Friday, January 06, 2006

Beneficial faux pas

Well, it has been a strange week, but today I had to laugh because I was the recipient, along with a couple hundred other unsuspecting applicants, of a major email faux pas. Yes, that's right, we got our rejection letters with everyone's email address showing at the top. Unfortunately I can't tell you what the school was, but I thought this is actually the most informative rejection letter I've gotten so far, because I can finally get an idea of the competition (or rather, my fellow rejects). After all, we're probably all applying for many of the same positions all over the US.

They said they got a couple hundred applications and narrowed it down to 4. Of the email addresses, I googled and pubmedded a few of them (who wouldn't?). Here's what I figured out:

Many of them had similar publications to mine (in the 10-ish range, not tons of top-tier journals.

Many were women, contrary to the whining most search committees do about how they don't get enough qualified women applicants. The women I looked at had very good resumes, or at least, as good as mine.

Many were assistant or associate professors, so of the people they sent this email to, we were not all postdocs.

Many more than I would have expected worked in fields similar to mine, which makes me think either

a) there are way too many of us working on similar things, or

b) they just didn't want anybody working on anything like what I do, so all of us who worked on related things, however good we were, got rejected because of our areas of research.

Probably both.

Frightening thought, because when I started graduate school, nobody was working on this stuff, but now my esoteric little research area seems to be very popular. I hate the thought of competing with peers in my own field. In contrast, I have no problem knowing that many of us work on different things, spanning all the way from neuroscience to developmental to biophysics and so on. It's hard to take it personally if a department really is looking for expertise in a particular area.

So I may continue to mine this 'data set.' It's particularly interesting because I found four other people from my school who applied for this job, and quite a lot of people from Harvard and Yale, not all of whom were postdocs. Makes me wonder why people are so eager to relocate! Perhaps they are all the recipients of non-tenure.

And I continue to wonder, because I found out that a colleague of mine is getting interviews this year, after 9 years of postdoc. Yes, 9 years seems to be the magic number. I have a handful of friends/acquaintances who are now PIs after 9 years of postdoc. Why? Why?? Why do these people do this? Why do the search committees want them? It's utterly baffling. This guy in particular doesn't have lots of publications, and as far as I know, he doesn't have lots of political contacts, either. So I'm a bit stumped. I think it must be the 9 year contract: sell your soul, and in 9 years, we'll let you have it back.

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At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow.. imagine 5 years of grad school at around $20,000/year.. then another 9 years of post-doc around $35,000/year.

that is 14 years of your life making sub-par wages for a highly educated person... to be given the chance at a tenure-track position.. and perhaps not get tenure...

that sucks

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Kristofer said...

I have about a year left of my PhD (we have a total of four years in Sweden) but I'm not sure I want to stay in the academic world doing research. It seems to be so much about getting funding, a scholarship, a position... and when you get one it is only for a short time and then you have to do it all over again.

Kristofer's computational biology blog

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Dr J. said...

Ok perhaps a silly question, but as a European-based Australian I have to ask. Why are you applying only in the US? For a PhD position I applied in the UK, Germany and US, for a postdoc in the US, Germany, and had I more time the UK, France and Switzerland. ThereĀ“s a ton of really big international research institutions here, why not come over this side of the pond for a while?

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Polly A said...

Re:.....after 9 years of postdoc. Why? Why?? Why do these people do this? Why do the search committees want them?

Haven't visited for a while, so here's the answer:

We are victims of a failed educational system, a Ph.D. mill whose objective is to turn out skilled technicians as quickly as possible to keep the PI, department, college, institution's stats up rather than getting prepared to be the small business manager, leader and teacher that a PI should be.

It's self perpetuating, we have an army of PI's hardly trained themselves trying to train new PI's the only way they know how---how they were trained.

You do realize that the average age of a first time NIH grant holder is now 42-44. That's a full 25 years of post high school education and experience. I don't know if you rushed it at any stage and where you are age-wise, but maybe it would be better to spend 10 years as a graduate student getting the proper training beyond that of a technician working for the system's stats, and split the other 15 between two productive post-docs.

My only advice is that you dang sure should not be marking time in the second and hopefully last post-doc. Demand or make sure you are acquiring intangible educational experience through mentoring (not just your PI, but the system around you) that you need beyond churning out data that makes it worthwhile.

Polly Anna

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Meredtih said...

9 years of postdoc- that REALLY frightens me.

I guess I had better have a plan in case I do not get any job offers this year... yikes!

At 1:20 PM, Blogger ArticulateDad said...

Wow! What a gold mine. I wish I knew who my competition was. I always Google or Altavista the names of people when I get a "we're pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. SoandSo" letter. I'm quite often non-plussed, and just as curious as ever.

One of my dissertation committee members once explained that hiring committees often wind up with the least offensive, lowest common denominator. Perhaps that's just in divided departments where each prof has a different agenda. But then, where are all the well-adjusted departments?

Maybe I'm too cynical at the moment. I had a great campus interview last year, at a place where the faculty really did seem to work together. Unfortunately, they made an offer to someone else. It's not so much that I want to know what they're looking for, as I want someplace to be looking for me.


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