Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Faculty Searches and Crying Post-Docs

Despite all the budget concerns going around UNC recently one of the few faculty searches to get past the chopping block was a new faculty position for Astronomy. Thus we have been having potential faculty members come to interview. As part of the interview they have to give a colloquium presentation, and this week we have had the first two of five candidates come to talk. They are both very smart and competent though I have to be honest, the one we had today made a better impression on the faculty. But there are still three more to go so we will see.

The two we have had so far are currently post-docs (one is on his second the other on his third), but what struck me about both of them was not their presentations but rather how both of them reacted to the same question that a grad student asked them after their talks. After each colloquium they send the prospective faculty into a room with just the grad students and we can ask them any questions (without the faculty there) and they can ask us any questions (again with out the faculty there). It's a great idea and it helps them get a different prospective on the school and what it is like to teach here (and allows us to see if we would want to work with them).

Anyway, in both of the sessions (one on Monday and one today) one of the grad students asked them the same question and in both cases their reaction was...interesting. They were asked "Where else have you applied for a job?" They had both applied elsewhere and had been rejected by just about everyone else (one had applied to 15 positions and he had been rejected by 11 of them, 10 of the places did not even hire anybody), but what was most notable was that when asked that question both of them got very, very worried looks on their faces and in the case of the one today, was close to tears.

It was a little, um...unsettling to see these full grown men on the point of tears when asked the same question. They both really, really, really want the job and it is apparent that both of them are very worried about their careers. Knowing how stressful it was to apply to grad school I can just imagine how hard it is to try and get a job, especially when 95 people apply and 5 are selected to interview and only 1 gets the job.


  1. Yes, getting a job in academics is a very stressful thing. Many really have to adapt.

    I have met a couple postdocs who are now doing completely different work then they were doing as grad students. The options for them were: go to where the money is or get out of academics.

    I really think, if you want to pursue academics, you *must* have a plan B no matter how gifted you are.

  2. Yet another reason to avoid the "I program in Fortran" bug since Fortran is soooooo often used in the non-scientific world.

    Set of all my gui or useful apps programmed in Fortran = {}

  3. In football nobody likes to punt. It means you have failed to gain 10 yards in 3 downs. You are essentially admitting defeat on your short-term objective to spend your last down giving the ball to the other team. However in the days leading up to the game it's still important to practice punting.

    As we pursue out dream jobs, it is important that we not forget to look into alternatives. We may prefer a Tier I research university, but a tenure-track position at a four year school is preferable to 10 post-docs and never-ending cycles of applications and rejections.


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