Teach the Earth > Early Career > Previous Workshops > Workshop 2012 > Participants' Wisdom

Workshop Participants' Wisdom

Prior to the 2012 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 do not take work home with me. I find I must make the clear distinction that work is done at work, and my home life is completely separate from my work life. I also clear off my desk at the end of the day. A clean desk every morning helps me focus on what I need to do over the course of the day without clutter first thing in the morning.
  • I have three kids and my wife has a non-science job. Although our schedules can be hectic, I think the time constraints encourage me to be more efficient in how I use my time and more selective about the projects I decide to become involved with. I try my best to set aside social time (beers) with colleagues and students but do this at most once a week so that I have enough time to spend with the family. I'd like to take the kids into the field when they're older to show them more about what I do for a living and to have fun with them in the outdoors.
  • Create a routine that incorporates the most essential responsibilities within each major aspect of your life (self, work, family etc.). Revise the routine periodically, especially when the circumstances of life change (finance, promotion, health, new or growing family etc.). Leave some time for the reflection, spirituality (if so inclined), rest, and the restoration of energy. Let others know that you are not available 24/7, even though technology allows it.
  • I think that the most important thing that I have learned is that staring blankly at your computer screen waiting for the grand epiphany to come is a poor use of time, particularly if your only reason for performing that action is to alleviate the guilt of not working on something. One has to give themselves the grace to have a life, instead of allowing work stress to dictate your life. While this is something I am sure will always be an ongoing struggle as demands change, ultimately allowing yourself to pursue other interests with some time away gives you perspective to overcome that unproductive gaze into the vacant void of your monitor.

On time management:

  • Don't work on creating your class from the first lecture to the last. Otherwise, time will fly and you'll only have half of your lectures created by the time classes start. Create key lectures that you know you want to "get right" first, then fill in the rest.
  • My department chair recommended that I schedule several blocks of "research time" per week on my online schedule. Once I did this, I found that I was able to actually focus on research during those hours because I got much fewer requests for meetings. People using the online scheduler saw those hours as "busy" and scheduled meetings more at my convenience.
  • I have found the transition from postdoc to faculty member can be frustrating at times. My days and weeks to spend in the lab working on experiments no longer exist. I also found that I could spend endless amounts of time preparing my lectures. I realized I had to force myself to schedule blocks of time during the week dedicated to lab work (or training students), writing grants and papers, and even course prep time. Finding the right balance is still a work in progress but this has helped me to keep a level of production beyond my lectures.
  • I'm still learning how to manage my time by trial and error. I teach a 4/4 course load, so much of my time during the semester is taken by teaching courses, office hours, meetings, and impromptu visits from students and faculty. However, a few tips I read in a book that have worked well for me from the start and were to establish your absence from the beginning and be judicious about volunteering for committee work. For the person in the book, establishing her absence was spending one day a week at another location (research lab) to focus on research away from other colleagues and students. For me, it has been working at home for the first few hours of every day before going into work around 10-11am and starting to schedule classes back-to-back (but only for classes you have taught before). This has allowed me to have uninterrupted blocks of time when I am fresh to write papers, reports, and course prep. Although it sounds crude and requires that you have some control over your schedule, it does seem to work. Finally, I do not volunteer for service activities unless I think I will enjoy it AND it fulfills a greater purpose. As a new faculty, you must be careful about volunteering your time since you will be assigned enough service as it is in due time.
  • Focus on the most important and interesting things for you. Give full play to your strength and skill.
  • Understanding yourself is necessary to be able to manage your time effectively. Are you a morning person, someone who works best at night, or in the afternoon. Assign those difficult or most challenging tasks to be done during that period of time. Allow yourself to take rest periods, take a break, walk for 15 minutes outside, exercise, read a book. These rest periods can be invaluable to maintaining your productivity for a longer period of time, either daily or weekly. I have found that I am a morning person (get to work at 6:30-7:00ish). I complete a preliminary "to do" list the night before and place each item in a priority listing. This helps me to accomplish that which is most important first. I have also found that down-time is so valuable. Rest the mind, engage in conversation, rest–and do not allow yourself to feel guilty. Intellectual work can be exhausting. Finally, allow yourself some exercise time, even if it just stretching, to help your body maintain itself.
  • I try to set aside some time every day to work on my current writing project, usually a paper or a proposal. Early morning works best for me. That way I've made progress on my research even before I get to the office.
  • I have found that I need to start planning my classes way in advance. I have benefited greatly from starting my lectures months in advance, whenever I might have a free moment. This gives me more time to reflect on my course material and fix problems. It also means that I am not panicking and trying to create lectures at the last minute.

