Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gathering Hiring Data

Please share with us.

If you are in the Biomedical sciences, please take the polls by clicking on the answers.

If you are in another science field (e.g. other biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, etc.) or in the humanities and have something to add, please write it in the comments section and tell us in which field(s) your experience is most relevant.

If you are the Sole Decider for hiring in your department, answer what YOU think.

If you are not, answer what your department's SEARCH COMMITTEE generally does, NOT what you personally believe they should do (if only you had a way to make them understand).

Which single criterion is most important for making the first cut? free polls

If the answer is papers, which usually wins in your searches? free polls

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At 10:49 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Oh, this is fun, maybe I will try to do drop down boxes instead...

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous drdrA said...

I've been on a bunch of search committees and it is just not so simple- there is for me, no overwhelming single criterion of those you listed.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Ewan said...

Other: funding. Especially this year, but also true for at least the last four years. A biomed scientist is not getting a faculty position without existing funding, and in many cases it requires an R01 or equivalent.

Number of papers is next, combined with importance of those papers, but funding is clearly top.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Ewan said...

On second Q: I think 2 is way way too low a bar. I'd be surprised to see anyone getting a faculty position without at least half a dozen first-author papers.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

I'll be interested to see the final results. While basic criteria aren't ALL that different for faculty hires for liberal arts colleges vs. research institutions, I'm interested to see what people vote for on Q2.

Re. Ewan: wow, what a difference a field makes. In my field, it is very unusual for a postdoc to come in with an R01 already--NSF Career within the first year or so, sure, but only after signing and starting up the lab-- (I'm thinking NIH though, so perhaps other funding agencies are different?)... but maybe I'm just too isolated from my field now....?

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous foreign post said...

I was about to say the same as Ewan. I would think at least 6 first author papers.... and at least one (most hopeful 2) in N/C/S....

It seems a bit like the thing today is that places are filled with applications from profs from smaller unis.. and funding, yes that is specificly good to have in this time.

Some SLAC does give you some years to try and get a R01. Other bigger institutes, not so much.

but again, you need to try. There is not set in stone.

Good luck!

At 2:01 PM, Blogger JAC said...

Somehow I think that the answer to this survey will be rather depressing. As a post-doc in the Biomedical field, I almost wonder if I'd rather be ignorant. That way there is still some hope!

It reminds me of some stuff that Comrade Physioprof was saying about hiring and how they triage applications in his area. Yikes!

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is going to be interesting to hear... I have 6 first author papers (+ 1 under revision), some non-first author papers, come from a good lab, and got 0 job interviews from my application process this fall. I don't come in with any funding though... thats an interesting point...

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Our dept chair said explicitly that the only applications he considers are one with two first-author high-level publications (ok for them to be "accepted" or "in press" but not "in preparation"). High level means essentially CNS or One-Tier-Down. Both papers, I think, have to be at the postdoc level, not grad.

Didn't use the poll boxes because I wasn't sure if you wanted those of us who have watched the hiring process but don't control it to use the poll.

Our most recent hires each have one CNS and one One-Tier-Down, plus a little smattering of other tiny papers (I mean really low on the totem pole papers...I'm not smearing our society journal here.)

At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ewan's requirement for an RO1 or equivalent makes no sense. Obviously postdocs cannot apply for these.

I think your poll design needs some work. "High impact" means different things to different people.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

drdrA, if you'd elaborate that would be more helpful. How did the searches differ? Did it depend on the chair? How did they deal with whittling down the list once they had thrown out all the non-contenders?


Good point re: funding. But my guess is that you're not in my field.

First, I don't know anyone coming out of a postdoc with 6 first-author papers, even the ones who got top-notch jobs (unless you're counting reviews??). 6 first-author research papers from postdoc alone, no way, I'm not sure such a person has ever existed in my field. Maybe 3 or 4 papers at most, plus 2 - 4 as a grad student, that might be more realistic for the kind of work we do.

