Monday, January 16, 2012

First Job Interview

The blogs were right when they said that an academic job interview is possibly the most exhausting experience of your life.  I had a full day of travel complete with a three hour time difference that then left me wide awake with adrenaline flowing at 4am both mornings. (I had been getting up at 7am everyday the week prior.)

As for the school, I had a great experience and was extremely impressed with everything about the institution.   The department chair was absolutely inspiring and I left feeling like I could totally be successful there.  More importantly, I left feeling like I was exactly what they were looking for and that I'd have a job offer in the mail the very next day.  However, I think their goal is probably to make everyone feel this excited... and I'm still waiting for that offer.

The interview days involved about a dozen meetings with deans, dept chairs, everyone on the search committee, and all the hot-shot faculty members plus two breakfast meetings at my hotel, a lunch meeting with students, and a big dinner with faculty at an Italian restaurant.  I was literally delirious during my research seminar because it was at the end of the first day and I somehow finished about 10 minutes faster than any of my practice runs.  But, I had a lot of questions so I think it was ok.  Luckily the chalk talk was early the second day so I was a little more composed for that.  It's really true that you can almost instantly tell who is on your side in the chalk talk and who is not-so-interested in hiring you.  They either asked questions that were genuinely to help them understand or suggested other approaches that might help to get the research funded, OR they asked irrelevant/tangential questions to try to confuse things or to get me to argue with them. 

Before the interview, I read a lot of the articles and tips on academic interviewing including all the of the blog entries aggregated here at bluelabcoats, but I thought I'd make a list of a few more things that I learned.

1.  Extensively research the people you're going to have meals with.  You should absolutely never run out of questions or things to talk about.  I think people are most excited and find YOU most interesting when you ask them about their own research.  This is what I tried to do, but I often found myself falling back on general questions about the school because I didn't always know enough about their specific area of interest to ask intelligent follow up questions.  So I wish I had read a few of their papers a little more in depth.

2.  Have a hundred questions ready for the students.  Even if you think you have a huge list of questions, think of more.  The students were really shy at first so my mental list of questions for them was exhausted very quickly.  Luckily some of them started asking me things about the job search and this led to a discussion about their own job prospects and advice I had for them in choosing postdoc advisors, etc.  This became infinitely easier when it turned into a conversation, but I'm not really sure how that can be forced or planned.  Just have lots of backup questions for them.

3.  Have a list of required resources ready even if you've been told that they won't ask for this until the second interview.  Also, you should know EXACTLY what equipment is available in core facilities.  This was one of the first questions I was asked - "Exactly what resources do you need and how will you utilize the instrumentation available in our core facilities?"  Luckily I did research on the core facilities and was able to answer this.  Almost the exact same question was asked again during my chalk talk.     

 4.  Don't feel embarassed to ask to use the restroom.  I was never once offered a chance to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom.  Bring a bottle of water for yourself and maybe something sugary to eat right before your seminar. 

5.  I was asked multiple times if I was married or had a family.  This is illegal and shouldn't influence their decision, but be prepared with an answer, because they will ask. 

6.  Every person you meet with will have a different way of dealing with their 30 minute meeting with you.  Some will give you a 30 minute seminar on their work.  Some will expect you to ask them questions for 30 minutes.  Some will ask you questions about your work and some will also ask you really aggressive questions about your research and about your interest in the school.  One professor repeatedly asked me in different ways about how interested I really was in working at their school and moving to their community.

7.  For the chalk talk you should know exactly what staff it will take to complete your proposed research aims.  What will be the first project you assign to a grad student or technician?  Also know exactly what institute at the NIH and even the specific study section where you will send your grant.  I was told that I should outline my first RO1 grant for the chalk talk, but at the end we still had five minutes and I was then asked to quickly outline a second RO1, and then what the subject of a potential third RO1 could be.  They also asked if I had researched any new investigator grant awards that I could potentially apply for.  So also be aware of specific foundations that you can apply to.

That's all I can think of for now, but I'll add to this list as I remember things...


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