MsPhD asked how I got my job so here’s the lowdown, in one word, networking. Seems pretty strange to say that since about 10 years ago I was a shy, stuttering dude who figured I’d make a decent scientist but never figured I would be able to overcome my social anxiety. Truth is, I still stutter and I’m still shy but I don’t give a shit about it anymore. Here’s why…
I have more or less always wanted to be a scientist, at first an astrophysicists and later a neurobiologist. Would have been cool to be a professional athlete but some nasty injuries killed that dream before I got to college. As I progressed into the PhD and started to go to meetings it became pretty clear to me that if you wanted people to know who you were you had to speak up. Now, don’t get me wrong, quality work and good papers are still numero uno but there are a whole lot of good scientists out there with some really nice papers on their CVs. Networking is a way to really separate yourself from the pack.
For us neuroscientists SFN is a big deal but you get lost in the sea of humanity so I decided to focus on the pain-centric (I do pain research) meetings were my social anxiety was more overcomable. Moreover, I was fairly sure I wanted to stay in that field so it seemed like a good place to start…I’ve never been to a talk that didn’t leave me wanting to know more and if I have a question chances are that 10 other people are thinking the same thing, might as well be me to ask the question. So despite my racing heartbeat and the increasing degrees of sweatiness I forced myself to start walking over to the microphone and say “Hi, I, I, I I’m x from u, u, uni, univ, university of y, here’s my question”. Almost immediately a strange thing started to happen to me. I would get invited to discuss further after talks, strangers would ask if I’d like to join them for a drink or dinner and others would thank me for raising points that they were also curious about.
All of this served several purposes: 1) I got over my social anxiety, 2) I developed personal relationships with my peers (and potential employers) and 3) people in my field were able to put a face with my name. All of this may seem trivial, but, fast forward to time to start looking for the tenure track position…
I was a productive PhD student and PostDoc with an above average number of papers and some of those papers were in big impact journals but no C, N, S papers. I applied for 4 jobs (all for searches that were looking for pain people, but not exclusively for pain researchers). I got invited to interview at all 4. I got offers from 2 of them rather quickly. One of those happened to be where I am now and it was my first choice so I terminated the whole thing and took that job, after some negotiation. I subsequently learned that I didn’t get an offer from number 3 because of a total fluke situation, otherwise I would have. Number 4 was still interviewing but I have been told I had a good shot there too. At all 4 of those places I knew the majority of the people I interviewed with and I knew most of them pretty well. Some of that was due to my mentors who were always great advocates for me. Another strong contributor was the networking.
Most interviewers knew what I was doing before I gave my talk because I had already given talks on the subject at other meetings. I had also submitted grants to the pain society granting agencies and many of my interviewers were on those review panels. Basically, when it came time to get my career started all of those terrified moments had paid off more than I ever expected… there is nothing like being able to walk into an interview to talk with friends.
Three final notes.
1) All of this was possible because of one thing: Fellowships. In order to network you have to have travel money. That can (and should) come from the PI but no one can expect for the PI to send them to all the meetings you want or need to go to. I had a PhD and PostDoc NRSA and some society money all of which paid my way to get in the door of these meetings. Trainees must apply for Fellowships. They are easier to get than almost any other type of grant. There is no excuse.
2) There is much more to all of this than just the networking (obviously). Physioprof and DrugMonkey (see the blogroll) have covered most of these types of things (like the job talk and how to interview) in detail. I’d give my advice but it comes largely from them anyway so I suggest you take some time to peruse their site if you want to know more about the dos and don’ts of interviewing and giving a job talk.
3) Choosing your postdoc mentor is a crucial decision. I’ll do a post on this later. My choice and the reasons for that choice also played a huge role in me landing the job I wanted.