Teach the Earth > Early Career > Previous Workshops > Workshop 2011 > Participants' Wisdom

Workshop Participants' Wisdom

Prior to the 2011 workshop, we invited participants to share their wisdom with their colleagues, based on their experience. Here's their advice for other early career faculty members about time management or work-life balance and for graduate students and post-docs about the academic job search process.

On work-life balance:

  • I think what helped me balancing my personal and professional life was to schedule activities such as: date night, girls' night, gym date, me day, etc. Once I saw those in my calendar I actually looked forward to those activities and planned my schedule around each activity. Honestly, [...] even 2 hours was more than enough to feel great! I think one important thing I am continually learning is that without time for myself I am not as efficient and focused as I can be.
  • Make sure you build in time EVERY DAY for yourself, on some level. Also, give yourself at least one day off (at times this may not be possible, but try to make it a habit) during each week. This really allows you to unwind and relax, which helps you re-focus and have a clean slate at the start of each new day. Make sure the time for yourself does not involve anything related to work... read a fiction novel, play a game, take a walk, cook something, watch tv, go out to dinner, etc. If you do not make time for yourself on a daily scale, it will catch up with you at some point, which can lead to severe stress or burn-out. Always keep yourself balanced!
  • Always plan your play time first. Then when you work, you know that you have to accomplish as much as you can because you have a scheduled activity that you cannot miss.
  • I try to remind myself that I can't help my students if I am not taking care of myself, as well.
  • My husband left a good job to go on a Fulbright with me and then to move across the country for my tenure track position. My first semester I had a heavy teaching load and found that I could easily fill 12+ hrs/day, 7 days a week with all the work I had to do. By spring break he had had enough and we had to consult about a solution. In the end I work about 10 hrs a day on weekdays but only in the afternoon on weekends and often not at all on Sunday. I get home by 5 (yes, that means I am usually at work by 7) and that has helped a lot. Eventually he got a part time job at a bike shop and so I can get more hours of work in on days that he is working later, but I am always home by the time he gets home. I don't know if our marriage could have survived otherwise.

On time management:

  • When allocating time for any task, multiply your estimate by three.
  • Teaching is deadline-based and will happen no matter what (class time is coming!), but research needs to be actively done.

On the job search process:

Choosing a focus for your job search

  • Take your time to search for the best type of job for you. Get as much teaching experience as possible, including teaching your own full classes, if you think you might be interested in a career in teaching. Do internships with companies if you think you might like to go into industry. Nothing can beat personal experience in these areas and building your experiences will give you a better foundation for whatever job you choose in the end.

Navigating the job search process as part of a dual career couple

  • Be aware that compromises are always necessary, and determine what kind of compromises you and your partner are willing to make. Make sure you know what goals are critical to each partner's well-being and which are subject to negotiation. You're unlikely to get the perfect pair of offers, but it's often possible to get something both of you can work and be happy with.
  • First off, do not believe anyone in administration when they say that if you take the position they are *certain* something will be available for your spouse after you arrive. Once you have signed your contract, they have no incentive to help your spouse find a position and by the time you arrive, they have already forgotten your spouse. Next, it really is important for your long-term well-being that both you and your partner have positions that you find personally and professionally fulfilling. Don't kid yourselves that it isn't important. You have both worked hard and want to be rewarded for that. Simply trying to create a position for one of you through soft funding, while the other is gainfully employed, is really difficult when you are just starting out as a new PhD. Simply put, it is not enjoyable for one of you to be a "great" position while the other struggles day after day. If you can only find a position for one of you and you have few other options, then take it but be open to continuing your search and possibly having to leave the position you are in. I can tell you that once you are in a position and you are doing well, then most places won't want to lose you because it costs money to open a new search. You can use this as leverage to get your partner a position in your current institution, especially if your new option is a dual career one. Do not - I repeat - Do not let on that you are going to ask for dual career accommodation during your interview. Wait until you have an offer. When you have an offer in hand, then you have far more leverage because it is their job to convince you to come to them. Be willing to possibly give up a little in some areas of your negotiation to make it easier for them to accommodate your spouse. Look at the institution offering you a position and try to determine if they have a history of accommodating dual careers. Was the trailing spouse able to get a tenure track position? Are they willing to put you in contact with other people at the institution who were dual career hires? It took us four attempts to find a situation where both my husband and I were in full-time positions that we felt were moving our careers forward. Prior to our final win-win situation, we were at an institution where he was half-time doing research and I was in a non-tenure track position. Emotionally, it was a bit depressing because we both had worked so hard for so long, but were now quite unhappy. We kept searching and were willing to take "baby steps" until we finally found a place where we could both pursue teaching and research in our respective fields. Finally, don't assume that larger institutions (like R1 schools) are more likely to accommodate your dual career status. We actually found that smaller schools were more likely to work with us.