On the job search process:

Choosing a focus for your job search

  • If you got out of your PhD and still loved your topic of research, you should target a research based university. If you took for ever to graduate because you spent your time coming up with new ways to teach labs, etc as a TA, and loved it, you might want to target a primarily teaching college of 4-year undergraduate institution.
  • Instead of applying for every job you can find, you should focus on jobs that appear to fit your research and teaching strengths/interests. If you do not know what those are, you must figure that out before applying because your lack of clarity and purpose will come through in your application packet or phone interview (should you get that far). Putting strong effort into the initial application packet (which MUST be changed for every position you apply for to fit the position) will pay off if you are qualified since usually over half the applicants are applying to the wrong position for them anyway using generic application materials they use everywhere. Although I'm sure there was some luck involved considering jobs were scarce when I applied, I got the first job I applied for because I knew the research and teaching description of the position fit me perfectly. I also changed my standard application packet to fit the position. I did not waste my time applying for jobs where my expertise was at the fringes of what they were looking for or where the courses and teaching load were not what I was wanting (of which there were many). After having served on a search committee for a new faculty this year, I realize even further the importance of not blindly applying to positions and tailoring your application materials to the position. It increases your chances of getting a phone interview exponentially (since your chances otherwise are essentially zero).

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

  • It is important to be forthcoming about your situation early in the hiring process. Convince the Department that you are not a two-body "problem" but a two-body "asset" - you both bring individual qualities and are more likely to stay at a University where both of you have positions!


  • Before a job interview, I was advised to prepare a very detailed plan for the next 5 years of my research career (including actual grants I will write, # of publications expected and where the will be submitted, planned collaborations, etc). I actually prepared powerpoint slides with this info, and it turned out to be an invaluable exercise. I actually used these slides in talking with the interview committee. I was told after I got the job offer that this preparation gave me an edge over several candidates.
  • One of the most important parts of interviewing is doing your homework. If you are applying for an academic position, look up the faculty members in the department. Read a paper (or at least abstracts) to get to know what type of work they are doing. Know what facilities are available at the university and with whom you may collaborate. This will set you apart from other interviewees and show that you have thought hard about whether or not the job is right for you. Also, remember to follow up after your interview!
  • Prepare for the interview. Prepare for the interview. Prepare for the interview! I cannot stress this enough. For a phone interview, you need to use a solid connection (i.e., land line and NOT a cell phone) near a computer with internet access as a crutch if needed to refresh yourself on faculty, curriculum, etc. For the phone interview, you should know who all the faculty are and what they do in a basic sense, especially for those that most closely overlap your expertise (if any exist). This will allow you to quickly assess who is interviewing you at the beginning when introductions are made. In addition, you should know how your research will fit into the department as it CURRENTLY exists and have an idea of what courses you would want to teach and/or create (which you should only share if asked). You should also have a list of 2-5 questions you want to ask at the end of the phone interview that will convey your interest in the position and provide answers on things you are not clear on. Send a thank you email to the search committee chair (and if you can remember, the rest of the panel) in a timely fashion by email after it is over. On-campus interviews start the moment you are picked up until the moment you are dropped off, so remain professional at all times including times that seem less formal. Make sure you are given an itinerary ahead of time that lets you know when you are speaking and who you are speaking with so you can have a list of more specialized questions to ask each person. Finally, be very gracious throughout the interview process and thank the search committee chair and people you met again in a timely fashion by email.
  • Write thank-you notes! Having been on both sides of the hiring process, these go a long way, especially personalized!
  • Preparing your job talk is very important. Do not put together a job talk at the last minute. The talk should be taken seriously. It is your time to show your stuff. Plan to practice your talk multiple times and in front of people who know your topic and people who don't know your topic. Your talk should be understood by everyone in the room so make sure you know your audience. You should wear professional clothes. You should read over the department website to be aware of faculty research, student research, courses being taught, field trips being run, etc. Make sure you have something to talk about with everyone in the department. Always send out a thank you email to the faculty for taking the time to interview you.
  • When I was interviewing for jobs, a friend sent me an article that argued the worst advice you could give an academic preparing for a job interview is to "be yourself." I think the author was trying to say that, as academics, we are very aware of all of our potential pitfalls and weaknesses, especially in our research endeavors. Therefore, we may be the first to point out those caveats and weaknesses. However, thats not what you want to do in an interview. I think the article had some good really good points, but I would like to put a different spin on it. I think that in the interview process you need to think about being the "best version of yourself". I noticed that I had a tendency to reply to every interview question by demeaning my accomplishments before talking about what I actually did. For example, when someone asked how I would deal with students cheating on an exam, I started by saying "Well, Ive never been the sole instructor for a class, but..." There was no reason to start my response that way. I simply could have started with what I would actually do in that situation and bring up examples of how I dealt with it as a TA. The best advice I got while practicing for interviews was to start with a positive statement and put a positive enthusiastic light on everything. For example, if someone asks you about a small research project that you did on the side, rather than saying "well it was just a small project that wasnt related to my dissertation," talk about what you did find exciting/interesting about the project and how it complemented your primary research interests. Another example is when someone points out a potential weakness of your research analysis/interpretation. All you need to say in response is, "yes, that is a really good point, which is why the next step in this research is to address that potential confounding factor. However, these results are still significant because..." You do not need to say "yes, that is a major problem with these results." In order to be the best version of yourself, you may have to "turn up the volume" on your personality. I tend to be shy and reserved and don't always ask questions as soon as they come to mind. But in the interview process, when you are trying to show who you are and how you think, you may need to go against your initial reservations and speak up and ask questions. Asking what you think might be a somewhat basic question demonstrates that you are engaged an interested. Your potential future colleagues want to know that you are someone who they can bounce ideas off of and with whom they can have an engaging conversation. By turning up the volume, you are still being true to who you are, but you may have to make a point of outwardly showing that more than you are normally comfortable with doing.

