How to get a postdoc, a faculty position, & why you might or might not want one - Darren Lipomi UCSD

Darren Lipomi
28 Apr 202257:49
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TLDRIn this seminar, Professor Darren Lopomi discusses the intricacies of pursuing a career in academia, focusing on the transition from postdoc to a faculty position. He candidly addresses the challenges, such as competitive funding and the need for continuous learning, while highlighting the rewards of research and student interaction. Lopomi provides practical advice on finding and funding postdocs, tailoring research proposals, and navigating the faculty job market. He emphasizes the importance of fit, innovative thinking, and persistence, drawing from his own experiences and the realities of academic life.

  • πŸŽ“ Continuing in academia involves finding and funding a postdoc, and securing a faculty position, with a focus on R1 faculty positions.
  • πŸ§‘β€πŸ« Professors often encourage students to pursue academia due to personal satisfaction and the desire to create knowledge in an academic environment.
  • πŸ’Ό While academia can be rewarding, it also presents challenges such as competitive funding, repetitive teaching, and lower pay relative to other professions.
  • πŸ”¬ Alternative careers for those with advanced degrees include industry R&D, business, law, particularly patent law, and consulting, which may offer higher salaries.
  • πŸ“š A postdoc is likened to an academic residency, a necessary step for those aspiring to be professors, allowing for focused research before the demands of securing funding.
  • πŸ•΅οΈβ€β™‚οΈ The length of a postdoc varies by field, with natural sciences tending to have longer postdocs than engineering or applied sciences.
  • πŸ€” Choosing a postdoc lab should involve considering interests, filling gaps from PhD work, and differentiating oneself by working at the intersection of different fields.
  • πŸ’‘ The 'two-body problem' refers to challenges faced when both partners in a relationship need to move for their careers, which can impact postdoc and faculty position choices.
  • πŸ’° Funding for postdocs can come from various sources including NIH T32 fellowships, NSF programs, and institutional fellowships, with each having specific eligibility criteria.
  • πŸ” Finding a postdoc position involves networking, leveraging advisors' connections, engaging with seminar speakers, and utilizing online resources like Indeed and professional society websites.
  • πŸ“§ When applying for a postdoc, it's important to show initiative in seeking funding and to bring ideas to the table that can contribute to the lab's research.
Q & A
  • What is the role of Darren Lopomi in academia and what changes will occur in his position starting July 1st?

    -Darren Lopomi is a professor in nanoengineering and chemical engineering and materials science. He is also the faculty director of the IDEA Student Center. Starting on July 1st, he will take on the role of the associate dean for students in engineering.

  • What are the two main components Darren Lopomi discussed for continuing in academia?

    -The two main components Darren Lopomi discussed for continuing in academia are finding and funding a postdoc and finding a faculty position.

  • Why do many principal investigators (PIs) want their students to continue in academia?

    -Many PIs want their students to continue in academia because it justifies their own life choices and they like the idea of having people in the lab who are as committed to creating knowledge in an academic environment as they are.

  • What are some of the challenges one might face when considering a career in academia?

    -Some challenges include a competitive funding landscape with high rejection rates for grants and papers, the potential monotony of teaching the same topics every year, lower pay relative to other jobs requiring an advanced degree, and dealing with constant rejection.

  • What are some alternative careers for someone with an advanced degree outside of academia?

    -Alternative careers include industrial R&D, business roles such as upstream marketing or business development in technical companies, law (especially patent law), and consulting at top-tier firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG.

  • What is the role of a postdoc in academia and how has it changed over time?

    -A postdoc is a PhD holder who wants to become a professor and typically works under the guidance of another professor. It used to be an honor, akin to an academic residency, but has become more of a necessity due to the competitive nature of academia, with an increasing number of people undertaking postdocs.

  • How does the length of a postdoc differ across various fields?

    -The length of a postdoc varies depending on the field. Natural sciences tend to have longer postdocs than engineering, with biology and physics having the longest, followed by chemical engineering, and then chemical and bioengineering.

  • What advice does Darren Lopomi give regarding choosing a postdoc lab?

