We know from reviewing national data that most entering postdocs believe they want a career in academia. And yet, a few years later, this career path becomes much less desirable. What happens? After seeing up close what your faculty go through — grant seeking, publication struggles, promotion demands, and other daily elements of the academic enterprise — the academic path may no longer be so attractive (we understand!). We also know you hear plenty of stories about how competitive it is “out there.” These concerns are real. And, we know that all of you can be a successful academic, if that is the path you truly want to pursue. We have several programs that can help support you in making an informed decision, or in gaining the skills you need to be the strongest candidate for an academic career.
Assess Your Readiness: What do you need to be ready to go “on the market”? It depends. The team at University of California developed a simple tool to help you self-assess whether you have the elements that hiring committees are looking for, whether it is at an R1 institution, a primarily teaching-focused institution, or a position with a mix of research and teaching. The Academic Career Readiness Assessment is a free PDF that provides milestones to work toward.
Seek Diverse Role Models: Who is successful with diverse funding portfolios? Who is managing the kind of work-life balance you would need? Who is a great mentor and effective research group leader? Who believes in you? You need more examples of how to be a faculty member than just who you might be exposed to in your immediate research group. Talk to junior faculty in your field and ask how they have navigated their transition to independence.
Learn What You Need: One great place to learn more about what you might need to be competitive on the academic job market is the Future Faculty Fellows program, which is sponsored by the UW School of Medicine and is open to all UW postdocs. The 2018 two-day program will happen June 11–12. Need more teaching experience? Apply to be a fellow in the Science Teaching Experience for Postdocs (STEP) program next year (applications due September) or ask around where you might be a guest lecturer. You can also ask to shadow a faculty member you admire.
Ready to Go? Seek Internal Reviewers: Tailoring the cover letter is so important for each position, as is getting feedback on all elements of the faculty package. Unsure what to include? In addition to the resources provided by the Future Faculty Fellows program, check out the numerous guides for each element at the UW Career & Internship Center. Ask for a friendly but critical review from your mentoring team, as well as a handful of near-peers. The more eyes you get on your application, the more you can fine-tune it and make sure you stand out from the crowd.
As always, feel free to check in with us in the Office of Postdoc Affairs, or make an appointment with our faculty advisor. We are here to help you strategize and would welcome the opportunity to advise you on your next career steps.