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Read posting description carefully.  When we have multiple openings, for example one Bio and the other is Energy, often Energy people ap...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


These days this is becoming more common.  Try to avoid it if you can, because Skype is an easy way to filter out folks for free, while flying someone out is an investment. Yet, I interviewed candidates on Skype when I was on a search committee, and we did eventually hire from those who passed *several rounds* of this means of communication.  Some people prefer by video while others prefer by phone.  In one case a search committee member ambushed a candidate, calling this person without prior warning. I usually give warning.  When I call the candidate, they are usually formally dressed as if it is a face-to-face interview.  When I was in that position, I too wore a tie, but only the visible part of me was fancy ;)

Our department operated these this pre-interview by breaking up a pool of 20 candidates among five search committee members, each interviewed four candidates (I actually went out of my way to interview more than I was assigned to ensure we did not miss anyone good).  I gleaned information that was not immediately obvious from the application packet (see my blog the application packet):

1) I asked questions about their research statement and tried to get an idea about their depth of content knowledge.  This was difficult to do as I was not an expert in their field.  But, I am pretty good at seeing the big picture, so with my questions, I pushed them outside of their bounds; yes, I can be mean :)  Another reason to do this is to get a good idea for what they are really doing (I spent maybe ten minutes skimming their statement), and to gauge how versatile they are as researchers, and to judge their potential to bring funding.  I asked about which grants they would apply, to which agencies, and about their proposal writing experience.

2) Why are you interested in our institution?  Now, good answers ranges from geographical preference, to family living in the area, to relevant industry in the area, to ‘I want to collaborate with Dr. Bob.’ This last point showed me that the applicant spent the time to look through the department Website and researched the faculty with whom she or he would be working.  The more I knew about the research the better off went the interview.  However, if the applicant did not mention anything about the faculty, I then asked with whom she or he wanted to collaborate (oh, yes!) and if the response showed that no homework was done on this topic, interview ‘points’ were lost.

4) What do you need to be successful here?   Every applicant must be prepared for this question. There are several parts to it.  One is,"How much money do you want?"  What we want to understand is a) Do you have a good idea of how much things cost (i.e. have you thought this through?) and b) Can we afford you?  It is up to the candidate to figure out what equipment is needed to realize their vision (I ask for an equipment list, regardless, and highly encourage applicants to think about this).  They do not need to have exact numbers, but at least have a ballpark figure.  This also gives me an opportunity to understand the depth of their knowledge about hardware and pricing.  Often, candidates told me that they needed an incubator, and then looked at me scared, as though they had asked for something unattainable. And I responded, "Okay...that’s only about ten thousand dollars, but you are asking for half a million, so, what else do you need?"  They then named a few more ten-thousand-dollar pieces of equipment...and it is like okay...now you are up to fifty thousand, so for what do you need the other $450 thousand, LOL?  Oh, I had a good time torturing these hotshots :) Some candidates asked for more than a million dollars, making me wonder whether they mixed up our university and MIT. It is critical to understand what is reasonable and what is not.  This functionally depends on the caliber of the institution and on the nature of the research.  Do not forget that some people consider student cost to be a part of the start-up, while others think of it as a separate matter and view the $ figure as just equipment and expendables.  For one who models, for example, cost is nearly negligible.

We also want to ensure that your career does not depend on some super-expensive machine that is unavailable on our campus.  As a student or postdoc, you do not really think about the logistics of this, because when you work on your project, all of these are typically already in place.  But here, if you say that you need to use something that costs one million dollars (keep in mind that I know the prices and you might not), I will ask you where you plan to find this machine, and your answer should be good, which means that you should have looked up whether our campus has it, or maybe a hospital or another university near by.  The last thing we want to happen is to invest in you but realize that you cannot do the work because of something like this.

