Suggestions for graduate students and postdocs who are interested in obtaining faculty appointments or other competitive research positions

by Charles T. Prewitt

Charles T. Prewitt has been highly influential in Earth and Material Sciences over the last 40 years. He was Director of the Geophysical Laboratory from 1986 to 2003. Currently he is adjunct professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona and Senior Visiting Investigator at the Geophysical Laboratory. Charles T. Prewitt received the MSA Roebling medal in 2003 and he was the inaugural recipient of the IMA Medal for Excellence in 2008, in recognition of his research eminence in developing a wide variety of new fields in crystal chemistry, material sciences and mineral physics. [More information]

1) Try to publish as many papers as possible during your graduate and/or post-graduate years. It is ok to have co-authors, including your mentor, but it is important for you to be first author on a significant fraction of the papers. However, remember that the quality of the papers is more important than just pure numbers. Also, a potential employer’s positive knowledge of your ability to sit down and write an informative manuscript will help in making hiring decisions.

2) It is important for you to become known as very knowledgeable or experienced in one or more specific areas of research. For example, you could become known for being very skilled in obtaining high-quality powder-diffraction synchrotron data at high pressures and temperatures that provides new information on phase transitions in the mantle.

3) Be sure that your curriculum vitae, list of publications, and other documents you submit to a potential employer are free of spelling, grammar, and other errors. As an example, on several occasions I have seen CVs that listed the author as a ‘Principle Investigator’ rather than the correct designation, ‘Principal Investigator’.

4) Try to attend several scientific meetings during your graduate and postgraduate years and present papers on your research. Oral presentations are best. Rehearse your presentations before the meetings and ask for constructive comments from your faculty and fellow students. If you are asked to present a poster rather than an oral talk, try to make the poster attractive, informative, and free of errors. Be alert and outgoing when telling others about your poster and its related research.

5) Talk with established scientists at meetings, visitors to your institution, research staff at synchrotron facilities and elsewhere, and ask questions about their research and related scientific interests. If you do this, they may remember you positively when you are job hunting.

6) As you gain experience, be willing to referee manuscripts submitted for publication to journals. If you feel comfortable with your reviews, allow the editor to reveal your name to the authors. They may list your name in the acknowledgements.

7) Meeting organizers seek people to chair scientific sessions. Volunteer from time to time for this sort of activity and do a good job of running sessions for which you are a chair. This provides you with exposure to a relatively broad audience.

8) Think about organizing scientific sessions at meetings or other activities such as workshops involving specific subjects. Talk to your mentors about how this might be accomplished and, if it looks feasible, go ahead with the planning and execution of whatever you have chosen to do.

9) Look for announcements of awards that are made to students, postdocs and young researchers in general. Check to see if you might be eligible and, if so, ask your mentor or other scientists to nominate you for the award. If you are successful in this activity, this will help potential employers evaluate your accomplishments. You might even receive a financial supplement as well as the publicity.

10) Sometimes it is important to know when you should move on. The financial part of this to consider is that while the early years are usually full of research excitement, they are often years of low pay. Each year postponing the main career line is a year where you are losing not the money you are currently earning, but the money you will be making at the end of your career. This also applies to how you are accumulating money or credits toward your eventual retirement. The longer you postpone making retirement contributions, the less you will have when you do retire.

Some Helpful Guidance Resources


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