Friday, May 21, 2010

Top 10 Standards

Some of my old classmates from graduate school have set incredibly (unrealistic?) high standards for their long term careers.

One peer went on the market in 2007, and only got interest from schools ranked 10-25. He was a graduate student at the time, and so decided to pursue a post-doc to increase his chances of being at a top 10 school. He has very vocally said he would accept nothing less. He is currently in his 3rd year as a post-doc, and the faculty market has now dried up.

Another peer has been lingering at a National Lab/Research Center, waiting for the number 1 school to call. His work is outstanding, as is his character, but he's been waiting for years... He, too, is vocal that he will accept nothing less.

These exceptionally high standards have left my two peers in alternative situations where they are in never-ending post-docs or well-regarded positions at governmental institutions. I get the impression that they think my institutions (future and current) aren't good enough. And maybe they would look down on me? But I'm currently living my goal, and not in limbo. Unlike a jilted bride to a top 10 school.


Dr Becca, PhD said...

Your friends are crazy. Do they really expect their first TT job to be their last? Would it kill them to take an asst. prof job in the bottom half of the 1st tier (or--gasp!--2nd tier), and move on up after 5-10 years?

I know that "normal" length of post-doc varies from field to field, but in the biomedical sciences, 3 years is hardly "never-ending." It's more like half-way done. Hmm..but the fact that your friend went on the job market straight from grad school makes me think he is probably not biomed, where it's pretty much a given that you'll do at least one post-doc.

It is not 2002 anymore. People who are getting hired into the handful of open TT jobs out there have been out of grad school longer, have more experience, and often have their own funding already. And/or several Glamour Mag papers.

This was my first year on the market. I've got some pretty fancy schools on my CV too, but when I started applying for jobs I checked my ego almost immediately and applied everywhere. Being super picky is a luxury very few of the current applicant pool can afford.

You have done things the right way! Nobody should be judging you based on your institution--like you say, you've reached your goal, which is something very few people will actually ever do.

geekmommyprof said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Schlupp said...

Preferring a job at a government institution over an assistant professorship might in some cases make some kind of sense, depending on the details. But thinking that a) such a position or b) a postdoc are better starting points than being an assistant prof at a department ranked 10-25 is impressively and weirdly stupid.

prodigal academic said...

That is madness! Even before this hiring environment, reality must set in that top 10 institutions graduate multiple wonderful PhD candidates, but usually hire 1 or 2 per year at best!

Maybe your National Lab colleague is only giving lip service to leaving? The job is stable, and you can do great science there. Having come from a National Lab myself (2 years as postdoc, 5 years as staff), I can say that such jobs have their charm. I was happy there for 5 years before the limitations were a larger downside than the advantages. I definitely got offers from better places (like your top 10-25 example) than I would have received had I not gone there to establish myself. But I am in a field that requires a 1-2 year postdoc prior to the TT at a research U, and I used my postdoc to change sub-fields.

geekmommyprof said...

I suppose his pedigree is from Top 10 schools? 'Cause otherwise forget about getting your first TT position at a Top 10 institution.

And top 10-25 schools are still awesome schools, with good students and plently of opportunities. Being excellent at a top 10-25 institution is an excellent way to later go on to a top 10 school if you so desire. If you are doing great, opportunities do open up.

This guy sounds like a bit of an egomaniac, and will remain an unemployed one apparently. Unfortunately, he's not alone; I know of a number of people whose egos are in the way of their future. There should be a mandatory "Reality Check for Scientists" course required for all entering PhD students.

Becoming your own boss sooner rather than later is better for you as a scientist and as a person than a 2nd or 3rd postdoc -- period. I wish some people would realize that life waits for no one; if passes you by while you are busy fussing over the prestige of your affiliation.

Janus Professor said...

I didn't say they were my friends ;)

It seems that most folks at top 10 institutions started off at another, lesser ranked place. So I disagree with the approach of 'waiting' for a top 10 place to come calling. I just dive in, earn my pay check, and don't covet what others have.

Anonymous said...

This is great and makes me feel so much better! As long as these guys persist in their unrealistic expectations, I've got a much better chance of taking a wonderful job at a fine institution that isn't in the top 10. I encourage these people to hold on to their dreams.

Girlpostdoc said...

That was a really interesting post. I have noticed that this is one of those differences between faculty jobs in Canada and in the States. Although faculty do move between universities in Canada, it is no where near the extent that happens in the States. More often, once you get a job, you're there for well tenure. Here, in the US, it seems that it is expected you will move.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for having dreams and aspirations, but these people need a reality check! I consider myself very fortunate to have landed my "dream" job straight out of grad school (in chemistry). I put the dream in quotes because it most definitely isn't everyone's dream, but it is exactly what I wanted and a lot more! On the other hand, I am currently working (in grad school) with an extremely intelligent and hard working research associate, whom given the right amount of time will find himself working at a Top 10 RO1 institution. However, he knows what the market is like and has decided to take a very respectable TT position at a nice research institution. We have talked at length and he knows that this may be his only shot in years to get his foot in the TT door, and he is taking it without any hesitation or feelings of disappointment...he is actually quite happy.
I just hope your friends are prepared for the life the lies ahead of them...

David Stern said...

Odd. Of course, they do want jobs that provide time and support for their research. But what matters is the science they do, the papers they publish, and how people use (cite them). Where there job is would seem to be secondary to me (except in terms of preferred location).

Bashir said...

Are these people turning down offers from 11-25 schools? If so, that's very nutty.

I'd love a top 10 job, but at this point anything in the top 40 or 50 would be a coup. I think my personal math is 40ish. Depending on other considerations.