Friday, March 8, 2013

Job market summaries

I wanted to give a more formal summary of my experience on the job market because I always find these helpful when I read other people's.

Here's my career trajectory and each job market summary.  Briefly:  1 year half-time while publishing PhD; 2 years postdoc; 2 years research-track; now tenure-track. 

Last year of grad school:  I was finished with my dissertation but due to scheduling and the job market, I couldn't defend until November.  I had applied to maybe 60 jobs.  I got the following offers:
  1. Visiting Assistant Professor at elite small college, teaching 3 courses per year.  After I negotiated a salary increase (just slightly more than an NRSA postdoc salary, but coming out of grad school, it was exciting), the Dean told me that I shouldn't take the job because I should focus on research before getting a tenure-track job.  It was useful, frank advice.
  2. Postdoc at Ivy with a very short response deadline and 1 course per year.  Basically I had just a few days to respond.  I thought that I had better offers for the future, so I turned it down.
  3. NIH training grant postdoc at decent state school, in a very supportive program, working with any faculty members on any of their projects.  Fantastic situation, but it didn't come with regular health insurance.  Postdocs had to get their own health insurance, and they would reimburse, which raised all kinds of privacy and convenience issues.  I probably should have taken this position anyway.
  4. Non-NIH postdoc at the same decent state school with famous professor on important project, and possible involvement on 2 other exciting projects, which I accepted.  Most of the actual work was literature reviews and organizing international conferences, which clashed poorly with my self-image as No-Longer-A-Graduate-Student and thus should be doing real research.  If I had been more patient about the administrative tasks, the other research projects probably would have followed.  Instead, I complained to the famous professor, and he agreed to hire an administrator to organize the conferences . . . by giving half of my salary to someone else (!).  The extra projects that he had promised me somehow never materialized.  Needless to say, I went right on the job market that year.   
  5. Postdoc in a foreign country with two advisors, one of whom yelled at me on my visit there.   
Round 2:  I applied to around 65 jobs.  I got a 2 year postdoc at one of the top universities in my field.  I would be my advisor's last postdoc.  The research projects that I got involved in were dysfunctional in one way or another:  one took 4-6 months to meet with me about what I could do for them, and even then didn't give me all the materials that I needed; another collaboration also wouldn't give me all the materials that I needed until I contacted them a few times over a few months.
Round 3:  During my first year in that postdoc, I applied selectively:  24 jobs, 13 interviews, and 2.5 offers.  I stayed where I was.

Round 4:  During my second (final) year in that postdoc, I applied more widely, and that's told in this entry:  69 applications:  3 conference interviews (1 tenure-track, 1 government, 1 temporary faculty), 2 phone interviews (1 postdoc, 1 tenure-track), and 9 in-person interviews (3 tenure-track, 4 postdocs, 1 research institute, 1 non-tenure-track). 

I got a non-tenure-track offer with a short deadline, so I turned down 2 tenure-track interviews.  In retrospect, that was the wrong thing to do.  Career-wise I should have still gone on the tenure-track job interviews despite having accepted the non-tenure-track job because I would have obviously accepted the TT jobs if I had gotten offers.  Personal-wise, it was fine because the city with the research-track faculty job had the most educated and interesting dating pool of any city that I'd lived in, and I met my husband there. The research-track job was a 3-year contract with diminishing coverage:  first year 75%, second year 55%, and third year 30%. 

Round 5:  I had the required amount of grant coverage ready for my second year, so I applied selectively:  43 jobs, got 4 interviews (1 research institute, 3 tenure-track) and 1 tenure-track offer which disappeared.  One of the tenure-track jobs was a soft-money position at a top school where the university would cover approximately 10-15% of my salary, so I would need grants for the remaining 85-90%.  At this interview, several faculty members told me that everyone is nice to each other because you never know when you'll need to use each other for funding. 

The tenure-track job disappeared less than a month before its start date, and my research-track job wouldn't let me continue to work there, so I moved to a different research-track job at the same university.  That's the other reason that I know that it would have been fine to accept interviews for the tenure-track jobs back in Round 4:  this research-track job showed me no loyalty.

