Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How I would apply for jobs, if I were ever going to do it again.

Yellowfish pointed out that I should discuss what I would do differently.

Well, let's start at the beginning.

Step 1. Choose a grad school that you like, that actually likes you.

My grad school was a bad fit for me. Or I was a bad fit for it. Either way, I did not get off to a shining start. I did not make as many good contacts as I should have, and I certainly did not get a glowing sendoff from my thesis advisor, who was oh-so-relieved to be rid of me.

Yeah, if I had to do it over, I would have paid more attention to my gut instinct. Though honestly, of the places that I got in, none of them felt like the right choice. So there you go. I should have applied elsewhere (?) gotten in elsewhere (which would have necessitated, I don't know, perfect grades and perfect GREs?) and gone elsewhere (or not at all).

Step 2. Kiss everyone's ass, and I mean everyone, all the time.

Step 3. Go to as many scientific parties as possible, and meet people and charm them.

Partly because I'm a girl, I've never felt comfortable going drinking with my co-workers/colleagues/potential future bosses. But I should have done this. At all the meetings, even if it was in some old guy's hotel room, I should have gone. And been charming.

Step 4. Ignore bad advice, even if it comes from Super Successful "Mentors".

Yeah, the ones who told me not to apply for funding? Should have ignored them.

Step 5. Be more bold.

I probably waited too long to start asking questions at meetings. It puts you on the radar.

I also did not go and introduce myself to certain key people at certain key times, because I was too shy. But also because I sensed that they were sexist jerks, and I am rarely in the mood to deal with that kind of rejection. But I should have done it anyway, because now we'll never know.

And that is all. I would argue that I did everything else in my power. I worked my butt off. I read books on applying for jobs. I got feedback on applications from lots of people. I collaborated across continents, and attended meetings, and presented work, and published (some of it). I polished my CV. And I blogged about most of it.

And today I will be doing some more wallpapering. Why? I don't know. Because I haven't officially quit yet.

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At 2:35 PM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

It's interesting to read that you were shy. I wouldn't have guessed.

I agree that networking is really important. I am continuously amazed at the power of my network, how people and opportunities arise just when they're needed. But dealing with sexist jerks in large numbers would really suck.

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you do quit, what are your plans? You've always maintained very strongly that you would hate industry, but now you seem to be softening a bit on that stance. I'm not sure if you know this, but finding a job in industry is not that easy. It seems like companies look for people with very specific skill sets, and they go with the candidate who has the most experience with those skills. In a way it can be insulting, because it makes one feel like they are looking for technicians and don't care as much about one's intelligence and creativity.

Also, would you consider joining a different lab? Perhaps you could enter as a senior postdoc, put in a couple of years and implement all of the things you would have done differently in your job search, and land that PI position. I think part of your problem now is the job market is very poor in academic science. If you were doing this 10 years earlier it might have been a different outcome. Maybe if you wait it out a couple of more years the market will improve.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger ScienceGirl said...

I find #3 particularly tricky. I am always worried about being friendly and misinterpreted, and the "some old guy's hotel room" still raises too many flags. A bunch of drinking man are not very likely to "forget" that I am a woman, even if they manage to do so while sober.

At 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

disagree. i am so sick of networking. it's not something i enjoy. i don't think it really helps, either. people don't want to help you unless there is something in it for them.

at this point (postdoc), i am not going out of my way to network. the people i know should suffice and my work should speak for itself. is that being too naive?

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

yes, yes, and yes.

except i'm still not interested in industry.

no, i would not consider joining a different lab.

i do agree that if it were 10 years ago, i'd have a job by now.

except the sexism was even worse then.

win some, lose most.

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My grad school was a bad fit for me. Or I was a bad fit for it. Either way, I did not get off to a shining start. I did not make as many good contacts as I should have, and I certainly did not get a glowing sendoff from my thesis advisor, who was oh-so-relieved to be rid of me."

Man, that sounds SO familiar ...

Throw in undiagnosed learning difficulties and various major health issues along the way, and that was my experience. ::gack::


At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My department is doing a faculty search right now. We've brought in several outstanding candidates, three of them women. I'm not sure I can imagine any of them having logged a lot of hours in "some old guy's hotel room", being "charming". So maybe that' not it.

But then again, I wouldn't know. Since I never spent a lot of time in old guy's hotel rooms, I really can't say who the people are that are actually in the old guys' hotel rooms, being charming.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


that sucks.

Anon 2:18,

Everyone I know who has gotten jobs spent a lot of time socializing with the old guys. One person told me recently this included drinking parties that happened to be in hotel rooms. She said nothing inappropriate happened and she didn't feel uncomfortable with it, but I'm the sort of person who would turn down the invitation just because it sounds, you know, like it could get me into a situation I'd have trouble getting back out of.

At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Not sure what 1) means, both in theory and in practice.

Strongly disagree with 2). Kissing up won't get you anywhere, It looks like it does but it only gives you short-term benefit. fundamentally people lose respect for you if you are ultimately labeled as servile.

Not sure about 3). Does it really make any difference ?

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I looked over your post on choosing grad schools, and I agree with the main criteria you suggest, but I think there's a lot more that should go into it (says 20:20 hindsight!).

I've already written a lot of blog posts about grad school choices and advisor choices, but I'm too lazy to reference specific posts for you. Sorry about that, one of these days I keep swearing I will go back and tag all my old posts from before tagging started to be easy.

I guess what I mean is fit = culture. Does the school value the same things you value?

I value things like diversity, teaching, honesty, giving credit, sharing not just reagents but also ideas. A functional hierarchy instead of figurehead leadership and lots of small fiefdoms.

My school was great for sharing equipment but bad for all those other things, whereas my postdoc institution is (by and large) the opposite.

Also, does the school treat grad students like children (and some students need that or want that) or adults (which I prefer)?

This can correlate with how big the campus is, whether it is public or private, and so on. Everyone needs and wants different things, depending on whether they're 22 and just out of college or older and going back to school after being a technician for a while.

Grad school, like science, takes all kinds. But that doesn't mean all grad students will be happy at every highly ranked/funded institution with a famous advisor.

Far from it!

At my grad school, there were 'rules' and then there were the people from the 'right' labs who didn't have to follow all the rules all the time.

Exceptions were made, but only if your PI was the right PI.

I'm sure it's like that everywhere, to some degree, but my school was particularly, shall we say, uneven.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger yellowfish said...

I know what you mean about #3 and #5... those are really hard for me too. My field is completely old-boys-club (although there is also a middle-aged-boys-club of young and trendy people that you can only be in if you pass through certain labs), and its frustrating to feel like my ability to schmooze people at meetings or receptions is as important as doing good work. I'm really feeling that as I watch people get jobs, and the good (and mostly male) schmoozers have a huge leg up... grr.

I guess I have to really start to put myself out there, I've always sort of had this idealized notion that doing solid work would stand for itself, but I'm realizing now thats only part of it- so disappointing!


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