Post Tagged with: "Get a job"

“Get a job, Ken!” Part 8: The Offer, Second Visit, and Negotiation

This is the eighth and final post in my “Get a job, Ken!” series. In this post I’ll talk about what follows job interviews:  job offers, second visits, the negotiation process, and signing the contract.

The Job Offer

After each interview I was given an approximate timeline for the committee’s decision. Once that timeline ran out, every phone call I received triggered excitement and stress. I highly recommend programming the department or search committee chairs’ phone numbers into your address book so you can quickly identify their calls. Otherwise, you risk dealing with the telemarketer debacle I mentioned in my previous post. When ‘The Call’ finally came the first fifteen seconds of introductions and casual niceties were a never-ending blur. After the reveal— “we are excited to offer you a position in the department of chemistry at U of X!” —it took me at least five minutes before I felt anything. That’s when an ongoing mix of emotions began. These feelings oscillate between euphoria, panic and dumbstruck wonder.

On the other hand, ‘The Call’ can also hypothetically be a rejection. I did get rejections. Yet, my rejections never came in the form of a phone call. If I hadn’t yet heard anything from the search committee several weeks after the decision deadline, I’d email the chair inquiring about the status of the search. It was only then, through email, that I’d learn another candidate received the offer. Maybe they were waiting to tell me after the other person accepted and I was potentially the fallback candidate. Alternatively—as I’ve heard told by others—there might not have been a plan to notify me at all. I could have been left to learn about the decision through the grapevine. After facing this void of search-committee silence, I’ve made a vow: if I am ever on a hiring committee, I will make sure to give a courtesy phone call or email to candidates not offered the job.

Second Visits

When I did receive an offer, it was quickly followed with an invitation for a second visit. The trip—which usually lasts at least three days and occurs within a month of the offer—is an opportunity for the department to convince their top candidate (and his or her significant other) to take the position. For the candidate it’s an opportunity to get a better feel for the department, university, and surrounding city. The second visit will vary from university to university, but below I try to paint a general picture of the visit based on my own and others experiences.

Day 1: Meetings and Dinner with Faculty

Prior to my second visit I was asked if there were any specific meetings I would like to schedule. I used this opportunity to request meetings with people who would be important to my future in the department, such as the staff laser spectroscopist, the glassblower, and potential faculty collaborators/mentors. I met with these individuals (as availability allowed) as well as 6-7 additional faculty during the first day of my second visit. The day’s schedule was similar to the 30-minute meeting marathon during the interview, but significantly less stressful. The most exciting part of the day was a tour of lab spaces my group could potentially occupy. The most important meeting of the day was with the department chair, during which we started the negotiation process. To prepare for this meeting the department chair asked me to create a space and budget proposal, which served as the starting point for our discussion. I’ll talk about the negotiation process as well as the space and budget proposals in much greater detail below.

That evening the chemistry department also hosted a welcome dinner for my wife and me at one of the faculty member’s homes. It was a friendly and less formal chance to interact with my potential co-workers outside of the university.

Day 2: House Hunting and Dinner with Faculty

On the second day the department set my wife and I up with a realtor to look at and discuss the local housing market. While I had no plans to purchase a house without first living in and experiencing a city for at least six months, it was a useful way to learn about the town and to imagine ourselves living there. The realtor also provided a non-‘academic’ perspective of the town and university.

That evening we also had dinner with a few faculty and their significant others. Although this did not happen for us, this evening might also include “court-side seats” to a sporting event depending on the season.

Day 3: Free day

During our third and final full day my wife and I were able to do whatever we wished. Throughout the visit we collected a number of recommendations to popular local attractions. For example, in Tallahassee we were encouraged to visit Wakulla Springs and St. George Island.

Things to consider/ask during this visit:

One of the most important factors in my decision to accept or decline the offer was how well I fit in the department. I had heard that term fit a dozen times prior and I have mentioned it throughout this blog series, but I have not really defined it. It’s hard to define because it’s many things: How do faculty members generally dress (casual or formal)? What are their attitudes towards teaching? Do they collaborate? Was I interested in the seminar speakers they brought in? Were my one-on-one meetings reciprocal? Are there people there who will understand my research and vice versa? These are just a few of the many fit related questions I asked myself.

