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Academic Job Search: Be prepared.

How much time do you get to prepare?  The delay between being asked for an interview and the interview date:
Range: 6 to 84 days
Average: 24 (+/- 22) days
Median: 16 days.


You’ll have plenty of time to freak out.  But usually not really enough time to prepare well if you don’t have good starting materials.  Delays that spanned the last two weeks of December are in gray.  Once a committee decided they were interested, they wanted me on campus as soon as possible.  The places with longer delays wanted the interval to be shorter, but earlier dates weren’t possible either due to my schedule or key faculty availability on their end.

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.


Academic Job Search: Your fate is (pretty much) sealed after 6 weeks.

Official interview invitation: The delay between application due date and being asked for an interview (skype/phone (3) or on campus (10), both (1)):
Range: 12 to 124 days
Average: 41 (+/- 31) days
Median: 32 days


By all means, maintain hope, but if you haven’t heard anything six weeks after the application deadline, the search has either failed or you didn’t make the short list.   You can remain optimistic for eight weeks if the six week delay spans the last two weeks of December when many universities are more or less shut down (gray bars).  That 124 day delay is exceptional.

Of my three skype/phone interviews, only one resulted in an on-campus interview.  That invitation came a few hours after the skype call.  Only the delay for the skype interview is included in this histogram.

Next up: How soon will they want to see you?

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.

Academic Job Search: the long short list.

Even if you’re destined for job market success this season, you’re in for an anxiety-provoking period of silence.  Over the next couple of posts, I’ll give you some stats on how long that silent period was for me.

Official signs of interest: While most places asked for letters right up front, about 15% of places only asked for letters if they were interested.  I got ten such requests, including the two places that asked for letters up front but were missing one.  Those two requests aren’t included in the averages and are indicated in gray in the histogram.

The delay between application and being asked for letters:
Range: 13 to 106 days
Average 32 (+/- 31) days
Median: 21 days


While the first official sign of interest can happen months after the application goes in, most places that didn’t ask for letters up front seem to be eager to get their search going and will contact you within three weeks of their application deadline.

Both requests for a missing letter resulted in further interest, indeed one came after I was asked for an on campus interview.   Only one of the requests for letters from places that didn’t ask up front resulted in further interest.   Those requests probably simply indicate having a competitive application (e.g. making it to the long short list), a step that is not communicated to the applicant if the university requested letters at the time of application.

Next up: when to expect your invitation for a campus visit.

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.


Academic Job Search: Application Due Dates

If you’re on the academic market, pace yourself with the understanding that it’s a marathon with sprints thrown in every two weeks or so.  Applications due dates are spread from August through February and cluster on the 1st and 15th of the month.  Here’s what the due dates looked like for the positions I applied for.


My research program could fit nicely in both basic science departments (e.g. chemistry, where there there is hard salary and significant teaching) as well as medical schools and research institutes (with soft salaries and minimal teaching).  My applications and eventual interviews were split evenly between the two.  Application deadlines for basic science programs were on average about two weeks earlier than medical schools, but the difference wasn’t significant (p=0.22).  However, a pal applying during the same season who was more biomedically oriented seemed to hit peak application submission in mid-December, rather than November, so YMMV.


On average, I managed to submit applications 1.5 days before the deadline, but many went in the day they were due.


This is what applying looked like for me.  In the next post I’ll share some results.


Academic Job Search: Materials & Methods

A series of posts by Prof. Booty provided some data on successful academic job candidate profiles from the perspective of a single search committee.  I was on the academic job market recently and as a mechanism for managing the anxiety associated with the process, I kept track of the information accessible to me as a candidate.  Over the next couple posts, I’ll share these data and profile the mechanics of many search committees normalized for a single candidate.

Materials & Methods

Sample preparation:

My (long) post-doc was in a glam lab and prior training all done at top tier R1 universities.  Along with a collection of solid publications, I have a CNS pub out of both my post-doc and my grad work, though the post-doc CNS paper was not a sure thing during the application season.  I had a fancy post-doc fellowship but no K99 or other mobile awards.   In short, I fit Prof. Booty’s “successful candidate” profile.

I applied to a little over a hundred positions.  Once my application materials were set, I spent an average of an hour and a half on each application to research the department and university, customize the materials, fill out web forms, and upload documents.

