Archive for the ‘Careers’ Category

How important are interviews ?

February 16, 2011

Interview season is about to start for academic job seekers, chiefly at the tenure-track faculty level. Blogosphere abounds with pointed advice on how to conduct oneself during an on-campus interview — “Dos and donts” of a faculty candidate include, and are not limited to: be confident, not cocky; respectful, not obsequious; funny, not tasteless; enthusiastic, not eager; competent, not haughty; and so on.

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Mentor and perish ?

February 7, 2011

In a recent post, Professor in Training expounds what is arguably a big dilemma that an academic scientist faces, trying to be at one time a successful, productive investigator and effective mentor for her advisees — graduate students, postdoctoral associates etc.

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Change that will (probably) do you no good

January 24, 2011

In my latest post I talked about some of the reasons that may induce professional scientists to redirect their research effort to different fields of inquiry, after working on a given problem, or in a certain area, for an extended period of time. In my view, there are valid and not so valid reasons for taking such a course of action. In my latest post, I talked about the valid ones.
Today, I shall expound some arguments for making such a change which I have heard in the course of my career, which I have always found unconvincing, shallow, and ultimately flawed (the arguments, silly, not the career). They are mostly borne out of opportunism, misinformation as well as what someone in the past might have referred to as “fuzzy math”. Personally, I am glad I did not heed those calls. Switching field based on one of these arguments is not likely to do anything useful for one’s scientific fortunes, whether that be in academia or outside.

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Change that might do you good

January 16, 2011

In the life of a scientist there are times when the word “change” takes on a particular appeal. The change I am referring to, is that of area of research. Many, perhaps most scientists spend their whole careers researching in the same, rather narrowly defined field, often investigating the same subject over the course of years, decades. There are reasons why that is the case.

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Gimme this, gimme that…

January 6, 2011

The following fictitious dialogue summarizes some actual conversations that I have recently had with senior undergraduate physics students, who sought advice from me regarding their choice of a suitable graduate program.

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My PI wrote me a letter

November 28, 2010

Dear Chair of Search Committee,

I have been asked by my current postdoctoral associate Joan Doe to write a letter of recommendation on her behalf, as she has expressed to me her interest for the tenure-track faculty position in MyAreaOfPhysics at Your Prestigious Institution. It is a pleasure for me to comply, as in my view Joan is a gifted young scientist, ready to take on the challenge of such a position. I have no doubt that she will succeed, that she will make an energetic colleague, and a fine addition to your already distinguished faculty.
It is my intent to make the strongest and most credible case possible in support of Joan’s application. Hence, in the remainder of this letter I shall do my best to focus on what I deem most relevant, while at the same time avoiding to write things that annoy, confuse or put me off, when I go through letters of recommendation written by others. Please note that, even though I generally write letters for physics applicants, it is my opinion that some general issues with letter writing are valid in any field, even outside the sciences.

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Friends and family

September 12, 2010

It is not uncommon, especially in academia, to be in the awkward situation of evaluating someone (for hiring purposes, or promotion, or for a competitive fellowship or prize, or even for admission into a graduate program of studies) who has professional or family ties with someone involved in the evaluation process itself, and/or behind the nomination of the person.
The conflict of interest is clear, and an evaluator is put in a bind, for the candid, dispassionate and objective assessment usually expected of anyone operating in such a capacity, may be sacrificed to the need and desire to keep a peaceful working relationship with a colleague or friend.

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On jobs and papers

June 7, 2010

A few commenters took issue with a contention that I made in my latest post, namely that publications matter very little, when it comes to the fortunes of science doctoral degree holders seeking employment in industry. It is the opinion of some that, in fact, many a potential industrial employer will raise eyebrows over the lack of publications on the CV of an applicant with a PhD in a scientific discipline — alternatively, having published the type of peer-reviewed research articles that constitute the backbone of one’s scholarly portfolio, may also significantly enhance that person’s marketability for industrial positions, most of which feature no substantial research component and/or do not specifically target PhDs in the applicant’s field (or in any of the Science and Engineering disciplines, for that matter).
One of the arguments seems to be that, since there is an expectation of publication of doctoral graduates in the sciences, lack thereof is often perceived as a sign of overall applicant mediocrity.

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The “three-paper” rule

May 30, 2010

It is customary these days, for students pursuing a doctoral degree in a scientific discipline, to co-author a number of articles published in peer-reviewed, international scientific journals, during the course of their studies. In many disciplines, the widespread expectation is that by the time doctoral candidates are ready to take the final exam, their curriculum vitae will sport a number of publications, most of which with them as leading authors and/or in high-impact journals in their field of study.

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What would I do differently ?

April 7, 2010

If I had to go back to being a postdoc, knowing what I know now as a PI, would I do anything differently ? Would it change my work, my attitude towards my PI, my understanding of all the crap that annoyed me while I was a postdoc?

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