Thankfully, many of these fit questions were already answered by the time I got an offer. The interview process provided an opportunity to size up a department’s culture and whether or not I felt like I’d fit in. Likewise, having given me an offer, the department clearly liked my research, felt I fulfilled their needs, and could see me as their co-worker. I hate myself for being cliché but when you find the right fit, you will know. At least that is what I found during my visits at FSU.

Here is a list of other questions/considerations when reflecting on the chemistry department:

  • Do they have the resources you need for your research: machine shop, glass blower, electronic shops, NMR, mass spectrometer, etc.?
  • How do they handle purchasing and grant submitting?
  • Do they have new faculty orientation?
  • Are there seminars about teaching/mentoring?
  • Are there clear tenure requirements?
  • Are the faculty priorities clearly defined (percent of time dedicated to teaching, research, outreach, departmental duties)?
  • Is there a strong sense of community?
  • Is the department collegial (do most faculty get along)?
  • Do assistant professors receive feedback prior to the tenure decision?
  • Is there sufficient journal access?
  • How many dedicated support staff are there?
  • Are there sufficient teaching assistants?
  • Are assistant professors assigned formal mentors or do they get to choose?
  • Are there single or multiple mentors?
  • How do they handle patents?
  • How do they handle in department conflicts?

Also, here are some things to consider about life outside of the lab/classroom:

  • Do they support work-life integration?
  • Are their child care services?
  • What are their policies on maternity/paternity leave?
  • How is the quality of life in town (safety, cost of living, commute time, pace)?
  • How family-friendly is the University/town?
  • Does the town/area support your hobbies?
  • Will your significant other have job prospects?
  • What is the quality of the school system?
  • Can you handle the weather?

I stole most of these questions from Success on the Tenure Track: Five Keys to Faculty Job Satisfaction. It is a book dedicated to assessing, based on survey of faculty at major universities, what factors are responsible for the happiest and most successful new faculty.


The majority of the negotiation occurred during my meeting with the department chair. Much to my pleasant surprise, the negotiation process was less somber and stressful than I expected. As I mentioned before, the department chair ask me to bring a space and budget proposal to the meeting. The proposals served as a starting point for our negotiations. Here’s an overview of what I included in each:

Space proposal

This proposal outlined the space I would need (including square footage and type of space) during my first five years conducting research. For example, I asked for 600 sq ft of synthetic space with at least four 6ft fume hoods and 400 sq ft of empty space for optical tables.

Budget proposal

Budget proposals vary from chemist to chemist since they are very dependent on discipline and proposed research. Here’s an overview of the strategy I used when preparing my budget proposal:

1) I first read through my research proposals and made note of what equipment I would need to pursue my projects. I then walked through my current lab space (and a few other labs) adding any additional equipment I missed in my first draft.

2) I partitioned the equipment into several funding categories:

  • Major equipment (>$50,000): Fluorometer, nanosecond transient absorption system, etc.
  • Minor equipment ($5,000-$50,000): Potentiostat, UV-Vis, rotary evaporator, glove box, etc.
  • Other equipment (<$5,000): Balances, ovens, fridges, freezers, centrifuges, etc.
  • Benches/Hoods (~$10,000/hood): Schlenk line, vacuum, hotplate/stirrer, glassware, etc.
  • General laboratory materials, supplies and consumables (~$150,000)
  • Travel funds (~$10,000): For me, postdocs and graduate students to travel to conferences
  • Computing supplies (~$10,000): computers, printers, scanners and software (this can be surprisingly expensive)

3) I then created an excel spreadsheet, listing each item, its cost, and quantity. The more detailed the list, the easier it was to justify the grand total (as displayed at the bottom of the spreadsheet).

4) There was one additional category which included my summer salary (1/3 of the yearly salary) as well as the salaries of research assistants. It is not necessarily possible to know preemptively how much a grad student or postdoc will cost per year at a given university, so I assumed they were ~$40,000 per year.

5) I then sent the excel file to the department chair in preparation for our negotiation meeting.

Quick tip 1: Ask for example budget proposals from friends or young professors in your current department.

