My Job Search Experience - Securing a Postdoctoral Position Outside of My Area of Expertise
News Article by Mike Rudy, Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Rochester and Adjunct Professor
I was warned that finding a college teaching position can take a very long time, and that tenure-track positions are even harder to find. It’s a message that was reiterated many times, but I thought my preparation and teaching experience would make my own job search a bit easier. After all, by the time I graduated, I’d accumulated over 100 contact hours of college-level teaching experience, including an adjunct teaching position at St. John Fisher College here in Rochester. So with a fair amount of teaching experience under my belt, a first author publication, and a freshly minted Ph.D., I figured it should be relatively straight forward to find a teaching position near my family in Colorado. I was wrong. What I failed to anticipate was the difficulty I added to my job search by limiting my search to a specific (and far-away) state.
I managed to find a decent number of prospective tenure-track teaching positions which suited me fairly well (searching college websites, HigherEdJobs.com, and Indeed.com). The difficulty is that I’m competing with extremely bright and hard-working individuals who are equally qualified. And with no network connections to put me in contact with professors on the other side, my applications were likely lost into a pile of all the other qualified applicants. To make a long story short, I applied to many positions, heard back from few, and was hired by none. It should be noted that I also found many temporary and adjunct positions, but these don’t pay enough to live on – let alone move across the country for – and they have no job security. So the only viable alternative was to gain experience and more publications by finding a good postdoc. Ideally one in Colorado.
My main problem was that, while I very much enjoyed my graduate project, I wanted to do something new for my postdoctoral studies. I wanted to make the rather drastic shift from neuroscience to virology. Since I know relatively little about viruses and even less about virology lab protocols, the virology labs where I applied were underwhelmed by my experience – and few had an interest in speaking with me. This is where a rather unconventional approach paid off. I perused the research pages at my desired universities for any principle investigator doing research in both neurology and virology. This way I had experience that I could bring to the table. I emailed all of these PI’s explaining my neurology expertise and my desire to be trained in virology. Surprisingly, the response rate to these “cold” emails was better than when I applied to postdoctoral openings which had been posted online. The drawback, was that only one of these PI’s would consider taking a postdoc, and this was contingent on his grant funding. So I waited a couple months and again contacted him to inquire about his funding. I was disappointed to hear that he had not received funding and would not have an opening for a postdoc. Once again it seemed that I had hit a dead end, but before giving up, I decided to inquire whether he knew anyone else doing similar research who may be looking for a postdoc. This paid off big time. He referred me to another PI at the same institution (who I had somehow missed during my earlier search). I contacted this new PI and found out that he was looking for a postdoc but had not yet gotten around to advertising the position. I sent them my CV and in a surprisingly short amount of time I had two phone interviews and a flight to Denver for an in-person interview. Ultimately, they did offer me a postdoctoral position studying neurovirology.
I believe that it was my experience in neuroscience which ultimately earned me this position even though my ultimate goal was to train in virology. I was also very fortunate to come across a postdoc position which wouldn’t have been available to anyone who had not sent out “cold” emails. Moving forward, my aim is to use this postdoctoral position to begin networking with professors at local universities so that next time I send an application for a tenure-track professor position at a Colorado university, I’ll have people on the inside.
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