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR MODELERS:   typically universities want to hire modelers because they require smaller start-up packages (so keep that in mind when you asking for money).  Because super-computing resources are typically available through national resources (e.g. XSEDE https://www.xsede.org), gone are the days when "I wanna build a local cluster" is a legitimate reason to waste hundreds of thousands of tax-payer dollars.  An experienced computational scientist should understand that setting up and maintaining a cluster yourself is a huge pain in the @$$.  Sure there are exceptions when exotic software is not available on the supercomputer; for such cases, you should check whether the university you are applying to has local HPC resources (so you could pay for the license and have it installed there). With computational candidates its always funny to have them explain how they are going to spend the hundreds of thousands they want, when all they really need is ~20k worth of desktops... but, for example, postdocs (man-power) is a legitimate way to spend money for a computationalist... because quality of your the brains that you employ is your most critical resource for your work ;)

5)  Communication skills/English proficiency

This is self-explanatory.  Of course we understand that English might not be your first language (as in my case), but there is a minimum expectation, so you can at least teach courses and the students would understand what you are saying (I have experience with professors whose English is terrible).

6) Teaching experience/ability to teach chemical engineering courses (a concern for non-ChE diplomas)

Here you can talk about anything from your teaching-assistant experience to volunteering in a high school or tutoring.  It is not the biggest thing, since your teaching can be improved by sending you to workshops, but it is still important to show that you are enthusiastic about it.  And the best way to do that is by establishing a track record of going out of your way to gain teach experience.  Also, I would ask you what classes do you prefer to teach and why.  Be aware that most pick thermodynamics (because we have so much of it, and its relatively easy). For those reasons, thermodynamics is usually not the one we need help filling, LOL.

Miscelaneous:  If you already have grants (that is really good), we ask whether you can bring them with you. Obviously if you can, that gives you a huge edge over the other candidates, but most postdoctoral grants are not transferable to faculty positions, unless it is something like the K99/R00 transition grant...if you have one of those, then almost any university will take you!

Finally, be friendly!  One candidate argued with me when I asked about the research.  As I said above, I ask questions to get an idea how much is known. Sadly, in this case the Skype interview got nasty fast.  And I walked away from it feeling that I would not want to spend the next twenty years working next door to this person.  And, you bet, I reported as much to the search committee.

Here is a post about someone else, regarding what type of questions they ask: https://twitter.com/ThisAmyPeterson/status/1193957678613172230

Common Mistakes Over Skype:  
-Jumped right into the guts of the science, without an introduction that establishes importance of the topic, captivates the audience, and does a literature overview explaining your niche.
- Not able to follow your science.  Keep in mind that your audience is smart, but is not necessarily in your field.  So, it is your job to present the information clearly. You and your work can be a genius, but if people can't follow what you are saying, you will not get grants.  So this is important.
- Future research is an extension of the advisers work (you should be prepared to answer how you will stand apart, and whether you will be competing with them).  The assumption is that the established investigator wins if you compete.
- Did not look up potential collaborations in the target school/dept
- Has a vague idea about what will be the first grant / when will it be ready for submission / which agency / what are the submission windows
- Missing a slide about teaching preferences
- Missing a slide that tabulates the start-up requirements (we should have a clear idea of your critical needs and how much you will cost us).  Meanwhile, you need to show that you know how much the equipment and the expendables cost.
- Too few slides or too many slides.  Ask the Search Committee Chair for a break down of how many minutes you should spend on each section.
- Bad microphone, internet connection, etc.  You should check these things before Skyping. 

For the formal Skype meeting with the whole search  committee (as opposed to the 1-on-1 pre-screening above), we ask the candidates to prepare a brief presentation, including about 10 min for their current research, 15 min for proposed projects and funding opportunities, 5 min or so for teaching, and 5 minutes on the start-up needs. We block a time slot of about 1.25 hours (with 15 minutes extra in case we need more time) so we will have enough time to set up, presentation and asking questions. There should be also time for you to ask us questions.


First, this in our (ChE) profession, it is customary that the visit should not cost you a dime.  For this reason, the department only invites between five and eight candidates to the university (number of applicants, 80-200).  So 1) Keep your receipts, and 2) Understand that the department (especially at small universities) have limited resources, and actually try to invite people who do not live across the country from them (this makes no sense to me, since plane ticket prices do not depend on the distance so much, but that is how it is).

But anyways, congratulations if you got to this point.  You are on the short list, so now is your time to shine.

Dress nice.  Be polite.  Observe etiquette.  Try to steer the conversation towards small talk as much as you can.  Pretty much, your interview has already started (so keep in mind that you will be probed throughout the dinner).  And you don't want to be saying all the same things to these guys the next day, because you will have plenty of time to spend with these people and it might get awkward.  So at dinner, do not talk about research too much, instead show your human side.  They, in turn, will try to access: how interested you are in the position; whether you've had other interviews before (or have many lined up); what kind of personality you have; what your geographical preferences are, etc.