Quick tip 2: Get multiple quotes for any equipment costing more than $5000, but only include one quote, whichever you prefer, for each instrument in the budget proposal.

Quick tip 3: You do not have to pursue the projects you proposed. If you do plan to pursue alternate projects, budget accordingly. However, you will have to justify your proposed budget to the department chair, who must in turn justify it to the ‘higher ups’.

Quick tip 4: If you don’t ask, you won’t get it! So make sure to include anything that you might need.

In addition to the budget (your start-up funds) and lab space, below are several major items that can also be included in the negotiation (which is also institution dependent):

  • Lab/Office Location
  • Salary: Negotiation in this area is less likely at public schools where the salary is usually decided by some predetermined metric. Interestingly, you can find faculty salaries for most public institutions online.
  • Teaching Load: This may already be decided. Also, most assistant professors are given a choice of two semesters off during their first five years.
  • Departmental responsibilities (committees, curriculum development, etc.)
  • Employment for your significant other.

Prior to the second visit, the department chair looked through my budget proposal and noted major and minor equipment already available in the department. I was happy to learn that some of the equipment was already available and operational (cutting down on my start-up time). Other equipment, while available, was heavily used by other research groups. For these items—which were pivotal to my research and would be frequently used—I requested funds to purchase my own instrument so as not to impede progress.

The chair also looked through my space proposal and gave me a tour the potential spaces. It was fun to actually walk through them and consider how the space would fit my needs. Some of the spaces were new, others needed renovation. The to-be-renovated spaces were appealing because I could design the lab according to my needs, but I have heard too many horror stories of renovations extending way beyond the projected timeline. I opted out of these spaces as losing the first 6 months (10% of tenure) could prove devastating.

After the initial discussion and the second visit, the chair and I went back and forth revising my budget and space needs until we converged on what would be the final offer.

While the process occasionally felt daunting, I reminded myself that, unlike a used car sales person, the department chair was not “out to get” me. University’s make a major investment in new assistant professors. It’s in their best interest to provide the tools necessary for their success. At the same time, I also aimed to be reasonable. If there was a piece of equipment I wanted, but wouldn’t use very often and could access elsewhere, I didn’t insist on having my own.

I also never forgot that I was potentially going to be working with this ‘opponent’ for the next decade or two. Nobody wants to start out a long-term relationship on a bad note.

Before entering the negotiation process I was struck by the realization that I was going from years of making a little more than minimum wage to negotiating a million dollar contract. I also realized that I’d spent more time (by orders of magnitude) researching a single chemistry paper than on how to negotiate. Coincidentally, I ran into a professor that teaches a class on negotiation and he recommended the following books:

I really enjoyed reading “Getting to Yes.” If I am going to be perfectly honest, most of what I read was not necessary for my startup negotiation. However, the book did help make me more confident about the process. Worst case scenario, I learned tools that can be used in other scenarios like dealing with street vendors or purchasing a house.

Signing The Contract

After the dust settled and I felt like all my questions were answered, I was sent a contract. It contained detailed information on my salary, lab space, teaching load and other university responsibilities. I then made everything official by signing and returning the contract.

Bonus: If you accept the offer early enough you can attend graduate student recruiting weekends. These weekends are great because it is an opportunity to recruit students to the university and your research group.


That’s it! This post concludes my “Get a job, Ken!” series. It’s been a long journey, for both the job search and documenting the process in these posts. I hope that you found at least some of the content useful.  Also, please remember that this is only one person’s limited perspective. Get advice from as many people as possible.

Good luck to everyone in their job search! If any of this helps you or you have an anecdote to share, please send me an email. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

By June 9, 2013 5 comments Uncategorized

“Get a job, Ken!” Part 7: Research/Proposal Talks and Meeting with the Chair

The research talk and proposal talk are arguably the most important parts of the on-site interview. This post, part seven in the “Get a job, Ken! series” delves into both, as well as the final meeting with the department chair.

My first piece of advice for those preparing for an on-site interview is to purchase and practice with a slide-advancing remote (a.k.a. a laser pointer or ‘clicker’). I find it tragic when a great scientist appears incompetent because they don’t know how to use a borrowed clicker. It’s worthwhile owning a clicker that you know like the back of your hand. In fact, for young graduate students, I recommend investing in a clicker and practicing with it as soon as possible. I am partial to the Logitech Wireless Presenter (The author declares no competing financial interests).

