27 and a PhD

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Delicate issue

Dear All:

Thanks again for your continued support. Words cannot describe how your collective wisdom has helped me while this whole process of finding, applying and finally interviewing for jobs has unfolded.

As always, I have questions, and would like to know what are your thoughts regarding a delicate matter. It concerns contacting my interviewers and asking whether or not they’re still interested in me. I don’t know what’s the etiquette here and would love some perspective. Leave a comment, tweet, DM me or shoot me an email, I’d love to know your opinion. So here we go.

When I got accepted to college I had only applied to two schools, both within the same state university system and I was pretty sure I’d get into one of them, and my department/major of choice as I had the grades and the scores to get in. I got accepted into my top choice, which automatically made me unavailable to the second school within the system (some complicated something, which tells the system that I’ve been accepted and took the offer from school #1). When I applied to my first summer internship, I only applied to one school, which luckily said yes. When I applied for my second internship I applied to 3 systems, 2 schools separately and then an umbrella application which covered applications for 5 other schools. When I was accepted at the separate schools I notified my final one by email and I called them second one. I never heard from the umbrella one. And finally, for grad school, I got letters of rejection from 5-6 of the 7-8 schools I applied, and I called the recruiting officer of the one I declined to notify. All the schools and programs had a date set by which to send acceptance letters and such, and all were very similar, so I felt no pressure to tell a school to hold their breath until I got an offer from another school. I’ve never had to deal with negotiation, and pulling strings and complicated things to tell a school or PI to hold their horses until I’ve considered all offers. I’ve never really had many offers/options to consider.

But, with this job application cycle things have changed. As I mentioned on my earlier entry, I applied to a total of 5 jobs within my area of expertise and got a call from most of them. I also applied to 60 or so other jobs in more general areas, most outside of my expertise, from computer admin, to editor of this or that, to administrative assistant (for real, I was that desperate to get out of my postdoc), to a whole other number of places which I forget. Needless to say, out of those 60 or so non-PhD or postdoc-related are job apps I got a call for one place soon after applying, but it was just a screening call and never materialized. On this more recent cycle I got calls from 2 schools in the States (one in the South, one in the Midwest), a centre in the Northeast, a patent-something something at my current school, and a job in the arctic, near Rainbow Lake, AB (it exists, for realz peeps; no, I’m not going to RL, but it’s darn close to it). Soooooo. Rainbow Lake place has made a very tempting offer. I normally wouldn’t even consider the other two places … but I am. It may be my ego or my 6th sense at play, or both, I don’t know. Or maybe that’s just how I’m wired. Partly because I’m a coward that in some way wants to go back to the familiarity of the US and partly because … well, Rainbow Lake is in the arctic I have my doubts about accepting this offer, or saying yes without factoring in the other two places … if there’s anything to factor. There’s a shit-load of snow at Rainbow Lake and y’all know how much snow et moi don’t get along. Although it’s in the Taiga, it’s supposed to be drier than it is here, and they have both good and bad winters. I’ve been searching everything and anything about this place, and honestly, it looks amazing, and I can picture hon and I living there. I think I’d like it there. It’s not as glam as the location in the Northeast and of course it would take me forever to get to see my family, especially during the holidays. The locations where I interviewed in person (the South and Northeast locations, S and NE respectively) were very nice, and good, solid science is done there … but I did notice a couple of things which worried me a bit, including one of the PIs.

Like I said, I normally wouldn’t hesitate in saying yes to Rainbow Lake, but it’s so far away that I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the idea of driving or taking a plane (or multiple planes) there. It would be similar if I moved to the South again … so that’s one of the less than glam parts of the issue.