A professor will pick you up early in the morning (after a sleepless night for you), and you will have a nice long awkward one-on-one with this person, while stuck in traffic, looking for a parking spot, walking to the department.

You have probably seen when seminar speakers come to the department, and they spend half an hour or so individually with each faculty member.  During this time the faculty members will you about their research.  You can, and should, ask the secretary to send you the schedule of whom you will meet, to prepare.  I strongly suggest reading at least one latest paper and at least one most highly cited paper for each faculty from the department.  The ones with whom you actually meet, you should especially read. Obviously, do not leave until the night before (you should practice your presentation then).  And when I write, "read", I mean skim ;)

In any case, this part is not too hard, though some might immediately ask you hard questions.  What I remember about this part is that I got a tour of the facilities, and I acted really interested in all of them, nodding my head a lot.

You will have lunch with up to six faculty members, some of whom you likely met, others not.  You would think they would leave you alone, but no, they will ask you things like, "So what will be your first step, after we give you an empty office and an empty lab?"  They will also want to know whether you can somehow collaborate with them (go out of your way to stretch your research to their needs, because they do want to collaborate).

The dean is who actually gives out the positions in the university, so he will be trying to gauge how good of an investment you are / how fundable your work is.  Basically, expect the conversation to be about money.  I suggest you give him a brief overview of who you are and what you are about.  Then he/she will ask you some questions that are specific to your case (e.g., details of your start-up request, whether you are eligible for some funding opportunity that he knows about).  This usually doesn't last longer than half an hour, but be prepared for small-talk:  

You can ask him/her some questions regarding the university, what you can expect on the job, basically act interested and ask questions that a person who seriously cares about working there long-term would ask.  Its always a good idea to look up the Dean's background (for that matter the background and publications of all the people you are expected to interact with during the interview).


After lunch, it is your time to tell them about who you are and what you do.  Typically, the seminar should be about an hour (40mins + time for questions), while the chalk-talk is probably half that time, but again you should ask for the format.  

The seminar is what you did (your PhD work) and what you are doing (your postdoc work).  While the chalk-talk is what you plan to do in the next five years (you can mention beyond that, but short term is the emphasis). The seminar should be easy for you, since nobody knows your work better than you, but still expect technical questions.

In the chak-talk you should briefly go over your teaching plan, which essentially just describes your philosophy, what courses you want to teach (look up which are offered by the department, and which are missing), courses you want to develop (it is always good if your particular experience can fill in an existing niche), and your teaching experience.  This can be just 1-2 slides. 
Also, I talked about the skills and toolsets that I will bring into the department(for example super-computing and modeling were missing in the department). By the way, chalk talk is usually by PowerPoint (not chalk on a board), just like a seminar.  

Next is the meat of the chalk-talk, describe ~4 future proposals (it can be compact, like one slide per proposal):  2 short term projects, and 2 long term. Talk about how you will make things happen (established or needed collaborations, equipment needs), and how you will finance each one (mention grant opportunities that you will apply for and when; or maybe you already have some grants pending or even funded).  The more detail provided the better it shows that you have the maturity level to pull this off.  Talk about which agency, which division, which type of grant. Even mention the grant officer name (maybe you called them and discussed your idea with them).  It is also important to establish that you will be independent from your previous bosses; common criticism is that your future work is an extension of what you've been doing under somebody else's guidance, so how will you compete with established people?  

Finally, you should present a few tables summarizing your start-up request:  key equipment and estimated capital costs, annual costs for running the lab, student years (or maybe you want a postdoc).  Things like that.  The committee needs to have a ball-park idea what your needs are, and what kind of package they will be negotiating with you.  

After you are done with the chalk-talk, you will get a short break and then meet with the P&T committee.  They are senior members at the department.  It can be a bit awkward as there is no clear agenda as far as what the conversation should be about. But its kind of time for you to ask questions about anything... the hiring process, the school, the department... you can ask about the students quality, the teaching load, the work setting, about where are the recent hires (did they get tenure or not), about the internal politics, and so on.  Express your thoughts in regards to improvement of the program.

