ACS Webinars: Academic Jobs Outlook

You may be wondering why I’m blogging about academic careers on a blog which is supposed to be all about nontraditional careers for chemists. Well, I attended the ACS Webinar titled “Academic Jobs Outlook” that was videostreamed live from the ACS National Meeting in Denver last week. If you missed it, you can still sign up and view it here. While watching, it dawned on me that many chemists get turned off from academia because they realize that they wouldn’t want their PI’s job. But there’s more to academia than R1, and that’s what I hope to highlight in this post. The webinar hosted a panel of three faculty members who shared about their experiences at three different types of academic institutions: an R1 institution, a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) and a community college. Meet the members of the panel (modified from the ACS Webinars website):

Here is a table that summarizes the topics that were discussed by the panelists, highlighting the differences between the three types of academic positions.

Note: The panelists spoke from their individual experiences, so it may differ from school to school— I suggest you talk to faculty members who work at the university or college you’re interested in applying to, in order to get a clearer idea of what it would be like to work at that school.

Breaking it down If you love teaching undergrads but could do without writing grants and managing a lab, you're probably most cut out for a faculty position at a community college. If you like the balance of teaching undergrads and research/managing a lab, a professorship position at a primarily undergraduate institution may be a good fit. If you are really passionate about research, and you enjoy (or at least don't hate) writing grant proposals, and could see yourself managing a lab with grad students and postdocs, and also do some teaching at various levels, then the professorship path at an R1 university would be a good choice. The question of work-life balance During the Q&A portion of the webcast, I took advantage of the "submit a question online" function and asked if the panelists could talk about work-life balance. My question was selected! I got really excited in a nerdy kinda way. Anyways, their answers weren't surprising, and were pretty consistent with what I've heard from other professors. The pre-tenure years are busy because of all the expectations and pressures to build your tenure portfolio (different components depending on the institution). You should expect to work long days and weekends during the academic year. During the summer months, you may get to have a more 8-to-5 kind of job. The panelists were upfront about the competitive nature of the field. It's not uncommon for more that 100 people to apply for a single position. But despite the rigorous nature of their work, each of the panelists repeatedly stated that they are happy with their career choice, describing the satisfaction they receive from mentoring students and seeing them go on to do great things. That was really nice to hear. Some parting thoughts If you read any of our previous posts, you'll quickly learn that Just Another Electron Pusher is all about chemists discovering nontraditional career paths (i.e. not academia or industry). At first, I wasn't going to blog about the academia webinar because it didn't seem to fit in with the theme of this blog. But I decided I'd summarize the information presented for the sake of those who still are considering academia as an option, or just want more information in order to make a decision. As with any career option, it’s always worthwhile to gather as much information as you can and take a closer look before you decide to either pursue it or cross it off your list.

Author: Christine Herman

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