And re: grant, again, extremely difficult unless you're talking about ASSOCIATE professor positions. Otherwise you're saying only those with a K99 will make the cut.

It's funny you should mention that, because the other day I was listening to a professor who is totally against K99 for that reason. If it becomes a requirement for an interview, it basically shifts the hiring decision over to the K99 review committee, which probably knows even less about you than the search committees in most university departments (he was working on the assumption that knowing someone in real life is better than just seeing what they've written - kind of an interesting concept for bloggers who might bare their souls more in writing than we ever do in real life?).


Indeed, I am just trying to find out precisely which scenario I should be most depressed about!

Anon 4 pm,

LOL! The best response to Ewan, and in support of drdrA's proposal there is no formula.

Actually the whole point of the poll is, there IS NO FORMULA.

But I am curious to know if a majority emerges (in this highly unscientific sampling), or not.

I think there's something to be said for trying to stack the deck in your favor. Do you still have time to apply for more funding? With 6 papers, at least you should be competitive for that?


I'm not sure what I want re: not answering, but yeah the point was supposed to be to get votes from people who had actually been on committees (rather than me trying to gather all the anecdotes I've heard). See the comment below yours who criticized my poll design but didn't really provide a constructive suggestion for better wording.

Anyway yeah, I think your dept. chair is more in line with my impression of what "most" places want for fields like mine (where "most departments" = n > 1 but less than all).

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Pain Man said...

it's all about risk management. the least risky candidate will be from a very well established and famous lab, have several first author publications and demonstrated ability to get money (NRSAs, K99). all three are important.

this is pretty much what every postdoc knows from the beginning. no secret formula here. so it's just a matter of execution and luck.

the wild card is that any department can go out on a limb and hire anyone they want. which means they can hire the young white male from the prestigious old white male's lab, regardless of credentials, because this is just another form of risk management.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Pain Man,

In my field, NRSA makes no difference for getting a faculty position. At least, not so far as I can tell.

And part of the point of this post is that while most postdocs know this, MANY PIs DENY IT.

And as you point out, there are wild cards.

The thing is, calling it that implies that these occur at a relatively low frequency.

What's really not known is how often departments really do end up playing a wild card, whether it be to hire the young white female with no pubs, the young white male with no pubs, the ethnic minority spouse with mediocre pubs but who happens to be married to an older white male with all the stars and stripes...

I guess my point is, it's not an exception if the only rule is that the rules are mostly bunk.

What is mostly. What. Nobody has actually done the study to ask how hiring committees hire and whether it's fair or even makes any sense whatsoever.

The method, as they say, is disconnected from the goal.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Phagenista said...

I think grantsmanship is the single most important criterion because:

1. It's a necessary skill to have as a TT professor, and having obtained previous grants shows you are prepared.

2. Success begets success. A great way to convince a grant panel that you can handle your first R01 is to have proven success handling NRSAs, an R21, etc. The committee knows this, and wants to hire someone who can charm the grant panels.

3. It shows independence. Sure, you were a postdoc, a graduate student, a mentored scientist... but you were getting your own funding and forging your own research path. [Note: these grants are usually written by the mentee, not the mentor, in my field]

4. Grantsmanship is demonstrated by more than just having obtained grants, and the committee has a chance to evaluate your persuasive and expository writing. Your cover letter, your research statement... these are the kinds of writing that you will have in your grants. Does the committee like your style, does it seem like you think clearly and logically and that you can convince a weary panel member that your science is very hot? Is it clear you are excited about your work?

5. At its heart, this is about efficient communication of science, in the pursuit of money. But if you can do it for grants, where most of the panelists will be non-specialists, you can do this for all kind of scientific audiences, and you'll be likely to be a good presenter and communicator. The search committee is looking for signs that a candidate will be the kind of person people would like to collaborate with, in and outside of the institution.

This all being said... it's easier to obtain a NRSA when you are working in the lab of the FamousPI, and have lots of FA/high impact journal articles. So these criteria are all intertwined.