QUESTIONS THAT YOU COULD (AND SHOULD) ASK:  The two most important offices at the university, as far as you are concerned, are the purchasing office and the grants office.  If their grants office doesn't have grant writers (i.e., all they do is check your work, and all the bureaucratic paper-work falls on you) avoid that place like the plague.   Likewise, if the purchasing office is slow/terrible, it will slow down your lab and make your life a living hell.  A quick example is if they don't have a credit-card system in place for small purchases, and you have to submit a purchase order for every little thing you want to buy.  This will waste a lot of your time.  So, if you are in a position to pick-and-choose job offers, I would definitely ask about your potential colleagues about these two offices.

Finally, you will have a one-on-one with the department head.  This person should be your friend and a parent-figure.  Hopefully, this person will end up being your mentor.  They will not make an offer there, but they will try to get an idea about how interested you are about the job, what your situation is (do you have other offers, interviews, etc.), and have a nice chat.  It is very important to get a department head who likes you, but also keep in mind that some times they are not permanent and could be replaced by someone else.  You want to go to a place that is not a snake nest, but a collegiate environment.  So, if you have places from which to choose, go for the one where you feel most at home and the the rest will fall into place.

Say your goodbyes, take a breather, fly home and reimburse your receipts through the secretary.

> FOLLOWING UP:  after a day or two, write a thank you Email to every professor there met.  Try to customize it to that particular person, to make them feel good. Although, they've probably already given their feedback about you, if you do not send an email that makes it look like you are not very interested.  If you can get them talking over Emails, that is always nice, because that person probably liked you.  But the most important person with whom you will have contact is the department head.

He/she will probably try to buy some time for them to interview more people, make their decision, and maybe even make offers to other people... unless you blew them out of the water, you may be not the top choice... so pretty much you will wait until the top choices have either accepted or declined the offer, to receive your final response.  Of course, you won't know what is happening, because they'll be singing a completely different song to you.  What I am trying to write is that even if its been a month and you still don't know, that might actually be a good thing, because that could mean that other people are not accepting and you might be the next in line to get the offer!

In case you do, read my blog about the DOs and DONTs of negotiation offers :)

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Here are the results of the survey I conducted to help you (and us) understand who the faculty candidates are:

Looks like most don't go more than 2-3 times (either you get jobs or give up...).  I started going when I was a graduate student (just for experience), so I've probably been 3-4 times myself.

Thanks for the support of my idea... I think its a good idea too, but hard to implement :/  Not giving up though!

Bioengineering and Energy are the most popular (no surprise there).  Should we rename ourselves to American Institute of Bio Engineers? lol

I guess Materials stands out as the secondary theme

Let's quickly compare this to what the universities are looking for.  The graph below is based on what I see on http://rheneas.eng.buffalo.edu/cache/ads.php  I am plotting here the % of that ads that express interest in a particular field (since each ad accepts more than one field, these don't add up to 100)

Looks like the story is basically the same:  Bioengineering and Energy are at the top (though I expect that with the falling oil prices, the enthusiasm about Energy will decline next year, lol).  

2/3 are postdocs, that is also kind of expected. ps:  see my other post about postdoc desirability:  http://facultycandidate.blogspot.com/2014/10/should-i-postdoc-again.html

I am surprised to see that there are 6-7% of you who are looking for better offers, I guess?

Sunday, November 2, 2014


On Sunday, go and enjoy all the openings/receptions (you can find them in the ancillary events) and have some fun.  The most difficult part has just began.  Hopefully, you have received some invites to the evening university receptions by the employers who were interested in your poster (if you did not, go to them anyway).  Pick up the schedule for these things at the registration desk (they are also posted online and in the conference app). At this point, the university receptions are more important for you than the actual conference!

In case you are not aware, Monday-Wednesday many universities hold these sessions with free food and drinks, and the faculty (including those on the search committee) typically stay in their room, while everyone else is floating around from one to the other.  While this is a joy-full experience to the hungry students and to the hand-shaking professors, but for you this may be critical to getting your foot in the door.  The experience and the atmosphere will be similar to approaching strangers in a bar.  I know that this is hard to do, especially for introverts (which most of engineers and scientists probably are), but you need to be able to do it at this critical time in your career.  So do whatever gets you comfortable.  Practice before the conference.  Read strategies online and watch videos with tips for striking up conversations with strangers.

