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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...

Saturday, February 20, 2016


This may be the most critical post you will read, because it is about what sets apart candidates who just look good on paper from those who actually do well in person.  "Independence" is one the most important criteria that you will be judged by... And when someone says about you that "he or she is not ready to become independent", that is equivalent to the kiss of death (no publications, pedigree or anything else will save you...)!   So, what is "Independence"?

Back when I was still a PhD student, I randomly walked into a career fair booth at a conference, where a department head (from a university that I don't now remember) sat at table and gave "mock" interviews/advice to candidates like me.  I, on the other hand, was completely "green", without a clue for what it means or takes to become faculty.  All I knew was that I was doing exciting work, publishing well, my professors liked me, and I wanted to continue in academia.  So, as soon as my turn came to sit across the table from him, words began pouring out of my mouth about my PhD project:

-"I did THIS, and I did THAT! Got these AMAZING results!!", I said.

When, suddenly, he cut me off, and abruptly said:  "You are in the wrong mind-set:  you started by telling me by what you DID (the past), while as a professor you should be telling me about what you are GOING TO DO (the future)".

The reason why I bring up this story, is because I just witnessed a highly-qualified postdoc, who I am sure is brilliant in what he does, crash-and-burn during his on-site interview (most likely, without even realizing it!!).  The problem is that it is a natural human tendency to continue doing what you are best at.  So, when this person gave his chalk-talk, he essentially proposed extending his postdoctoral projects further.  The whole presentation felt like a PhD student reporting to his committee during a defense, and that just NOT cut it.

You must understand that a professor in the US is effectively a "CEO" of a small start-up "company".  So to be a successful CEO, one must have: the people skills to manage personnel, the know-how to navigate the murky waters of academic bureaucracy, the understanding of the funding landscape, the
perseverance to get up when someone knocks you down hard and continue pushing your idea against all odds, the "silver-tongue" to give your 5 minute elevator pitch and attract "angel" funding (ie, talking to program officers), the spark to "infect" others with the enthusiasm for your work (convince grant reviewers to recommend you for funding), the time-management skills to do all of the above... oh-and-by-the-way, teach/publish/serve on committees/present at conferences/do science and have a life while at it... and the list goes on and on.

So put yourself into the shoes of the hiring committee:  if you had to "bet the farm" on just one candidate (out of 100 very qualified people knocking on your door) that he/she will be successful in everything I just described above, how would you choose that person who will be entrusted with ~million of your money?  How would you choose that visionary - the next mini-Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg? What quality would you look for in these people?  The answer is "Independence".

It is simply, not enough to be a good "grunt" (postdoc/student/technician).  You can be the most gifted scientist, with a stellar publishing record and a polished resume, but if you fail to project that you have a (YOUR OWN) "vision" and you can see "the big picture" (how to fund your ideas, who to collaborate with, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what equipment you need, etc).  My heart pains pains for you, but there is nothing that I can do to sway the search committees' decision in the other direction.  The opportunity is only yours to lose...

Same goes for writing proposals.  If you say that you are going to continue working with your previous PhD or postdoc bosses, you WILL get shut down.  It is almost like an eagle pushing out its babies out of the nest, so that they can learn how to fly.  Its painful, but it must be done.  So, my advice is:  seek independence, and you will be successful!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Job-Searching Resources & Stats

Places to look for job ads:

Unfortunately there is no good uniform system, so here are some resources
Academic Keys (http://academickeys.com/)
CEN (chemical engineering news - http://cen.acs.org/index.html)
CEP (http://www.aiche.org/resources/publications/cep)
CHEMJOBBER (chemistry jobs http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/ and https://twitter.com/Chemjobber)

Job Ads Emailed to Me by different Departments from around the country:  https://www.dropbox.com/sh/zi4gqgxyi1myqaj/AABOr4V3eJzXkfpB_Us7ou2Ia?dl=0  You don't need dropbox to view (just push cancel when it asks you to install), however, if you decide to sign up, please using this referral https://db.tt/jNniFwLR

And, of course, I will send you ads through the AICHE poster session (you must to submit an abstract to the session in order to be on the mailing list). Let me know if you have any more suggestions that I should add to this list.

