Image: Still from “Silly Job Interview”, Monty Pythons’ Flying Circus, Season 1 Episode 5.
Years ago, I went on a really, really weird job interview. I’ve told the story many times since, but I’ve realized that the way I tell it has shifted. There’s a moral there, only part of which is that I was dumb. (Readers of Scientist Sees Squirrel really like stories about how I was dumb, and fortunately, it’s a deep well.)
As a postdoc, back in the mid-1990s, I applied for a lot of jobs (all of them in the university professoriate, at universities with at least some research emphasis). Most of them, of course, I didn’t get. Continue reading
Rejection is normal in academia.
One could take that as depressing, I suppose, but one shouldn’t. Rejection is normal in most everything; if you go through life without being rejected, you’re definitely not trying hard enough. But this can be hard to remember, especially when the stakes are high – when you’ve submitted your first paper, or applied for your first job at a university you’d love to join. It’s only human to find such rejections weighing you down (and perhaps confirming your imposter syndrome). One way to lessen the impact is surely to see your own rejections in the context of other peoples’ – and that’s the idea behind the “shadow CV” or “anti-CV”. (Here’s Jacquelyn Gill explaining the same idea, but better.)*
I don’t have a complete shadow CV, because I haven’t kept track of every time I’d had a paper or a grant rejected. But I was sifting through a filing cabinet and discovered that I do have a pretty-much complete list of the (academic) jobs I’ve been rejected from. Continue reading
I just finished serving on a Vice Presidential search committee. I think we made a great choice (time will tell, of course). It was obvious, though, that many of my colleagues could never be satisfied because they’re deeply and irredeemably suspicious of anyone willing to take on an administrative job.
One of the most frequent complaints I hear is that administrators are “out of touch” with the faculty and with their roots in academia. Continue reading
Academic jobs are hard to get (there’s an understatement), and as a result, nearly everyone has a tale to tell of failure on the academic job market. I have plenty of those tales – but today, I’ll tell just one. It’s the story of the first (academic) job interview I ever had, and how I found two different ways not to get the job. Continue reading
Last month I was at the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution. It was a great meeting, as usual, and contributing to that were a whole lot of great talks.
I’ve seen a lot of conference talks over the years, and I’ve noticed a pattern: surprisingly often, grad students finish early, while senior scientists run long*. What I realized this year is that I’ve become part of that pattern: this year, like the last couple, my talks have run longer than planned (see the nifty little figure above). Nobody had to haul me away from the podium; but my talk, which ran a nice tidy 12 minutes in practice, was 14 minutes delivered (using up most of my 3 minutes for questions). As a grad student, I often had a couple of extra minutes to spare. So why is this? Continue reading
I blogged a while ago about being the reasons people go into academic service, in particular as departmental Chairs*. I suggested that the vast majority of academics don’t take on such a job because they’d always dreamed of doing it, or because it comes with prestige or pay or other perks. Instead, they take on the job because somebody has to do it, and because our whole system of collegial governance would grind to a halt if we all depend on Chairs but nobody is willing to do the job.
That argument might seem to confirm your preconceptions about being Chair. You might think it’s largely a thankless job (and you’d be right). You might think you’d have to deal with some very unpleasant problems (right again). Continue reading
Last month I posted “Why grant funding should be spread thinly”. In a nutshell, I provided a simple mathematical model that I think supports the argument for an agency’s awarding many smaller grants rather than just a few very large ones. The discussion in the Comments section of that post was lively, no doubt because as scientist we’re heavily invested in the way society supports, or doesn’t support, our work. Our grants give us the tools we need to do the science we’re passionate about, and that passion comes out when we talk about granting policy.
My earlier post left some loose ends. Continue reading
How should a granting agency distribute the funds at its disposal? Different agencies have different answers to that question. The NSF (USA), for example, has traditionally awarded operating grants to rather few applicants, with each successful applicant getting quite a lot of money. NSERC (Canada), on the other hand, has traditionally awarded operating grants to most applicants, but with each successful applicant getting less money (a recent snapshot and some discussion here). NSERC has been moving slowly but steadily in the direction of the NSF model, with lower funding percentages, larger grants for top-ranked applications, and new categories of super-grants intended to recognize “excellence” (e.g., Vanier graduate scholarships, Banting postdoctoral scholarships, Canada Excellence Research Chairs program). Scientists have widely decried NSERC’s shift (for example, here) and NSF’s practice (for example, here and here) – but are they right? How should an agency like NSERC optimally distribute its funds? Continue reading
An opinion column in the Toronto Star got me riled up the other day. It wasn’t the topic of the piece (TA and sessional labour strife at an Ontario university). It was that the columnist seemed to completely misunderstand, and thus misrepresent, the nature of the job I do as a tenured academic. This is, depressingly, utterly routine in the lay media: university professors are “a coddled elite…among the best-paid on the planet… teaching fewer courses than ever, and sloughing off research duties” (Ha!), and we “enjoy paid summer breaks from May through August” (double Ha!). Continue reading
Have you ever overheard (or been part of) this conversation? For some reason the issue of being Departmental Chair comes up – maybe the Chair position will soon be vacant at your institution, or maybe it just was, or maybe you’re just chatting about career trajectories in academia. Sooner or later Dr. X asks Dr. Y “What about you – will you serve as Chair next/later/some day?” And – stop me if you’ve heard this one – Dr. Y says “Oh, I’m not interested in being Chair”.
But Dr. Y’s “I’m not interested” is a huge non-sequitur. Continue reading