The Research Talk

Standard seminar talks have one primary goal, to share science. Research talks during an interview have two additional goals. The first is to briefly introduce your area of research and lay a foundation for the concepts and techniques relevant to your proposal talk. This groundwork will allow for extra time during the proposal talk (vida infra) to discuss your ideas. Of course, it’s important to seek a balance since not everyone who attends your proposal talk will be at the research talk, and vice versa.

The second goal of the research talk is to demonstrate your teaching skills. The presentation will be open to all faculty and students—basically any involved in the hiring decision—and they’ll be asking themselves: How engaging and eloquent is this applicant? How well does he or she explain new concepts? What kind of teaching methods do they use (analogies, examples, images, etc.)? How good is she or he at answering questions?

I have seen way too many talks that care more about demonstrating “I’m smart!” than actually communicating ideas. In these “I am so smart” presentations only two or three audience members have the expertise necessary to follow along past the first few slides. Please be assured that the audience already knows you’re smart, competent, and can publish complex ideas in top-tier, peer reviewed journals. They want to know if you’re also able to share your ideas with non-experts (i.e. students).

The research talk will generally be scheduled for one hour, which will include a short introduction and a ten minute question and answer session at the end. I made sure to avoid 1) going over the allotted time because it can imply time management issues or 2) finishing the presentation in under 30 minutes, which might  suggest a lack of content/results. I did my best to aim for a 40-50 minute presentation. Most audience members will not mind if they get to leave a little early.

Also, presenters usually have about 15 minutes to prepare before the talk. But be forewarned that when earlier meetings run long, you’ll have to jump into the presentation without any prep time.

Proposal Talk

The job interview proposal talk is a lot like a graduate student proposal talk (also sometimes known as a qualifying exam) but with a slightly different focus. The primary focus of a qualifying exam is to defend your ideas.  In addition to defending your ideas during the job proposal talk, you’re expected to provide tangible ways of pursuing the ideas and mentoring young researchers along the way. Similar to the written proposal, the general outline for most proposal talks is 1) introduce a problem that needs to be solved, 2) mention how others are trying to solve it, 3) introduce how you are trying to solve it, and 4) discuss why your method is better and 5) mention the possible implications of your work.

I started my proposal talk with an outline slide. While everyone was getting situated they were able to view the slide and familiarize themselves with my flavor of research. Below is an outline slide example:

Not all audience members will have read your proposals or attended the previous research talk, so you’ll also want to briefly introduce a few important concepts while explaining your research plans. In all likelihood, you’ll be the foremost expert on your proposed research area since they wouldn’t have brought you in for an interview if they had someone already in that niche. You’ll also be asked a number of questions. In addition to the questions from the phone interview (previous post), here are several questions that colleagues and I were asked during the proposal talk:

  • What type of group structure do you envision for your research program?
  • In terms of personnel, what would your lab look like?  How many graduate students/post-docs/undergrads in 5 years? In the long-term?
  • How do you plan to integrate students into your research projects?
  • What will be your approach to mentoring and supervising student progress?
  • Which proposal do you like most?
  • Which proposal is likely to give results the fastest (I.e. which is safe and which is high-risk/high reward)?
  • Which proposals/projects could new students work on right away?
  • Let’s say that next summer you’ll have 2 graduate students and 1 post-doc, what projects would you start them on?
  • What do your proposals have in common? Or what is your proposals central overriding theme (synthesis, electrochemistry, mechanism, etc.)? How do you define yourself as a chemist?
  • Does your proposed research projects depart from your mentors’ work and if so, how?
  • Are you aware of any competitors in the areas of your proposed research? How do you feel about competing with them?
  • Given the courses that are in the U of X handbook, which courses would you prefer to teach?
  • What preliminary results do you need to get in order to go after major grants or a career award?
  • What happens if a fundamental aspect of your proposals fails? Could you still salvage a paper and what would the community learn from that “failure”?