Though I agree with drdrA (her blogged response), that the postdoc institution doesn't matter very much. Your PhD institution shows up in the college catalog by your name, but never your postdoc institution. Unless we're talking Rockefeller, Broad, Scripps, Los Alamos National Labs -- places with truly unique, collaborative environments -- I don't think it matters.

So yes, apply for more funding. As a grad student, don't turn up your nose at $500 or $1000 grants and awards from private sources, or from within-university competitions. They will help you build a track record that a NRSA committee will appreciate. Consider applying for everything short of your own R01 with your favorite title (because of the new two-strikes rule), and any grant that makes you ineligible for "new investigator" preferential treatment in R01 competitions. You can always reuse and massage language from rejected grants into new applications... it's not a waste of time to apply for but not receive grants. And successful grants will help you make your current, mentored position better, because you can call the shots more when you bring in some of/all of the funding for your project.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Arlenna said...

a professor who is totally against K99 for that reason. If it becomes a requirement for an interview, it basically shifts the hiring decision over to the K99 review committee

I know reality may be different, but that's completely against the rules of the K99. It is explicitly not allowed to be considered as a condition of employment, nor is its transition to R00. I know that doesn't keep it from being used as such, but it's not the K99's fault that everybody needs something to grasp onto as a difference between well-qualified candidates or a triage handle.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Pain Man said...

right, but (at least from a personal perspective) it comes back to the serenity prayer. do the things that you can control. don't worry about the things you can't. and try to figure out the difference (which is what you're trying to do here). that final decision (getting hired or not), is not within your control.

an NRSA/NSF doesn't hurt your case, for example. personally, I wouldn't hire someone with no demonstration of grant-writing ability. necessary, but not sufficient.

I just had two K99 friends (a couple) get offered positions at a prestigious university. then they were taken away when the department chair was caught in a scandal. that's a pretty sucky wild card. but that's life.

so, yeah, wild cards tend to trump formulaic hiring. I'd imagine most interesting and worthwhile fields obey this rule. realizing this loss of control may even make a postdoc less stressed. it makes me less stressed.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger BP said...

I'm coming to this party a little late, but I can contribute a bit. I'm in a physics department where several of us are biomedical researchers -- and have affiliations and collaborators at our medical school -- and the rest is a typical physics department. We've hired nearly every year for the past 7 years, and I've been on a few committees. YMMV, but here are my experiences.

Typically the process to make a short-list is as follows: each committee member goes through all the folders individually and comes up with a short list, then the committee comes together and merges and, if necessary, prunes their short lists into a common short list of 10-20. Then each member of the department -- or departments for a joint appointment -- goes through all of the folders on the short-list, and then we meet as a whole, discuss, vote and rank, and invite 3-6 people for interviews. The departmental short list is usually similar, but not identical to the committee short-list. Formally, the chair makes the final decision, but in practice its departmental consensus.

This does mean that there is no common criteria for ranking.
Demonstrated expertise and potential are the nebulous words that we look for.

Common trends:

Look for red flags. Any hint of shading the truth is an obvious no-no. Also, if we get the idea that you aren't really serious, that can be a problem. (Cover letter with wrong University for example, discussing collaborating with departmental members in a field we don't cover). Letters that hint at problems, also mean a closer examination of the whole folder.

Fit is always important, but is also the last thing we discuss. The department defers to the committee on this usually. Someone who would fill in a hole doesn't need as strong as a record as someone who could collaborate, but isn't as complementary. We've passed over strong candidates who wouldn't be able to collaborate with anyone.

Papers and letters of rec are the next things and they can balance each other out. Strong letters from well-known scientists discussing someone's potential will balance a fewer number of pubs, but conversely weaker letters require more and better pubs.
This is where most of my initial purging occurs.

As for number of pubs, it varies by field, and on the the competition. However, I can't think of anyone making a short list with only 2 first-author pubs. In biophysics, with impressive letters, I could imagine someone with four first-author pubs, including ones submitted or in press, making it to a short-list. Most applicants will have more.

