Movin’ on up


If you want to move up the job ladder, you’ll have to evolve from an apprentice-like
PhD student to a research leader or manager. You will find yourself making smaller
contributions to more papers. You’ll have a better grasp of the big picture but
probably at the expense of the technical details. Choosing your collaborators well is
an important aspect of ongoing research success. You will increasingly multi-task,
juggling teaching, community service, administration, management, personnel, and
finance issues along with your research and that of your students.

Your first step in this evolution is to leave the world of the postdoc and acquire that
permanent position. You’ll need to apply, of course, and the better your CV, the better
your chances. Your written application (including cover letter, CV, research interests,
and letters of reference) is key to getting a job interview. Give considerable thought as
to whom to ask to write those reference letters. It’s obviously good if the writers are
well regarded by your potential employer, but it is equally important to get a strong
letter from someone who knows you well.

When it comes time to apply for a job, you’ll likely be inundated with advice and
suggestions. So let me suggest what you shouldn’t do.

•Use the ‘shotgun’ approach of applications: many and wide.

•Don’t read the application instructions.

•Write it on the last possible day.

•Fail to run the spellchecker.

•Fail to include a well-directed cover letter.

•Don’t get a senior colleague to read your application.

•Don’t tell your referees you have put their names forward.

•Or tell them, but not until the day before the deadline.

When you get a job interview, be prepared and do your homework. Think about why
you want the job — it’s probably the first question you’ll be asked. You may also be
asked potentially tricky questions like: “What are your career plans?” and “If offered
this job today, would you accept it?” It’s also a good idea to have some questions of
your own lined up. There are plenty of websites and books with strategies on how to
interview well — look at a few beforehand.

Speaking of the web, astronomy job webpages with the latest rumors and gossip about
positions (and what it’s like to work at various institutions) have added an interesting
new dimension to the application and hiring process. On the flipside, an employer
may Google you. So you might consider cleaning up your personal web page,
including any public MySpace or Facebook entires.

If you’re invited to visit your potential employer, you may be asked to give a seminar
on your research. This will form a crucial part of your job interview, but how not to
give a research talk is a topic for another time.