Try to hit as many of these receptions as you can, starting with the hiring universities, obviously.   When you enter the room, do your best to identify the important people (ie, the ones on the hiring committee).  These tend to be the older folks, and typically, they will have a crowd of desperate job-seekers, such as yourself around them.  You can also ask someone who is from that university if they can tell you who is on the hiring committee.  Go and approach these professors.  Note, that it is a good idea to arrive before the reception even starts, or at the very beginning, because the professors are more available at that time.

Usually, I started with extending my hand, introducing myself and then just starting to pouring about my grants, publications and research into their ears.  Think of it as an "elevator-pitch", where you have just 5 mins to impress an investor (because, eventually, someone else will interrupt and steal your spotlight).  Make sure that your name-tag is visible, and have your resume on hand, plus some business cards.  Ask them for their card, and find out who else from their department is around that you could talk to.  Maybe even ask if they would hand you off to the next professor.

For conversation topics and questions you should be asking, see my post about the interview:

Unless, you were approached a department representative at the poster session, this is a low yield activity, but you have to try anyways...  if you were indeed approached and invited, then treat this as an effective mini-interview.  Try to talk to EVERYONE from the department.  Invite them to your oral talks, if you have any.   You can even print those on the back of your card that you would be handing them.

Also, some schools will flat out offer to interview you at the conference (some of the more money-tight departments did that to me).  Obviously agree to do that, go meet them up for coffee or whatever and have a chat.  Not as good as an on-site interview, but better than nothing.  And make sure to be prepared to answer the same questions as you would be asked at a real interview!

Also, also, make sure to invite people to your talks, both when you meet them and when you submit your packet to them online BEFORE the conference.  You can indicate the date and time of your talks in the cover letter, and if they are interested, they may come...  And also FOLLOW UP with the people that you've spoken to, after the conference, in order to indicate your enthusiasm for the position.

Finally, if you see me anywhere, feel free to ask me to introduce you to whomever is your target... I'll do my best to try, lol.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Should I Postdoc... (AGAIN)?

As I am drinking a beer on this Saturday night, another piece of experience pops into my head:  Plan B! 

About two thirds of you are postdocs according to the results of our survey.  In this day and age, a postdoc is pretty much required to land a faculty job (unless you are the next Albert Einstein or someone else).  But at the same time, holding too many postdoctoral assistantships is actually undesirable!  (The rule of thumb is that the postdoc's desirability rises linearly to the fourth year and then drops like a step function even the granting agencies put a four to five year limit since graduation on various "transitional grants", so that is a clear signal that you shouldn't spend too long in the pipeline).

PROFESSOR'S VIEW OF THE POSTDOC:  First, what is a postdoc?  From the point of view of a professor, a postdoc is basically underpaid, overqualified, labor who looks for another position the minute they get hired. As such, professors are both in love with and weary of, postdocs.  

GRANTING AGENCIES’ VIEW OF THE POSTDOC:  NSF doesn't like to fund postdocs because their mission is to educate students, while NIH is more open (it basically doesn't care about how the job gets done, as long as it does.... for example, in the biomedical field, it is common to get gray hair before you finish a postdoctoral assistantship LOL).  So, unless you are doing bio-research and have a big name, it is actually hard to get money to fund a postdoc.

SELF VIEW OF THE POSTDOC (Obviously this depends on individual experience, but mine was good):   I loved my postdoctoral assistantship!  It felt like graduate school, except with less responsibility and more money!  I was lucky enough to be in a top school and live in down town Philadelphia (great city!).  My group was doing cool research that I loved and my boss was too busy to micro-manage me (whew!).  Moreover, once I wrote my own grant and got it funded (btw, you should definitely write grants as a postdoc!), I was afforded complete freedom about work direction, etc (and believe me, it is important to be able to develop an independent direction, and not be your boss' appendage for the rest of your life).

But there IS a dark side:  your contract is yearly, your undergraduate class-mates often make triple (perhaps quadruple) what you make; opposite sex might not view well such an unstable financial situation, and what sucks the most is that you do not even know if it will pay off in the end...if you will even get a real job after all the nonsense!

Now, getting an academic position is insanely hard, so this is a very real concern and naturally you should look at alternative career paths, as I did (just in case)!

What else is out there?

