving Page to inspire a cocktail. As you can see, the winner is my cats. Apologies for when it sort of looks like the bottom is cut off, I presume it's due to something something aspect ratio.

7 responses so far


Nov 01 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Look, I'm not going to beat around the bush here, Sandy is a piece of shit. She killed dozens of people, submerged my former neighborhood in 4 ft of water, caused a friend of mine in the ICU to be evacuated down nine flights of stairs, flooded other friends' homes, destroyed a massive research animal colony, and in general has devastated a city that I love like no other.  My thoughts are with everyone up and down the East coast affected by the storm, and I hope that all of you and your loved ones are safe and dry.

If your charitable allotments for the foreseeable future are headed for the Red Cross, that's more than reasonable. However, if you have a little you could spare for some kids in Gulfport, Mississippi who want to learn about brains, I (and they) would be so grateful. As it happens, Gulfport itself is no stranger to hurricanes, having been ravaged by both Katrina and Isaac. Mrs. Hermetz's elementary school class needs $1101 so they can have a kick ass comparative neuroanatomy lesson with human and sheep brains! Neuroanatomy has always been one of my absolute favorite topics, and I would love for these kids to get to experience all the amazingness for themselves.

Now, here's the good news and the bad news, bad news first: this project only has 14 days left until it's taken down, which means we need to act fast, because $1101 is a lot of money. The good news is, DonorsChoose has just released a Match Code for all Science Bloggers' donors to use, which means that your money goes twice as far! The code is SCIENCE, and you'll enter it in the box that says "Match or Gift Code" when you go to check out, starting at 9am Nov 1.  And if you give to "Brainology" through my Giving Page, you'll also be entered in my cocktail video contest to win a cocktail of your very own!

With this Match Code, I seriously think we can do this, you guys! All hands on deck! Let's get these kids some BRAAIIINNNNZZZ!

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