By Silviya Zustiak, PhD
Tijana Jovanovic-Talisman is a postdoctoral fellow at NICHD, currently transitioning to an academic career as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at University of Hawai'i, Manoa. One thing that distinguishes Tijana's candidacy from people in the same position is that she prepared her academic package and conducted the application process while pregnant with her first child, Fiona, born on October 12, 2010. Consequently, she had to fly all over the country for interviews when her baby was just a few weeks old. I asked her for some tips on success in her unique and delicate situation.
Q: An academic package includes a teaching statement, a research statement, a cover letter, a CV, and 3 letters of recommendation. Was it difficult putting it all together during pregnancy?
A: The major difference was that I was constantly sleep-deprived, tired, and generally less able to concentrate. Therefore, I had to prioritize properly, give myself more time, and double-check all important communications. I would really recommend postponing your job search and enjoying your pregnancy if you have a choice.
Q: Did you get help preparing your package? Are there any resources available at NIH to aid in the process?
A: Yes, I received a lot of help from friends, colleagues, and mentors on campus. In addition, Brenda Hanning was instrumental in pointing out many resources to me, including the career services on campus. I also watched the webcasts of seminars organized by OITE while staying home with the baby. You should be aware that NIH is rather unique in the commitment to help postdocs with their job search.
Q: What was the single most important aspect of your application that got you the position at Hawaii?
A: I think it was the fit between what I had to offer and what the department needed. I believe that everybody is unique and you shouldn't be discouraged thinking that you are not as competitive as some of your peers. I think that if an academic position is your dream, you should just try and apply.
Q: You had 7 job interviews all over the country, including Hawaii. Was it difficult travelling for interviews while your baby was just a few weeks old?
A: I first would like to emphasize the fact that all places were very accommodating of my situation. A typical academic interview requires 2-3 days. Because of my baby, my interviews were only a day long. I would usually fly in a couple of hours prior to the interview and catch a late flight back. I was so tired; I mostly slept during the flights. Furthermore, because I was breastfeeding, I requested pump breaks during the day. I felt awkward initially, until I realized that people were very supportive and understanding. Most places also offered to pay for a third person to accompany me if I preferred to take the baby along. However, I preferred to leave the baby at home with my husband and the grandparents, which was less stressful for me. Overall, I really enjoyed the interviews despite constant tiredness.
Q: Do you have any advice about the interview process?
A: It is extremely important to be energetic and excited about science. And, practice your talk! See if you can get an invitation to give a seminar somewhere different than your lab meeting. During the interview, be straightforward about the baby, but still gauge what you can ask. For example, you can ask about day care and working hours, but keep in mind that the more specific questions could be asked once you get an offer.
Q: You got several job offers but you chose Hawaii. Did the fact that you already had a child influence your choice?
A: Absolutely; having a child changes your perspective on life. I chose a family-friendly
place in order to balance career and family. I also wanted a city with a slower pace, where I envisioned my daughter growing up---a place where she can play safely outside and still have opportunities to attend dance or music or anything else that she chooses to.
Q: Would you give one last piece of practical advice for other moms and moms-to-be on how to get their dream job?
A: All I can say is that anybody, with the proper mind-set, can do it. Don't give up! And seek any support you can get - from husband, friends, or grandparents. Remember that you don't have to do it alone!