Thursday, May 5, 2011

Employment Roundtable at AAPA 2011

BIG MAJOR HUGE props to my friend Teague O'Mara who attended the Primate Interest Group meeting at AAPA and graciously wrote this guest post. The PIG meeting focused on how best to prepare for and stand out in the current job market, a topic near and dear to the BANDIT blog. Thanks Teague!!


Employment Roundtable -- The 2011 Primate Interest Group discussion

The job market is tough, and with the still-soft economy and cuts across the US to academic departments, finding a job is on the mind of more and more of us. Hence the topic for this year's Primate Behavior Interest Group's discussion. This was also the topic of a lunchtime discussion at the 2010 ASP meeting, organized by Katie Hinde (link to her summaries are below).

There was a great panel organized by AAPA-PIG jefe Gary Aronsen as well as some key discussion from the room that represented a cross section of tenured faculty (old and new) from both research universities and teaching-oriented colleges, post-docs, the freeway flier teaching adjunct, administrators, and zoo professionals. Paul Garber, Agusti­n Fuentes, Erin Vogel, Jason Kamilar, Gary Aronsen, Laurie Kauffman, and Jessica Westin were the panel with some great additional discussion from Suzette Tardiff, Russ Tuttle, Karen Strier, Christina Campbell and Tara Harris.

Academic, tenure-track position:
The main point from the panel really was about persistence and tenacity. For those of us interested in academic careers the point was made that the position of a tenured faculty member is the most sought-after, wonderful, and honored position you can have. The consensus is that it's pretty great and at least according to the panel, worth the wait. But it often takes a long time to get a job, and being persistent can really pay off. There were a couple of suggestions to help tailor your application to the university to which you're applying as well as how to work the on-campus interview.

Two of the biggest points about academic job search were:

Curriculum Vitae -- Line item everything and avoid narration. Be concise and ruthlessly edit for extraneous information, typos and anything that distracts from your application. This is super important and many people fail to proof their CVs adequately or keep them from wandering. This can open or close the door to the first cut.

Your letters of recommendation need to be great. Not good, but great. Choose your writers appropriately and give them all of the information that they will need to create the best letter possible for you. This means a current copy of your CV, the job announcement and description, and as much of your application (research, teaching statements, etc) as you have prepared. You also need to leave your letter writers plenty of time to do this. Giving some direction to your writers can help too. Is there something great that you have done that you don't feel comfortable putting in your application directly? Your letter writers can address this and help create a more rounded image of what you are like as a scholar and colleague.

Customize, customize, customize. Really focus your application for how you fit into the department and the university. If you are lucky enough to land an interview, be prepared to ask each faculty member at least one question about their research. They essentially are looking for a new member that could be there for the rest of their academic careers, so they want someone who both fits and will make it through the tenure process. It does them little good to find someone who either won't make tenure or will leave immediately since they will have to run another search.

Post-doctoral research work:
The current and former post-docs on the panel really made it clear that most of these jobs aren't advertised -- you have to find them, making those networking skills you perfect at conferences even more important. Don't be shy. Get to know the other researcher in your area of interest.

For all of these positions
One of the things that I was most impressed with and hadn't really considered was the response to an audience question. Is it better to take a poorly paid teaching position in a city where your partner/family doesn't live, or take another, slightly better paying but decidely non-academic job near your partner as to have an income and a family all in one place at the same time while you search for your job?

The answer. Teach. Do something. There should be zero gaps in your CV. Minimally, wherever you are you should seek out an affiliation with a university or zoo or research institute to maintain consistency in the academic career. Affiliations cost departments nothing, and continuing to have an academic address is a big plus when sending out applications. Try to have it all and keep an active affiliation while working on that job that pays the bills until you land the position you want.

Other options:
Other options to teaching careers were also brought up. Administration within a laboratory or research setting allows you to continue to collaborate on research, innovate new ideas, and contribute to a research program. While that research program may not always be your own, it does allow you to stay active in research and hopefully continue to do what you enjoy. Zoos are another great option, and the skill set that primatologists develop typically contributes well to zoo research and outreach. You may not end up working with primates, but the skills that primatologists transfer well to positions in zoos and other captive environments.

This brings up another point about the skills that primatologists have and don't have. Often we work internationally and have extensive skills in inter-cultural relations, languages, and navigating the intricacies of foreign research. Not to say that other disciplines don't often bring these skills together -- they do. These are great skills that can be translated into field schools and international exposure for both undergraduate and graduate students. Highlighting experiences and transdisciplinary collaborations are always a plus.

We were also reminded to consider the biomedical implications for the types of research that we do. While it may not be the primary focus, questions can be framed that can directly impact human health. These research questions often come with more generous funding options as well as potential post-doc and faculty collaborations with biomedically-focused labs. Recently the NIH put out new calls for programs that primatology and anthropologically focused research fits nicely into. It's always worth considering. Some BANDIT Tips on NIH proposals and recent calls are found Here, Here, and Here. Deadlines may have passed or changed, but it's worth a look through the NIH programs to see if your research fits.

A final note. If you are a primatologist or primate behavior/biology/conservation oriented person and at the AAPA annual meeting then please come to the Primate Interest Group discussions. It's a great place to meet everyone and keeps getting bigger each year.

Here are some useful BANDIT links on the job search that include some gems from the Chronicle for Higher Education:

How to Get An Academic Job: Tips from Katie Hinde and the 2010 ASP workshop

Vintage AAPA Job advice

Keeping Track of the Job Search

The Elevator Talk

Expectations, Meet Reality

Got a Job Interview? Don't Screw It Up!

The Teaching Philosophy

Tailoring To A Small College

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

The Pot of Gold

And Rejection:
The Thin Envelope

You've been rejected: What Now?

Other useful links:
Physical Anthropology Job Wiki

Biology Job Wiki

Job Postings on the AAPA website

Get Anthropology Jobs (@GetAnthropoJobs) on Twitter

The Chicago Guide to Landing a Job in Academic Biology


  1. Nice post Teague, very helpful. And congrats on winning the Washburn prize!

  2. Thank you for this concise summary. As Teague noted, the AAPA PIG is a great group, and I encourage one and all to come hang out with us in Portlandia '12. I once again thank the panel members and audience for a great discussion.