INDUSTRY VIEW OF THE POSTDOC:  Now this makes the whole postdoc experience kind of...well... a black hole... Here is what I mean.  I went to a seminar given by some representatives of big pharma companies.  And given the bad economy, the audience was about two thirds postdocs (they probably expected PhD students).  Naturally, the question arose as to whether they were interested in postdocs, and this was the reply:  “NO”.

"Why?", someone  asked.  The logic kind of makes sense, I guess...  pretty much, why invest *more money* (for some reason they view postdocs as more qualified, so they have to pay more) into labor that is over-qualified AND is not truly interested in being there, when they can just hire a PhD student and train them all the same?  It appears they felt that a postdoc looking for an industry job either a) wants to enter academia, but didn't make it (so you will not be happy in industry and quit their company at the first opportunity), or b) wants to enter industry after the PhD, but also didn't make it, so the postdoc was the back-up plan (so pretty much you aren't that great to begin with).  For case (b), the advice was "do not go for the postdoc position if you really want to be in industry... get a job at McDonalds if you have to, tough it out, but do get that industrial job directly out of the PhD program!"

Also, get this:  they ARE interested in you AFTER the postdoc period! :D  If you become a professor and suddenly you want to go into industry, some companies who do research actually do need group leaders, etc.  So this is what I mean when I say that the postdoc is a "black hole" to industry.  You are desirable to the outside world before and after, but not during.

PROOF THAT DOING A POSTDOC HURTS YOUR CAREER: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6484447361136410624

So that was pretty disappointing to hear, though true, as I really did not have a desire to work in industry.  So here are some alternative avenues that I explored while looking for the academic job:

a)  Faculty jobs abroad: Bad idea if you ever want to re-enter US academia (perhaps I will write another blog about this), but they are there...   China, Middle East, etc

b)  Teaching Institutions:  These are actually the first ones who will interview you.  They are basically small colleges (e.g. liberal arts colleges) with no PhD program, expect you to mostly teach, but maybe also do some small-scale research.    The pay is probably just as good, but to me it wasn't as interesting.  Yet, I still talked to these guys just not to burn any bridges or anything.

c)  Financial Sector:  Yes, you read that right.  Business wants to make money, and they look for anyone with more than half a brain (you qualify).  In fact, I do computer modeling, so I even tried with high frequency trading companies on Wall Street... :)  But the one I liked the most consults (McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Company).  That reminded me of science, kind of, because you could work on different projects, in various industries, so it’s still kind of interesting  (unless you have to consult the dollar store about how to sell more toilet paper - true story from a BCG info session).  You can also travel internationally, and even work with biotech.  Anyway, money is always a magnet, isn’t it?

d)  National lab: Well, these pay even more than academia, but projects tend to be kind of dry (whatever is in the interest of the nation is what you do), locations are pretty limited (I wanted big city life), and again, there is little stability as far as the job contract.  The way I understand it, you can get the boot any time funding depletes on the research strand on which you are working.

e)  Research professor (non-tenure):  Weird animal.  Basically, you do mostly research (you can bet they will still ask you to teach a little).  Your salary mostly comes from grants (i.e. you have to be amazing at pulling in money);  AND the very most are not on the tenure track line!  So who would even do a thing like that?  Well, I know a guy who is just very good at bringing in money... but most of them, in my experience, are postdocs who have been at one place for a very long time. They are given this title so they could be principal investigators on grants. (By the way, faculty search committees realize this fact very well, so, research professors don't make the most desirable candidate; beware).

f) Start-ups!  Well, if you thought academic life is stressful, try selling your house and investing it into a business.  It’s exhilarating yet insane. Maybe one in a hundred succeed.   If you don't want to make on your own, you can probably get hired by someone else.  The pay will be lower, but, you will have less structure at work and more room for creativity.  I guess if it works out, you could shoot up the career ladder quicker and maybe get rich on those stock options they offer instead of real money... but chances are it will probably turn into worthless paper by the time you are done.  Actually, you might not realize it, but the start-up is analogous to academia (idea for another blog!).

So these are your choices.  In my case, I made myself a promise that I wouldn't be a postdoc a second time despite how much I enjoyed the first.  Although some are okay with the bohemian life-style of a perpetual postdoc, I wanted to draw the line and make some changes in my life.  The rest is up to you.