I don't know the last time we hired someone who hadn't demonstrated some ability to get funding somewhere, somehow; post-doc fellowships, small grants, or a Co-I/Co-PI on a large grant. We haven't hired anyone, at the assistant prof level, who had an R01 himself, but we have had applicants with R01's.

Though the competition has become more fierce though. In the last three hires (not all biomedical), I think we had only one person on a final short-list who was in his first post-doc.

Increasingly more common, are applicants in research assistant/associate professor positions, who often have money as PI/Co-PI/Co-I, on R21/R33/R01s, or NSF or DOE, or assistant professors from elsewhere who want to move up. The latest round even had people from industry, who could bring equipment because their division was being cut.

If you've been a post-doc for more than a few years (post-NSRA), I'd try and see if you can be appointed as a research assistant professor, and apply for every grant out there. If nothing else, having specific research plans with specific funding plans, even if you don't have them will help. There should be no downside for your PI, and the only downside for you is if your PI suddenly insists that you fund yourself or leave.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not on a search committee, but fresh from a successful job search.

I got multiple offers and interviews.

-NRSA, K award
-over 10 publication, majority 1st author
-most postdoc pubs are in solid (IF 6-10) journals, but no real big name stuff.
-post-doc PI is not a big name.

Some big name schools flat out rejected me, I guess I didn't have the nature pub they wanted.

One thing that really helped me was that a few senior people in the field, whom I never worked with, but have developed mentoring type relationships with, were strongly advocating for me.

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is anon from 4pm again- yeah, I had a graduate NRSA, and am in the NIH LRP (which gets counted as a grant when they do stats on who gets grants), and have been on a variety of training grants, gotten miscellaneous fellowship types of things, got some good dissertation awards, and things like that.

I don't have funding right now though- I should have applied for a K99 when I started my postdoc- now I feel stuck because I'm trying to leave my postdoc, and by the time I get a k99 and then stick around for the training component, it will be years from now!

And, I am really productive, supervise undergrads and grad students, all to no avail.

I think the main thing I'm coming to terms with is, its a crapshoot, at least in my field. Some of the places I applied I found out (only through talking to people I know), have a very very specific idea of who they are looking for (topic-wise) and that may or may not be clear from the ad. I guess all I can do is apply again next year! (although, I still have no idea when to give up on this year).

anyways, jobs. ugh.

At 4:18 PM, Anonymous drdrA said...


Sure, I wrote a whole post about it over at my site.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger JaneB said...

I'm in a different field - broadly environmental science/ecology end of biology - but do have some experience of hiring committees from the faculty side - in our case, there is for SURE no formula. We aim to hire the best person who answers our advert. The definition of 'best' depends on our needs as a department AND our institution's current obsession(s) AND our (doubtless flawed) perception of the future plans/directions of the major funding agencies in our field. Typically it will place high priority on research excellence, which is assessed differently depending on the exact field but can broadly be considered as having a sound publication list (if I had to give guidelines I'd say we look for 1-2 papers a year since completion of the PhD in "good" journals ('international' not national-only circulation, not necessarily CNS equivalent but next level down would be desired), a decent proportion of which should be first-author AND on giving a good research talk which shows the ability to have some original ideas, to be able to present your own work in a way that makes sense to a non-specialist audience, to have some kind of plan for where work is going and for how it might interact with this context if we hired you (e.g. potential to collaborate, use local field site etc.), that you're not a one trick pony but realise that you'll need to be able to work on multiple angles on the same topic in order to have a sensible chance of getting funding. Secondly, we're looking for someone we can imagine ourselves working with as a colleague - now that doesn't mean 'like us', it just broadly means not totally arrogant or paralysingly shy (neither of which goes down well with students!), and not seen to be too dismissive or rude about our location/status or to our support staff (yes, their opinions count!) - and the needs of whose research programme we can reasonably accomodate (if your start-up would require a huge new investment in totally new equipment from day 1 that would be a problem, unless the position is linked to new equipment or substantial starting funding (which does happen sometimes...), if there are obvious synergies - e.g. your fume cupboard specs are already met by three spaces in the building and you would be able to do pilot work on Chemistry's BigShinyAnalyticalToy, and the NewGadget you need will also potentially benefit Dr X's research - then that will be to your advantage (realistically, we're short of cash. Like most places)). Thirdly we look at teaching/service/'fit' in a more general academic sense - could the person teach a range of possible courses, given time and support, or are they too specialised? Are they willing to do some teaching/service? (we're a squeezed middle institution - you may not care about our hiring of course, but we hire at least as many academics as the 'research star' places and we do damn good research as well as teaching both undergrads and grads). 'Pedigree' only comes into play at this sort of level - it's not make or break at the first stage, but given three equally promising candidates it may act as a tie-breaker (of course, remember that having a BigWig PI can act against you if the hiring people have had problems with BigWig before, disagree with his(her) attitudes or theories or methodical choices, or with someone he(she) trained, which has put them off - we all TRY not to allow these factors to have any influence but we're human... so they will, a little...)