All of my proposal talks were either during or immediately following lunch on the third day. The length of the talk varied between 60-90 minutes, but the number of slides I actually made it through varied depending on the number of questions posed by the audience. In one of my interviews the audience only asked scientific questions so I got through everything in under an hour. In another interview the audience asked at least 30 minutes worth of logistical questions about teaching classes and running a research group so I didn’t finish the presentation in the allotted 90 minutes. Since the presentation portion is so unpredictable the best you can do is put together a presentation where you hope for the best, but are prepared for the worst.

Final tip: Be genuinely enthusiastic about your proposals. If you are not excited then it will be difficult for your audience to be excited too.

Meeting with the Chair

The last formal meeting of the interview will most likely be with the chair of the chemistry department. While sometimes casual, the 30-60 minute meeting was much more business-focused (i.e. startup funds and lab space). This meeting might have been my favorite part of the interview because it included a tour of my potential lab and office space. The tour was my  first real glimpse into what it might be like to run a lab in that particular department. I would walk through the rooms envisioning students working on my research and thinking about where I would put the UV-Vis, potentiostat, fluorometer, etc.

This meeting isn’t time to negotiate space, but going into the meeting it’s helpful to have an idea of what kind of space you’ll need during the first 5 years. Ask yourself: Is your research going to be focused on synthesis or characterization? If so, how many fume hoods? How much bench space? Do you need room for laser tables? Do you need/want proximity to departmental equipment or researchers doing related work? Most of the chairs I met with already had a rough idea of what space I would need based on my background and proposal, but they still ask for my rough estimate. I recommend touring your current advisors space and taking an inventory of how many hoods and square footage they have per person as a starting point.

You’ll also likely be asked—either in this meeting or even before arriving—for a rough budget estimate. For the most part, this budget will include the major pieces of equipment needed to conduct your research and their estimated cost. Although unusual, I sent my budget proposal to the department chair a week before I arrived on campus for the interview. I wanted to show I was serious, had done my homework, and that I was prepared to run a research group. My biggest concern was that the budget I proposed was off the wall, but I followed the suggestion of others. A reasonable budget proposal will depend on your flavor of research (spectroscopists are more expensive than synthetic chemists are more expensive than theoreticians). Also, top 50 schools budget proposals (including personnel) are usually somewhere between $500,000 and $1,000,000 while top 50-100 research institutions are usually somewhere between $300,000 and $750,000.

During this final meeting I also was given an update on the faculty-hiring timeline. I’d find out when the last candidate would be interviewed, when the committee planned to meet for a decision, and when I’d likely hear the department’s decision. In practice, the actual timeline more often than not ended up being about 2-4 weeks longer than the estimate.

By May 23, 2013 1 comment Uncategorized

“Get a job, Ken!” Part 6: Phone and On-site Interviews

In the “Get a job, Ken!” series, I’ve so far retold my experience coming up with research ideas, writing the ideas down as formal research proposals, assembling the different pieces of the faculty job application, and submitting everything. In this post, I move beyond the waiting, waiting, and waiting that happens after submitting to the next step: interviews.

After the submission deadline, most interview offers are extended sometime between October and February. They begin with a phone call or email from a department or search committee chair and conclude with a scheduled phone interview or in-person interview. The waiting period—between the submission deadline and receiving an interview—can be daunting. Every single unknown number on my cell phone screen prompted sudden excitement and then, most of the time, disappointment.  I’ve never hated telemarketers more.

Eventually, I did receive my first call–a thrilling experience–and by the end of my job search I had one phone interview and several on-site interviews. Below I describe my experience and share my (and others) advice on the interview process.

Phone interviews

Not every University holds phone interviews, but those that do use it as a preliminary screening method. It’s a strategy for interviewing a greater number of candidates and testing “fit” before extending offers for an on-campus interview. Think of it as a asking someone out on a quick coffee date before committing to a full evening together. An on-campus interview is a lot of time/effort/money to commit to someone and it’s reasonable to take measures to test “fit” prior to jumping in.

