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PSA: Current contact information

As a mentor, you become linked for internet eternity to the names of your trainees.  And, especially if your trainees stay in science, but even in other circumstances, you are likely to have some sort of current contact information for all of them. The requests for letters of recommendation, protocols, reagents or code or perhaps less formal communication about wedding celebrations or baby pictures will keep your in-box contact information more or less current.

If you receive an email from someone you don’t know who is looking to get in touch with a trainee, by all means, forward the query along.  You can even write back and tell the person searching that you forwarded their email along. But please, don’t give a random person with an e-mail account your old trainee’s current contact information or updated personal information without your old trainee’s okay.

Consider.  If someone is hard to find on the internet, it is probably intentional.  An “old friend” should be able to find another “old friend” though a network of mutual old friends.  Online social networks are robust to geographic mobility and name changes. That the default routes haven’t been successful suggests caution. Don’t give an unknown person your old trainee’s current contact information.  No matter how reasonable, grammatically-correct and benign the query appears, put the ball in your trainee’s court.

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Academic Job Search: Lessons from the IP tracker

In addition to formal communication, I maintained a simple professional website with an IP tracker.  The my professional site came up on the first page of results for a search on my name and I included the web address in my application materials.  I checked the hits at least a few times a week and in the case where the IP address mapped to a university, I recorded the first and second visit dates.  If I applied to multiple positions at a university, I assigned the hit to the earliest application date unless there was a good indication of department in the IP (e.g. genetics.yale.edu).  For large geographical areas with only one university, I counted hits from the city where the university was located even if it wasn’t through a university assigned IP address (e.g. for University of Utah, also hits from Salt Lake City).  I did not do this for cities with multiple universities.  Thus, IP tracking data is much more robust for large state universities than it is for universities in areas like Boston, New York and San Francisco.  It is likewise more accurate for universities with one open position than with multiple open positions.  Finally, it is much more accurate for applications with earlier due dates (say August through November) because later on there started to be too many hits to parse with as much granularity.   The data set suffered a bit because the task grew in complexity as other demands on my time increased and my anxiety over finding a position diminished.  For more details, see the Materials and Methods section.

IP tracker data analysis: Given the above caveats that indicated that false negatives were much more likely in this dataset than false positives, I found that over a third of the places I applied viewed my professional website.  The actual percentage was likely to be higher.

Range: 0 to 84 days
Average: 17 (+/- 21) days
Median: 9 days.

IP_tracker_delay

Hits from university IP’s, though informal, were easily the first indication of interest with a median delay between application to the first IP hit of 9 days.  Queries for letters of recommendation had a median delay of 21 days while invitations for interviews had a median delay of 32 days.  Many more places visited my website than invited me for interviews. Website visits are therefore most useful as an indicator of a competitive application package.

Take away lessons:

  1. They are going to google you.  I got hits from every single university where I had an interview and many universities that I never heard back from.  Legal or not, someone on the committee will google you.
  2. Many committees get to work right away, although you will not hear from them for another couple of weeks.
  3. Most googlers simply want to know what you look like.  The page with the picture was the page that got the most hits – roughly 60%.  It was often the only hit from an IP.  The second most popular page was “publications” at another 15%.  While my “outreach” page did garner hits, they mostly came through topical searches, not searches on my name.  People who visited my outreach page usually did not look at the other pages (> 10% clicked through to other pages).  In my experience looking for an academic research job, there was no evidence to support the idea that search committees were interested in anything other than what I looked like and my publication record.
  4. They will google you again.  In as much as I kept track, over a quarter of the places that looked at my website visited at least one more time within three weeks of their initial visit, before I was contacted about interviews.
  5. They will google you again.  I could make a pretty accurate guess about when my seminar was announced at the universities that I visited.

Advice:  Control the narrative.  If you’re on the job market, make a simple website that includes a photo.

Academic Job Search: Rejection pie.

