Prospective Professor: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Posted on behalf of the Prospective Professor

When I started the process of finding a job, I assumed that the most challenging aspect would be the endless grilling during the interviews. I imagined that during my individual meetings with faculty members they would challenge my basic chemistry and biology knowledge, test me on my familiarity with their work and just generally attempt to check the integrity of my fundamental scientific knowledge. I expected that the proposal defense seminar (or “chalk talk”) would be filled with impossible questions, many that could only warrant the answer, “That’s an interesting question, I will have to look into that” (read as, I have NO idea).

I’m happy to report that the experience was nothing like this. People were excited to meet me and tell me about their department. Most started the meeting by saying, “Do you have any questions about our department that I could answer for you?” It was in less than 50% of the cases that we actually got around to talking about science. And while I wouldn’t call the “chalk talks” easy, I can honestly say that it was only on the rare occasion when I didn’t have an answer to a question or that I felt that people were “testing” me instead of being genuinely curious about my ideas.

It turns out that despite the huge amount of concern I poured into the interviews, I hadn’t recognized what would be the most challenging aspect of the job hunt: Deciding which job to accept.

There are so many factors to consider ranging from the quality and number of grad students, to instrumentation availability and collegiality of the faculty. I have to take into account the start-up and salary offers, teaching requirements, fundability of the institution, space availability, and the mission of the department. Next, I must decide if a chemistry department, biochemistry department or medical school would best fulfill all of my needs. And this is before I start to ponder the more personal issues such as location, cost of living, and personal relationships. How do I weigh each of these issues so that they are represented adequately in my final choice?

If I knew the answer to this question, I would have already made my decision!