Here is an interesting 2015-2016 Chemical Engineering Faculty Salary Survey: https://www.dropbox.com/s/8hq1nr1b3sfyyyf/SalarySurvey15-16.pdf?dl=0

And some more general job placement statistics:

And, finally, the most interesting graph of all

And some not-so-encouraging statistics regarding Ph.D employment:  http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/bad-job-market-phds/479205/


Monday, September 28, 2015


Read posting description carefully.  When we have multiple openings, for example one Bio and the other is Energy, often Energy people apply to Bio and vice-versa.  The problem is that the Bio reviewer may not transfer your application to the Energy reviewer, and vice-versa, So, this small mistake can cost you a lot!


Everyone usually has some filler text about how their PhD prepared them for this opportunity, etc; However, your goal here is to make important things stand out of this filler text (i.e, highlight things you want us to actually read; assume we skip the rest).  Examples of things that should be highlighted could be:

-personal reference (someone that the faculty search committee member might know personally)
-if your adviser/group is famous, put that here (we don't know your field)
-highlight your aiche presentations (so we can find you if needed)
-highlight any patents, significant papers, proposal writing experience
-highlight any family circumstances or other personal reasons why you may want to work here (if any)
-highlight any spouse issues (if you have a two-body problem)
-highlight if you may have a geographical preference that is drawing you towards this position
-explain any kind of work lapses, or other extraordinary circumstances which may not be apparent from scanning your resume
-mention faculty you'd like to collaborate with (show us that you did your hwk)
-list your poster # and other presentations where we can find you at the conference (in case we don't make it to your poster).

The worst thing is when someone sends you pages and pages of just paragraphs of text... we are mostly looking to extract key pieces of info from the letter, so help us by making it stand out!

-RESUME (~4pgs)
It is best if you use a format which shows that you know how to write proposals. There are two main formats: the NSF and the NIH biosketch formats. I prefer the NSF, because it looks more like a real resume.

The most important part here is to put the things that are critical up top. These are your education, best publications, funded proposals, and patents (if any). To make things easier, you can enumerate each one, so when I read it I can quickly write down that this candidate has X many papers, Y many patents and Z many funded proposals. You could also emphasize if a paper is in a famous journal, or has received a lot of citations. Likewise, could list your role in writing the proposal, and how much money it received. If you have received any kind of industry funding, or even travel money, you should add that here. Basically, you need to show your potential to attract money once hired. Same for patents, you could mention if it has been licensed by some company, and whether it is making money/being commercialized.

Somebody asked me how to show diversity, if you don't belong to an underrepresnted groups. My advice would be to mention any diverse students (this includes minorities, females, and economically disadvantaged groups) that you have done work with at your school and somehow benefited through this experience (e.g., got them scholarships, got them into a good school or job, etc.). Additionally, if you have done any outreach. Some examples are, we have a professor here who worked with blind kids. Other possibilities could be volunteering with museums, hospitals, high schools, or even just posting some kind of teaching tools on social media, etc.

Basically, when I look at resume's, I am trying to extract, as fast as i can, your top achievements, such that I can put you into a comparison table against other candidates. Time spent on each resume is probably under 30 seconds, so if you don't emphasize things the reviewer may miss them.

Some common resume mistakes:
-Believe it or not, making your resume longer does NOT make it more impressive. There is no reason why your resume should be longer than mine (unless you are older/more experienced). The max should be 3-4 pages, but even 2 is acceptable (in fact the NSF biosketch is limited to 2pgs).

-Too much detail: this goes along with the previous comment about making this compact. There is a tendency to describe in gory detail everything you every did in your past (I just saw one 28 pgs long... compare to 4pg limit for CV in most proposals). Whereas all we need/read are keywords. Another example is an applicant put his GPA for every degree... if you are applying for a prof position, it is presumed you did well in our classes... but in this case the GPA was actually not that great, so he would've been better off not showing it!

