As I prepare to move off to TTT for my new faculty position, I’ve started fielding questions from fellow postdocs and even a few grad students regarding how I did it. Oh, I’ve come up with some great answers: network! publish! write grants! take control of your career! But to be honest, I’m really not sure how I did it. The past couple of years, I tried just about everything to gain some traction. I listened to the advice of great bloggers and IRL mentors alike, and continually worked to improve my application package. I consistently put myself out there, sending emails to touch base with faculty I met at a conference or at my current MRU. I honed my sales pitch by participating in MRU-wide poster sessions, chalk-talking some of my departmental seminars, and chatting with local faculty about my project and future research plans. Yet I came up empty time and time again.
So what actually turned the tide? Maybe it was the Skype video interview with my future chair, for which I wore no pants due to a pumping incident minutes before the call. It certainly wasn’t the awkward fall because I was running (in new heels – bad idea) to keep up with a fast-walking faculty during my first live interview. No, my victory was a combination of my work and message, a little bit of luck, and a fuck-ton of persistence. When all seemed hopeless, I resolved to continue my research in any capacity I could, regardless of my prospect for tenure. I love my project dearly, and as long as I had the opportunity to write grants, I knew I would continue to push forward. I would have to be dragged from my science kicking and screaming, and I’d find an abandoned lab space in which to squat if necessary. (Fortunately, I was granted the opportunity to conduct myself with a tad bit more dignity.) As this same brand of persistence will be required throughout my career, it’s probably the best kind of hurdle for becoming a junior prof.
So that’s my advice. Think of why you’re doing science, decide if you love it enough to do it under a bridge, and, if you really want it, keep putting your nose to the grindstone. Ignore your preconceived notions of what your career in academic science should look like; instead, forge your own path. Do whatever you have to (and can) do to make it work. Will there be trade-offs? You better believe it, and only you can determine which ones are worth it. In my opinion, THAT’s where the line is drawn, and nobody else can tell you how, if, and when to cross it.