The good news for job candidates offered a phone interview is that, by reaching this stage, they can be assured that the search committee has looked through his or her application and feel confident about the viability of their research proposals. The interview stage—whether by phone or on-campus—is more about assessing a candidate’s speaking skills, ability to run a research program, and departmental “fit.” Between my experience with phone interviews and the anecdotes I’ve heard from others, here’s a short list of example phone interview questions:

  • Who would be your primary funding sources?
  • What major pieces of equipment will you need and how much do they cost?
  • Do you have a project that you would bring with you from your time as a post doc?
  • Where do you see your research program in 5 years? 10 years?
  • Who from our department/university might you be interested in collaborating with?
  • When would you be available to begin work?
  • Are there any factors that we have not spoken about that would be important in your decision to come to X if we were to make an offer?
  • How do you feel about teaching general chemistry?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

The last question was especially important. Nothing says, “I’ve done my homework on your university/department” like asking one or two insightful questions. For example, I’d usually prepare a question about the department’s facilities, asking something like: “The department has a solar cell testing station. Would I be able to add electrochemical impedance capabilities to the system?” It helped show my seriousness about the job and genuine interest in the department while also suggesting something I could contribute.

It’s a good idea to start thinking about possible answers for interview questions as well as questions to ask the committee early. While most phone interviews are scheduled ahead of time, I’ve heard stories of people surprised with an on-the-spot phone interview.

On-site interviews

If the phone interview ends favorably then—congratulations—the next step is an on-site interview. On-site interviews are intensive. To help me organize the story of my on-site interview experiences, I’ll break the process down into five sections: a rough timeline, food, meetings with faculty, meetings with students, and post-interview follow-up.

A Rough Timeline

Many people tried to prepare me for the on-campus interview, describing it as an incredibly exhausting experience, especially the first time. They were 100% right but simply saying this wasn’t nearly enough to prepare me for what it was really like. The faculty job interview is a constant—dare I say relentless?—two and a half day series of meetings, conversations, and presentations. In retrospect, the only thing that might have helped me prepare would have been traveling back to my undergraduate university and ask them to schedule a marathon, one-day visit starting at 8:00 am and concluding after dinner at 8:00pm.

One thing that did help was that, about a week before I left for the interview, I received a schedule of events. Here’s an outline of the four-day schedule from start to finish:

Day 1: My flight arrived by mid-to-late afternoon. Sometimes a faculty member was there to pick me up at the airport. Other times I arranged my own taxi. Either way, I’d reach my hotel with an hour or so to check in and prepare for dinner with 2-3 faculty.

Day 2: The day began with breakfast or coffee with another faculty member who then brought me to campus. Most of the day (9:00-5:00) included non-stop, 30-minute meetings with faculty. There was a lunch “break” with 2-3 faculty or a group of students. Day 2 was also when the research talk was scheduled, during which I presented on the research I conducted as a graduate student and/or postdoc. That evening I had dinner with 2-3 faculty as well.

Day 3: The third day was similar. The 30-minute meetings with faculty continued and I had lunch with a new group of students or faculty. The most faculty meetings I had in one day was 11 (between 8:30 and 5:30). Also, the third day usually included a tour of the facilities (NMR, mass-spec, spectroscopy, etc.), my proposal presentation (i.e. chalk talk), and concluded with a meeting with the department chair (around 4:00 or 5:00) followed by dinner with 2-3 faculty.

Day 4: I woke up in time to take a cab to the airport, flew home, recovered, and waited.

During the entire trip I always kept reminding myself that it was a non-stop interview. From the moment I was picked up at the airport to the end of the dinner on the third night, regardless of where I was, who I was talking to, or what I was eating, I was being observed and evaluated. The entire process is designed for the department members to assess who a candidate is as a person, researcher, teacher, mentor, coworker, friend, and collaborator (and vice versa).

Quick tip 1: I always kept a water bottle in my bag throughout the entire trip. It was easy to take a few sips while walking between meetings. The last thing I wanted was to deal with dehydration in addition to everything else.

Quick tip 2: Sometimes, if I hadn’t yet received the schedule 3-4 days before the interview, I sent a friendly email to my host asking about it.


Since I was the focus of attention, even during lunch, I often ended up speaking during a large portion of the meal. I made sure to avoid ording finger food because I sometimes talk with my hands and didn’t want surprise projectiles. I also tried to order something light so I didn’t feel weighed down and sleepy afterwards.