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Ewan said...

A couple of responses to responses :) :

* it is possible to get an R01 as a postdoc; you just need a letter from the dept. that you'll be made asst. prof if it's awarded. Worked for me. In some cases this may require getting a 'courtesy title' of lecturer or something that just means 'postdoc who can write grants'? On the other hand, the general reaction seemed to be that a track record of getting *any* competitive funding - postdoc fellowships, pilot awards, foundation stuff, etc. - was the biggest deal, not the fact that one was an R01. Depending on mentor, being a Co-I on grants also seems to get good reactions.

* I agree that many R1 type jobs are being filled by folks who are already asst. profs at e.g. a SLAC. I know a couple of the places I interviewed at in previous years have made such hires.

* As many have said, this is both hugely variable and hugely sub-sub-field dependent. I would not have imagined that a postdoc could come out at the end with as few papers as many of you seem to see as normal. [And no, not 6 postdoc papers :) but maybe 3-4 from postdoc(s) or more if multiple postdocs, common in some fields, and 4-5 from grad work?] On the other hand, having a first-author Nature/Science paper is just not going to happen for most folk in my field, so I don't think it's a big deal (although of course nice, duh!).

At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I left this under the poll page itself, but I see there's more discussion here so I'll repost, with some additions.

No one's mentioned rec letters yet but these are key. The number/authorship position/journal caliber can't be interpreted without a letter from the PI that, frankly, says that the papers represent the candidate's own work.
When I was a grad student, a member of my committee once shocked and appalled me by asking whether the ideas in my qualifying exam paper were my own. Now that I've been a faculty member for 12 years I am less shocked: I realize that there are vast numbers of PhDs being granted to students whose advisors wrote their manuscripts. FSP had some posts on this a little while ago.

When hiring someone into a faculty position, we want to know if that person can do all the parts of the job him/herself, so we look closely to see if the letters say that.

This also impacts the quantity of publications: someone whose advisor is writing the manuscripts might end up with more publications than the student who is doing the work herself.

Regarding funding - a history of fellowships is certainly good, but another way to meet the "is this person fundable" test is to write a kick ass statement of research plans. It should be well written, sound exciting, and show creativity. You don't want to sound too much like a chip off the old (PI) block. Distinguish yourself from your mentors in a fresh and novel way.

For those of you who plan to be on the job market fairly soon, you may be looking at this list and saying gosh, everything matters and it's too late to get an R01/NRSA/K award/12 first author pubs in C/N/S or whatever. Don't worry about that. You don't need everything. What you need is a decent match between who you are and what the institution is looking for, and you need to get your foot in the door and get the interview. From then on, the interview is the main thing that matters - and it will allow you to demonstrate, without relying on your advisor to certify it in a letter, that you can think for yourself.