UPDATE:  I've received several PhD applications from people who already have a PhD, but can't find a postdoc or job.  This sounds like the wrong reasons to apply for PhD.  You should be going into PhD because you are interested in it, and not because you can't find a job. Imagine that you get a job offer some time down the road, what will happen then?  You will leave the PhD.  I don't want any chance of that happening.
Also, I think your idea could be accomplished with a MS, given that its sufficient for most industrial jobs.  So you are selecting the PhD because its free.  Which is again the wrong reason. 

Then you have to consider that you already have a degree, but your presence in the PhD would be preventing someone who does not have it from obtaining it.  That's somewhat unethical, considering that you aren't even doing it to change specialization or some other legitimate reason.  

Finally, even if I wanted to take you, I don't know if the university would allow it.  So, please don't go down this route...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Job Application Process Timeline


Your faculty application process SHOULD start at least a month before the AICHE annual conference... and by this, I mean: you should be sending out applications already!

Why? Because, the conference is basically an opportunity for the employers to hold a free face-to-face interview (I have had several of these at the conference, so don't think that I am exaggerating, but also the poster session and the receptions can be considered to be mini-interviews).  Also, the people who sit on the Faculty Search Committee are VERY busy human beings (I know this from personal experience, because I served on one during my first year on the job).  Combine this with the fact that 90% of the 200 applicants will probably send their application 2-3 days before the conference takes place.  So do you think you have a good chance of getting noticed, if you are one of those 0.9*200?  Probably not.  But if you were 1 of 5 who sent their application a month before, sure, we'll read it (thoroughly, mind you) and probably come up to talk to you at the poster session.

If I haven't convinced you yet, consider this:  before the conference there are usually ~10 applications or so for the committee to review.  This is easy enough to do, and the interesting ones will surely get some face-to-face time from the faculty search committee at the conference.  Come the turn of the year (when its time to skype-interview and make decisions about who to invite on-site), the number of applications will be well over 100!  Now, that is a lot of stuff to read, so your application will be skimmed over or not reviewed at all at worst (human tendency is to avoid extra work, and when you feel like you've already identified some good candidates why bother... ).  What I am driving at, is that if the department invites say 7-8 people for an on-site visit (a realistic number), at least 2-3 of those will come from that pool of the initial ~10 applicants who got pre-screened at the conference... so hopefully you understand how critical it is to get started EARLY!

So here is ADVICE #1:  I understand that it takes time to fill out the apps, and customize them to the department (yes, you should be doing that), so pick your top 2-3 schools and send the early application at least to those.  I promise you that this is your best chance of getting noticed (on your own...).

ADVICE #2:  It is better to send few quality applications (customized to the needs of the department, as well as mentioning things like "my research skills fit well with Prof Bob's in your department, and I would also love to collaborate with Professor John, etc") than 20 generic ones.


I have begun a dedicated blog for this topic, and you can find it here:  http://facultycandidate.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-application-packet.html

But briefly:

-RESUME (~4pgs)

http://www.pdfmerge.com/ is useful for putting it all together (cover letter is usually separate from the rest of the packet, though this is university-specific).

ps: make sure to upload your stuff to http://rheneas.eng.buffalo.edu/cache/  This site is separate from AICHE, but we are still encouraging everyone to use it, because it is good!


Of course on Sunday there is the Poster Session:  http://facultycandidate.blogspot.com/2014/10/this-blog-describes-my-many-years-of.html

There are also usually the events below that I recommend you try and attend (disclaimer: I can't update links every year, so keep in mind that these links point to the 2015 conference, and you should look them on your own for the current year)

Workshop: Career Planning for Prospective Faculty (BEFORE the poster session!!)

 Workshop: Effective Teaching for New or Prospective Faculty

NSF Workshop I & II (here you will get a chance to interact with NSF program officers; when I was in your shoes, one of them actually sent a recommendation email for me for a postdoc position at NIST, so take advantage!  Also, one of them features a proposal writing section, which will be useful for you, believe me)


How your job search should continue after the poster session:  http://facultycandidate.blogspot.com/2014/11/at-conference-after-poster-session.html

Education Division Future Faculty Mentoring Meeting
(I think the idea of this one is to pair a candidate with a mentor)


If you spoke with any recruiters or people from departments you are interested in, it would't hurt to drop them a thank you note over email, and remind them that you applied for their position (if you have not done so, apply asap!!).