While I’ve mentored a fair number of students, my teaching experience amounted to a handful of guest lectures.  I’ll add that outside of their letters of recommendation, my references did not contact any of the departments I applied to.

Data collection:

I recorded application due dates, application submission dates, requests for letters of recommendation, requests for phone/skype interviews, invitations for on-campus interviews, interview dates, and rejections.

In addition to formal communication, I maintained a simple professional website with an IP tracker.  The 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.  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.

In the next post: a little more about all those applications.

Academic Job Market: Thank you email etiquette

While there are a few more positions out there with later deadlines, the bulk of the applications for positions I’m interested in are submitted.  Some search committees are already hard at work.  Earlier this week, within a few minutes of each other, I received two emails.  The first brought my swift-rejection-by-form-letter rate to a full 10%.  The second took the sting out of the first; I had my first phone interview yesterday!

Though a little awkward to converse with four people simultaneously, I enjoyed speaking with the committee.  I’ve heard rumors that sending thank you notes or emails is a thing for campus visit.  But what about for a 20 minute phone interview? We covered a lot of ground and I don’t have anything particularly substantive to say that requires specific follow up right now with any of them.  Anything I can come up with is little more than a fairly transparent excuse to re-drop my contact information into their inbox and perhaps unnecessarily reconfirm my interest.  I’m aiming for respectful, not annoying.

There is no Emily Post for academic job search etiquette.  I therefor appeal to the dezians of the internet with opinions or experience in this matter.  Email thank you notes for a phone interview?  If yes, to whom? All the members of the committee?  Just the chair?  I can’t be the only person with this question.  At least a few of the nine other people this particular committee called probably don’t know either!

Impostor Syndrome: parenting edition

Like every other academic, I occasionally suffer from toe-curling anxiety over not being “good enough” to be where I’m at and fear being exposed as inferior or a fraud.  A solid group of excellent mentors has helped train me to ignore, if not silence, those pernicious doubts.  I credit these years of intense academic training for successfully volunteering to be a soccer coach.

My wife signed my kid up for this local, non-competitive youth soccer league and, because she was annoyed that I wasn’t answering my phone right at that moment, left a message saying I had 15 minutes to respond or she was signing me up to coach the team.  Needless to say, I missed the cutoff, so I bought a pair of cleats and showed up for the “coaches training session” at the beginning-of-season soccer jamboree.  The jamboree was two soccer fields and a hundred kids worth of chaos.  Persistent questions finally landed me at the coach’s training session and years of rigorous training in silencing self-doubt were the only thing that kept me there.

The gender balance and number of people were very similar to those of the afternoon seminars in one of the departments with which I’m affiliated.  The only demographic differences were that just a few of the people at the coach’s training were over 50 and that there is usually at least one other female at the seminar.  No one was rude.  No one made any explicit comments that suggested that I was not welcome.  And yet, it took every ounce of doubt-crushing willpower I possessed to stay at that session.

As the head coach repeated the “three L’s” (no lines, no lectures, let them play), I silently repeated to myself how qualified I was (over a decade of soccer experience, years of parenting experience, pulse) to combat the crushing feeling that the tall confident men were the real soccer players and coaches.  Being the only woman in the group made me worry that I was unqualified to herd a group of 5 to 7 year-olds for an hour.  Crazy, right?  It would have been so easy to just drift away and let the experts take care of it and do it right.  Fortunately, the content of the session was simple (the three L’s, have a plan, when in doubt, scrimmage) because making myself stay there and controlling my body language to appear casual and confident took up most of my mental energy.

Professionally, my opinions are acknowledged and respected.  I work in an environment of high mutual respect, so day to day feelings of being an impostor in social situations are rare or mild.  Feeling so squirmy at this low-stakes, supposed-to-be-fun coach’s training session totally surprised me.  As did, in a different way, how swiftly and intensely my mental coping mechanisms to combat those doubts rose to the task.

Interestingly, “coach’s training session part 2” was held a few weeks later in an elementary school cafeteria.  It was a little larger, and this time there were two other female volunteer coaches.  After it was over, we introduced ourselves.  All three of us were affiliated with a STEM department at the University.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  But I suspect not.