    -Darren Lopomi advises considering what interests you and what fills gaps in your PhD research. He also suggests that finding an intersectional area between fields can help differentiate oneself and reduce competition.

  • What is the 'two-body problem' in the context of academia and how can it affect career decisions?

    -The 'two-body problem' refers to the challenge of having a partner or family member who also needs to move with you, especially when considering postdoc positions. It can be particularly difficult due to the limited availability of positions in certain cities or labs.

  • How can one finance a postdoc position in the U.S.?

    -Financing options for a postdoc in the U.S. include the NIH T-32 fellowship for biomedical sciences, NSF postdoc fellowships, diversity fellowships, institutional postdoc fellowships like the University of California President's Postdoc Fellowship, and industrial postdocs.

  • What are some strategies for finding a postdoc position?

    -Strategies for finding a postdoc position include working your advisors' networks, committee members' networks, meeting with seminar speakers, and utilizing search tools like Indeed, professional society publications, and Twitter search.

  • What is the typical timeline for applying and interviewing for faculty positions?

    -The typical timeline involves application deadlines from September through December, invitations for interviews from December through February, actual interviews happening from December through March, and decisions being made from March through May.

  • What are some key components of a faculty position application?

    -Key components of a faculty position application include a cover letter, CV, research statement with proposals, a teaching statement, a diversity statement, and letters of recommendation.

  • What advice does Darren Lopomi give for writing research proposals for a faculty position application?

    -Darren Lopomi advises aiming high with the research proposals, ensuring they are solid and not just an extension of previous work, and tailoring them to the core of the department with a focus on impact and broad reach.

  • What factors are considered when faculty search committees decide to give an offer?

    -Factors considered include fit with the department, the quality of research proposals, and the candidate's potential as a teacher, fundraiser, and mentor to students.

  • What is the significance of the term 'pie in the sky' in the context of research proposals mentioned by Darren Lopomi?

    -The term 'pie in the sky' refers to aiming for ambitious and visionary goals in research proposals, rather than just safe or conservative ones.

  • Why is it beneficial for faculty candidates to stay engaged in the scientific community even if they have taken an industrial job?

    -Staying engaged in the scientific community through conferences, talks, and publications helps maintain a candidate's visibility and credibility in academia, which is important if they plan to return to an academic position later.

  • What is the general opinion on doing a second postdoc after being rejected for faculty positions?

    -A second postdoc should not be pursued solely because of rejections from faculty positions. It should be considered if there is a genuine interest in learning a new skill set or area that will enhance the candidate's research capabilities.

  • What advice does Darren Lopomi give for faculty candidates during the interview process?

    -He advises candidates to memorize one technical and non-technical fact for each faculty member they will meet, to keep up their energy during the Q&A session, and to avoid getting defensive when answering questions.

  • What is the importance of sending thank you notes after interviews and to whom should they be sent?

    -Sending thank you notes is a professional courtesy that shows appreciation for the time and effort spent by faculty and administrators during the interview process. It helps in maintaining good relationships within the academic community.

πŸŽ“ Introduction to Academia and Pursuing a Postdoc or Faculty Position

Professor Darren Lopomi introduces himself and discusses the topic of continuing in academia, focusing on finding and funding a postdoc and a faculty position, particularly for R1 institutions. He acknowledges the appeal of academia for some and the competitive nature of funding, with most grant applications being rejected. He also mentions the potential downsides, such as repetitive teaching and lower pay compared to other careers for advanced degrees, like industry R&D or law. The talk is aimed at those considering academia, including those unsure of their path, and touches on the motivations of principal investigators (PIs) for encouraging this route.

πŸ§‘β€πŸ« The Reality of Academic Life and the Postdoc Experience

The speaker delves into the realities of academic life, including the demanding aspects such as serving on numerous committees, dealing with constant rejection in grants and papers, and the time-consuming nature of administrative tasks. He also discusses the concept of a postdoc, likening it to an 'academic residency' necessary for those aspiring to be professors. The postdoc phase is described as a competitive 'arms race,' where the length and necessity of postdocs have increased over time. The talk highlights the importance of choosing a postdoc lab that aligns with one's interests and career goals, and the potential benefits of working at a different institution to gain new perspectives and experiences.