At 11:12 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Fantastic, comments, all! Sometimes you blog-reading types really buoy me up, thinking there are genuinely constructive people out there in the faceless science crowd I can't always see from afar..

Only one comment I want to add to those here so far- in my field, I don't think an NRSA is viewed as being all that impressive. Perhaps things have become more corrupt in recent years, but no one knows who wrote their own NRSA and who didn't. There are enough cases where the postdoc's PI wrote so much of it (or all of it) that everyone sort of discounts them as evidence of independence. At least, that is my impression. Ironically, the Named Private ones (which are the same, really!) seem to carry a lot more weight, because there are fewer of them they are deemed more prestigious/harder to get, therefore the people who get them must be more accomplished, right?

Anyway this is interesting advice, to get any funding you can get, get whatever job title you can get, get as many papers as you can get.

My impression is that many PIs are totally against this. (okay, this is a second comment!) They want you to have funding so long as you're sufficiently dependent on them that they can maintain control. They don't want you to have an independent job title for the same reason. And they don't want you to get as many papers as possible when they can risk your time to try to get the high-impact pubs that help them increase their own fame and power.

And someone mentioned it here, it's very hard to get an NRSA if you work for a junior prof (or to get them for your postdocs if you are the junior prof). I think this is fucked up. I don't think that mentoring ability necessarily correlates with age.

Somebody really needs to do a study to demonstrate this!! I bet that on a per-person basis, younger PIs do just as well if not better at getting their postdocs papers and grants and jobs. Older PIs are often the ones with huge labs, hedging their bets that at least a few postdocs will do well enough to help them maintain their reputation.

Anyway... very interesting that there is no agreement on what works better re: more papers or "better" papers. The n here is still pretty small, but I suspect this is pretty representative (+/- some error for bad poll construction).

Thanks y'all... and happy new year!

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Pain Man said...

the more vs. better papers debate is highly, highly specific to field. in my field, almost no one has CNS papers. we really don't even read CNS. too reductionist. one or two society-level papers are usually sufficient for us (although our society is pretty damn impressive, i guess).

on the other hand, I tremble at the thought of competition in the basic cell/molecular biology fields. way too many competitors with no real way to distinguish yourself, and (hand-in-hand) practically no intellectual barrier to entry vis-a-vis the standard molecular techniques/theories utilized. I'm guessing trailblazing is less appreciated in these reductionist fields as well.

At 6:16 PM, Blogger BP said...

One point here
"My impression is that many PIs are totally against this. (okay, this is a second comment!) They want you to have funding so long as you're sufficiently dependent on them that they can maintain control. They don't want you to have an independent job title for the same reason."

As a research assistant professor, you aren't really independent. You're independent enough to apply for grants, but every research assistant professor I have ever known is under a tenured professor who could fire him/her at will, and don't have their own labs. (In my experience, this isn't always true for research associate professors and is not the case for research professors)

Most PI's are willing to let their senior postdocs become assistant research profs because they retain control, don't pay much more, but might not have to pay them.

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous a physicist said...

I've been on / chaired several search committees now. BP's comments are quite similar to my experience.

As to the original question, how to make it to an interview:

1. First cut is usually the field of research; every search I've been part of has been targeted to a particular subfield of physics. We always interpret that broadly, but nonetheless we'll get people who apply who really don't fit (theorists applying for experimental positions, for example). Usually here is where the PI factors in -- my subfield of physics is small, so it's hard to imagine a postdoc working for someone I haven't heard of. But the prestige of the PI is unimportant, in my experience.

2. We definitely want to see some (3-5 maybe??) first author publications in journals we've heard of. They don't need to be top-tier.

3. Recommendation letters need to be OK, and stellar recommendations can make up for some weaknesses in publications (as discussed by BP and others).

4. Finally, the research proposal is the ultimate factor. We'll interview someone from a low-prestige institution/PI who writes an awesome research statement over the converse.