-Conference Proceedings/Talks: unless you think this is somehow exceptional (if that is the case, you should explain why it is exceptional... e.g., invited talk, or some very competitive talk), you are just padding your resume with useless information. Not only does that make me annoyed when I am trying to extract key data out of it, it actually tells me that you are not able to compress information efficiently / tell apart what is important vs what isnt (both of those are important for proposal writing, which is key).

-Prioritize (put important things at the top): This goes along with the previous criticisms. For example, if you have an 8 page resume, full of conference proceedings, and you put your publications at the very end... no, just no! Publications/book chapters/books are important, they should go up top. So are your proposal writing experience, your patents, then followed by maybe your awards and teaching experience. I would say that proposal writing experience is the most important, and publications is second to it. Your knitting club membership can go at the bottom... it should NOT be above these things.

-Proposal-Writing Experience: you should list everything you ever touched, because I find this to be the most important factor that sets candidates apart from the rest. The only thing better than proposal-writing experience, is funded proposals that you can bring with you. Even if you did not write the proposal, but simply helped, you should still mention it. Explain clearly what your role was in writing, which agency it was submitted to, for what amount, and was it funded or not in the end (or is it still pending).

-Highlight/Emphasize: Often people have a patent (or some other big accomplishment), but they don't put it in a different section, nor do they don't make it bold/italic, etc... So I nearly miss them. If you have something that makes you stand out, do yourself a favor and highlight so the reviewers don't miss it! Likewise, somebody had a Nature publication that wasn't emphasized... yep, just another publication just like any other, nothing to see here... Remember, we scan the resume (FAST); and we don't read minds. So you have to make important things catch our attention!

-Number your publications (else I have to count, and I may miscount not in your favor; plus it annoys me). On one resume I saw someone put the paper numbers on the left, and the impact factor on the right hand side of each publication. I thought that was pretty nifty. Some people manage to squeeze the covers of the journals, if their publication made the cover. I think thats great, if you can format everything neatly. Also, make your last name bold, so we can see whether you were first or not. In fact, some people just say "8 first author publications, 15 total, h = 20, 500 cumulative citations". This makes things much easier for me.

-Under Review/In Progress Publications: I wouldn't bother putting these in, but if you feel the need to, be a good sport and make a separate section. Don't try to pad overall list using these. It is misleading on your part, and annoying for me to subtract them out. We care to see just what has been published (or accepted). And, in any case, its not so much about the number of publications.

-The Short Postdoc: there is a tendency to think that more postdocs = more experience --> better. But this is not so. In fact, more postdocs makes you look less desirable. Your goal is to sell your "stock" at the peak of its price (around the 3rd or 4th year of your 1st postdoc). So a common mistake I see people doing is putting the brief postdoc (immediately after their graduation) on their resume. You know, the one where your PhD boss kept you there an extra 2-3 months while you were looking for a job, just cuz he is nice like that (and also wanted to get more results out of you)? Yea, that one. Everyone has it. Its not impressive. Don't list it.

- Past research and funding experience is actually a part of your resume (not the research plan), so it should NOT be included here. Thus, the research plan should be about what to expect from you in the future, in terms of your research and proposal writing.

-Not only do you have to give specifics, but you should be describing actual projects that you plan to submit to grant-funding agencies...  simply stating a research area is too vague.  The committee wants to see your potential to bring in money.  Therefore, in your research plan you should be trying to convince them that: A) you are good at bringing grants (since past experiences go in the resume, here you convey this via the quality of your content), and B) you have well-thought-out ideas that you can start writing up in proposal form as soon as you are hired!  Basically, I have to look at the ideas that you wrote up, and think to myself "yes, this candidate has good/interesting ideas; he/she knows what he/she is doing (both in terms of research and in terms of proposal writing); and he/she will turn these ideas into successful proposals".

