Application processes in science

In the past months the blog was quite calm, and so often when scientific blogs get deserted, it has something to do with the job of the author. This was also the case here (apart from the election censorship in the UK) and so the time usually used for writing a post was required to write applications, prepare and attend job interviews and moving to the new position. Usually scientists do not talk much about this topic, as it is of cause highly sensitive. Nevertheless, I had written in the entry statement of this blog that I want to give insight into the job of a scientist. And without doubt, working on fix-term contracts and switching to a new position is an essential part of the job of an early career scientist. But don’t worry, I will keep it very general and will just make some statements on how the general process works and some problems, which can be encountered by the scientists.

So most contracts in geoscience (so when you look up the job description sites) for post-docs have a length in a range of 2 to 5 years. In some cases it is possible to extend, but in general it has to be assumed that after the time is up, the money is up. Depending on the country and their social systems that can really be a problem, so that it is essential to find a new job before the contract ends. Unfortunately, in short term contracts this coincide with the time the final papers are written, which makes it for some a special case of multi-tasking. As a consequence, several month before the end of a contract the scientist have to look for his future. It can be even earlier, when certain deadlines for future perspectives are on the wish-list, e.g. fellowships or writing a proposal.

A major thought process in the application phase is the decisions for which jobs someone wants to apply for. Generally, there are two dimensions which dominate the process (at least in my theory). The first is the location. This can be the continent, country or the type of the institution (university or research institution). The other dimension is the research topic. Of cause there exist also a dimension on the level of the position, but that is something that I would like to count to the location dimension. With these two dimensions, it is like the uncertainty principle. When one is constraint due to personal decision (e. g. due to family/relationship or the best fitting topic for the future research path), the other one will widen.

After deciding on the jobs you want to apply for, a similar process starts for every position. Working through the job descriptions, writing cover letter and fighting through the application process. Many institutions build nowadays their own web environment, and the more compelex they are the more problems they bring. Of cause they force you to think about, whether you want to apply at all, but in the phase where you usually apply for a job, you anyway get picky about those you want to apply for (simply because of time constraints). These systems might make sense for the institutions, but definitely not for the applicants. In a few cases there is still the option to send the cover letter and cv directly via mail, which is definitely, from the applicants point of view the best solution.

Having done that, the time of waiting starts and this teaches one a lot about the potential future employer. Some institutions react quick, inform the applicants in a lot of detail of the process, whether they are short listed or not. This can happen in a week, which is great for all involved. Nevertheless, there are institutions who need a month to reply and some are not replying at all. I do not want to comment on that, but as I said, it tells you a lot about the institutions.

Being lucky and getting invited to the interviews is usually the first part of the process, from which the applicant benefits. Be it in a video-interview or taking part in person, it is a great chance to get to know the potential future employer. Whether you get the job or not is therein secondary (at least in this moment), because you still learn something from this time. Preferences on the methodology of the interview depend on each individual, both have their advantages and disadvantages. Nothing can replace real contact, but sometimes it is better for everyone, when some details are hidden behind a screen.

From then on begins the wait, which is in the most cases quite short. Many panels decide within hours on their preferred candidate, and s/he will be the only one who gets informed. For the others it is usually a long wait, until the people ranked above them have declined or accepted the position.

All in all, the application phase within a job are exciting times, the problem is only that it costs a lot of time and effort, while you do not have any of them to spare. So in the end I am happy that this phase found an end for me, but I am well aware, that it waits just around the corner, again at a time, when it is certainly not fitting into my current job.