One final note: once it's at the interview stage, everything else becomes unimportant. When we make the final decision, the only factor is how they did at the interview. Although, criteria #1 and #4 above are part of the interview -- describe your research proposal -- so those still factor in.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Ewan said...

BP said: As a research assistant professor, you aren't really independent. You're independent enough to apply for grants, but every research assistant professor I have ever known is under a tenured professor who could fire him/her at will, and don't have their own labs.

I can see how this might be true some places (and with bad/unsupportive mentors). However, it's certainly not universal: wasn't true for me, nor for the several others in the lab who went the same route. Not everyone had physically separate space (although most did), but certainly independence in part gained *through* the ability to bring in money. [When can a PI *not* fire a postdoc? :-)]

Plus, a history of even writing grants, especially if they have decent scores but perhaps were not quite funded, sure looks good to hiring committees.

At 12:56 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

My experience previously as a "research prof" and now as a "visiting assistant prof" is that these are nothing more than glorified postdoc positions. As BP says, you are under a tenured prof, who can and usually will make you work for him/her. In fact, my experience is that these positions are sometimes even less independent than regular postdocs. The "boss" thinks that since he/she has sponsored you for more than a postdoc he/she can ask more from you. (Even though the funding for the position is external and not from his/her grant).

The upside of these positions compared to regular postdocs is that (i) the salary is higher, and (ii) often the position can continue indefinitely, getting renewed every year. But then again, who wants to spend the best year of their research life being someones serf? I recently declared independence to my "boss", with the result that I'll be needing to find a new job when the year is up. (I jokingly suggested to the boss that him and me should swap jobs if I continue to produce more papers in better journals than him, but he didn't see the funny side of that.)

At 1:11 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

A few thoughts on the questionnaire and the (un)reliability of the answers...

The most accurate analogy of hiring I've heard is that at postdoc level it is like choosing a boyfriend/girlfriend and at faculty level a spouse. With this analogy we can anticipate a bit about how people might respond to questions about what is important to them when hiring by considering how people in general respond to questions about what they look for in a spouse.

But first we gotta flesh out the analogy. I propose the following:

1) Academic pedigree corresponds to looks

2) Research output and quality corresponds to "personal qualities" (e.g., being responsible, reliable, considerate, intelligent, caring, etc)

3) Research area corresponds to lifestyle. (E.g., working on a fashionable topic corresponds to a trendy, cool lifestyle etc.)

4) Personality corresponds to personality

Now if you ask someone what they seek in a partner (boy/girlfriend, spouse) usually their answer focuses on personal qualities and compatible lifestyle. Good looks, and, to some extent, personality, tend to get downplayed since people don't want to appear (either to themselves or to others) to be "superficial". But, as we all know, people find it easier to "appreciate" someones good qualities when they are accompanied by good looks and personality...

Also, if you ask someone why they think their spouse chose them, their answer is likely again to focus on personal qualities and compatibility. No one likes to think that their partner was so superficial as to chose them in large part for their good looks. And of course the partner is not likely to admit to that. If asked, the partner will cite personal qualities etc as the main reason, and the person will gladly believe that to be true.

The analogy with peoples responses to questions about hiring in academia is now obvious.

About personality: I think the significance of this for academic hiring is generally under-appreciated. When I was starting out on my PhD we had a talk from the dean of graduate studies, and he made what I thought was a bizarre and ridiculous claim: He said if we wanted to be successful in academia we should "be happy" -- because, from all he had seen, it was the "happy" exuberant, interactive types who got the academic jobs. At the time I though "Bullshit -- a subdued type who outcompetes the happy folks on merit will surely get a job ahead of them". Yep, I was a firm believer in the Just World hypothesis. But at this point I have to say that his claim is remarkably, spectacularly true from all I have seen as well.
(And I sometimes wonder if the "happy" folks are all on drugs...)

P.S. Happy New Year Ms.PhD! I hope this year is a better one for you.


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