But the real issue is that Rainbow Lake wanted an answer last Friday. I had interviewed with them the week I left for S, and I thought I’d done terrible … but aparently it was just my glass half empty mentality. I was able to squeeze in a few more days, hoping that I’d hear something from S or NE locations. I know that NE PI said that they’d take their sweet little time to let me know, and S said I’d have a definite answer by last Friday … still no email or call from them. So, my question dear reader/follower is … do I check in with NE and S PIs and tell them or ask them what’s the deal? If so, how should I go about it? Though I loved each of the 3 strong contenders (RL, NE and S) I’m considering, I only have a solid offer from RL. Is this even an issue? I’d honestly hate to wait forever, lose my chance with the RL group and miss out just because I decided to wait. On the other hand, I don’t want to be rude to S or NE PI … but I don’t know how to approach the subject, if it needs to be approached at all. I don’t know what’s the etiquette and I’d hate making a fool out of myself. I guess my main question is, if I decide to contact each PI and say, hey RL super awesome group of X has an offer … a) how do I let them know that and b) how do I ask if I still have a real chance with them without sounding like an idiot? South PI had mentioned in passing that they had another good candidate, so there was a chance I wouldn’t get a call as first choice, but I’m a bit bummed that they didn’t even contacted me to say, hey, we’re giving candidate #1 the chance, but you’re candidate # 2, or there really isn’t a chance you’ll get the offer. I suck at being assertive, and I’d hate to make a fool out of myself, but again, I’d like to have a really clear picture of what are my options, if I have more than one, and make a decision with as much information as I can. I honestly don’t know if the southern position, location-wise, would be my top choice.  Instrumentation-wise, the NE position would be even better, and I wouldn’t have to prepare any samples, at all (which is a plus in Rainbow Lake also and has me day dreaming about not having to do yet another purification!!!) … but, the PI and one of the higher-ups could become sore spots and NE …

So dear reader, I ask: should I get in contact with the other PIs and ask point-blank, but delicately, what are my chances, or if I even have a chance of getting an offer from them? Should I interpret their silence as them not being really interested in me as choice #1, and I’m more of choice #2, 3 or 4? If it’s OK to ask them, what would be the professional way to go about it? As you can see, I am a complete mess when it comes to this. I can totally kick ass with presentations, writing letters, CV … basically everything pre and during an interview … but when it comes to after-interview manners and situations, I become a moron and my PhD goes down the drain.

I appreciate any and all input and suggestions. I promise to update on my choice of words and final choice in the coming weeks, as things unfold. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂

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I’m back

Somewhat. I was finally able to sleep until almost noon on Caturday. After a month of waking up, every weekend to read, read, ask questions, prepare presentations and worry, ad nauseam, about interviews, I can finally sit back an breathe, and not worry that I’ll be gone for half a week and that again I’ll have to switch my time for this or that experiment. I’m not complaining about having interviews, it’s just that the schedule of said interviews has made me crazy for the last few weeks.

I had a wonderful time at the two places where I had physical interviews. I also had fun at one of the phone interviews I had, and the second one was a bit … boring, but pleasant.

On to the point. As regular readers and tweeps know, I’ve been looking for a staff position in my former field of study. The many frustrations of my current position (postdoc) and some of the comments from one of my coworkers, along with the fact that I just don’t enjoy this much snow have been instrumental in the job search. I also have the two body problem. It’s no secret that hon prefers Canada to the US. I have to say that if it wasn’t for the fact that I just don’t enjoy my job, I’d probably prefer Canada over the US. Canada has been very welcoming, and I like the way science if done here. Also, this much snow makes me stabby. So, some of the jobs I applied to in my former field, or a close approximation to it, were in Canada. It seems as though Ontario, where I currently live, doesn’t have many of these positions. I would have loved a job in Toronto, or even Ottawa. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Here’s a summary, with some details, of where I’ve interviewed and what’s happening with that.

The only solid offer I have is from a very, very important place in another province. The problem is that it is far away from major cities and it’s very close to the arctic, meaning, I wouldn’t get rid of snow … which is quite frustrating. The job also opens competitions for the position I’ve been offered, so there’s no guarantee I’d be able to keep the job after the 1st year. There is room to grow, so there’s a chance to move up the ladder too. People publish (usually in technical journals) and attend conferences regularly. And they’re going into more biological problems, which is why they want to bring me in. It would take me a day (at the very least) to get to see my family, since there are no direct flights from there to where my family lives … which is quite frustrating. But I’d have killer health insurance, access to major research institutions, and would serve a variety of clients, and I could probably develop my own methods, since none of the peeps in said lab know biology. Which could also be problematic, since they don’t do the exact approach I became an expert in and I don’t know whether the PI would be open to challenges posed by me if something is far away from what he and his lab know and do. There’s a lot to consider. I’d totally say yes without a doubt … if it wasn’t near Santa Claus’s house.

