The transition from a PhD candidate to a professor can often be a daunting one, with the academic job search being notoriously competitive. Alan Weatherwax, a Dartmouth Graduate alum and Professor of Physics at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, recently spoke with current graduate students to share his own experiences working in academia.
As a professor and associate dean who frequently leads academic search committees within his department, Weatherwax often reads hundreds of applications for just one open position. He stressed the importance of showcasing research abilities through postdoctoral positions along with teaching abilities. According to Weatherwax, one of the most desirable attributes for a potential candidate is the ability to engage undergraduate students on a variety of levels.
While having TA experience is a plus, having independently taught at least one class is highly desirable. In addition to developing teaching skills, Weatherwax stressed the necessity of becoming adept at applying for grants. Even at small liberal arts colleges, the ability to finance your own research is key. According to Weatherwax, being a grant recipient is one of the best ways to solidify the path to a tenure track position.
Many newly minted PhDs often only consider positions at large research universities, but this is not the only alternative. Weatherwax spoke of the advantages of working at a smaller school. Having gone from a position at a large public university to a smaller private university, Weatherwax is now currently the Associate Dean of Science at Siena. In addition to increased grants and other funding from such agencies as the NSF and NIH, smaller undergraduate-focused schools generally offer more opportunities to actually teach and interact with students on a personal level.
When deciding between positions at different schools, Weatherwax also noted that it is important to ask for the guidelines for tenure in order to understand exactly what the expectations are. While salaries are typically hard to negotiate at this stage, it is possible to negotiate other aspects, such as lab space or the number of classes you are required to teach.
For more information on postdoctoral career options, visit the Graduate Studies Career Page.
by Erin O’Flaherty