27 and a PhD

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Peoplez of the Internetz and the Twitterz, I need your halp

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.


February 2011
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Based on that title you can tell I look at way too many LOLcats at all times of the day. But what I am about to ask is serious, no, seriously, it is serious. It’s about my future, about my way to stay in academia (somewhat) while not being a postdoc or a prof.


Halp a fellow LOLperson

You know of my struggles to feel competent, to look for a job, to stay or leave academic science, etc. An opportunity has presented itself… and in about two weeks I’ll be interviewing at a cutting-edge core lab where good, solid science is done. It is also in a very desirable area of the US (I’m probably going back; I’ve tried applying to jobs in Canada but the market is slow and it seems to be twice as hard to find the kind of job I want here in Canada). The group is ginormous and serves a good chuck of institutions and departments. I’m very excited, but since this isn’t technically an academic job, I have no idea how to prepare for it. They will ask questions about my former field and my expertise and experience and pretty much all the projects that ever came in contact with my hands. They will also ask me about my postdoc project and my current results (which aren’t publication material yet, but exciting stuff is happening on my end too). I’m guessing that I should prepare as if this was a “normal” job interview, but of course it’s in science, so I have some elements of academic-type stuff present. This is for an associate something something staff position, like a cross between a lab tech and a postdoc, with better benefits. So, my question is … do you have any tips you can share if you’ve ever interviewed for a staff (non-faculty) position? I’ve checked Dr. Becca’s super awesome TT aggregator (go check it out, it’s fantastic!) and some of the stuff I know because it was very similar to stuff I experienced while interviewing for grad school and the postdoc. But, I have no clue as to what to expect in terms of the type of interview (though I’ve been told I will meet with a couple of staff and faculty members to learn more about their projects and the kind of person they’re looking for), questions, what to ask them, etc. Is it still fair or expected to ask for an interview itinerary in advance? Is it frowned upon? What things do committees of PIs and staff people look for in a colleague? What are your dos and don’ts? Any particular advice on handling why I’m returning to the field and how come I was successful in my former field but haven’t had the same luck in the current one? I think I know some of the answers, but it’s been a while since I’ve interviewed for something other than an internship or school/study position. I will give a 60min talk and I will meet with other faculty and staff members of pretty nice institution. But I’m wondering how I should prepare, as far as fair and necessary questions, what if I’m asked to give a ballpark figure for my salary (I have checked glassdoor.com and have clues, but it’s usually for a senior scientist position, not a junior-like person such as me). What sorts of questions should I expect? It would be super helpful if some of my TT tweeps could pitch in some ideas and tips, as they have probably interviewed peeps in my position before.

Any and all help is greatly appreciated! I hope that if this job search/interview season goes well I can write-up a similar aggregator as Dr. Becca’s for non-faculty, staff peeps.


  1. Cherish says:

    I’m not in the best position to say, but make sure you can talk in great detail about the past projects you’ve done as well as their importance.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr Becca, PhD and hapsci, 29 and a PhD. 29 and a PhD said: So, dear tweeps, friends and family alike, I need your HALP! Please 😦 : http://wp.me/pwp2S-du […]

  3. Kate says:

    I’m a grad student, not a PI, but this is how we do things when we’re interviewing research staff. This is a research position, right? If not, this may not apply. Actually, it might not apply at all, I have no idea how other labs do things.

    The interview usually consists of longer meetings with the PI and possibly other PIs, short meetings with lab staff/postdocs/students who are doing related work, and a seminar by the interviewee. The lab members can answer questions about what projects they’re working on, how things work in the lab/department, what the city is like (if you’re not familiar with it), etc. The meetings might be more or less formal (I’ve seen both) but I don’t think you should expect classic interview-type questions like “describe how you solved a problem with XYZ” or “what kind of car are you?” I think your previous internship/postdoc interviews are probably pretty similar to what you experienced.

    The schedule of things tends to be pretty fluid. I don’t think it would be out of line to ask for an itinerary, but it might not be totally accurate. At least, you should be able to get a list of who you’re meeting with.

    Can’t comment on salary stuff, I don’t know how that works.

    Good luck!

    • Dr. 29 says:

      Yes, Kate, it’s for a research staff position, so thank you so much for your pointers :-). Your input and knowledge is much appreciated and some of the stuff you mention is similar to how my PhD lab interviews used to be, both for students and staff, so I feel some relief. Thanks again and your answer is very, very helpful.

  4. Shells says:

    I just found your blog and I love it. Sometimes PhD/science life blogs throw me over the ledge, but I haven’t gotten that feeling from yours!

    Maybe because I understand that science can and will be a bitch as much as possible, but I keep going back for more, even thought I wonder why.

    Maybe it’s because you don’t make grad school and postdoc-ing look like sunshine and daisies if it’s not.

    You just seem really REAL and up front and pretty dang awesome. And I’m going to go follow you on Twitter, too!

    In terms of what to prepare for, I would best guess (zero experience on my end) to know your own work inside and out and anything that relates your work to their facility. I think it’s totally fair to ask what you’re in for during your interview… If it’s minor meetings with other staff members, hooray. If it’s department chair meetings or you have to give a seminar, it would be really nice to be able to prepare accordingly with appropriate questions or topics of discussion.

    Good luck!

    • Dr. 29 says:

      AWESOME! Thanks. Your tips and suggestions are much appreciated. I’m glad you liked the blog. Yes, I didn’t know at the very start of this blog what I was getting myself into, but I’m glad that peeps like you have found it, and like it, and read it and understand that it’s not a bed of roses, and that when rewards come they are uber welcomed, but some (in my case, most, lately) days aren’t. Thanks for your input and for visiting 🙂

  5. Gena says:

    I think it’s perfectly fair to ask for an itinerary in advance, or at least to ask who you’ll be interviewing with. They may not give you an answer in time to prepare, but I don’t think it would be considered bad form to ask.

    This is the first time I’ve visited your blog, so I don’t know what your postdoc interview was like, but I imagine this interview will be somewhat the same. I’d be prepared for the basic questions from the interviewers, with the addition of some of those “where do you see yourself in 5 years” type questions if the position you’re interviewing for has room for advancement.

    As for you, I’d say be sure to ask if you’ll be overseeing others, working with others, who you’ll be working under. Also make sure you know what type of hours will be expected from you. And it’s always fair to ask people how they like working there!

    Sorry for the novel, I hope something in there was helpful! Good luck!

  6. You make it hard to answer you ask so many questions! First, I interviewed for a staff position, not faculty. I still wanted to be in academia but a PI position wasn’t for me. First of all, know the place your interviewing for. Know what they do and how you can contribute to what they do. Ask questions about THEM. Highlight how the skills you have and what you know will advance what they are doing and contribute to their “mission.” And relax. You know your stuff. Go in there confident.

    We can talk more if you want. Just email me.

    Sounds like we have had a lot of the same concerns. I’m now doing more and more research but it’s still a staff position. And I’m perfectly happy with where I’m at.


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