Position #2, to which no offer has been made, is back in the US. Of all the PIs I talked to, this PI was the best (or at least it seemed to me that way). Said PI reminded me of my grad school PI, but even more fun …. which I never thought would happen. This PI has a huge lab, divided into 3 major projects. I was interviewing for a staff/manager position. But, I have zilch managerial experience. They’ve interviewed 2 other people in addition to me, and I’m the only girl they’ve interviewed. But, I overheard someone saying that one of the other applicants has a lot of managerial experience, which places him way ahead of me. My only advantage, I think, is that the problems I studied during my PhD are very similar to the main project they’re trying to develop locally (they have a collaborator in another state). During my job talk the PI kept asking me really great questions about stuff they were trying to answer in the lab, which I kept answering like it was nobody’s business, and the PI kept pointing this out to the committee, how I was an expert in all these things they’re looking to answer. But, like I said, somebody else has experience in the techniques AND managerial experience too. I think I also identified someone who could be a potential source of discomfort (I’m amazed at how people seem to show their true colours when you’re not interviewing as a trainee anymore) … which may be hard to work around. The answer regarding who gets the position is happening soon. I’m not so positive …. but chances are that if the PI liked me as much as I think they did I may get an offer for an associate something, something, which will be more like a postdoc, but with better pay and benefits. PI said that their lab was very adamant about making sure that people in such positions were paid fair and square and that they know postdocs get paid and treated like shit (their words), so they’d be changing the position to non-postdoc research something to accomodate me, if I wanted … but then again, I didn’t get a formal offer. We’ll see. Also, this would be the closest I could ever be to my family out of all the 4 ones I’ve interviewed.

Position #3 is in the midwest. This was the phone interview that was kinda boring. It’s more of a technical position, and it is for a lab that is mostly into material sciences but is hoping to beef up the biological side. This one pays the least, but it’s in a really good place. I’m not so sure what to think of this one.

And position #4 is where I’ve always wanted to live for a really long time. I love this city, and it’s also a close ride to where my family lives. The people who work in the particular division I applied to are few and seem to get along well. They’re understaffed, so there’s a definite need for hands and experts. The PI is the one I called fancy-pants PI in my tweets. This is the person I couldn’t read for the life of me. I didn’t know if he hated me or if it was just the way he was. I met him and he was very pleasant. These people have dumped some serious money on equipment. I met with a few PIs who work in different areas, different problems and different instrumentation. All of it very kick ass. Data that is generated here normally goes to Glamor-Magazine-type journos, though it doesn’t always means that I would be the first author. The job would align pretty closely to what I know how to do and consider myself well-read in. People usually don’t get too attached to their projects, since some are very transitory. People tend to stay for many years, and they seem happy …. meaning, that this position would provide me with the stability I’m yearning for. Even when I met the PI face to face I couldn’t tell whether he liked me or whether he’s just shy … or Sheldon-like. In some ways he reminds me of my postdoc PI … and I’m not sure if that’s what I need right now. But, I was told he’s very involved in the projects. He runs other labs, including an academic one. People attend conferences and publish regularly and attend courses to improve and learn methods. But … I don’t know what to expect. Since I couldn’t really “read” the PI I don’t know whether he liked me, and whether he thinks I’m a good fit. I seemed to get along with the group, and in some ways it felt like some of us were old friends. I think that’s good. But, then again, it could all be a facade and a fake. I think I also identified a potential source of trouble … a lot of trouble, which I’m not sure the PI could ever remedy, since this person may be higher up than he is. People here were very candid, which I found reassuring because I’d hate to have it all painted in the warmest, nicest light, only to find out it is all shit. And I know two former members of this facility, both of which seem to praise their former place of work.

In conclusion, I’m just holding on, praying, asking all the questions I can to find out what’s life at all these places. I would truly hate not making a good decision, for me, my career, hon and the family. There are many, many factors to consider.,

For now it looks like I have hope. I told the current boss how things have been going and he’s been giving me advice and ideas of what to consider and ask …. it feels like I finally found the caring mentor I was yearning for. Maybe I was wrong all along, and it should have been me pursuing his advance, rather than waiting to see if he was interested in me. Who knows. I’m (hopefully) heading towards the end of this run and maybe the wisdom and hindsight of the years will help me see things under a different light and appreciate all the lessons I’ve been given while doing this postdoc. For now I have hope. Hope that even though time has passed I can, maybe, make a comeback to my former field of study and feel productive once again.

I’ll keep you posted. But now, I have to return to my experiments. Cheers!

Randon thoughts. Thought # 2

So apparently I am not the only one who thinks about stuff like this. Thanks be to God! Hehe.