Meetings with Faculty

I have no general formula to share for the 30-minute faculty meetings. Sometimes it was just me talking about my current or proposed research. Other times it was the professor explaining his or her research to me. The best meetings I had (on my end) were more of a casual conversation about life and research.

Sometimes faculty would give me a quick tour of their lab space and equipment during these one-on-one meetings. These tours were a fun opportunity for them show me pieces of equipment they would allow me access to if hired.

The interaction dynamic during the 30-minute meetings was very unique and not something I had experienced before. The uniqueness of it comes from the short amount of time, the balance between you selling yourself, the faculty selling the department/university/town, and the constant tension of probing each other with questions to learn what each other is really like.

The only thing that was consistent in every 30-minute meeting (as well as lunch) was the question, “Do you have any questions for me/us?” I was asked this at least 20 times. I tried to have a few standard questions I asked to everyone in an effort to gather multiple perspectives. If following this strategy, be sure to keep track of who you’ve already asked so they don’t receive a double dose of the same question. As the end of the third day neared I would sometimes politely explain that many of my questions had already been answered before redirecting the conversation to avoid any uncomfortable moments of silence.

My personal favorite variation on “do you have any questions?” was “What would your significant other want you to ask?” It was a really fun question because it really got me thinking. Not only about what my wife would want to know about the city but also about other things from my potential job that will directly affect her life. It’s unfortunate that that question was asked during my last interview. After sharing the question with my wife she quickly came up with additional questions I could have posed.

Interviewers cannot legally ask questions about a candidates’ personal life like “are you married?” or “do you have children?” but they will still try to probe your personal life (hobbies, what do you do for fun, etc.). This line of questioning didn’t seem like a malicious act. It was just another way to get to know the candidate and identify key features or selling points about the university and local town. I don’t know if it was a good or a bad thing, but I decided to be very open about the fact I’m married, my wife’s occupation, and our lack of children. For me it was easier to be up-front rather than spending effort avoiding topics. Perhaps others can share insight in the comments section about how to gracefully re-direct conversations when topics considered private come up during interviews.

Lunch with Students

I was told by a few younger faculty that student lunches “were more brutal because the students were much less inhibited in their questions than professors.” Despite this ominous warning, the  students I had lunch with were great and asked interesting questions about my approach to research, teaching, and mentoring. The student lunch was, of course, still a part of the interview. The student’s advisors, formally or informally, asked them about their opinions on the candidates. For one interview I was told up front that students had formal input on hiring decisions. The ~15 students that I had lunch with were asked to fill out a questionnaire with questions like:

  • Could you see yourself working for this person?
  • Were they clear in expressing themselves?
  • How do you think they would be as a teacher?
  • Any other comments on the candidate?

Post Interview Follow-Up

Finally, as with any job interview, I made sure to send a follow-up email to my host, the chair of the search committee, and/or the chair of the chemistry department. The message to both my host and chair were pretty straightforward: “Thank you for the invitation…I enjoyed the visit…I look forward to hearing the department’s decision.”

The email I sent to the chair of the hiring committee was slightly different. After all the interviews are over, the committee and/or department members get together and compare the candidates. In an effort to clearly define myself, I sent the chair a follow-up email reiterating my defining features as a candidate. Here is an example:

Dear _____,

I really enjoyed meeting you, the other faculty and the students in the U of Y chemistry department this week. I also appreciated the opportunity to interview for the chemistry faculty position. [My host] was helpful throughout the entire process, especially with…

In case it’s helpful, I wanted to recap two of the points we briefly discussed during our meetings and my proposal talk:

  • Having spoken with many members of the chemistry department, I am especially excited by the possibility of contributing my proposed solar cell research and photophysical measurements to the U of Y’s research agenda.
  • If given the chance to serve as a professor in your department, I would be particularly interested in teaching inorganic chemistry (200, 201, 202). I would also be comfortable teaching General Chemistry (100, 101). Long-term, I would like to introduce a photophysics/photochemistry class.

Please let me know if there is any additional information you’d like me to share. I look forward to hearing the department’s decision.

Thanks again,


And so concludes my post about the interview process. In my next blog I will delve into preparing and presenting the research and proposal talks, as well as the very last meeting with the chemistry department chair.

