By Joo Yun Jun, PhD
Lunchtime career workshop attendees met at building 35 on Aug 31, 2017, to talk about “Applying for Academic Jobs & the Interviewing Process.” Dr. Sarah Cohen from the Lippincott-Schwartz lab, who recently accepted an offer from North Carolina, Chapel Hill as an Associate Professor, and Dr. Tim Petros, who is a recently hired tenure-track faculty in the NICHD as of this March, shared personal experiences about their recent academic job searches and interview processes. Current NICHD fellows enjoyed a one-hour informal discussion, with the opportunity to ask questions of their own. Please read below for several of the questions and a brief summary of Dr. Cohen’s and Dr. Petros’s answers.
Does the K99/R00* award help you find academic jobs?
Yes, it definitely helps. When you have a K99/R00, you have more options of where to go since you are arriving with your own funding. However, if you are hired as an NIH intramural investigator, you do not use the R00 portion of the grant, as explained by Dr. Petros.
Where do you find job postings?
They mostly used the https://www.sciencejobs.org/ website.
How does the interview process go?
It’s usually two full days with a formal research presentation, chalk talk, one-on-one meetings, and sometimes a Skype interview at the very beginning.
What is a chalk talk?
You have a whiteboard with a marker, and you talk about your proposed work as an investigator as you draw (sometimes they allow you to have some initial drawing as a background). It could last 30 minutes to hours. You have to practice in front of someone to prepare this kind of talk.
What is the time frame of the process?
To apply, job postings are usually available from September through December.. Interview offers are sent out between December and March, but sometimes you can get interviews much sooner. You can expect to receive official offers between May and July, with positions starting in September and October.
How do you prepare for an interview?
Study whom you will meet with and their research so you can actively discuss their work with them. For one-on-one interviews, you can always ask to meet with a particular faculty member(s) if they don’t provide you with your meeting list in advance.
How do you choose from several offers?
You will get a sense of the environment of each department and the institution as a whole, and who your colleagues will be, so you know what you like or do not like. Also, talking with recent faculty hires to the department is highly recommended.
What do you do after you return home from the interview?
Send out “thank you” emails to the people you met!
These were the major questions and answers, but there were contrary opinions on when to actually start applying for jobs. Dr. Cohen started a year before she thought she was ready, to gain exposure to the process and to practice interviewing, although she did not get any offers. On the other hand, Dr. Petros suggested waiting until your research plan is fully shaped and you think you are ready to move, so you can have a strong application since the process takes a considerable amount of time and effort.
*Editor’s Note: The K99/R00 award is the Pathway to Independence Award for postdoctoral researchers. This NIH career development grant program allows young scientists to complete their mentored postdoctoral training and transition to independent, tenure-track faculty positions. More information can be found at https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-16-193.html.