How I landed that tenure track professorship:
1. Survival of the fittest. The sooner you recognize the deadly competition for what it is, the sooner you will act relentlessly to secure your dreams. Postdocs are playing a game where 1 in 10 get a TT job. There is only 1 job open per 1 dead faculty or retiree. If you are not better than the other 9 people around you, you stand no chance.
- Being “Better” means being creative. Another way to say this is that “style points count.” Your project needs to be remarkable. Remarkable means that when someone hears about it, they go to the next person and tell them about it. Only work on something you think is FUCKING AWESOME!!! How many postdocs do you know, who think their project is boring or cannot convey its excitement? Observe as all those postdocs fail to convert to faculty positions.
Here is a personal example of what it means to be “better.” During my undergraduate physiology degree we had to do a research report paper. Most people chose well known topics like muscle functionality (actin-myosin interactions), or brain synapse neurotransmitter function, I did my project on the effects of recombinant snake venom enzymes on blood clotting. I got an A! Style points count! Approach your life this way. You have choices in life, choose something that is fucking cool.
3. Do your own project. Choosing a cool project means picking it yourself and figuring it out yourself. It means not relying on your mentor to think of a project for you. I created my own project during my PhD and I had the choice as a postdoc to leave that project or stick with it. A well known researcher in my field told me at an interview that I could join his lab, but I would have to give up my project and work on his project. I declined that job and found an advisor who wanted me to work on MY project and believed in MY work! This choice paid off for me more than any other. Don’t pursue someone else’s dream. It’s way easier to get a faculty position as the guy who did X rather than being a knockoff of your advisor.
“As a postdoc you are a scientific stud. You are a fine tuned research machine!”
4. As a postdoc you are a scientific stud. You are a fine tuned research machine! Other PI’s fear your competitive hunger and immeasurable energy. Have the self-respect to know that you are capable of answering the biggest questions in your field more than any other person in existence and you are the only one with the time to do it! Think big, You were born for your idea!
5. You must eventually get your idea in a good journal. Even though you are a stud, no one gives a shit about who you are or what you think. No one will believe your idea has any value unless you get it somewhere that gives it value.
6. To get your idea in a good journal you must do a shitload of work. Good science, in my opinion, is achieved by speedily testing as many good micro-hypotheses related to your idea as you can, as quickly as you can. Write your ideas down as they come to you. Keep a running database of ideas. Tirelessly work through that list testing every idea that falls into a priority and figure that shit out!
7. To do a shitload of work you need a checklist! If you do not need a massive full-page checklist you are not working hard enough and are not testing enough hypotheses. To get a good publication you should be working on so many things at once that you literally forget about what you were doing, hence you have developed a checklist! Start your day by spending 20 minutes revising your daily checklist. Worship its organization and beauty. Get that shit done! I even put *complement my wife on my checklist so I don’t forget to do that in the midst of the overwhelming burden of experiments!
8. To do a shitload of work you need boundless energy. Fortunately as a young stud you have boundless ambition and ego, which makes you believe that you can win that Nobel prize, get rich or die trying ect… Ambition is your most precious resource as a young scientist, and there are constant factors seeking to diminish it. Do whatever you need to do to replenish your most ambitious desires. Exercise every day! Unlock your beast and dream big.
9. Burn the boats. You would rather die than fail!
10. Do not talk to that negative person! There is a person in your lab or in your department who makes you want to quit your job. They tell you your experiments will not work, they tell you it is impossible to discover anything new, they tell you all the low hanging fruit is gone, they tell you it is impossible to get funding and a job, they tell you it is impossible to do good science at small institutions, they tell you your competitors will beat you. DO NOT TALK TO THAT FUCKING GUY! RUN AWAY FROM HIM!
*a joke people…11. If you are a man one might consider growing a beard. I didn’t have a beard for my first two campus visits and those did not materialize as offers despite one search committee member telling me it was the best job seminar he had ever heard in his career. I got an offer the first time I interviewed with a beard.
Notes and My stats:
I was a postdoc for 3 years and just accepted a tenure track assistant professor position at a research university at age 29. I have 4 kids and my wife is pregnant. I applied for every job I thought I could do better than others (from FBI special agent, to Chair of Art Departments at Blizzard Entertainment and Wizards of the Coast; to Harvard assistant professor). I accepted the first offer that was right for my research, myself, and my family.
1 search season
45 job applications.
21 in industry, 7 of which were at Monsanto
2 in Government (FBI)
22 Assistant Professorships
Of academic jobs I had 4 phone interviews = 18% call back (I declined 1 interview because it came after I accepted)
3 campus visits with a 100% conversion rate from phone to campus invitation
1 offer, 33% offer rate.
*I think these stats are a bit above average in today’s market, but I had a lower total N than what seems to be standard ~ 100 applications. I agree with the probability hypothesis, that if you have a reasonable publication record, reasonable funding record, and are reasonably normal you can get an offer simply by playing the numbers and applying for at least 40 jobs with a 10% interview rate and a 1 in 4 chance of being offered.
*I really wanted to get a job fast and young. It was very important for me not to get stuck doing a 5-year postdoc. I did not want to spend my most energetic and creative scientific years working for anyone other than myself (Although I love my Mentors and Advisors).