By May 18, 2013 2 comments Uncategorized

“Get a job, Ken!” Part 4: Other Content

This blog posts continues my “Get a Job, Ken!” series. My last post focused on writing research proposals. This post describes the other pieces of the application package.

There isn’t a standard, one-size-fits-all set of application materials for all faculty job openings, but the majority ask for a cover letter, curriculum vitae (CV) and three letters of recommendation. A few universities also asked for additional items like a teaching statement, a diversity statement, copies of graduate school transcripts, and/or 4-5 publications.

Cover letter

I personalized the cover letter to each university. Yet, for my own sanity, I reused the same basic cover letter structure:

Paragraph one: I included a sentence that stated my general area of research. This is important, especially for general call job posts. When search committee chairs or their assistants start organizing applications one of their first goals is to identify the correct person to review it. They—and especially the candidate—want the proposals matched with a reviewer from a similar research domain. Including a sentence that clearly defines your area of research makes the alignment process easier and avoids, for example, having a biochemist assess an inorganic proposal or vice versa.

In the first paragraph I also made sure to note any faculty or consortia at the institution whose research aligned with mine in ways that could lead to possible collaborations. I included this to demonstrate how I could fit into the departments’ research theme and to hopefully get my proposals into the right hands.

Below is the cover letter I submitted to FSU.


CVs vary greatly from one person to the next. I don’t know what the ‘right’ CV format is, but in case it’s helpful I am sharing, a copy of the CV (pdf) I submitted with all of my job application packages.

Letters of Recommendation

To help give my references time to prepare a recommendation letter, I emailed them a few months in advance (July and August). Then, a few weeks before the deadline, I sent a friendly reminder.

Other Requested Application Materials

Teaching Statement

Half of the openings I applied to asked for a Teaching Statement or, as some describe it, a Statement of Teaching Philosophy. But, if we are going to be perfectly honest, teaching statements are much more important when applying to primarily undergraduate institutions. Some of the faculty that I met with during interviews said they never saw my teaching statement or new I had submitted one. Regardless, in my teaching statement I mentioned my past experiences and the philosophies that shape my teaching style. While R1 institutions are more interested in research agendas, they are also looking to hire someone to fill any departmental teaching gaps. Acknowledging this, I explicitly listed classes I could teach. That way it is easier for the search committee to see how well I fit their needs. For example, I wrote:

Envisioning myself as a future chemistry professor, there are a number of courses that–given the opportunity–I would be very comfortable teaching. These courses include General Chemistry (105a/b, 115a/b), Inorganic Chemistry (453, 515) and Chemical Nanotechnology (455).

The teaching statement is also an opportunity to share a little bit about who you are as a person. The search committee is not just hiring a scientist and teacher, they’re also looking for a colleague and possible friend.

Diversity Statement

A diversity statement was only requested by University of California schools and served as an opportunity to express my awareness of and intention to help address the disproportionate involvement of female, African American, Hispanic, and Native American students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The diversity statement was the space to describe my current efforts to close this gap and how I plan to continue these efforts if hired.

While a diversity statement is currently only requested by University of California institutions, I would not be surprised if this request soon expands further. Increasing representation in STEM fields is a pressing issue. If these inequities are not addressed there will be a serious impact on the number of people prepared to enter STEM fields, especially as the demographics of the United States change. Recognizing this, the NSF has also increased the rigor necessary in the ‘broader impacts’ component of their proposals. It’s no longer acceptable to simply say “I’m going to go to a high school and give a talk” or “I am going to create a new graduate class.” Plans for expanding STEM representation are now expected to be more thought out and impactful. This is especially the case for career awards.

Rough Budget Proposal

One job application asked us to submit a rough budget proposal. This was a unique request and I am guessing the department had a limited budget and probably couldn’t support a $500,000 piece of equipment. This request, while unusual, seemed completely reasonable since departments want to optimize their time/money and only invite interviewees whose research they could support. This early request proved to be a convenience later since I had a rough budget proposal prepared before going into the interviews.

In my next post I’ll talk about the actual application submission process.

By May 7, 2013 4 comments Uncategorized