A few months out of my first assistant attending position, I feel freer to pontificate on the travails of how to search for your first real job.
While I am not a golden child with million dollar grants and C-N-S publications, I nonetheless felt wanted during my job search and am able to impart my advice. All view are my own, take it or leave it.
1) To stay or not to stay. We always grapple with staying at our own institution or branching out to start anew. I suffered the same dilemma. I felt entrenched at my own institution having created projects that I wanted to see to completion. I knew I would be treated like the 6th year fellow for years to come – everything from my demeanor and dress screamed fellow.
During one of my interviews, my interviewer imparted wise advice which ultimately led me to stay. He said, “Projects come and go, but you build infrastructure at places where you stay.” Looking back, this one line decided my future. I had amassed samples, pipelines, operational fluidity in my years as a fellow that would take at least 2 years to rebuild. If my institution wanted me, I wanted to build on the infrastructure I put in place.
2) Interview widely, sort of. Keep your options open is great advice. I took the advice and modified it to my own. I don’t have a track record of wanting to interview widely, between college and fellowship I applied to less than 40 programs. In many ways, quality trumps quantity. Interviews can be formal and informal. Informal interviews can happen at meetings and you can easily get a sense of what the institution is like.
A good first date would prompt you to purse the first on site interview. A less than exciting date allows you to politely decline a formal interview, thereby saving time reserved for family or wrapping up that one other project. The first in person interview allows you to size them up and vice versa. A good interview leads you to meet with everyone from higher ups to the physician assistant or nursing who make your work flow. Be proactive and ask to meet these folks. A good first interview gets you invited back for a second look. At the second go, it’s acceptable to bring your family.
Figure out how a new life can be structure – everything from hashing out clinical duties, research collaborators, lab mentors to where you live, where is daycare, where you will enjoy your hobbies.
3) The offers. Some people make multiple looks to get multiple offers to compete with each other. It’s sound advice that I never enacted. Leading with my heart, I felt reluctant to use resources and time if something was not meant to be.
When I felt I no longer wanted to participate in the interview process, I contacted places and honestly and respectfully explained my rationale for stopping my search. I felt horrible as if I was breaking up with someone on the phone, but I don’t regret that decision now. My intent was to be honest and honor the respect they provide me by giving me a chance. No elaborate political dancing for me.
4) More on the offers. Offers are negotiable. Big caveat, I never negotiated my offer.That being said, I know colleagues who’ve negotiated for more pay, a start up package (or a bigger start up package), dedicated support staff. Clinicians and basic researchers alike can ask for start up packages.
Get wish list of whatever will allow you to do the work that you want to do. A detailed list down to the items needed to stock a laboratory or the resources of clinical research staff in my opinion is a sign that you know what it takes to make yourself successful. Don’t hem and haw. Noone likes to email back and forth for something petty. Actually don’t email this at all.
Get on the phone and talk about it. So much nuance disappears over email whereas by phone (or video chat these days), you can see the response from the other side. So why didn’t I negotiate? Because I saw a fair deal that still gave me potential fo success and it was not worth academic ammunition to ask for something that I knew was not feasible.
I had a fair clinical duties, support staff, and funds for my research. I wasn’t going to sour a relationship for an extra $5,000 a year or shorten my inpatient service by 2 weeks. Negotiate only if it’s worthwhile endeavor. That means understand your own values and your own bottom line before you start the talks. Center the “asks” for the things that will make you successful. At the end of the day, everyone loses if you aren’t successful.
5) Congrats! The paperwork is done, contracts signed. What do you do in that lame duck period before the end of your old job and beginning of the new. I received varying degrees of advice. Some told be to relax, enjoy the last of your fellowship, take time for yourself. Others told me to go full steam ahead. For me, balance was my modus operandi.
Ask for your 8 week vacations, this is the few times when you can do that around the world trip, backpack across Europe, drive cross country without having to worry endlessly about your patients, your mice, or you IRB. Ask to start after whatever boards you need to take. They can always say no, but asking is not wrong. But when I was at work, I was there, keeping the same long hours to my family’s eye roll. A person’s type A nature never leaves them so why change to be something you are not. This personality is what got you this awesome job to begin with, so let it shine.