I have a pending campus interview for a postdoc at the end of March. However, there are only about 1-2 positions that I know are not complete with reviewing applications so I still may have hope. Of course, this does not keep me from worrying! In the event that I do not find full-time employment, are there any suggestions for what I should be doing/not doing next year? The obvious is publishing but at the same time it would appear I should be publishing a lot now to ensure "in press" articles at the time of Fall applications. I am actually working heavily on publishing now (this is how I've been spending my spare time). What are some other suggestions? I would attempt to apply for some grants but I'm curious about whether such an idea would be fruitful, given that I'll be part-time at an institution I would not end up at full-time. Additionally, I don't think I've seen any grants for people who are "in between positions."
Date: 22 Feb 2012 19:40
Number of posts: 10
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I'm not so sure about grant applications. I don't think most granting agencies (esp the governmental ones like NIH & NSF) would give a grant to someone who isn't really at an institution. Also, the cycle of them is such that I'm not even sure you'd be able to hear back about getting funded in time for it to matter for many of your applications (depending on when you'd submit your application, of course.)
Other than publishing, the only thing I can think of for the fall application cycle is to get your materials in order if they weren't perfect this time around. If you're applying for some teaching-oriented places and you didn't have any sort of teaching portfolio last time, you could consider working on something like that.
I disagree with cog; depending on your field, writing grant applications can be an excellent idea. Some agencies have mechanisms explicitly designed to facilitate the transition from postdoc to independent investigator (e.g., the NIH's K99/R00 mechanism, which would dramatically improve your job prospects if you managed to land one). Also, it's not true that NIH or NSF won't fund non-permanent university employees. The determination as to who can submit a grant is made at the institution level, not the agency level. If your university is willing to treat you as a PI, the federal agencies will abide by that designation. Unfortunately, most universities have a policy barring postdocs from submitting grants (primarily because if you move to a permanent position somewhere else, the money typically goes with you, and they get nothing for their trouble). So this will really depend on where you are and how convincingly you can make your case to the administrators above you.
You should also keep in mind that it's highly unlikely that any grants you apply for within the next 6 - 9 months will get funded by the time job deadlines come around, even in the best case scenario. This is a mixed bag: on one hand, you won't be able to tell committees you're definitely bringing your own funding. On the other hand, you won't have to tell committees your grant proposals were rejected (which is the likeliest outcome in the current climate). The benefit you may have is that you will at least look like you're motivated and energetic enough to submit proposals, and there's always the promise that something you wrote could get funded. I'm not sure this will help you very much with most search committees, but there's zero chance of it hurting you.
That said, there is one major downside to writing grants: opportunity cost. Any time you spend writing grants is time you're not spending writing papers. And if you're dependent on a PI for your salary, you may find that they're not thrilled that you're allocating a large chunk of your time to independent projects (though some mechanisms like the K99/R00 benefit the faculty sponsor too by freeing up your postdoc salary).
Ultimately, you should very carefully weigh the likelihood that you will actually get a proposal funded (and try to be honest with yourself when making this assessment) against the loss of productivity you will incur in every other domain—most notably, publications. If you think you have a reasonable shot, it's probably a good thing to do. If you don't have a very well-developed program of research to build on, you're probably better off spending your time publishing papers.
If you're interested in ultimately applying to teaching-oriented jobs, do some adjunct teaching at your local institutions. This is a source of income and also teaching evals. If you're more research-oriented, publish like crazy and consider applying for funding (spencer has great advice for you here). It's certainly not too late to land a full-time postdoc so you could reach out to possible mentors now. You could consider the F32 NRSA postdoc award if you can find a mentor who would support you in writing one. I believe the next deadline is in April and if you can meet it, you can start in Dec/Jan next year. Definitely have a backup plan because these are hard to land.
Publish the most articles you can in the best journals that you can. The odds of getting a grant are too low and the hurdles of submitting one w/o a permanent place are not worth the effort.
Publishing manuscripts are no certain thing either, although likely to be a more productive use of your time. This is of course assuming you have reasonable data to work with. It takes time to finish analyzes, write the manuscript and submit, and the review process can often take 6 months to a year 1/2. So, unless you get your manuscripts through this process and accepted right a way, having in press manuscripts by next fall's application period may be difficult.
Post-docs can be a good idea, but they are not uniformly good, and in this current market you are likely only delaying the inevitible. Myself and seveal friends have taken multi-year post-docs. Some have worked on managing and running research studies, and so have garnered little time for producing and revising manuscripts. Others have worked mostly off of existing data sets and spent much time publishing papers, my self included. Although this has given us many more publications, they have yet to materialize into academic jobs. We got multiple job interivews last year, but received no job offers to show for it. My friend left academia to work in the private sector and is doing well. I am trying to eek it out another year, and currently still have nothing to show for it.
