Archive for the ‘Careers’ Category

What do you look for (part two)?

January 2, 2013

Having expounded in my previous post what kind of person I look for, when serving on the search committee for a tenure-track hire, now it is time to list the criteria that I adopt to try and spot my ideal candidate, as I go through application packages (APs).


What do you look for (part one) ?

December 30, 2012

I am a faculty member in a university physics department, who finds himself periodically involved in faculty searches and hires. How do I evaluate the curriculum vitae of an applicant for a tenure-track position?
What do I look for, and what are the red flags? Does it really boil down to counting (first-authored) articles, impact factor of journals where they were published, citations, invited talks, or maybe places where and individuals by whom the applicant has been mentored, as a student and postdoctoral associate?
Do I even look at the research plan? If so, how do I judge it?
What about teaching potential and/or experience?


In praise of boring projects

April 1, 2012

How many scientific discoveries have been made by investigators carrying out studies that, in principle, should have merely reproduced known results and/or confirmed the conventional wisdom ? I do not have numbers but I suspect many. Serendipity plays much more important a role than many a scientist  would care to admit. 


Letter from the trenches

February 20, 2012

I have received a letter from a student who obtained their doctoral degree with me a few years ago, and after one postdoctoral appointment decided that their heart was really into teaching.
They wrote me to let me know how things are going, and gave me permission of posting their letter here (I am withholding the person’s name). It may be of interest for those who might be considering switching from research to a teaching career. Currently, only a tiny fraction of doctoral degree holders take that path.


Independent and original

January 30, 2012

I doubt if I can offer any deeper insight or more pointed advice to a tenure track assistant professor in the sciences, than what anyone can find on a number of reputable science blogs.
Often times, however, as I go through posts describing the “dos and donts” of young scholars wanting to maximize their changes of eventually landing tenure, while I find myself in agreement with the general ideas expounded (we are not really talking secrets, anyway), I also feel that some of the most common recommendations could be taken too far, or interpreted too rigidly, ultimately doing the probationary faculty more harm than good.


The boss is out to lunch

November 18, 2011

The two basic criteria to establish whether someone is your boss are:
– Can they fire you ?
– Can they give you a raise ?
Unless the answer to both questions is yes, then they are not your boss.

(can’t recall who said that to me… my dad, maybe ? Nah, it’s impossible, that would make him right…)


Make up your mind, already !

April 14, 2011

Academic job seekers are sometimes in the fortunate position of choosing one of several job offers (not often these days, given the difficult job market). This happens both at the postdoctoral, as well as the faculty level. The reason is simple; someone needing a job will send out as many applications as possible, and it is not inconceivable that more than one employer may be interested in hiring the same person (paradoxically, this seems to be happening more so at times of tight job market, for reasons that continue to befuddle me).
Anyway, I hear a lot of opinions regarding the proper “etiquette” that an applicant should observe, when in the enviable situation of entertaining several offers (either actual or expected). Some of them are sensible, others… not so much. So, I thought I would give my two cents worth.


Great blog. By the way, you are full of it.

April 3, 2011

Last week I was in Dallas, at the annual March meeting of the American Physical Society, attended by members of the Division of Condensed Matter and Computational physics. For different reasons I ended up spending quite a bit of time talking to postdoctoral fellows (postdocs). Some of these individuals are former graduate students of mine; others are current collaborators, but the majority I had never met before.


Postdoc Emeritus

March 8, 2011

An aspect that is widely perceived as “problematic”, in the way the career path of a scientist in North America is currently structured, is the relatively long period of uncertainty and precariousness between the obtainment of one’s doctoral degree and the first potentially permanent employment [0]. That time, which in some fields of inquiry often approaches or exceeds the decade, is typically spent in term, so-called postdoctoral appointments.
This state of affairs has prompted cell biologist Jennifer Rohn to write an editorial published on the prestigious Nature magazine, calling for a restructuring of what she calls a “broken system” of traineeship in the sciences.


Great things will be coming your way

March 7, 2011

The one thing that I appreciate about this editorial, is that it may be the start of a useful, long overdue debate over postdoctoral appointments in the sciences, their duration, scope, the responsibility of Principal Investigators (PIs) and so on. I largely totally disagree with the author’s statement and diagnosis of the problem, as well as with her proposed remedy, but that will be for the next post. What I wish to discuss today, is an aspect of the above-mentioned article that really rubs me the wrong way.



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