But random thought #2 isn’t funny or quirky. This is just genuine curiosity. As regular readers and tweeps alike know, I am job-searching and have been for a while. I’m aiming at my former field of study which I feel is a better match to my wants and needs. I’m emailing tons of people on a regular basis, I’m listening to my mom’s advice on applying to jobs that I like and where I meet most of the requirements. I’m trying to be proactive about it, knowing that I shouldn’t get frustrated by hitting the send button on application form #77 … because who knows if this is THE ONE.

Anyways, random thought #2 comes from the adventure that is looking for a job. It isn’t as random … but I’ve thought of this stuff even when I wasn’t job-searching. Recently I got a call from one of the places I applied. This place is high-profile, and I was scared out of my mind when I got the call. It was just for a pre-screening interview. Since the application process is still going on it may be weeks before they let me know if I get an invite  for a talk or not. I’m not sure of how well it went, since the person I talked to was a bit hard to read. I probably spent the first 10 minutes babbling on. I kept playing parts of the conversation over and over, things like, “but you ARE familiar with X and Y protocol” … “why, yes I am, but we did it a bit differently in my lab” … to, “did you read such and such paper which proves the point you made on X paper?” “Why, yes I did … but I didn’t look at the materials and methods in detail.” “Well, you should have, can you guess how they obtained X value for Z?” “My best guess is “… and yada yada yada. I’m such an idiot when it comes to interviews. I get all flustered. Even when I practice. I had this boyfriend in college who used to say that I knew how to sell myself. I don’t know if I was really good at it and lost it or what … but lately I feel that whatever talent I ever is gone, or at least well hidden.

Long after the phone call was over, I started thinking about the other side of the conversation. The image that this person has of me, my body of work and my experience. But more than anything, the whole process made me wonder if, when a prof or high-ranking lab person makes a screening call, they get as nervous as the interviewees gets? Are their palms sweaty? Do they fear they’ll stumble? Confuse names, CVs or any other sort of info? Do potential employers worry that they’ll say something which will scare a great candidate away? I know that when you get a call for an interview the ball is on their court up until the point they make an offer … but, even knowing that, do interviewers get nervous when conducting an interview?  I want to know whether they are anxious, relaxed, happy, pissed or even bummed when talking to a dead-end candidate. I want to get a feel for what’s on their minds.

Once I joined my grad lab there was a vacancy for a tech position nd the boss started to actively recruit people. I liked how the ex boss ran stuff regarding interviews, and even manuscripts. Even when I was just a few weeks in and still doing large amounts of reading to try to understand the language my former lab spoke, boss started sending manuscripts my way. I was a bit surprised since I was the newest lab member and had no clue what was going on research-wise … or it felt that way anyways. So I asked other lab members if manuscripts came their merry way also, to which they replied that the boss liked the input from everyone in the lab regardless the stage they were in.  I can certainly appreciate that now, it’s a way to bring you up to date when you’re new and clue you in as to what other people are doing, and you’re providing a fresh perspective, which may help to bring to light issues that aren’t obvious to those fully immersed in the topic. This process helped a lot. I think I still have some of those early manuscripts. And boss was also the same way when it came to interviewing people, meeting prospective graduate students, and guest speakers.

So, back to when we were interviewing people for that position. I remember meeting with them for 30-45 minutes, asking them anything and everything, and paying attention to everything they did … from the way they sat to the reason(s) they wanted to join our group. It was also interesting that one of the candidates, while very married and with a pregnant wife said that they were divorcing and started to lean forward in my direction, asking me questions about my life, interests and other details. You have no idea how this sleazy bastard was behaving … it is one of the yuckiest experiences I’ve ever had. The best part was telling the boss that he was a no go … and thankfully the boss felt the same way. But the whole “interview” creeped me out so much and I was so ashamed about the whole incident that I didn’t even mention until after I had my defense. I said that if the lab was ever considering someone again they’d better make sure no female grad students or postdocs were there because he will more than likely hit (and impregnate) them. Ewwww, just gross. Yuck.

So you could say that as part of an interviewing team I’ve never been really nervous or worried I’ll say something that will scare a candidate away. Unless said candidate is creepy, very married and with a pregnant wife. I haven’t felt too nervous … but I don’t think I was in a very powerful position as I was still a subordinate in the lab.

I ask you dear readers then, if you’ve been on the other side of the spectrum, how do you feel when interviewing candidates? Are you ever nervous, worried that you’ll mess something? What’s been your worse interviewing experience, from either side? I appreciate any and all input, and all sorts of creepy/weird/OMG crazy stories.