Friday, May 7, 2010

Why start yet another blog about academia?

When I was preparing to make the switch back to academia, I started reading lots of academic blogs. These were a reality check, an information source, and a tool to re-acclimate to academic culture. Now that I am back and on the TT, I rarely see any information out there for people like me: still a young scientist, new to the TT, but independent for a while.

There are pluses and minuses to taking the career path I did, but (so far!) everything is working out for me. So now I want to get the word out. Maybe I am an n of 1, but it is important that other people know these things that go against the myth of academic job hunting. Let's start with:

1. It is possible to get a research TT job after years outside academia.

2. It is possible to get a research TT job, even without a big-name advisor pushing for you (my PhD advisor is emeritus, and I changed sub-fields after the PhD. My postdoc advisor was not an academic).

3. It is possible to get a research TT job without a Nature, Science, or PNAS paper.

4. It is possible to get a research TT job as a woman with a small child.

In order to do this, you need to do one thing--publish interesting and relevant science. I don't have a Nature, Science, or PNAS paper, but I do have plenty of well-cited papers in the main specialty journals of my field. I also attended conferences regularly (2-4 a year, minimum) to keep up with what researchers in my field were interested in, and to network with people in my field. The most important thing you can do for your career as an independent scientist is publish. (Almost) nothing else matters. The next most important is to attend meetings and talk to people. If you are not in academia, attending meetings is even more important than if you are at a University with regular visitors, speakers, and seminars.

I had one unsuccessful and one successful interview season. You can never discount the effect of luck on your ability to get a job. Being qualified is the part you can control. The rest is out of your hands. There are hiring fads and trends you have no control over. Departments need people with specific skills that may not be yours. The good thing about not being a postdoc, is that you probably have a job already that pays the rent. Just try again next season if you fail at first. More on this in future posts.


Candid Engineer said...

Welcome. :) It'll be interesting to hear your take on the transition back.

geekmommyprof said...

Dear prodigal acedemic,

Looks like we both started blogging quite recently. :)

I agree that getting a TT job is by all means not a sum of pedigrees and a straight line from PhD to TT. There are many wonderful researchers in my field who went to academia after some time in industry. A senior collegue of mine actually makes a point that having a nonlinear career path (i.e. actually trying stuff outside of the norm) is an excellent indicator of a successful tenure track and promotion!

xombie said...

Thank you so much for your blog. Young and naive scientists like myself need every ounce of information that people like you can provide!