..but eventually you will get one.” I can remember who told me that just when I finished my PhD, but I know that I did not expect it to take long. After all, I had a PhD from a respected university, was (kinda) young, open for more exciting science, and didn’t mind moving to wherever I would get a position! And so I started applying for advertised post-doc positions all over the world, hopeful that soon I would have an interview where I could shine – and boy was I wrong.
But now, close to two years after I handed in my PhD thesis, and more than a year after I handed in my final, corrected thesis, I finally got a job! Yay, me! It is at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and apparently the English translation is “Assistant Professor” which makes it sound very important (Yay me again!). I am a Lecturer on a three-year contract, based at the professorship for sedimentary geology and quaternary research, with hopefully some research as well. But more on that later.
I had started applying for post-docs that I was interested in while I was writing up my PhD. Not that there were many to begin with and the ones who were advertised more often than not required a finished PhD, but I thought it would be good to start sooner than later in order to start a job right after finishing my PhD. I managed to get one or two Skype interviews, one of which was for a position that I felt was made for me. I didn’t hear back for quite a while and only after repeatedly contacting them I was told that I did not get the job – which was quite a downer for me as I had had high hopes. After that I applied for many more positions but never was lucky enough to get one. But it was an experience with a learning curve as well… Some of the things that I felt are common when applying for jobs in academia are:
- to not hear back at all, sometimes not even getting a confirmation that the application has been received.
- to have to wait for several months after the application deadline before either an interview date is set or a rejection email arrives. And not all applicants get contacted at the same time.
- to have very specific job descriptions with a detailed list of experiences one must have in order to qualify for the position.
- don’t lose hope…
Some thoughts on this list:
- Not all departments are equally bad! I had some refreshing experiences where I was told within a couple of days after the application deadline that I was not suitable/shortlisted but that I could apply for another position that may open soon.
- I had the interesting experience to apply for several positions together with several (up to four!) friends of mine who finished their PhD around the same time I did. We shared positions we found online and encouraged each other to apply for things (and we all do have jobs now, yay us!). But we felt that it was very random who got contacted at what point – often we felt that one of us was suited better than the other for the position but that person would never get an interview. I guess that kind of shows how important a good CV is – we knew our strengths and weaknesses, but they were not necessarily visible in our CVs.
- The explanation for this is very simple. They already have someone for the position but the funding source requires the position to be publicly advertised. Thus the job description is written in a way that only the person in mind can meet all the requirements. This is quite annoying as it shows you that there is an amazing position out there but that there is really no point in applying for it.
- Or write your own funding proposal.
After more than a year had passed I started to realize that in order to increase my chances of getting a post-doc position I would have to think about my own projects, find a Professor who could be interested in working with me, and start writing a funding proposal. But how to start? I knew that I wanted to continue working on Carbon Capture and Storage related research as I think that it is a key technology for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While contemplating this for several months, including many a times where I was close to giving up on the whole academia thing, my personal situation changed and I decided that I wanted to stay close to my hometown. That narrowed the possibilities down quite a bit (that is actually an understatement) and I managed to get into contact with the professor of sedimentology at the University of Freiburg (I knew somebody who knew somebody who knew the professor…) who agreed to meet for lunch one day to discuss potential research topics! It turned out that he we found a topic which was of interest to both of us (not at the first meeting tho) and we started writing a funding proposal.
I had tried to avoid writing my own funding proposal, but now that I was actually doing it, it turned out to be (kind of) fun! I had to do some literature review on a topic I was not familiar with; contacted other researchers who had experience in the science, trying to get some to agree to a scientific collaboration; figured out how much things cost; and formulating my own research goals. After about two months of work we were able to submit the proposal – and are now waiting to hear whether it was successful or not.
Soon after I had submitted the proposal it became clear that a teaching staff position at the University of Freiburg would open up as one of the assistant professors was moving to Australia where he got a permanent position. As academic positions (unless you are a professor…) are very often only for a limited time, he was quite happy to leave. And I was lucky enough to get his position! So now I am doing some teaching, which is something I love doing (and hopefully am good at, I will poll my students and come back to you…).
Long story short – if you want to keep on working in academia you need to start working on your own funding proposal sooner or later. And that knowing someone who knows someone can be important! Try networking on conferences or by writing emails to people who’s paper you enjoyed, it may help getting a job later on.