View a 508-compliant PDF of this issue here: NICHD_Connection_2011_11.pdf

The NICHD Connection caught up with former NICHD fellow Dr. Xiangyun Qiu, assistant professor of physics at The George Washington University, to ask him a few questions about his career track in academics:

Dr. Xiangyun Qiu

Dr. Xiangyun Qiu

Q: What's your typical day like as an assistant professor at an academic institution?

A: As a bike-commuter, I greatly enjoy both going to work and going home. I usually start my day with reading the most recent papers in the field for an hour. I will spend the rest of the morning writing grant proposals, papers, emails, and preparing for my class. I teach in the afternoons (three days a week) and spend the rest of the afternoon in my lab doing my own experiments or working with my students. This would be an ideal day for me. We have many other commitments to the university and the scientific communities that grow with time.

Q: How did you find open positions at universities?

A: All of the positions that I applied to were found from career websites such as Science, Nature, and Physics Today. I think essentially all such positions would be advertised.

Q: Please describe the application/hiring process. Did it take a long time?

A: It took about 9 months from the beginning to the end, in my case. Faculty hiring in non-medical-school departments like mine syncs with the academic calendar, while medical schools may hire year-round. New ads for open positions appear continuously starting in July, or even the next January, with deadlines from October to February. Interviews are scheduled from December to March or April. Offers are made from January (or even earlier) to as late as May. In short, one should ideally have his or her application package ready by the end of summer and keep applying until the next January. It should be noted that the whole process can be as short as a few months for a truly exceptional candidate.

Q: Do you have any advice for fellows who are thinking about entering this career field?

A: I would consider passion in research as the most important because you are expected to do well in research while given many other responsibilities that also take a lot of time. Equally important are sincere interests in teaching and mentoring.

Q: On average, how many hours per week do you spend teaching, versus writing grants, versus managing the lab?

A: I teach one course per semester. As a beginner, I spend about 30 hours per week on teaching. Setting up the lab is time consuming in the first year, probably averaging 15 hours per week. I spent as much remaining time as possible on grant writing. It is difficult to count the exact working hours. I try to make it reasonably achievable.

Q: What are the main differences between academic institutions (like GW) and research institutions (like NIH) that you have seen?

A: I think teaching and service are the major differences, as they are fundamental in academic institutions. Another difference is that graduate students are the main working force in academia and mentoring is a significant part of research. I should clarify that I have never been a principal investigator in research institutions.

Q: Any final tips about your career field for other NICHD fellows who are interested in academia?

A: I think academia is ideal for those interested in research, teaching, and service.