  • Be relaxed! I figured that I wasn't going to get the job I currently have or even take it if I did (it's in the midwest and I didn't realize that my husband actually would have good employment opportunities here). So I was really relaxed at my interview and had an attitude of "I'll meet interesting people and visit a new school and hopefully have fun." That helped SO much to calm me down and I had a great time. I discovered that I love the school and department and that I am a good fit for their program. I love the job and am thrilled that I took it.
  • Learn as much as you can about the institution you will be visiting and build on that knowledge during the interview. Connect courses you teach and research proposals to local areas and issues. Suggest specific ways in which you would fit into their program and community, as well ways in which their program is a good fit for you. If you enjoy your visit, tell them so in a detailed thank you letter that makes reference to specific things that you enjoyed and specific ways in which you think the position would be a good fit for you and them. Make it clear that you are interested in this particular position, not just any position. In the process, you will help them envision you as part of their program.
  • Prepare your talk content at the level requested (i.e. undergraduates vs. specialists) and make sure you do not go over time!
  • I found a couple of strategies useful for the interviewing process. One was to research the school and the people I was interviewing with heavily. It helped me make more informed conversation during the interviewing process. The second strategy was to have a short list of 3-4 questions for every single person I was to interview individually with during the on-campus visit. Typically every person will ask if you have any questions for them and actually having 1 or 2 makes you appear interested while helping you learn more about the job.
  • It helps to do your homework on the department where you are interviewing - have a good idea about how you will fit in, what niche you'd fill, how you might complement what is there and what you'd bring that is new (in both research and teaching). For the interview talk, show the breadth of your work and highlight the variety of your skills and approaches you have as well as how productive you have been. Furthermore, articulate the broad theme(s) that guide your work and hint where/how you are growing and expanding from your grad/postdoc work.
  • When interviewing for a job you are both trying to impress and looking to be impressed. Show that you are sincere about the opportunities presented by dressing up. I know geologist-types are often casual, but dressing up (a suit is a good idea) shows that you take the job opportunity seriously and that you can act and look like a professional when needed. Pay attention to how the faculty interact with you and with each other. Everyone is typically on best behavior during an interview but you need to find out whether there are problem areas. Asking pointed questions about department interactions and collegiality is important to your future happiness. Be sure to ask questions. Questions show that you are interested in the position and that you have done your research and want to know more about the possibilities at a particular job (yes, this means you'll have to do your research about the institution and/or department!). The search committee often sets interviews schedules, but if you feel something is missing (like a department tour, or time with the students) then you should ask the committee to amend your schedule. If the committee is unwilling to do this, then that may be a red flag but most search committees are happy to see that you are interested enough in them to request more information/time in specific areas. Thank-you notes (or e-mails) are a nice way to acknowledge the time the committee members put in to planning your visit and making sure you were comfortable. While these probably won't change the committee members' minds, they are a nice touch and certainly don't hurt.
  • When I interviewed for my current position, the interview went extremely well. I believe it was because I spent a significant amount of time preparing. I investigated the current faculty members and was familiar with their specialities so that I would have something meaningful to discuss with them when we met one-on-one. I also had a detailed start-up list (with costs) prepared to discuss with the department chair so that it was clear I knew what I would need. For my teaching demo, I also incorporated some unique teaching activities. These types of details help make you a more memorable, attractive candidate for the job.

Deciding whether a specific job offer is a good fit for you

  • After a five year stint in a well-known research institution in my field, I thought I needed to invigorate my career. I wanted to teach (and I missed the university setting) so I decided to open up my options and be mindful for any university position which fits my expertise (obviously after my wife gave me the go signal).

Negotiating your contract

  • Start ups at liberal arts colleges are increasing. I didn't really have good advising in grad school about what to ask for, so I went out on a limb and asked for a bunch of stuff, including an expensive machine. I got everything I asked for but forgot to put in travel and a student research assistant. Still, I got a lot more money than I expected from a small undergraduate college. Don't be scared to ask for more start up!
  • Do your homework. Talk to other recent hires when you interview. Assess relative cost of living. Obtain pay scales. Negotiate hard for your start-up, moving expenses etc., and teaching load.
  • Always negotiate your contract. There is usually some wiggle-room and it doesn't hurt to ask!
  • The bottom line here is not to be afraid to ask for what you think you will need to fulfill your job, whether it be research, teaching, or both (personal terms are also vital, so be careful to discuss these with the individual you are negotiating with). Of course, asking for what you need isn't the same thing as getting what you need, so don't be unrealistic, but it informs the Chair/Dean of the true requirements you believe you need to perform at the levels they expect of you. So be practical, but at the same time, don't sell yourself short. I found it useful to write a list of things I needed for constructing a functional laboratory/to move to San Diego. I obtained quotes from vendors for important pieces of equipment that I needed in the lab, and got estimates for other consumable low-cost items, to get a grand total. Some pieces of equipment are way too expensive even for the most well-funded of institutions to fund in a start-up package, so that's where you need to request matching funds for such items. It was already clear how much teaching was expected of me, so I didn't need to ask about that, but if it isn't clear, make sure it is transparent by the time you sign the contract. Ultimately, the institutions (should) want you to succeed, so are not looking for a 'value for money' hire - they want you to be a valuable asset. If it is not apparent from your contractual negotiations that the institution is seeking to make you as comfortable as possible with your contract, then keep applying for jobs!