Job Searching in Academia for Postdocs Part II

So you’ve been invited to visit a campus as part of your job search. By definition, you’ve made the ‘short list’. Congrats. To prepare for your visit, you’ll need to have the following in your back pocket (meaning ‘in the can’): a job talk, an informal whiteboard talk, and the ability to actively listen to many different interviewer-stakeholders for a period extending beyond the workday going well into the evening. There is no room for messing up on any of these because the competition is extensive.

The job talk speaks for itself and a lot has been written about the subject. So, I’ll just add my own emphasis on never reading from your slides, keeping bulleted text to a minimum and ending the talk at the 45-50 minute mark to leave just the right amount of time for questions. I’d also remind readers to always cite the use of other’s graphics and to concentrate the talk on your own new data.

Less has been written about the informal whiteboard talk. In fact, a lot of candidates aren’t aware of its ubiquitous existence (in one form or another). This is the talk where you lay out (in outline form) the substance of your first grant proposal for sponsored research funding. First, all money is not equivalent. If you are in the natural or social sciences (including biomedical), I’d highly recommend that you lay out a proposal to either the NSF or the NIH. Your potential future colleagues will tend to view funding from those agencies as more prestigious and worthy than funding from other sources. Do I agree with that take? Definitely not, but that’s the current state of the academy so you should be aware. If you are going to outline an NSF proposal, that make a clear distinction between the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria. If you are outlining an NIH proposal, then organize the whiteboard talk as modular specific aims that, taken together, form a coherent flow chart. The key is that the ideas are novel, they align with the interests of the hiring department, and most importantly that your track record supports the likely success of the proposal.

Who will be your audience for this whiteboard presentation? It might be just the department chair or dean. Or it might be the entire search committee. In any case, this part of your day’s work is critical.

Next up we’ll cover stakeholder interviews and the dinner out.