March 16, 2007

Workshop gives academic career-seekers helpful hints

Featured Image

At the workshop, Joshua Gamse, Ph.D., and other speakers gave tips on landing academic faculty positions. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Workshop gives academic career-seekers helpful hints

A packed house of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty listened attentively as seasoned academicians outlined the path to landing the most coveted of science careers — the faculty position — and provided personal perspectives and advice for the harrowing process.

During last week's career workshop, “Successfully Launching Your Scientific Career,” sponsored by the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET), Vanderbilt faculty members discussed topics from the structure of the university and the job search to the grant-writing process and setting up your lab as a newly independent investigator.

In one of the most well-attended presentations, Bruce Carter, Ph.D., and Josh Gamse, Ph.D., gave audience members insight on the job hunt.

While having top-notch publications, a clear future research direction, and strong recommendations is key to being competitive, Carter, associate professor of Biochemistry, stressed the importance of a somewhat overlooked factor — interpersonal “chemistry.”

“Scientists are not known for being great conversationalists,” he said. “But you have to try.”

Informal interactions during the interview process — at dinner and during one-on-one meetings — present an opportunity for the job seeker's personality to shine.

A person may have stellar credentials, but in the end, “we're going to hire someone we like,” said Carter, speaking from his experience on several search committees.

Gamse, having secured his position as assistant professor of Biological Sciences just a few years ago, offered additional practical advice from the job seeker's perspective.

Since most position openings are announced in the late summer/early fall, it is a good idea to begin preparing your application in the spring to allow time to round up recommendation letters and develop an error-free and eye-catching application, he said.

Preparation is also key to acing the interview.

“The interview process is a day and a half marathon,” Gamse said. Be well rested, properly dressed, and make sure you've practiced both your formal talk as well as any informal presentations — such as a “chalk talk” — you may have to give.

This year marks the first time the BRET office has devoted an entire day and a half to the topic of “landing and maintaining a scientific job,” which had previously been addressed in individual sessions held by the Postdoctoral Association.

“The feedback we've received thus far has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Kim Petrie, Ph.D., director of Career Development & Outcomes Analysis in the BRET office. “The vast majority of people rated the individual sessions as 'very useful,' and nearly all say they would recommend the workshop to their colleagues.”

The job hunt session was particularly well reviewed, Petrie noted, “but people wanted more information than could be conveyed in the time allotted, so we hope to address this topic in greater detail through additional workshops, possibly toward the fall when the academic job search season starts.”

“Recognizing that it is difficult for many to leave the lab for a day and a half, we may do future events as half-day workshops that delve deeply into a single topic, rather than extended workshops that try to hit the high points of many different topics.”

The workshop was rounded out by talks on managing lab teams, record keeping and data management, teaching, journal publication, and research ethics.

For those who were unable to attend the workshop or would like to review the presentations, BRET plans to make the speakers' slides available on the workshop Web site by the end of next week (