Transition year

The year is coming to an end and as so many others I think it is the right time to look back on what happened in the past year. For me personally it was a year of transition, which is a natural step, when you change your affiliation. So I moved from the UK back to Germany, which has a different science system, different way of handling and honouring science in society. Additionally, I changed my main research topic once again and so I got many things to learn.

The past three years were about sea-level science, mainly in the palaeoclimatic environment. I really like that topic and I am happy that there are still some things to do for me in this field. My new topic is now more about the future, seasonal prediction, and has also its beautiful spots. Both topics got something in common. Of cause it is statistics and the development of new methodologies as this is my main research focus. But it is also the relevance for the society, the impact, which makes both topics very attractive ones. Nevertheless, the differences are more than just the covered time span and the physical system at hand. It also covers two completely different ways of modelling. My sea-level research covered mainly simple modelling appraoches, with a (very) large number of ensembles. In seasonal prediction the biggest available models in Earth science, which needs a huge amount of computer capacity are used and as such a low number of ensembles can be produced.

But as a scientists of cause it is important what you produce some output. Well, basing on the usual statistics its not much: one conference, no publication. Sounds really sad. Well, looking deeper into it, it is not this bad. There are still two papers in review, some in preperation and I visited several (project) meetings, a summer school and yes some job interviews. Apart from that I am involved again in some teaching, which allows me to learn much and makes quite some fun. So the upcomming year will have to be more productive in terms of output, but I am optimistic that this will work out.

Therefore, I wish everybody a great start into the new year and perhaps some nice christmas projects coming to fruition and will bring a great start of the year.

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.