Also, over publishing may simply move you out of a market you were once competitive for and into one you can't compete in. I recieved a job offer for primarly teaching in my first year of the post-doc, but turned it down thanking I could do better with a few more pubs under my belt. I did get interviews at more research oriented places, but was consistently viewed as 2nd choice.
So it may be hard to face it, but perhaps looking into post-academic jobs would be wiser use of your time and efforts and one that won't leave you hanging out to try and questioning your self-worth. (see "What are you going to do with that" as a good reference book).
getting a grant like a K99R00 when in between positions is extremely unrealistic. i'd focus on writing and forging connections with potential postdoc advisors - go to conferences if you can, write papers, give talks. you don't just have to apply for postdocs that are advertising an opening - you can directly reach out to professors you'd like to work with. maybe send some emails and offer to visit/give talks? if i were you, i would try as hard as possible to stay in the system. if that doesn't pan out, i unfortunately agree with cut-your-loses. it's hard enough to get a job in this climate, much less when bouncing back from an employment gap.
Writing a grant and submitting a grant are two different things. If your able to complete a short (e.g., R03) grant application, this looks great to potential employers. Several of the places where I interviewed were quite interested in the fact that I had a grant application ready for submission. Many places require the submission of a grant application before applying for tenure. Knowing that you've already got this in the bag may hold a lot of weight for them.
I can tell you what I did between year 1 of applying (5 phone interviews) and year 2 (12 phone interviews… despite no real change in the content of my CV):
1) Get all your materials prepared and photocopied in August. I had 40 packets ready to mail in August and just needed to add the cover letter. It was a pain in the ass to do so I hired a former RA at $10 an hour to help out.
2) Create different materials for liberal arts and R1 institutions. My research statement for a liberal arts college for example emphasized how my research is used as a teaching tool and heavily involves undergrads and highlighted. Also, I asked 12 of my former RAs to cowrite a letter of recommendation to show that I have an impact on student scholarship.
3) Have 5-6 faculty who don't work with you look over your research and teaching statement. Your advisors are too close to your work. You need feedback from strangers (since strangers are the ones reading your materials). Your statement needs to be interesting not only to people in your area but also to people in other areas as well. The advice I always give to my students is to write it so that your grandma would understand why it is interesting and important.
4) Use all your personal contacts for the jobs you care about. If I knew someone at the university, I emailed them and expressed how interested I was in the position. At the job I accepted, one of my good friends had published an article with the search chair. After I submitted my application, I asked her to put in a good word for me with the search chair. I didn't do this last year which was a huge mistake. Connections matter. If there are two qualified applicants and you have info on one from a source you trust, who would you invite?
5) For the 5 or so jobs I cared the most about, I asked my letter writers to highlight that the school was my top choice and why I was so interested in the position.
6) I personalized the first paragraph of every cover letter for each school. Sometimes it was just changing a sentence or two. For the jobs I cared about most, I added specific details about the programs I could see contributing to or put in quotes from the school website regarding the teaching philosophy of the department. It just shows that you are interested in the position and not sending out a form letter. For the jobs I really cared about, in my research and teaching statement I had sentences that said things like "I would very much look forward to mentoring undergraduate research projects at NEW COLLEGE". Then I just changed the college name as needed.
7) I asked for my packets of letters from my advisors in August. Just having 40 sealed envelopes ready to mail and in the packets. For the online ones, I tried to submit them all at once so that it was easy for my advisors to just sit down once a month or so and upload the letters. As a rule, always lie about the deadline of course (i.e., assume that your advisor will be late, so if the letter is due on March 1st ask them to submit it Feb 15th).
8) I currently have a visiting position and so I got to see how applications are actually reviewed. It's horrifying for us job candidates. Basically 4 people skim through the CVs and maybe skim through the research statements and cut about 1/2 of the people. Then those 4 people choose 3-6 finalists and bring a 1/2 page summary of the candidates to faculty meeting where people vote based on the CV and 1/2 page summary. Don't assume that the faculty have read your research or teaching statement or articles or reference letters! The search committee probably did, but many of the other people probably didn't. I'm sure the practices vary by place, but the key point is professors are all busy people and the job search is just one small part of the things they are juggling even though it is the most important and central part of our lives right now.
So, the reason I mention this is it should guide how you construct your CV, since this is all most people will see or remember during voting time. At the top of my CV, I have a short 5 sentence summary of my research program and goals - what do I study? Then standard stuff like education awards publications conference presentations. But then a list of all the classes I've taught and my teaching ratings and a short paragraph about the student research projects I've mentored. So, you can use the fact that many people just read the CV to your advantage - make sure it includes the info you most want people to know, since it's all most people will know.
Thanks for the detailed info, TotallyCancel! These are really helpful suggestions, many of which I hadn't thought of before.