While my application was officially rejected by many fine institutions, it was unofficially rejected by nearly as many.  Forty-five percent of my applications have not been officially rejected more than a year later.  I’ll represent this poor record of conveying information with a poor method for displaying information.  A good old fashioned academic rejection pie chart, made with a bitter blend of two flavors of 100% pure rejection: official and intuited.  Artificially sweetened by expressions of interest.

ghost_rejection

Maybe some institutions don’t have the tech support to figure out how to send a couple hundred emails.  Maybe HR prohibits communication, or makes it difficult or full of legal pitfalls.  Maybe the search fails and the committee is too busy or exhausted to officially close it.  Maybe there are administrative reasons to technically keep a search open. Interestingly, even a few places that expressed interest never bothered to get back in touch (you’ll notice that thin white sliver of pie).  But although it’s true that I never officially heard back, I did, eventually, get the message.

In some respects, it is pretty amazing that I heard back from more than half of the places I applied.  I suspect that is relic of an earlier era – one where each position didn’t garner hundreds of responses.  My impression is that people in other fields don’t expect to hear from a company that isn’t interested in their application.  Receiving that rejection email  stings, but at over half of the universities honored the time and interest I put into applying and wrote back.  Delicious!

 

NCOD: Professor Edition

Today I attached an HRC logo my laptop before I lectured.  In honor of National Coming Out Day.  I am out professionally and have been for over a decade, so I was surprised when I felt nervous.  I hesitated.  I’m still finding my place here, teaching evaluations count, and this campus is much more conservative than other places I’ve worked.

I set up my laptop and lectured with the HRC logo peeping out over the podium.  Today’s subject material is some of my favorite to teach and I had a new set of visuals to try out along with a little module at the end that I’ve taught enough times to have honed the comedic timing.  The lecture went well and it was fun to give.  And now, I feel a little like an asshole for hesitating about the sticker, because after class, three students let me know they got the message.

My fears are stupid, but valid and I resent them.  With time, I hope that I’ll feel secure enough to be bolder.

hrcourlogo

Academic Job Search: More rejection.

When will you feel the worst about yourself?  Probably in March.

rejection_dates

While I reached peak rejection rate during an action-packed week in mid-January, there were still plenty of applications out there and I was still applying to new opportunities.  I averaged a rejection every other day for the last half of February and the entire month of March.  Even if you’re successful on the academic job market, that much rejection can get you down.  I’d suggest taking a moment now to think hard about what makes you happy, and then plan some of that into your schedule around that time.  Attend a meeting, go on vacation, visit a collaborator, sign up for that week long intensive course on truffle making, whatever. Plan on having an existential crisis in March and build in reminders that life can be joyful and that you have worth both personally and professionally.

Also, try the following bit of reverse psychology.  Tally up all those rejections and celebrate once you reach particular numbers.  If you do that, you might find yourself perversely excited when yet another university figures out how to do a mail merge and drops that form email in your inbox.

Next: enough rejection to bake a pie!

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.

Academic Job Search: Rejection.

It’s not all unicorns and airplane tickets: Delay from application to rejection.
Range: 6 to infinity days
Average: (of the 55% that responded) 122 (+/- 69) days
Median: (of the 55% that responded) 113 days.

rejection_delay

I’ll note that this much rejection stings much less if you have recently earned preferred status on a major airline.  I included rejection dates from places that I interviewed with in this plot if they sent an official notice.  I didn’t record dates for phone rejections or dates for places I rejected. 

In the odd world of the academic job search, the “no news is good news” adage is simply untrue.  You’ll hear good news about your application months before you’ll hear anything bad (p=1.2e-6).

Next: More rejection.

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.

Academic Job Search: It ends as the next season begins.

How long could it possibly take?   Total delay from application to interview:
Range: 26 to 176 days
Average: 66 (+/- 43) days
Median: 49.

app_interview

Over half of the time, I was home from the interview 7 weeks after the application date, though there was that one interview that happened half a year after the application went in.

How long could it possibly take?  From start of the application season to last interview:
Application range: August to March.
Interview range: November to April

interview_date

I had gone on half of my campus visits before January.  You may want to compare this figure to the figure of application due dates as you consider your pacing.

The process was both blindly fast and painfully slow and took an entire year.  I submitted my first application of the season on August 31st, finished up my last interview the first week of April and then went through second visits and negotiations.  I started my new position almost exactly a year after I sent in that first application.

All this talk of invitation and interviews is very exciting, but not at all representative of what academics is all about.  In the next post, I’ll look at the epic amount of rejection that this process entails.

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.