-Yet you have only ~4 (I would not go over 6) pages, to put down multiple ideas, so it has to be a lot more compact than an actual grant proposal.  As a rule of thumb, I think 2 immediate ideas and 2 long term ideas is a reasonable number (4 total).  I would say that just 2 ideas total is minimal.  The short term ideas should be almost ready to go out to the grant-funding agency (i.e., they should be very well developed), whereas for the long-term ideas it is understood that they are in conceptual stages.  The more ideas you have the better, but at the same time you don't want to spread  yourself thin with too many ideas (you don't want to create the impression that you are all over the place... it all has to coalesce).  You don't have to get into the gory details, since the reader is most likely not in your field, and is just trying to get an idea for what to expect from you.  But keep in mind that when you come to the interview, the Research Plan will be the topic of your ~1hr "chalk talk", so you WILL be getting grilled on it (which means that you NEED to be able to defend your ideas from external criticism).

-For each one of your ideas, you should describe a funding plan (which agencies you plan to submit to, which opportunities within that agency, whats the name of the grant officer in charge of those opportunities... the more specific you are, the more it shows that you have thought this through, and you are familiar with the funding landscape).  You could also mention potential collaborations within the department, or within the university to which you are applying (another place for this is the cover letter).  Make separate sections for these and/or emphasize them so that they stand out.  

Keep in mind that the initial scan of your research plan is only going to take 30 seconds or so!  Thus, just like for the poster, I recommend pretty eye-catching pictures, and good formatting, so whatever needs to stand out does stand out.

Some common research statement mistakes I see over and over (the less you annoy the reviewer, the better your chances):

-Dont waste space with describing your past and current research; this is meant to be about your FUTURE proposals!  I see research statements where 50% of the content is about how great you were when you were the appendage of your boss.  That's great, but I want to know whether you can function with the umbilical cord cut.

-There is a tendency to just jump into the gory details of your work... But rather you should first establish importance (e.g., "i will save the world by saving cancer by developing this amazing drug, if only you hire me and give me money"). Obviously, I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.

-Explain what you are doing in lay-man terms to a public who doesn't know industry-specific terms!  explain the broader impact: why is your proposed project important? why should i care about reading it? why should someone want to fund it?

-It should be obvious from the first line of your project description what it is about.  Section titles should be descriptive too. Often I read a proposal and, by the of it, i still have no idea why or what they are trying to do.  It is up to you to establish importance, and to make your work easy to understand.

-Brief problem description and no solution plan = BAD. Some people just kind of tell me that they plan to rid the world of cancer, but don't tell me HOW they are planning to do that exactly...No, you are not a snake-oil salesman, so avoid sounding like one.  You have to lay out a detailed, coherent plan about: how you are going to solve this problem, what tools you will use, what results you expect to see and what long term goals you hope to achieve(you may even include some backup plan, in case your approach doesn't work).  Moreover, you need to tell me how you are going to get money to make this happen (see below).

-Funding plan is often absent or lacking detail - just mentions the funding agencies (which are huge), but not specific grant opportunities. When you go the extra step and think things through deeper, it sets you apart.  It also shows that you know what you are doing.  Saying that you will simply apply to NSF and NIH is not enough.  List which programs within that agency, which particular grant types, who is the program officer and have you discussed your work with them?  Also, emphasize the funding plan (i often nearly miss them, if you just sprinkle it throughout the main text).

-Good idea: include potential impact (1 sentence summary at the end of each project description of what would change if you get this done)

-No Figures:  this goes with what I said before, that you have to make your research plan easy to understand.  I know that YOU know.  But I can't read your mind.  Also it shows that you are not good at expressing your thoughts clearly/conveying your message to your audience.  Guess what?  It means you are not a good proposal-writer (ie, you won't be able to fund your research after we hire you).

-People attach their transcripts, recommendation letters and god knows what else instead of the research plan.  This is an automatic disqualification.

-Don't include resume and other documents into your research statement, if you uploaded them individually elsewhere...  If we are going to invest over a million bucks into you (add up your salary, student support for a few years until you start bringing money in, your start-up, etc and you will come up with such a big number), you better not be careless.

-Industry People/National Lab people, I highly advise that you find some research statements from  academics.  Typically, your research statements do not conform with university expectations.  The proposals I've seen are too short, and the projects are too superficial.  One paragraph per project, with no figures, simply does not suffice.  Funding plan is often missing entirely.


