Getting jobs through the back door

Warning: this post is written in an empty lab because all my colleagues left for the Society for Neuroscience meeting. Since I am too pregnant to attempt going to such a large meeting that is an uncomfortably long flight away, I am still in the lab. In the meantime, I can’t help but worry about whether I will find grant money and/or a job before we move back to the homecountry next year. So then you know why this post is kind of ranty.

Every now and then I check the websites of some of the institutes and universities in my homecountry, to see what happens there. And more often than I would like, I will see that someone who used to be a post-doc in one of the groups, then moved up to become a group leader in the same university or institute. Good for that person, you would think. But wait a minute, how did they get there? Was there a vacancy for a position that they applied for? Most of the time the answer is no. Most of the time, these people get promoted within the institute or university. Why does this happen? Because they are there and people know what they’re capable of? Because they are friends with the people who make those decisions? Because it’s easier for the institute to just hire someone than to have a search? I don’t know. Perhaps a combination of those reasons. What I do know is that it makes it hard to find a job if you don’t already have a foot in the door, because there are rarely any advertised jobs for anything higher than post-doc positions. I know this is not specific to my homecountry, but actually happens in many European countries, which explains the lack of mobility of researchers between European countries. As you might expect, I think this system kind of sucks.

Alright, I got that off my chest, now I can go back to work. Enjoy SfN and keep me updated on who filled their SfN Bingo cards first!!



Filed under academia, cultural differences, finding a job, life in the lab

7 responses to “Getting jobs through the back door

  1. In America, this is usually seen as a good thing outside of academia! Companies that promote from within are seen as valuing their workers, investing in their future. They're better to work for, because to get a promotion, you don't HAVE to be a nomad.

    Why should academia be different?

  2. Yes I think you have a point, and it's nice if you're in to have a secure (sort of) job. However, on the other hand people say that it is encouraged to do a post-doc elsewhere, but nobody seems to mention that that makes it a lot harder to come back. I would be very annoyed if coming to the US for more research experience in the end has me ending up with no job, while people who stayed do have a job.

  3. Yes! Trying to travel between the two systems is very difficult. And it can be in both directions. But harder, I think to go from the open-nomadic structure back to a closed vertical promotion system than vice versa.

  4. Amy

    Had no idea about this sort of thing until I crossed the pond. It isn't so extreme in Sweden, where all official positions need to be advertised. But rather the current system seems to be a strong reaction to avoid apparent nepotism. Still there seem to be soft money positions that happen something like you describe. I hope our switching systems doesn't leave us out cold in the end!

  5. I think it can be less overt in Sweden (talking from exprience) and yes, the positions have to be advertised and applied for but there is a bias – both in the writing of the ad and the “which candidate fits the research profile”. Then there is that magic “it only has to be posted for like 5 days…. to be legal”. All in all though, I guess it is better than other place – although not perfect?

  6. I think this is pretty much what I gathered when I was looking into going back from my post-doc. The discrepancy between “you should go abroad for a post doc” and “you have a n easier time getting a TT if you are staying at your old department”. It would be better if it was more honest.

    I think the key thing would be to have a plan _before_ going on the post doc and then have a half and half promise/grant written with old prof to come back.

    The ones I know who has left home country and gone back after post doc have all of them had a home country grant when they left, and then gotten more home country grants while away and then coming back with offers to “stay for a year or so”. that said, one of them had to leave afer two years back since there was no more money (he went to industry in other european country).

    Me? I just didn't cultivate the old research collegues from my graduate department since there just wasn't that kind of love at the time and therefore I left the TT hunt after my post doc…. sorry and hope i'm not a downer. And have you looked into Marie Curie grants? They have special ones for “returning home” post docs. Esp. women.

  7. Thanks for your comment. I'm actually waiting to hear back from a Marie Curie fellowship. The only crappy thing there is that they only pay for about half your salary for 3 years. So even getting this grant will not guarantee me a job… (although it will make it easier to get people to hire me).

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