Finally, take a look at this document which I found to be useful:  http://www2.massgeneral.org/facultydevelopment/orcd/pdf/Panel_Discussion%20M%20Dawson.pdf

AT THE CONFERENCE: The Meet the Faculty Candidate POSTER SESSION

This blog describes my many years of experience with the AICHE Meet the Faculty Candidate Poster Session and the advice applies to both the poster and your abstract.  Also this information is my personal opinion, so please do not think treat it as official advice.  

Basically, the biggest difference about this session is that you must think of the poster/abstract as an advertisement of yourself (that means they should abide by all the marketing rules of regular advertising!).  

In other words, you want something that visually grabs attention of the employers passing by and quickly  (remember they might spend just a few seconds passing by your poster)... 

Key components of a good poster are: 

1) a catchy descriptive title that is easy to understand, that includes your current affiliation as well as your boss' big name (hopefully)


the mistake I see that people make is they treat this as a science poster (lot of data, dense text, equations)... whereas the employers simply want to get the big picture of who you are and what you are doing.  The key things they are looking for are:

- theme of your research (what to expect from you in the next 5 years)
- your publications (how many, what journals)
- your grant writing experience (how many proposals, what agency, type postdoc grant/or did you help your boss write an actual grant).  By the way, this is probably the most important thing you could have.  It shows that you are trying to become an independent scientist and that you have experience with writing and, probably failing at, grants (i.e., you are not going to quit after year of realizing that this is not something for you).
- awards, accomplishments, if you have any :)

Here is an example of my abstract:  

ps: I got the job, before AICHE 2013 happened, so I never got to present this one (btw, it had more to do with networking than with the poster session, but the poster session did generate some leads for me)

For the abstract, I am not really including much scientific text, and I am breaking things down into categories that the employers can sift through easily.

And here is an example of my poster:

As you can see, I am really milking the pretty image strategy (and it did get some people to stop by who were just browsing randomly), and not really including any graphs or scientific text.  Yet, I can still give a pretty good overview of my past/current AND future (looking forward is what sets "faculty material" apart from the rest) research directions!

Also the key points are there:  papers, grants, skills, adviser's famous name and ivy league university :o)

Finally, keep in mind that the format of the poster is completely free, so you can do with it what you want.  Update: Last year I saw some people hanging iPads on their posters, thereby making them dynamic!  I thought this was a really good idea.  Keep in mind that you can attach whatever you want to it, and be creative!  If you have some interesting samples you want to show, that is fine too.  Take advantage of the third dimension :)   Also, people attach their papers and resumes just in case someone is super-interested in their work.  Finally, don't forget your business cards (clever idea: put your talks time & location on the back)!  I've had situations where I wanted to talk to a candidate, but they were not by their poster.  The time is short, and employers will not stay around waiting for you... sometimes grabbing a biz card and moving on is the best you can do...

Update 07/27/19:  Recently there is a new poster trend (not sure if I like it, but the idea is similar to my large pictures - i.e., there are only a few key details that should be blown up):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RwJbhkCA58
you canf find the proposed poster template here https://osf.io/ef53g/

SOME LOGISTICS:  "Last year the size of the poster boards was 4 feet high by 6 feet wide.  Unless you receive an update from AIChE or from us that states differently, you can assume the same size this year. Please limit the size of your poster to 3ft tall by 4ft wide.  For poster size, see link to the official guidelines below.  There are usually pushpins available, but I recommend bringing your own, especially if you are posting individual sheets of paper.  Please plan on arriving at least 15-20 minutes before the start time of the session to put up your poster."

Official guidelines are here:  http://www.aiche.org/resources/conferences/programming-resources/poster-session-faqs

TIME MANAGEMENT:  some times people come up to you and start asking questions about your work... however, they may not be people that can give you jobs (i.e., some random student or postdoc who just wants to learn about your research).  Given that an employer may see that you are busy, and as a result skip your poster, I highly suggest that you understand who you are talking to before you invest the time.

ps:  I remember my first experiences were that no-one comes up (I started as a grad student, but you really need a postdoc to be taken seriously).  Do not get discouraged!  There are a lot of you, and you are all at the top of your game.  Also, I think landing a job in academia is harder than industry.  So, try to learn from your experience and make your package more attractive for the next year.  You will get some interest eventually, I promise.