As in case with any other academic position, applying for a faculty position in India can be likened to skillful maneuvering of a ship through the storm. After working relentlessly through his/her training phase, a faculty job aspirant finds himself/herself into a more challenging situation where one has to skillfully present the honed skills to be in reckoning in the highly competitive bottlenecked academic job market. I had a quite a long discussion with many of my colleagues planning to transition into the academia in India. Indeed, a great CV with a good publication record is something that definitely pushes the application forward, but our general perception was – there are certain skills that speak volumes of our ability to become future group leaders.
During PhD and post-doctoral tenure, one develops a vast array of skills. However, when it comes to the final destination that is, obtaining a faculty position in a good institution, everything zeros down to the trait that defines the person for the position. In general, a person’s capability to run an independent lab is usually judged during the personal interview stage. However, many faculty position ads (in biological sciences, India) asked for enlistment of skills that one has acquired till the time of application. We found it very peculiar and unusual for an academic position because these kind queries are generally associated with industrial settings. We soon realized that other than scientific output, the initial screening of candidates also involved his/her understanding of the nuances for running an independent group and how he/she has developed skills other than technical, to be proficient in it. A positive attitude on this aspect during the personal interview stage may also result in scoring important points.
The Career Support Group (CSG) discussion on this aspect brought in opinions from Siddharth Tallur, Dileep Vasudevan Thenezhi, Smita Salian Mehta, Hirak S Basu and Kaneenika Sinha whose general suggestion was to focus on the set of skills the selection committee might be looking in their future colleague and hence, highlight them in the application. These are the areas of expertise a faculty aspirant must develop during the training period in order to present oneself more positively in front of the committee.
A broad perspective was obtained, which is summarized below:
1. Independently mentoring students especially graduate students that also involves ability to describe the problem to them lucidly
2. What kind of service did you provide to the scientific community? Services such as reviewing papers, organization of conferences/workshops tutorials
3. Setting up fruitful collaborations which may comprise inter-research groups or with one’s own PI
4. Writing independent grants – this in fact, shows how a person is able to think independently in spite of working in a research group. Here both successful trials and important misses can be highlighted.
5. In real sense, applying for a position with an approved grant scores highly in the academic corridors.
6. Development of a new area of research in PI’s lab and describing what kind of skills, achievements a person has gained towards the completion of the project. This area of research might become one’s core research focus in future and any kind of past publications in the area (as first/co-corresponding author) will go a long way in defining that person’s independence in the field.
7. Any kind of experimental techniques that one has developed or may have in-depth expertise which he/she can develop in the scientific community and mentor.
8. A definitive research plan for five years that includes how one intends to supervise the PhD students
9. The teaching responsibilities donned/shared by the candidate during the training period and the subjects/areas he/she will be comfortable teaching/initiating in the host institution.
In summary, a person aspiring to transition into academia needs to develop/highlight the expertise gained during the training period that depicts how as a prospective faculty, the person has evolved from a co-worker to an independent mentor in the research group. May be these nine points are not that exhaustive, but surely can be further developed by incorporating more challenging experiences shared by the community.
Presently, I am Assistant Professor at Institute of Science, Banaras Hindu University, India. I completed my doctoral dissertation from Department of Biochemistry, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. I briefly worked as a Research Associate at IISc, before transitioning to this position. Further details on my academic journey is available on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/
Image source: Pixabay
Edited by: Abhinav Dey
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