Oct 162012

This afternoon the Natural History Museum in London, UK posted a pair of permanent curatorships at their insect collection, one for the Coleoptera collection, and the other for the Odonata and Small Orders collection. Seeing how rarely these types of jobs open up, there has been considerable buzz on Twitter, with many awesome people exclaiming how great it’d be to get a job like that at one of the premiere insect collections on the planet, but too bad they don’t have all the qualifications so they wouldn’t stand a chance and thus won’t be applying.

This is something I’ve seen far too frequently during my time in academia: people selling themselves, their work and their qualifications short, and not bothering to apply for positions they find interesting because they see invisible barriers they assume will prevent them from getting the job. I’ve seen undergrads do it, I’ve seen MSc students do it, I’ve seen PhD students do it, and I’ve seen Post-docs do it, so I figured I’d write down my observations & thoughts on what holds people back from applying for jobs, and why it shouldn’t.

1. I’m not ready/the job starts before I finish my degree/etc.

Even though a job posting may have an application deadline, chances are it will be several months until they actually do the hiring. The NHM position for example stops accepting applications Oct. 31, but because it’s a government job, I would imagine they won’t even start culling applications until late November, ┬áscheduling interviews in December or January, and then making a final decision sometime in February. This is a pretty quick timeline in fact, and I’ve heard of government hiring committees taking significantly longer than this, sometimes up to a full year!

This means that if you’ve got 6 months to a year left in your current degree or contract, you’re just about perfectly scheduled to move on to a new job afterwards. Add to this that many hiring committees will be very flexible with a start date for the candidate they choose (because remember, they chose you and will do what they need to to make sure you choose them) and so you should be able to negotiate a start date that fits your schedule. Even if times don’t line up quite perfectly, there are certainly ways to finish your degree while taking on your dream job (seeing as that’s the entire reason for pursuing a degree in the first place). Case in point, the Dragonfly Woman did just this┬áthis past summer! Your advisor will understand and will more than likely encourage you to pursue it.

2. I don’t have time to write up an application, it’ll just be time wasted

Ever gone back and read your first draft of your first research paper? I bet it wasn’t pretty, and I bet it took you considerably longer to write than it would now. Same goes with job applications and related materials; practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes improvement! Certainly the time investment to prepare an application can be substantial, with some tenure track positions requiring teaching statements/philosophies, paper reprints, letters of recommendation, a full CV listing everything you’ve written/presented/thought and who knows what else, but once you have all of these documents created, it should take you less time to tweak and prepare for each subsequent application. Even better, if you’re application was unsuccessful this time, you can normally get feedback from the search committee on how to improve your application for the future.

What’s even better is if you manage to score an interview! Again, there will be a considerable amount of time you’ll need to invest for preparing for interviews, mock lectures or research talks, but it all adds up to valuable experience banked for future applications. Plus you’ll normally get an all-expenses paid trip out of the deal, and who doesn’t want that?

3. My field of research isn’t what they’re looking for

Unless the job posting is very specific about what type of research they’re looking to have done, assume there’s some flexibility in what you can study.

Dr. Meghan Duffy (Assistant Professor of Ecology & Evolution at University of Michigan) weighed in on her recent experiences with this:

4. I’m not qualified/there are way better people out there/I’m not good enough

That’s Impostor Syndrome speaking, and it’s one of the biggest obstacles young researchers face in all aspects of their work and career.

I’m not going to get into the details of Impostor Syndrome (understandably, it’s a pretty common subject in academic blogs), but if you’re reading this and think you’re the only one who feels this way, let me reassure you that you most certainly are not. Every single grad student I’ve ever met has felt like they don’t belong at one point or another, and every single one of them has had absolutely no reason to feel like they’re inadequate. Believe me when I say you are awesome, you know what you’re doing, and that you’re a kick-ass researcher who has a bright future ahead of you. Seriously.

It can be incredibly hard to get past these feelings of self-doubt, and they will continue to creep back in from time to time, but everyone goes through it, including Dr. Chris Buddle:

That job Chris is referring to? That is his tenured professorship at McGill University. See what I mean about everyone feeling that way?

Of course, chances are you’ll face your fair share of rejections, which can be tough to deal with and which can feed your feelings of self-doubt, but remember there’s always another opportunity out there waiting for you! Dr. Dezene Huber (Associate Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia) put it nicely when discussing his own job hunt:

Pick the position that best suites your needs, goals, and aspirations

It’s important to remember that not every job posting is going to be of interest to you, and while the job market is pretty scary right now for the life sciences, it’s probably a good strategy to only pursue positions that get you excited. Whether it’s the location, the colleagues or the opportunities you’ll get, make sure you’re jazzed about some aspect of the position, and transfer that enthusiasm directly into your application! Sometimes we have to work less than ideal positions just to get by, but don’t be afraid to aim high and go after exactly what you want out of your career.

No matter what career path you choose to follow, don’t count yourself out before you even apply! It’s not your role to decide if you’re qualified for the position, that’s the hiring committee’s responsibility. All you need to do is trust in your abilities and prove to them why they’d be fools not to hire you!

Just remember, the job can be yours, but you have to apply!

  16 Responses to “The Job Can Be Yours, But You Have To Apply”

  1. When I’m done with this PhD, I am totally taking this advice. Good luck to all the applicants, and may there still be these sorts of positions available in the future!

  2. Great post – it was a worthwhile discussion yesterday, and a very important one. It’s also important to recognize the importance of grabbing an opportunity when it presents itself. I.e., don’t wait for the “perfect job” (although do make sure the job you apply for is something you can see yourself doing!). I know many colleagues who may have had dreams of working at institution X, Y, or Z but ended up somewhere else, and with the right frame of mind, it’s possible to make the BEST out of the situation. Also, academia is now relatively fluid – people move from job to job at a higher rate than previous. Stated another way, grab the opportunity, make the best of it, but if you need to look at a particular job as a ‘transition’, that is OK, too.

  3. Too true, Morgan. The worst that can happen is rejection. And if we’re going to play the science game, getting over the fear of rejection is right up there in the top ten list of qualities to develop. Early.

    During my PhD I started a Rejection File where I kept all my “we like you, we just don’t love you” letters from academic jobs and journal editors. It got to be a pretty fat little file over the years. I ceremonially shredded it when I got tenure. It was a highly satisfying feeling.

  4. Sorry that’s very easy to say when you actually succeeded to have a job.
    Some people do their best, are open to opportunities, apply for hundreds of applications, but it just doesn’t work. Opportunities never show up. It just feels like plain bad luck.
    This is what is going for me: more than 5 years trying to get a job, never got anything. Yet I never stopped being active: I spent a lot of my time and money volunteering, doing internships in my field, I have always been working full time (temporary jobs, like secretary or executive for private companies, which is quite horrible for a scientist) but I am over 30 now and tired of begging for paid internships/jobs.

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