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

  • When deciding whether a job offer is good for you it is imperative you prioritize what it is that is essentially important to you at this point in your life that will positively influence your future and, most importantly, can you commit to what you plan to accomplish by taking the job.
  • Something to strongly consider is whether a particular opportunity will allow you to develop as both a teacher and a researcher. Where does existing faculty see their particular department in five to ten years time? Is there considerable variation in this answer to this question amongst those you meet over the course of your interview? A department (and administration) with a definitive plan has likely given these thoughts ample consideration and has a clear understanding of how they see your position meeting their goals. This will also likely factor into how much support you receive along the way.

Negotiating your contract

  • It is almost always much easier to negotiate startup than salary, and focusing on that will convey to the those hiring that you are more interested in having the tools you need to succeed at their institution than having more money for yourself. If you are interviewing at a PUI (particularly in a state that has intense budgetary constraints), there will be virtually no room to negotiate on salary and possibly little room to negotiate on startup. Pushing too hard on this may cause you to lose a job to another candidate, so only negotiate hard in these cases if you are willing to walk away.
  • Put together a startup justification document. I specifically outlined my research objectives and then created a budget for what I needed to build my lab and how I planned to spend it. Also, be sure to include an amount for "maintenance" as a line item in your budget. The dean of my college agreed to the amount I asked for, even though it was beyond my expectation. I think this was because I very clearly specified what I needed.

Navigating the job search process as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person

  • There are no easy answers here, and it will be different for different people depending on how comfortable they are with their sexuality. At most institutions, there will be a healthy amount of GLBT faculty and staff, even in places you may not expect. Thus, I would apply for positions in any location you are willing to work without this in mind initially. I personally have kept my sexuality somewhat private, typically only sharing it with close friends and colleagues I develop trust in over time. I do not think it is a good idea to come out from the beginning in the application and interview process unless it is something that is very important to you (which again will change depending on the person). Having said this, I would do your homework on the area if you get an interview and try to talk to 1-2 faculty members you meet during the interview process and think can trust about whether they think that will be an issue or not there. Picking a faculty member you can trust is difficult unless someone is clearly GLBTA-friendly, but for gay people it is probably least intimidating if it is a member of the opposite sex. I did let one person know during my interview process which allowed me to ask a few more difficult questions, and the responses I got ware very helpful and allowed me to feel much more comfortable about the situation. Most likely, it will not be a problem but it is a good thing to find out before accepting a job. If it is important to you and you sense asking about it would be a problem, then that should tell you all you need to know.