A great percentage of new PhD graduates enter into a postdoctoral position shortly after defending. The decision to do a postdoc stems from different motivations and career goals; to stay in academia, to teach, to fill a requirement for a job in industry, or to simply be able to keep ones options open. At the end of the day though, the goal is the same – to strength ones CV to land a job. Very similar to the grad student experience, postdocs spend a majority of their time in lab, teaching, writing grants, etc. Compound this with the fact that many postdocs move to a new, unfamiliar location to continue their training can make it difficult to connect with others outside of their lab for career advice and support. With these installments of job search questionnaires by current and past postdocs, the DCPDA hopes to be able to guide current and future postdocs with their own search.
We start with our very own DCPDA co-President Britney Rose Privett, who has accepted a job as Assistant Professor of Chemistry at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I did undergraduate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). I received my Ph.D. from the Dartmouth Chemistry department. I used biophysical tools, including X-ray Crystallography and NMR, to examine structure/function relationships. More specifically, I studied a transcription factor that activated the virulence cascade in the pathogenic bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. I had an interest in metal homeostasis and knew that I wanted to expand my skill set during my postdoc so I joined a genetics/plant biology lab. An additional reason I made this switch was to work in a model organism that was more amenable to undergraduate research. I am almost two years into my postdoc!
What position have you accepted?
I accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Chemistry at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. It is a tenure track position that has teaching, research, and service components. I would say the primary focus at St. Anselm is teaching, but they certainly want a productive research lab and encourage teaching through research and project design.
What was the interview process like? What did it entail?
Before I even got the interview it was necessary to put together all of the application materials – Cover letter, CV, Teaching Statement, Research Statement, Diversity Statement, three letter of recommendation. Some schools even asked for evaluations and a research budget. The first round of interview is a Skype or phone call. They ask you a series of questions, usually 7-9, that have something to do with what classes you would like to teach/develop, why you are interested in that school, how you will have an inclusive classroom, your teaching methods/style, your research plan, etc. If you are lucky you will get a call or email back asking you to come for an on campus interview. The on campus interview is a long process, typically a day or two, where you meet with every member of the department (at small schools at least), meet with some students (lunch or dinner usually), give a talk or two (research and teaching demo, usually to students and faculty), ask the faculty questions, meet HR, meet the Dean, and just get a lay of the land. These jobs are in theory permanent, so they want to make sure the fit is right. Once the interview day begins you hardly get a moment to yourself, so make sure to get plenty of sleep the night before and bring a water bottle!
How can current postdocs make their resume competitive for this position?
I would suggest doing some sort of teaching, whether it’s TA-ing, adjuncting, or online. Most PUIs (primarily undergraduate institutes) primary focus is on teaching, so they want to know your experiences – how you will manage a classroom, what challenges you have faced and overcome, your overall teaching style (does it match the vision of the department/school). Mentoring undergraduates in the lab, particularly thesis students, is valuable as this will be a large part of your job at this type of institution. I would also suggest taking advantage of resources like the teaching center at your college (DCAL!). Workshops like how to write a syllabus, how to manage a classroom, and how to engage students are great ways to demonstrate not only that you genuinely care about teaching, but also that you have the skills necessary to be successful in the classroom. Additionally, participating in some sort of leadership is beneficial because you can discuss different problems you may have faced in those roles and how you overcame them. Publications matter, but I would argue that they are not the only things that will get you a job at a PUI.
Looking back at your postdoc career, what advice can you give current and future postdocs?
I would give two pieces of advice –
- Be flexible – during all of my interviews the faculty wanted to know what subject areas I would be willing to teach. Although I may not be an expert in a particular area, I know that I have the knowledge to dig deeper and relay that information to undergraduates. I also don’t think it hurt that I worked both in Chemistry and Biology, schools were interested in the fact that I had a broader area of expertise (at least in the case of these types of schools, remember the departments are small!)
- Find good mentors – My mentors have been incredibly supportive! My graduate mentor has been my go-to resource for most of my professional decisions. They write the letters for you that may set you apart from other people. Additionally, the relationships you have with them will be advantageous once you start your new position (they can provide resources and advice), so knowing that they care about you and ultimately your career is very important in my opinion.
Was there anything during your job search, application, or interviews that you didn't expect to happen?
I didn’t expect for the schools that did give me second interviews to invite me to campus so quickly after the initial interview. For example, I had an interview on 11/9 and they wanted me to do my on campus interview on 11/26. It sounds like a lot of time but not if you need to put together multiple talks and get feedback on them! I would advise when you are putting together all of the other application materials to also generate your research talk. Unfortunately, you will only be able to prepare the teaching talk once they give you a topic, but at least half of what you need will be ready to go!
If you are a postdoc or have recently transitioned out of a postdoc position and would like to share your experiences and advice, please reach out! We would love to feature you and your insights would be extremely helpful.