For teaching statement I kind of think of it as going from describing your past, to trying to forecast your future as an educator. It is not the most important part of your packet, but it is a necessary one. So here is how I would structure it:

- Your Teaching Qualifications (describes your past). Describe your previous teaching experience, whether it was TA, volunteering in a high school, or even tutoring your friends! Tell us how much you enjoy teaching and about any kind of interesting experiences you may have had that motivated you to become a teacher. When I was a Ph.D. student I actually helped my department head develop some course materials, and I served as a teaching assistant in our computer lab where I would show undergrads how to use modeling software, and helped them with homework using that software. Also I had a teaching fellowship through NSF where I helped a high-school teacher lecture 9th grade science in a rural area (in parallel had to take a teaching course at my university, and put together a teaching portfolio). Finally, I tutored a student pro-bono for her Russian class. Hopefully this gives you some ideas of the kind of things you can put down.

- Your Teaching Philosophy (describes your past and present): Here you basically describe your teaching style. For example, maybe you like to have a "democratic classroom" where the students can discuss things freely. Or maybe you like to teach the "flipped" classroom, where students read at home and come to class already prepared (at least in theory) to solve problems. Or, perhaps, you prefer the Socratic teaching method method, where you steer students to arrive at a conclusion by asking them critical questions. Pretty much describe your style of teaching and how/why you have arrived at it.

- Your Teaching Preferences (i.e., which courses you would like to teach - describes how you envision your near future). Note: most people choose thermo, because ChEs are usually most comfortable with it. However, keep in mind that the department might be looking for something else (since everyone can do thermo)... so be open minded about teaching other courses as well. Probably it would make sense if your preference is somehow close to your research. For example, if your research is computational fluid dynamics, then fluid flow is a class you should be desiring to teach. Also, for the preffered classes you could list some possible textbooks, approaches, topics, use of internet resources (essentially, things that show you've thought this through).

- Course Development (describes the far future - what can we expect to see from you in the long run if we hire you). Whether you want to or not, in your academic career you will likely be "encouraged" to develop new courses. This will probably start happening after your third year on the job. So by showing that you've thought about it ahead of time, it makes you look more professional. Therefore, it is best to describe a class or two that you envision developing. Again, it can come from your research. For example. I did a lot of supercomputing, modeling, image processing, and all this was applied to biological systems. Yet, there is no single class that teaches all of these things. So I pitched my idea, and it was well received.

- Teaching Innovation (pipe dreams). If you want to be an overachiever in the field of teaching, you could also talk about how you are going to revolutionize the classroom. This could involve applying new technologies, or maybe some newly published teaching techniques (you could even cite some teaching literature to really impress people!).

Misc:  you could also talk about increasing K12 involvement, participating in science Olympiads (those things always need organizers), collaborating with your nearest science museum, underrepresented communities, etc etc.  Basically, there are lots of ways to increase the impact of your work on society, and many people in these institutions will be more than glad to expose their students to a college research environment through you.  Btw, grant agencies want to see this type of stuff too, so the world is your oyster!

-A common mistake is that people start listing courses that are outside of the department (like gen.eds).

Contact info of people who can write you a letter of recommendation, in case you make the short list.  Famous names that are recognizable are good.  Typically, these are people who served as your mentors/bosses/advisers at some point in time.

Unless your references are stellar, do NOT put in front of Research Plan, this is probably the LAST thing I want to see when I open your Reseach Plan (typically the FIRST thing that I look at). I don't know why, but many people do this...

Select your most impressive ones / most relevant to your research statement.

Merge everything using the PDF Merge tool (www.pdfmerge.com), or submit section-by-section, depending on the department's requirements.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The DOs and DONTs of Negotiating Offers

If you have an offer, congratulations for real!  Some of you may even have several (then you can really do some game theory stuff).  Mine came kind of late - at the end of April.

Interestingly, the current job only gave me ONE week to think about it.  As a side note, universities will often use this as a tool to put pressure on you to accept (especially if they think that you are a good catch).  You also have to understand that some times departments are competing for these positions , real estate (lab/office) space, etc. within the university; so the Department Head's point of view is that the longer he cannot bring you, the more likely it is that he will lose this position to someone else and end up with nothing. So they too have time constraints. In any case, I went back for another visit (at my own expense), and negotiated an extra week.  I was honest with the department head that I had an interview coming up with another university.  He was understanding and gave the extra week.  Anyways, the point is that you are now in the position to dictate things, because the ball is in your court.