πŸ”¬ Navigating the Postdoc Landscape and the Two-Body Problem

This section explores the varying lengths of postdocs across different fields, with natural sciences tending to have longer postdocs than engineering. The speaker emphasizes that a postdoc is still a valuable period to work on projects of personal interest without the pressure of securing funding. The discussion also touches on the 'two-body problem,' which refers to the challenge of relocating with a partner who also needs to move, and how this can impact career choices in academia. The speaker shares personal anecdotes about his wife's job search and how it influenced their decision to move to California, highlighting the importance of considering personal circumstances when navigating academic careers.

πŸ’Ό Financing a Postdoc and Alternative Career Paths

The speaker outlines various funding opportunities for postdocs, including the NIH T-32 fellowship for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, supplemental funding through existing NIH grants, and diversity fellowships. He also mentions institutional fellowships like the University of California President's Postdoc Fellowship and the possibility of teaching and research postdocs at some universities. Additionally, he discusses other U.S. agencies that offer postdoc fellowships and the importance of not limiting oneself to only one funding source. The paragraph concludes with advice on how to approach potential PIs about postdoc positions, emphasizing the importance of showing initiative and researching available funding options.

πŸ” Strategies for Finding a Postdoc Position and Navigating the Academic Job Market

The speaker provides strategies for finding a postdoc position, such as leveraging one's advisor's network, engaging with seminar speakers, and utilizing social media platforms like Twitter for job postings. He also discusses the importance of visiting labs and meeting with lab members to assess the work environment. The talk then shifts to applying for faculty positions, with advice on starting the application process early, using professional society publications, and considering positions that may not initially appear to match one's expertise. The speaker shares his personal experience of applying for a faculty position, emphasizing the importance of persistence and not taking rejections personally.

πŸ“ˆ The Application Process for Faculty Positions and Dealing with Rejections

This section details the timeline and components of a faculty position application, including cover letters, CVs, research and teaching statements, diversity statements, and letters of recommendation. The speaker reflects on his own application materials and the process of applying to various departments. He discusses the importance of tailoring research proposals to the department's core interests and the challenges of fitting into the department's research strategy. The speaker also shares his personal application statistics and the influence of being part of a dual-career couple on the job search process, highlighting the importance of applying broadly and not taking rejections personally.

🀝 The Importance of Fit and Research Proposals in Faculty Hiring

The speaker emphasizes the significance of fit in the faculty hiring process, including the candidate's alignment with the department's research strategy, teaching, and student interaction. He discusses the importance of having solid research proposals that are not just extensions of previous work but also include ambitious and innovative ideas. The speaker also shares tips on interview preparation, such as memorizing questions or facts about each faculty member one will meet, and the importance of maintaining energy during the interview process. He advises candidates to be wary of flattery and to remember that a rejection is not a reflection of their worth or potential.

πŸš€ Insights from a Faculty Search Committee and Advice for Future Applicants

Drawing from his experience on a faculty search committee, the speaker provides insights into what committees look for in candidates, such as a well-rounded package of teaching, research, and fundraising abilities. He notes that research proposals are often too safe and advises candidates to aim higher. The speaker also mentions the importance of maintaining energy during the Q&A session of interviews and the value of data-driven teaching methods. He suggests that candidates differentiate themselves by understanding and targeting appropriate funding strategies and by effectively selling their research and teaching strengths. The speaker concludes by encouraging candidates to stay engaged in the scientific community, even if they have been in industry, and to continue publishing to maintain a presence in academia.

πŸ›‘ Handling Rejections and the Decision to Pursue a Second Postdoc

In this final section, the speaker addresses the issue of rejections in the academic job market, emphasizing that they are not necessarily reflective of one's abilities or potential. He advises against pursuing a second postdoc solely due to rejections, suggesting that it should only be considered if it adds a new skill set to one's research toolkit. The speaker also discusses the challenges of transitioning back to academia after working in industry, highlighting the importance of maintaining a research presence through publications. He concludes by reiterating the importance of persistence and the value of learning from each application cycle, even if it means facing multiple rejections before securing a position.

