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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / July 2018 / Freytag’s Pyramid: A Postdoc’s Story of Transitioning to Professor

Freytag’s Pyramid: A Postdoc’s Story of Transitioning to Professor

News Article by Virginia Glazier, Assistant Professor Of Biology at Niagara University and URBEST Alumni

When I reflect on my job hunting experience, I can’t help but notice the similarities to the dramatic arc of a play. It begins with an exposition and initial incident that brought me to the job market, followed by the rising action of job applications, the climax of the job offer(s), the falling action of making a decision, and the dénouement of my new position at Niagara University. Like so many stories, my story has drama, suspense, and (thankfully) a happy ending.

Freytag Story Line

The Exposition: While in college, I majored in both biology and adolescent education with the goal of becoming a high school biology teacher. It was only during a senior research course on microbiology that I developed an interest in research and decided to pursue a PhD. Like most who enter academia, I was put on the track of publishing my research and applying for external funding. Once I finished my PhD, I transitioned to a postdoc position and repeated the process. It was during my postdoc that I received the news that would result in a series of events that lead me to where I am today.   

The Initial incident: As you embark on the next steps of your career, most will make the choice willingly. As PhD students or postdocs, you will decide the time is right to step out on your own. That is not my story. My story begins with my boss asking me to step into his office followed by the statement “I’ve accepted a position at another University; you need to start looking for jobs”. To be fair, my boss had been subtly suggesting I begin my job hunt in earnest, but I had feigned obliviousness. Luckily as one of the first postdocs enrolled in the URBEST program, I already had taken several steps in the right direction.

  • Throughout my training I regularly sought opportunities to teach or attend workshops related to education and academia. However, even with my extensive background in teaching, I applied to several teaching-oriented jobs and was told I had too much research experience and wasn’t offered the position. For those of you in similar situations, be prepared for this reality and consider seeking opportunities to publish research on science pedagogy.
  • I maintained a CV that would be attractive to an R01 institution. I was fairly certain I did not want to be a professor at an R01 institution; however, I also knew that route was one of the most difficult. My rationale was if I strived for a CV that would appeal to a research intensive “R01 institution”, then perhaps I would be also be an attractive candidate for a smaller university that aspires to be an “R01 institution”. I was right. Several of the positions I interviewed for were keen on my grant writing experience, including PUIs (primarily undergraduate institutions) and campus learning centers.
  • Although my career aspirations centered on teaching and research, I didn’t let my career predilections limit my exposure to different career options. Through the URBEST program, I regularly spoke with individuals in a variety of career fields. I ended up applying for jobs I would never had thought of thanks to these interactions. I would encourage you all to take the same approach, so you cultivate an appreciation for the options available to you.

The Rising Action: Between January and May 2017 I applied to over 35 jobs. I applied for jobs ranging from faculty positions at R01 institutions to medical writing, education specialists to high school and college instructors. Each application was modified for the position I was applying to: my cover letter, CV, research plan and teaching philosophy all tailored to demonstrate how I fit that job description. This considerably increases the amount of time it takes to apply to each job, but the payout is high. Of the 35+ jobs I applied to, I had interviews for 9 positions.

The Climax: Of the 9 positions I interview for, I received 4 job offers. Through some twist of fate they all landed in my lap the last week of May. Receiving those job offers was equal parts validating and terrifying. The offers validated all the effort and hard work I had put into not only the job application process but also my PhD and postdoctoral research. Each offer was a complete unknown and my potential future. Which choice was the right choice? What would happen if I made the wrong choice?

The Falling Action: I had to choose between the following options, all with similar salaries and benefits;

1st offer “The familiar and easy route”- This job would have allowed me to stay at the URMC with an ancillary role in coordinating an educational program. This was one way in which I could stay in academia and education but without the added responsibilities of being a professor. I must admit it was tempting to stay in my comfort zone at the URMC, and it circumvented my insecurities that I couldn’t cut it as a professor.

2nd offer “Staying with friends”- My second offer was for a medical writer position. One of my coworkers (and close friend) had just accepted a job at the same company. I was excited by the prospect of us working together. It contained some aspects of research, but obviously no teaching. I looked at this offer as my one chance to get out of academia, should I take that route.

3rd offer “The big leagues”- I had applied to several faculty positions at R2 and R3 level research intensive universities (see “Definitions” for University classifications). One of which offered me a job with a 2/2 course load and a quarter million dollar start up for my lab. To most this is the golden ticket: a career as a PI at a large University. Every PI I told about this position was ecstatic for me and (not so subtly) reminded me how many other PhD students and postdocs would kill to be offered that position. 

4th offer “A PUI (primarily undergraduate institution)”- The last offer was from Niagara University, a small catholic university that I originally had dismissed. The job posting was more oriented towards a physiologist rather than a microbiologist such as myself. In one of those “this is why networking is so important” moments, I contacted a friend from my PhD program whose father was a faculty member in the Biology department at Niagara University. I asked for some more details on what they were looking for in a job candidate and he assured me I should apply. They offered me a tenure track 9 month appointment with a 3/3 teaching load. Compared to offer #3 there was considerably less start up money, but the funds were more than sufficient for performing the type of research I am interested in.

Which offer would you have taken?

Dénouement: Having just completed my first year at Niagara University, I can say I am confident that I made the right decision. I love my job, my coworkers and the University. A faculty position at a PUI offers my ideal balance of teaching and research. To those of you about to embark on your job search, realize you have a valuable resource. The URBEST program was fundamental in shaping my career trajectory. It gave me insight into the variety of career options that fit my interests, the skills necessary to excel in my career field, and the perspective to choose the job that was the best fit for me (and just not what was expected of me).    

Dr. Virginia Glazier will be a speaker at the September 13, 2018 URBEST Retreat and Career Workshop. Save the Date!

Tracey Baas | 7/12/2018

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