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How to get a good job in academia?

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Presentation on theme: "How to get a good job in academia?"— Presentation transcript:

1 How to get a good job in academia?
Tandy Warnow Department of Computer Sciences [University of Texas at Austin]

2 Basic progress Graduate school (4-7 years?)
Postdoc (optional?) (0-5 years) Assistant Professor (6-7 years) Associate Professor (tenured) Full Professor Note: it is hard to move “up”: pick your postdoc and assistant professor positions carefully!

3 Different types of academic jobs have different criteria
Top-tier research department Research department, not top-tier Other universities Top-tier liberal arts (e.g., Swarthmore, Amherst, Williams) Other liberal arts colleges All academic jobs are difficult to get, and tenure isn’t necessarily easier in a lower-tier department than a higher-tier one. Don’t aim “low” because you think it’ll be an easier life.

4 Typical life of an assistant professor
Proposals-R-US, teaching, committee work, politics No social life, not enough sleep, no time for exercise, and very little time for research And then, in 6 years you come up for tenure, and have to have made a reputation as one of the top people in the world in your area. Be prepared before you start!

5 Why do this? The reason to subject yourself to being an assistant professor is that you are passionate about your research! But if you do love research, it’s worth it (in my opinion): you get to pursue questions that interest you greatly, and after tenure you’ll have an autonomy that you can treasure -- it does get better after tenure!

6 Timing, timing, timing Your first faculty position is not necessarily your last faculty position! But it’s hard to move *up* in academia, so get the best first job you can. Don’t go on the academic job market until you have a great file: strong vita, excellent letters, and a great job talk prepared! Sometimes your can improve your job possibilities by postponing graduating, or by taking a postdoctoral position.

7 Benefits of a good postdoctoral position
Time to explore new problems, gain new skills, perhaps begin to work in a distinctly different field Improve your vita: publish, publish, publish! Improve your social connections through an influential postdoctoral adviser (and also other people) Learn to teach!

8 Will you want to postdoc?
Some disciplines require postdocs, others find them optional, and some even discourage them (or consider them evidence of poor graduate training). Find out what’s true for you! If a postdoctoral fellowship is appropriate for you, realize that the postdoctoral training could be absolutely key to your getting a great job.

9 Issues to consider You will need to network to get a good postdoc!
Amount of time spent in a postdoc: you may be less desirable as a candidate for an assistant professor position after just a short period (one to two years for some, more for others). Your vita must improve during the postdoc, so don’t slack off! Even so, a prestigious and productive postdoc can strengthen your file and make you a much more attractive candidate for a faculty position. You will need to network to get a good postdoc!

10 Applying for a faculty position
The dossier determines whether you are interviewed: Publication record (number and quality of your publications) Recommendation letters (best if all your letter writers are very respected, and can write enthusiastic and detailed letters). You will need from 3-5 letters, at most one of which will be just about teaching. Your research and teaching statements: make them interesting, but understandable to a broad audience.

11 What else? Your vita and letters will (hopefully) get you a job interview. But then you must also do well: Give a great talk! Answer questions well Ask questions Have a research agenda Know about the academic life

12 Basic points The most important part of the application is your publication record, your letters, and the reputation of your department and your advisor. Every discipline has its own criteria, and “normal” progress can differ from field to field - so most advice you’ll get is discipline-specific and may not apply to your own situation. However, some advice is good for all disciplines.

13 Graduate student life Initially: try to know yourself well, have a good sense of the kind of career you want. At the same time, you should be open to change and realize that your intellectual strengths will change and grow. Find out if you love research! If you don’t love it, then academic life may involve too many sacrifices.

14 Picking an advisor Advisors are different and have different styles. Pick an advisor that you can work well with! The reputation of your advisor will impact your job search, so pick someone who has excellent credentials as a researcher (and hopefully someone whose students have gotten good jobs, too). Make sure you have the skills and inclination for the kind of research that your advisor does.

15 Your relationship with your advisor
The advisor-advisee relationship is tremendously important, and (like all significant relationships) it can sometimes be difficult. Avoid unnecessary conflict by talking with your advisor, and finding out your advisor’s expectations. Trust your advisor, too. Your advisor probably has insights and can give you good advice.

16 Publishing In some fields, no publishing is done before graduating - while in others, a lot of publishing is expected of the top students. Find out what is true of the “best” students at the top departments in your field! (Don’t base your expectations on hearsay.) Examples: in CS, top students can have 10 publications in high quality conferences and journals when they apply for faculty positions.

17 Publishing - cont. Don’t publish poor papers, just to have another publication! Also, don’t wait for everything to be done before publishing - you may be scooped. Aim high for your publication venues, as sometimes it’s just as hard to get into a lesser conference or journal as a better one. But make sure you submit a high quality paper (strong result and well written) before you submit. Never submit a badly written paper!

18 Learning to write well You should have as high a standard for the writing as you have for the results you are reporting. Your reputation as a researcher will suffer if your writing is poor - and it will go up if your writing is excellent.

19 Learning to write well NEVER: submit a paper with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, etc. If English is not your native language, have someone who is a native English speaker read your papers before you submit. Even your dissertation should be written well! DO: learn to write well. The best technical writing is easy to understand - especially by non-specialists. Get as much feedback as you can about your writing. Give your drafts to your friends for feedback (about everything) before submitting them.

20 Learn to speak well The talks that you give at conferences and at your job interview could determine whether you get a job offer or not. Have the same standards for your talks as you have for your writing and your research!

21 Learn to speak well Basic challenge: speaking to non-specialists. What are the most important points? Why is this important? What difference does this make? Be able to give a 3 minute overview of what you are doing, and why - and make it compelling! Good talks, like good publications, are clear, provide the “right” amount of detail, balance between depth/breadth, while also allowing you to display your enthusiasm for your work. Prepare very seriously for each talk you give! In my own research group, a 20 minute conference talk includes weeks of preparation, until the talk cannot be improved.

22 Learning to teach well Teaching well is not the same thing as giving good research presentations. Do TA while you are a graduate student or postdoc! Teach informally. If you will apply for positions at a school which emphasizes teaching (e.g., a liberal arts college), you must have a record of strong teaching, and letters which can attest to your excellence as a teacher. Take this seriously!

23 Develop a research program: Think Big!
Initially you will likely work on problems posed by your advisor. Try to understand why these are good problems, and how answers to these problems help answer some bigger problem. Think about the next 5 to 10 years -- where could all this lead that would be really interesting, and potentially change things! Think *big*!

24 Other stuff Find and apply for grants (pre-doctoral, travel grants, summer research programs, etc.). Attend conferences to learn the culture, get exposed to new problems, and meet people. Be friendly but have something interesting to say!

25 Other stuff, cont. Be able to give a compelling 3 minute statement about your research, understandable by anyone in your department - which would explain why what you were doing was important and fascinating, and also how it compares to what others have done.

26 The application procedure
Your list of places to apply should be large (not everyone will agree with this), but need not include any place you are completely sure you’d refuse to go to (e.g., the University of Alaska if you have seasonal affective disorder). You may find places to be more appealing than you expect them to be. If you are offered an interview, find out about the department and school before you go.

27 For more Feel free to contact me with questions:

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