Round 6 (!):  I applied to over 100 jobs in several disciplines related to my research.  Thankfully, I got a good rate of return:   
  1.  6 phone interviews and 1 conference interview that didn't go farther.  Some lessons from these.
    1. The conference interview and one of the phone interviews were in the same general area, so I could have taken the jobs without moving, and my husband could have kept his same job.  One was an up-and-coming state university branch, where I genuinely liked the faculty and was enthusiastic about the teaching.  I always wonder when ulterior motives (geography) undermine applications and when they help.  
    2. One phone interview was for a land grant university in a college town 30-60 minutes from the state's capital city, which looked like a lovely place to live, despite being smaller than anywhere I'd ever lived.  At the very end of this phone interview, I said that the state capital looked like a terrific city, and my interviewer countered that the college town was good, too, and that most faculty lived there.  Oops, I didn't mean to seem down on the town.  
  2. Three tenure-track on-campus interview offers that I turned down.  
    1. One was funded for just 2 years.  It took a lot of questioning to figure that out because they emphasized the hard money component so much that I had the impression that it was 100% hard money with no time limit.
    2. One was in a prestigious academic medical center with favorable terms.  If you bring in your own grants, you need to cover 30% of salary.  If you get on others' grants, you need to cover 70% of salary.  It wasn't far away (maybe a 6 hour drive and flights were inexpensive), but they couldn't pay my flight to come visit, and they didn't want me to pay for the flight either. 
    3. One was at a non-prestigious public university in the same city as the academic medical center.  Aha!  I accepted the interview at first, and I bought the plane tickets, to be reimbursed later.  But then the search committee chair got all picky about random details, and then I got a job offer, and I suddenly got so tired when I realized that I didn't have to deal with this.  I was trying to figure out a way to go to the prestigious academic medical center while canceling this interview, and I even arranged to stay with friends during the day that I was supposed to be at this job interview, but for some reason it didn't work out.  Or maybe I was just exhausted from all the traveling.
  3. 6 on-campus interviews, which turned into 2 offers.  
    1. Offer 1:  100% coverage (12 month) with 3 classes per year at public school. My now-husband got a job offer in that city, which happens to be where he grew up and his parents live.
    2. Offer 2:  75% coverage (9 month) with 4 classes per year at a private religious university.  It was the same effective rate of pay: that is, the 9-month job paid 75% of the salary of the 12-month.  I was reluctant to turn down this job for a few reasons.
      1. Job security:  Somehow I had the sense that I would for sure get tenure, although I wasn't sure that I would want to stay there my whole career.  
      2. They were extremely enthusiastic towards me, so enthusiastic that they told me that they didn't interview any other candidates that year.
      3.  The location seemed more liveable.
      4.  Unfortunately, my husband didn't have a job offer in that city.  Given #2, I felt slightly guilty turning them down, especially because after I turned them down, the chair of the department asked why I didn't ask them for help finding my husband a job. I hadn't even realized that was a possibility. My husband isn't an academic, but he has a professional specialty and a network, and I figured that his network would be able to get him any job leads that he needed, whereas the university would be able to generate generic job leads at best, but who knows. Anyhow, it makes it easier that the road not taken had a higher teaching load. 
    3. Flagship public university in a college town about an hour from the nearest city.  All the faculty there were from large cities, and were very enthusiastic about their new college town location, and it really did seem like a great town where I would have otherwise wanted to live.  It did seem like a problem to find jobs for partners/spouses:  one partner was going to graduate school in a new field because he couldn't get a job there, and two other partners/spouses were living in other cities, one in a city 1000 miles away.
    4. Elite private university with a new program in my area:  It was an interesting contrast to speak with the faculty versus the students at this school.  From the faculty's perspective, they were growing and figuring out how to make this new program work.  Students expected everything to work perfectly because they were paying such high tuition, and the university has an excellent reputation.  I contacted them as soon as I got the interview offer for job #1, and they set up my on-campus interview quickly.  The dean seemed to like me and personally acted as the point-of-contact after my visit.  Once I got an offer from the first school, the dean promised to get back to me quickly.  Within a few days, I got a phone call saying that there wasn't a faculty consensus on my application.  Reading between the lines, some wanted me, but they were waiting for a candidate that everyone wanted, which made sense.  They encouraged me to apply again for another opening because the school was growing.
    5. Urban state university:  4 courses per year, 75% coverage.  Great city, very friendly, updated facilities, and of all randomness, I made a connection for an under-employed friend with a masters degree who is looking for a research job to supplement her 23% coverage (yikes!) at her current job.  It was exciting to get a job interview for a friend on the other side of the US from this interview.
    6. Elite public university:  Really lovely place, practically paradise on earth at least by appearances, but the position had a twist.  The department --- related to my research interest, but not "my field" --- had recently recruited a big name in the field to join the faculty.  The big name gave as a condition of his joining the university the ability to recruit at least one new junior tenure-track faculty member.  Despite being tenure-track, the new faculty would be required to work closely with this big name faculty member.  Who, by the way, is 60, male, distinguished-looking, and trying to live the swinging single life in the nearest suitable big swinging city, and had his arm around the chair of a married female junior faculty member at dinner.  Yuck.  Really not comfortable.  I was relieved not to get an offer.  I don't know whether this type of situation was normal for the discipline. 