You should also understand the mechanics of this business.  Some times departments are guaranteed a position, while other times they are competing for them. So if you don't accept their offer, they could lose the position to another department.

But what I really wanted to tell you here is what you should and should not negotiate.  The answer is easy:

You SHOULD negotiate your start-up package:

MONEY - this is the life blood of your lab, so obviously you want to ask for a lot, but at the same time you don't want to be unreasonable.  also, for budget reasons they can break it up into two or three  years (ie, you have to spend a certain amount by the end of that year, or it burns up!). This is both good (because it makes you hurry) and bad (because you might not want to spend all of your money according to the imposed time line) ... well, there is no such thing as "can't", but it is better to get what you want into your offer letter, because it is effectively a contract and cannot be disputed.

STUDENT YEARS - several words of advice here.  This is typically discussed in terms of student years... say 2 students for 2 years makes 4 student years... what happens after that?  Well, you are supposed to support them from all those grants that you'll be bringing in :)  And what happens if you don't bring in any money?  Do these people just starve on the street or go work in the 7-11?  No, not really.  The "secret" is that the university will budget their support through the end of their PhD.  So don't stress out too much :)  Also, the department will want you to take on the students who have already been accepted... well, chances are that by the time you get there, all the best ones will have been taken.  So, you should try to recruit someone external on your own.

EQUIPMENT - I didn't get any, but I've seen other professors get things like biohoods, water filtration systems and things like that installed in their labs as a part of their start-up.  The thing is that the department and the physical plant (who work together to set you up) get a fund from the university to renovate your lab, and get it customized to your needs.  Installing outlets and things like that all cost money, and the internal university entities actually charge each other for that to happen!  Things that simple to you, like installing a 220V device can cost you almost more than the equipment itself if your lab only has 110V!

ACCESS TO SHARED FACILITIES - In line with what I said before, it is common for the university to charge you per hour for access to shared facilities, So you can negotiate one or two years of free access, for example if you need the microfabrication facility or something like that.  Or, maybe your school doesn't have the facility you need, but the one across the street does... you need to communicate all this to the department head, so he will understand your needs, and help you meet them.  The last thing anyone wants is for you to get stuck and not be able to do your work.

TEACHING LOAD - Well, I've heard you should ask for this to be put on your offer letter, but at the same time universities aren't terribly flexible about this.  Because, lets be honest, teaching is the most stable income that pays the professors' salaries (while research grants are very stochastic).  Luckily, universities should be some kind of structure to help you ease into the position.  For example, during the first 2-3 years your teaching load would be reduced, and then it would go up to normal levels.  Also, most likely they will allow you take one semester off from teaching to build your lab (this is standard).  And most people (myself included) would probably prefer take the first semester off.  But while this makes sense in theory, in practice you may not get access to the lab until the second semester (there can be politics involved with freeing up the space)... so, the opportunity would be wasted.  Therefore, it is my recommendation that you take the second semester off.  Oh, and put the lab number on your offer letter -it is always good to ensure that you will get what you were initially promised.  Remember, the offer letter is a contract!

Update:  Avoid teaching graduate core courses, at all cost.  Firstly, undergrad courses are much simpler in terms of material.  Secondly, grad core courses have a lot of MS students.  The difference in the number of students between core and non-core courses can be as much as ten times more for the former (i.e., 50 students for a core course vs 5 for a non-core).  Moreover, in the non-core courses, you will be teaching mostly PhD students.  They are much easier to work with.  The optimal scenario is if you are allowed to develop your own course, which you can then use to train students for research in your lab.

So, this brings us to things that you should NOT negotiate... And again, the answer is easy:  you should not negotiate your salary.  Because, after all, we are scientists, and we are not supposed to be doing this for the money (and the money you will be offered will most likely provide you with a comfortable living)  :)

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.