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Less Discouraging Ways to Conduct a Successful Faculty Job Search


University of Cincinnati associate professor Kathleen Grogan says postdocs feel less frustrated pursuing a faculty position when they receive feedback about their applications from colleagues. Credit: Andrew Higley/University of California

Finding a full-time faculty position can be a daunting challenge for PhD graduates. University of Cincinnati anthropologist Kathleen Grosjean says postdocs can benefit from having their applications reviewed by their peers.

She learned this herself while working as a postdoctoral researcher. I realized that she and other postdocs routinely solicit comments on an online messaging app reserved for aspiring scientists.

“I was in the job market and I wanted people with extensive scientific experience to look at my stuff,” said Grogan, an assistant professor in the UCLA College of Arts and Sciences. “And I saw that there were frequent requests on Slack asking people to see theirs as well.”

So I created a pilot program that called on postdocs to review each other’s application packages. These documents include a resume, cover letter, research, teaching, and diversity statements.

I wrote about the pilot program in a study published in the magazine Proceedings of the Royal Society b.

Postdoctoral research is a bit like job purgatory – a weighing station between defending a doctoral dissertation and accepting a first academic faculty position.

“It’s a risky existence and you feel it,” Grogan said. “A postdoc has to apply for new positions almost immediately. I was very aware of my latest paycheck.”

Although a job application may seem obvious, how qualified candidates present themselves and their work can make a huge difference in piqued interest by the hiring committee, Grogan said.

“In my experience in academia, there is a minimum level of competence and competitiveness that you have to reach,” Grogan said. “Having polished material can be the deciding factor between getting an on-campus interview and not getting one.”

Grogan created a system in which postdoctoral researchers volunteered to provide or accept objective critiques with their peers. In three years, the participants helped review the applications of 150 early-career academics.

Then, Grogan and her research collaborators distributed anonymous surveys to the participants looking for work. Most have found the program notes helpful, even among postdocs still looking for a faculty position.

Study co-author Erin Keene, director of the Science Program at Boston University, benefited from the Peer Review Network. Although she had not yet held a faculty position, it was comforting to know that she was not alone.

“I was one of the few postdocs in my department, and the only female postdoc in my lab,” Kane said. “Knowing that there was a group of people in my position who were willing to spend time helping me and that I could take the time to help them was really important at a point in a career that can be so isolating.”

Grogan said the program also provided psychosocial support. This is important, she said, because the majority of postdocs can be discouraged by an academic job in a field where the positions are vastly outnumbered. Many pursue careers in government, nonprofits, or industry instead.

“The biggest leak is between the grad school and the first faculty positions,” Grogan said. “That’s when academia loses people.”

The pilot program helped the postdocs see that others were dealing with similar stresses and anxieties while looking for a job. Postdocs often take temporary appointments away from home in places where they have few friends or relatives.

“It becomes very isolating and lonely,” Grogan said. “You can’t communicate with the faculty because they’re your bosses. The top graduate students are working.”

The job search can also be frustrating.

“It can take a year or more to find a job,” Jarwan said. “I applied for 60 jobs and got two offers. It’s a lot of rejection.”

Co-author Carlos Guardia, a principal investigator at the National Institutes of Health, said the pilot program gave postdocs a roadmap to success, in part by providing examples of how other job search candidates have fared.

“It helped me, no doubt,” Guardia said. “COVID-19 happened while I was a postdoc. I suddenly lost my network of peers, so this program was a great opportunity for me to find external reviewers and critiques for my job applications. I got great feedback on my goals and objectives.”

After completing two research fellowships, in 2020 Grogan accepted a joint position in anthropology and biology at UCLA. Today, her lab studies the genetic diversity of ring-tailed lemurs, among other topics.

Grogan believes her model could be useful to other scientific or academic groups looking to build a community.

more information:
Carlos M. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2023.0124

Provided by the University of Cincinnati

the quote: How to Make Your Faculty Job Search Less Daunting (2023, May 6) Retrieved May 6, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-faculty-job-discouraging.html

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