76. The waiting game, i.e. how I got a job in academia.

Hey, guess what? I got a new job! My official title is “Director of First Year Chemistry Laboratories/Instructor”. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for me to say which specific university I work at, but I can tell you it’s in Milwaukee. I started yesterday, and I think it’s going to be a great fit for my personality, much more so than working at a bench top. I am in charge of running/developing the first year lab curriculum, training and evaluating teaching assistants, and teaching courses during the spring and summer terms. Basically, I get to do exactly what I’ve wanted to do since I started college in 2003!

I know a lot of people struggle with the job application process after getting their PhD. Personally, I had no idea how to go about getting a position in academia that allowed me to teach without having to run my own lab. (I should note that these positions are few and far between, and I just happened to be applying at exactly the right time.) Though this post isn’t typically what I write about, I thought maybe the process I went through might help someone else on their career path.

There is always an opportunity to use an IASIP meme. ALWAYS.

In order to teach at the college level full-time, you are going to need teaching experience. I know that’s sometimes easier said than done, but it’s not impossible! Since I did my PhD at a free-standing medical college (i.e. one not attached to an institution with undergraduate programs), there were no in-house opportunities to teach college students. I ended up applying to a small college about 25 minutes from Milwaukee that was looking for adjunct lab instructors. Although they were looking for someone with a Masters degree, I was able to justify my application by pointing out the fact that I had finished all of my graduate coursework and had three years of research experience, which is about what you would have upon completion of a Masters degree. I got the job, and continued to teach there (off and on) through graduation and my 2.5 years as a postdoctoral fellow (about 4 years total).

Speaking of being a postdoc…it just wasn’t for me.  The whole “publish or perish” mantra, being expected (in general) to work 6 to 7 days a week on a mediocre salary, the idea that women in research who enjoy dressing fashionably or doing their makeup and hair were not “serious” about their careers…it drove me nuts and stressed me out.  I could tell you LOADS of stories about times I felt insulted or demeaned, and the worst part is that it came from colleagues and other PIs, NEVER from my own bosses! (Aside: I seriously LOVED both my grad mentor and my postdoc advisor.  They were both kind, supportive, amazing people, and I would work for either of them again in a heartbeat if it didn’t require to me to work at the bench.) I will say that the majority of people that I worked with or encountered were fantastic people, but it’s always the ones who are awful sticking in our memories, right?  Anyway, after about a year of research projects not working out and feeling isolated (most of my time was spent working by myself), I decided to start looking for a new job.

This brings me to my next point about the job search: Look early and look often, especially if you don’t want to have to relocate for a new job. My husband and I weren’t financially in a position to pack up and move across country, so I limited my search to southeastern Wisconsin.  I checked about once a week for about a year before I found postings for which I was [mostly] qualified.  I applied to several positions, some of them in academia, some not. I interviewed for three positions at different companies.  I was offered one job, but declined because the environment would have been terrible (and the lady was f*cking nuts…that’s a different story).  I was also “offered” a part-time teaching position at a community college, but I basically got told that I would just be put into a pool of other instructors and would only be called upon if one of the regular instructors went on leave or quit.  Uh, no thanks.

I applied to my current position on December 7th, 2014, about 2 weeks after the position had been posted. There was no closing date on the listing (this is not the norm for academic positions), so I contacted HR to make sure they had received all of my application materials after about 3 weeks without hearing anything back. I got no response.

Fast forward about TWO MONTHS.  I get an email from the department administrator.  She says she’s going through all the applications, and mine is missing a reference letter. I freak out and email my boss at my part-time teaching gig.  He says he “forgot” to send it, so I “politely” ask him to send it that day.  I don’t hear anything from her for about another week, so I email to make sure the department received his ridiculously delinquent letter.  We did, she says, and now your application is complete.  That was it.  I didn’t hear anything for a while after that, so I just assumed they weren’t interested in me and continued looking for jobs.

Fast forward again.  On March 9, 2015…yes, THREE MONTHS after my initial application…I get an email from the department chair.  I made the first cut!  He wanted to do a phone interview sometime that week, which we did.  I thought it went pretty well, and he said he would contact me within two weeks to let me know whether the search committee wanted to bring me in for a formal interview.  Three weeks went by.  I felt awkward emailing AGAIN, but I did.  He informed me that a faculty member had passed away suddenly and he was helping to cover her classes for the remainder of the semester; he said he’d be in touch shortly with the committee’s decision.  Another two weeks passed.

I finally got the good news on April 20th (yep, we’re over the FOUR MONTH mark now) that the department wanted to bring me on campus for a full-day interview.  My interview was on May 7, 2015, FIVE MONTHS after my application was submitted.  Overall, it went down like this:

1. Arrived at department and met with chair for a tour.
2. Individual meetings with two different faculty members.
3. Gave a teaching demonstration.
4. Had lunch with graduate students.
5. Individual meetings with three additional faculty members.
6. Met with search committee (department chair plus two more faculty members).

The interview went so, so well.  I seriously walked back to the parking garage feeling like a rock star!  They must have felt the same vibe, because I was given a job offer relatively quickly: my interview was on Thursday, another candidate interviewed on Monday, and they offered me the job on Wednesday.  Woohoo!

I did negotiate a slightly higher salary than what was suggested in my initial offer letter.  It felt a little awkward, but definitely worth it as they gave me an extra 5% over the first offer.  IF YOU THINK YOUR EDUCATION AND/OR EXPERIENCE IS WORTH MORE MONEY, ASK FOR IT.  The worse they can say is no, and, as long as you are tactful and give a thorough, thoughtful explanation for the request, they’re not going to rescind the job offer; they did choose you over the other candidates, after all. I also had to consider that all of my future raises would be a much smaller percentage in comparison to this initial boost in salary (I’m getting a 25% bump overall!), so I wanted to start as high as possible right from the start. There is already disparity in salaries between men and women, and I recently read the majority of women don’t even think to ask for more money because we have it drilled into our heads that it’s rude to speak up. Don’t let it be you!  Get it, girl.

After negotiations, I received the “official” offer letter and contract, which included my start date. I’m really excited to start over from scratch at a job that actually makes me want to get out of bed in the morning!

I apologize for the novel, folks, but I do hope this helped someone (anyone!).  Please make sure to send me questions if you have any, I’d be happy to speak with you AT LENGTH about the whole process.  I mean, if you’re not exhausted after reading this post. 😉


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