I'm a molecular biophysicist in a biochemistry department. In a college of medicine. And I'm funded by the NSF. Not too sure my dean likes that... I'm here to blather on about things that interest me and to raise the average age of the bloggers here by at least 1.2567 years. And I'm Australian.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention my post on putting together a TT job application packet has received. There are a couple of comments I'd like to address and figured a new post was the better way to do it.
Let's start with comments from the science blogosphere's resident gadfly*, Comrade PhysioProf. I had writtten:
One Nature first authorship plus three middle authorship papers likely won't outweigh four first authorships in decent (society-level?) journals.The number of authors on a paper can be important too. Personally I would rank a first authorship on a publication with 2-4 authors total in a society-level journal higher than a first authorship on a publication in Cell with 10+ authors (some may disagree with me on this).
To which CPP replied:
This is absolutely false for job searches in the biomedical sciences at elite institutions.
Emphasis on elite added. I'm not at an elite institution, so I will defer to CPP on this. It is true at the large state R1 I'm at, and I am in the biomedical sciences. Perhaps the best bellwether of what might be expected in terms of publications is the publication record of the faculty in the department you are applying to. If glamourmag publications are common, you'll likely need them to land a position there. If publications in decent journals are more the norm, then that's likely what is required. Of course we're quite happy to hire someone with glamourmag publications...
CPP also noted that:
Also, five pages is absurdly too long for a research plan. Two pages is more than enough. If it takes more than two pages to explain how important your research is, then it probably isn't.
A number of other commenters had made similar remarks. Given that there is some consensus here, take note.
Finally, CPP wrote:
Finally, cover letters don't mean jacke dicke. No one even reads them.
I disagree. Where I am they are read. They can make the difference between having your CV read or relegated to the "thanks, but no thanks" pile. Commenter Ajkl believes these to be important in her/his field. I would interested in hearing from others who have served on search committees - do you read the cover letters? In the end, isn't it better to write a good one and not have it read, than slap together a poor one and have it sink you?
Ajkl also made this rather important comment:
If you're applying overseas, try to find someone who works in that country and get help from them on your materials. There are some differences in what is expected (and also re: what is considered self promotion vs. obnoxious).
Moving along, Dr. Zeek asked:
So here is the random question for today that I have seen some people argue about before-- your cover letter-- do you use your current institutions letterhead or no?
Many of the cover letters I've seen are on letterhead, but I don't think that's important. Now that much of this is done electronically, I suspect it matters even less.
Finally, in an earlier comment Dr. Zeek had written (tongue firmly in cheek I suspect):
I am planning on starting to apply next fall for TT-positions and I am absolutely scared shitless about the whole thing. Not just the application and interviews, but the also the fact that someone may think I can actually run a lab and I might actually get hired somewhere.
It is scary. But you need to believe you can run a lab. Confidence, or a lack of it, will come through in your cover letter and research plans. If you should make it to an interview, a severe lack of confidence will absolutely destroy any chance you had of getting the job. Note that I'm not saying you need to believe you are owed a TT position - that's just obnoxious and can harm your chances. Nobody is owed a TT position.
* And I mean that in a complimentary way.
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I agree with CPP here, I've been in a couple of search committees in my field (Neuroscience) and nobody reads the cover letters, unless there's some explanatory point that must be made. I usually go straight to the CV and the letter of recommendation, these last ones carrying a lot of weight.
I sure hope Namnezia and CPP are reading my applications! My cover letters (or cover emails, if we're asked simply to email CV & research/teaching statement) have been very short--I'm Dr Becca, I've been working with Dr so-and-so and Dr what's-his-name at blahblah Institution, studying very exciting topic. My training in XYZ and commitment to teaching would make me an excellent fit for your department.
I don't even get the point of a cover letter, really. I say everything about my experience and plans in the statement--why do I need to say it again?
You don't need to say it again. You should use the cover letter to say things, if any, that aren't obvious from your CV.
Yes, it was tongue firmly in cheek--:-). Although there are days in the lab when I look around and am completely enjoying myself and thinking "really, I get paid to do this?" Those are usually followed by the nothing-is-going-right days where I also look around thinking, "really, I get paid to do this..."
I'm at a large state R1 in a subfield of the biomedical sciences too applied to be considered Glamour Mag worthy so it's basically unheard of for someone to have had a C/N/S pub in my area ... but at least a few first author pubs in good society journals or more muckety muck journals is a must. No pubs = don't bother applying.
Seriously, if you have not published a FIRST-AUTHOR paper in a reasonably high-profile place don't bother applying. Papers "in preparation" don't count. Papers "submitted" barely count.
the cover letter can't make or break you. I generally don't read them unless they are bundled with the rest of the application. Then I spend ~10s-I might notice something if it is bold. It doesn't matter if you use letterhead or not. But if you make up an "electronic" letterhead, make it look professional. The fuzzy logos cut-and-paste from womewhere else are cheesy.
Maybe this is just me, but PUT YOUR PUBLICATIONS UP FRONT in your CV. It is really irritating to page through a bunch of poster presentations to get to the important part. And please use REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. Otherwise, the first thing I associate with you is probably a middle-author starter-paper.
Dude, if you don't even know your PIs name then that won't look good...SRSLY...
Seriously, you can get a TT job having published only 1 first author paper? We've got to rock up 15 of them at least and have more than half as first authored not to get filed in the round container.
You need more than one, from postdoc and grad school. Which is why I really don't get why folks that are 2 years into a postdoc and don't have any yet are even bothering to send out applications. But the number can range from 5-15. It depends a lot on the project and the lab. And whether the pubs are in high-profile mags.
Speaking of papers...for those jobs where GlamourMag publication is essential, I'm wondering if postdoc glamourmag pub > grad school glam? Does it matter? Does Glamour lose it's glow after a few years?
[Am I over thinking this? (Please don't answer this last question)]
I would think postdoc glamourpub > grad student glamourpub simply because postdocs are assumed to be more independent and therefore more responsible for the pub. Of course that assumption is not always a good one...
It appears the required amount of papers is now in excess of 30
I suspect that's very field dependent. In my field those kind of numbers are reached only after getting a TT position...
30 is ridiculous. In my field, that would definitely be quantity>quality. If you have 2-3 HIGH QUALITY papers from postdoc you are doing OK. (assuming you have a couple/few from grad school). It is essential that you have something in a high profile place from your postdoc. Grad school is a bonus.
30 is nationwide and multifield for the level of fellowship just above postdoc (within medically orientated research)
30 is doabnle in the States if you're a clinician/clinical scientist. One MD has started using our database to query his 20yr data archive and has submited 6 papers and 3 abstracts in the last 2-3 months...
I mean, I changed fields and am still co-author on 4 posters and have 4 new pubs since I joined...have 4 more pending too. Just no fucking time to write them... clincial research can yield multiple pubs and can also moves much faster than basic science...
I would argue the opposite. It actually takes much longer to do clinical research than basic medical research since you can't simply order in the materials (i.e. right sort of patients) and set the peons to work in clinical research the way you can in a lab.But then the archeologists might chip in and point out it sometimes takes them 20 years...
What you are describing is datamining- it's always quicker when you don't have to collect or collate any data youself. I've certainly taken advantage of that kind of data here. Clinical trials on the other hand take freakin years and years...
Yeah, data mining after the trial is what I'm talking about.