How do you get an academic job in biology?

You have published your research, figured out how to apply for grants, identified some absorbing big ideas to spend a few years or a lifetime on, but now you want that coveted academic job to put this all together. It will entail research, teaching, becoming part of a community of scholars, teachers, and researchers. How do you do it? I’ve written a bit on this before, so this post largely compiles those earlier ones. But first, just apply broadly. Don’t overthink each application, just get them out there. Have a system and just do it as you see the job ads. Have your referees ready. We don’t mind sending the letter to lots of places.

Make your application stand out, as described here. This is important, because hiring fairly is hard, described here. And, no, I don’t think a rubric would help, here.  Here are some reasons we will hire you, here.

Just send your job application to the official address, not to anyone else generally, see here.  Think about your cover letter and keep it pithy and to the point, see here. Do not name possible collaborators here. This could work against you, see here.

If your publications include many multiple-author papers lots of which you are middle author, please describe your contributions, perhaps with a sentence below the reference, see here.

Here is one on how I read your file on first pass, here.

Once you get a job interview, there are some things you should not do, covered here. And here is some advice for the chalk talk. After all, they are very challenging, see here.

If you get a phone interview, do this.

Do not worry too much about the order in which you are interviewed and never agree to an interview on a very short time line unless you are ready, read more here.

The process of deciding whom to hire is complex. It covers area, collegiality, and how we agree or do not on the candidates. Here are some guidelines to the process at our institution, with details from a search from a few years ago. We won’t necessarily agree on the top candidates for these reasons. Ranking into categories, not one by one is better, but it is not often done, unfortunately, more information here. Ultimately we hire someone, like this.

Remember, there are questions you cannot be asked legally. This covers them. If you are asked them, you can demur, perhaps turn it into a joke, change the subject, or answer. Keep track of illegal things you are asked, but I’m not sure it will help.

Have fun, don’t stress, keep doing research and mentoring and remember why you are in this in the first place! And lots of others have written on these topics. Go find them too!


Fred Inglis (back second from left) and Longfei Shu (back right end) got faculty positions this year!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Interviewing, Jobs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.