A postdoc refers to a research position taken after completing a Ph.D., often necessary to gain additional experience and expertise in a specific field. In the video, the speaker discusses the importance of postdocs in most fields, comparing it to an 'academic residency' and noting that it's the last period where one can work on what they want without the pressure of securing funding.
πŸ’‘Academic Position
An academic position typically refers to a job at a university or college, such as a faculty position. The speaker talks about the process of finding and securing such positions, emphasizing the competitive nature of the field and the need for a strong research proposal and teaching statement.
πŸ’‘R1 Institution
R1 institutions, according to the video, are the top 100 or so universities with high research productivity. The speaker mentions that pay at these institutions is relatively low compared to other jobs available to those with advanced degrees, but they also have a significant impact on the academic community.
πŸ’‘Grant Applications
Grant applications are formal proposals submitted to funding agencies to secure financial support for research projects. The speaker highlights the competitive nature of grant applications, with rejection rates often between 80 to 90 percent, indicating the challenges faced by academics in funding their research.
Teaching is a core responsibility of faculty members in academia. The video mentions the potential monotony of teaching the same topics every year and how it can impact the time available for other academic pursuits, such as research.
Committees in the academic context refer to various groups that faculty members serve on, including exam committees, department committees, and ad hoc committees. The speaker describes the time-consuming nature of these commitments and how they can affect an academic's schedule.
πŸ’‘NIH T-32
The NIH T-32 is a specific type of postdoctoral fellowship funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. The speaker explains that this funding mechanism is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents and requires support from both the postdoc mentor and the Ph.D. institution.
πŸ’‘Diversity Fellowship
A diversity fellowship, as mentioned in the video, is a type of supplement to grant applications used to support underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The speaker notes that these supplements are underutilized but can be a significant source of funding for postdocs.
πŸ’‘Two-Body Problem
The two-body problem in academia refers to the challenge faced by couples where both partners have careers that require geographical mobility. The speaker shares personal experience with this issue, noting its impact on career choices and the difficulty of finding positions in the same location.
πŸ’‘Faculty Search Committee
A faculty search committee is a group responsible for the hiring process of new faculty members. The speaker provides insights into the committee's perspective, emphasizing the difficulty of finding a candidate who meets all the department's expectations and the importance of a strong overall package.
πŸ’‘Research Proposal
A research proposal is a document outlining the plans for a research project, including objectives, methods, and expected outcomes. The video emphasizes the importance of creating solid, yet ambitious, research proposals that go beyond safe ideas and aim for significant impact.

Introduction of Darren Lopomi as a professor and upcoming associate dean for students in engineering.

Discussion on the two main components of continuing in academia: finding and funding a postdoc and finding a faculty position.

The appeal of academia for those deeply committed to creating knowledge in an academic environment.

Challenges in academia such as competitive funding landscape and repetitive teaching of the same topics.

Comparing academia to other careers like industry R&D, business, law, and consulting in terms of pay and job prospects.

The role of postdocs as a necessary step in most fields of academia, akin to an academic residency.

The increasing length of postdocs and how it varies by field.

Market forces and employability after postdocs, especially the contrast between fundamental sciences and applied fields.

Strategies for choosing a postdoc lab, including considering interests and filling gaps from PhD research.

The dilemma of staying at the same institution for a postdoc versus moving to a new one for differentiation.

The importance of upgrading the last institution on a CV and the potential impact on future academic opportunities.

Addressing the 'two-body problem' and its impact on postdoc and faculty position searches for dual-career couples.

Different funding opportunities for postdocs, including NIH T-32, NSF, and other agency fellowships.

Advice on finding a postdoc position, emphasizing the importance of networking and leveraging seminar opportunities.

The process of applying for a faculty position, from initial proposal writing to interview invitations and final decisions.

Importance of not taking rejections personally during the faculty application process and maintaining a positive outlook.

Components of a faculty application, including cover letter, CV, research and teaching statements, and diversity statement.

Insights from the faculty search committee perspective on what makes a strong applicant package and common mistakes to avoid.

The advantage of having industry experience when transitioning back to academia and the importance of maintaining a research profile.

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