Summary lessons of all my experiences:
  1.  Women's issues still matter.  In my research-track job and some of my job interviews, there were senior men who felt entitled to touch junior faculty women, or order them around.  Really not comfortable, and simply not acceptable.  And yet because these men are important, people around them put up with it because it's easier than resisting.   
  2. Health insurance matters, even for young single people.  I turned down a good postdoc because they couldn't give regular employer-based insurance policies to their postdocs.  Again, this was an unadvertised issue.
  3. Never turn down a tenure-track interview, even if you have already accepted a non-tenure-track job.  Even a good non-tenure-track job. 
  4. There are some wonderful working environments even/especially at non-prestigious schools.  When I was first leaving my PhD program, I didn't really know what to look for.  In retrospect, it's clearer.  
  5. Jobs vary enormously in their terms.  In these times of fiscal austerity, hard money positions are extremely important, and yet few jobs mention hard versus soft money status in the position. 
  6. Tenure-track jobs aren't necessarily permanent.  At my current school, all tenure-track faculty are classified as "temporary" and on one-year contracts. I started my job in the summer, and 7 months after I started I got my formal offer letter.  The letter said that they were happy to offer me a job starting on my start date, and that although the job could end at any point, "we anticipate that it will last at least until" a date 5 months in the future. I've been reassured that all contracts get renewed, and everyone is under the same terms, but it's naturally unnerving.  I'm glad that I negotiated for a pay increase before I accepted the job because our pay is frozen for the next few years, and there will be some furlough days.


Wow, I just ran across this old blog. I wanted to give a small update.

I took the research-track faculty job that I mentioned in my last blog post. I found out about the job when I approached someone randomly at a job fair, who turned out to be the chair of a department with the power to create a non-tenure-track position. It was a great position while it lasted. My salary doubled, and I had a year without teaching to do research, so I didn't mind the occasional furlough days. It was weird, though. I noticed on my interview that all of the other recently-hired faculty were young, attractive non-overweight women with my complexion. And at faculty meetings, he was constantly touching this unmarried woman's knee. Oh, and he was married to his former undergraduate, and had that creepy older man combination of having grandchildren and children of about the same age.

In the spring of that first year, I got a tenure-track offer, and I got ready to move for the tenure-track job. Less than a month before the start date, the job was cut due to state budget cuts. The state picked an arbitrary date, and if the job was vacant on that date, it was cut. My job was on an existing tenure-line, but because the previous occupant had already left the job, the job went away.

Needless to say, my research-track position no longer existed for me by that point. I looked into filing for unemployment, but fortunately I some grant money, so I put together a 50% time position at my same salary and title through a research center that I was affiliated with. Very lucky. And it was generous of the research center because the grant money didn't come with much overhead.

Only there was a slight bureaucratic mishap. If I had left the university and been unemployed, even for a week, my old department would have paid my accumulated vacation days to me as a lump sum, approximately a month's pay. Because I didn't leave the university --- just moved within the university --- this research institute that had been so generous in putting a position together for me in return for almost no overhead now owed me a month's salary. By the time we found out about this problem, it was too late to fix. Otherwise, it was fine. And it was a reasonably productive year of underemployment: I was back on a postdoc-like salary, I got some papers out, and I applied to an embarrassingly large number of jobs.