Getting A Tenure-Track Position
June 16, 2009
Candid Engineer has been musing about the Cell/Nature/Science GlamourMagz mania in her post-doctoral laboratory:
I need to remind myself that I don’t need this kind of publication to succeed. I need to remind myself about one of my labmates, who has numerous impact factor 4-5 papers from her stint as a postdoc, got 9 interviews at top-20 schools and something like 5 or 6 offers. She’s starting her TT-position at Stanford in the fall. And I guess Stanford is nothing to sneeze at.
This is true, but an important qualifier is numerous impact factor 4-5 papers. If you only have one or two, you are in a very precarious position, while a single glamour mag publication can be sufficient to get your foot in the door.
Regardless, focus on doing creative novel science, and good things will happen. What really helps when you are looking for a TT position is to have positioned yourself as a groundbreaking leader who is one of the few people with the ability to deploy a novel technology. If you have invented the technology, that’s even better.
But timing is everything. For example, there was a time when being able to work with microarrays was a hugely sellable skill. There was a time when being able to assemble and use a two-photon microscope for functional imaging of live tissue was a hugely sellable skill. Now, both of those things are routine.
Try to predict where your field is going in the next five to ten years, position yourself methodologically at the forefront. However, also be careful that you leverage off your methodological chops to make an important novel discovery in your field, or you will be dinged as a technically outstanding, but without the ability to identify and tackle an important biological question.