originally posted 31 Oct 2010
In honor of Hallowe’en, I’m going to talk about the TT job search. If you are a postdoc that wants to stay in academia, thinking about a job search may be a scary proposition. I remember being a little freaked out by the whole process. After you spend several years trying to do kick-ass science (6 for me), you spend a summer writing up your work and thinking about your future plans. In 5 pages you try to capture why you are awesome, what you think is cool and how you are going to be a RockStar within 5 years. Then you send this out…and wait. Spooky, right?
I remember. Last year at this time, I was in the process of sending out job applications. LOTS of job applications. Now, the tables have turned. My department is hiring again this year, and I’m on the search committee. And I am finding this even more spooky.
We had a faculty meeting last week (kinda freaky, but not the really scary part). At the end, we had a discussion about our search this year. Turns out that we have almost 600 applications. And we haven’t made it to the deadline yet!
I’m sorry, what? how many!?!
(It’s more spooky with a black cat, yes?)
The large number of applications stems from the fact that I am in a pretty basic dept. that is looking for someone that “does good science”. Anyone from a molecular biophysicist to systems biologist to development geneticist to a physiologist could be at home here. That is part of the reason I like it so much. But that means that everyone has apparently responded to our advert. Oh yeah, and the reason that we are hiring again this year, even with the crappy economy, is that our dept. is in desperate need of junior faculty. Which means that there aren’t many people to sit on the search committee. In other words, only 2-3 of us are going to sift through this giant pile. Our first task is triage: apparently it will be relatively easy to “weed out” at least 150-200. I say “apparently” because I have no experience with this yet (we are waiting for the deadline). I’ve been told not to spend more than 2 min per application.
Yep, you read correctly. In less than 2 minutes one person is going to decide if anyone will ever actually read your application. Those that are not “out” will be assigned to themes and circulated to appropriate faculty to identify the top 10-20%. This is what really terrified me. Some applications may get read here, but I wouldn’t count on it. I am told to expect to spend ~10 min per application at this level. In other words, if you make it past triage you have 10 min to convince someone you are the best thing since Howard Hughes.
So, what is the moral of this story? I promised some nuggets of wisdom, but this is all I’ve got:
1. if there is something that you want me to read, make it easy to find!
2. Use bold judiciously. If you bold something that I find irritating, that is bad.
3. pictures break up pages of text and are usually more memorable (this can be good or bad)
4. The first thing I am reading is the research statement. The first 2 sentences better be really good!
5. Make it clear how you are going to distinguish yourself from your advisor. No one believes that you can compete with an established lab right out of the gate.
Seriously, how did I ever get a job?!