Monday, May 23, 2011

Would You Hire Her?

Below is a slightly edited excerpt from a recent e-mail from a reader. Some details have been generalized to make the scenario a bit more.. general.

I'm a 30-something Physical Science PhD. I finished my PhD a few years ago, just before my middle child was born. Since then I have been primarily a stay-at-home mom, but I have remained involved with my collaboration in a low-level way - I've worked with my collaborators to finalize our analysis and to write and publish the associated paper, given some seminars, and traveled to give talks at conferences. Last year, my former advisor noticed that I had been doing quite a bit of work for free and offered to pay me by the hour, so I am currently working 0-10 hours per week. Recently, I have been writing a paper and looking into the possibility of a new analysis.

My third (and final) child is now over a year old and I am applying for postdoc positions. My CV doesn't exactly have a "gap" - I have papers and/or talks for every year since my PhD -- but my unusual situation obviously requires some explanation. I have added
"stay-at-home mother, no employer" to my CV and I explain in more detail in the cover letter.

I'm wondering how all this is going to be viewed by the professors with whom I'm applying to work. I was a good student in a high-ranking department, my thesis was a high-profile analysis, and my advisor tells me that his letter of recommendation is quite enthusiastic, so I should be a strong candidate unless people see the time with my kids as a deal breaker. I'm curious how you would feel about an application like mine and if you have any thoughts on how I am handling the topic in my applications. It would be very helpful to hear any concerns you might have about hiring someone in my situation - especially things that you wouldn't actually bring up with a candidate.


I would hire her, and I would have no hesitations or concerns about doing so.

Her record or accomplishments and research potential is strong, the letter of recommendation from the PhD advisor is apparently strong, and the evidence for an ability to get things done is impressive. I have had single, childless postdocs who got less research done while employed (by me) full-time than what this woman has done while being a "stay-at-home" mom with three kids.

Of course the final decision (relative to other candidates) would rest on the quality of the work etc. etc., but my answer to the hypothetical question of whether I would hire this person or whether the stay-at-home mom episode was a deal-breaker is an empathic yes, I would hire her.

In terms of the mechanics of the application, I don't think she should dwell much on the "unusual" situation. It's fine to account for a gap in employment in the CV, but additional explanation need not be lengthy and certainly should not be defensive or be the first thing in the cover letter.

The recommendation letter from the advisor could be worded to turn this situation into an example of the impressive abilities of his former student; what might seem like a liability could be a strength. This woman apparently has superpowers when it comes to being focused and productive.

Would you hire her? Why or why not?

And: What (if anything) would you like to see in the application materials in terms of an explanation for the stay-at-home mom "gap" in employment?

73 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of person who deserves to be hired. She is far from the typical "quota woman". Its amazing that she kept up with writing papers and giving talks while being a stay at home mom. The typical quota woman should learn from this example...

Anonymous said...

I would hire her, if her skills would be helpful to my research program. I think she should be more concerned about highlighting her unique skills and analytic approach, and less defensive about her "gap."

Anonymous said...

How about "stay-at-home parent"? It's the parenting that's at issue, not that it's mother doing it. And some people, yes, might find it awkward to see the word "mother" in a c.v.

I wouldn't put it in my c.v., though I'm a mom (and talk about my kids a lot).

Anonymous said...

I agree: the candidate's productivity during this time is remarkable, and a strong positive argument for a hire. Also agree with keeping the explanation to a quick mention in the CV; honestly, if she is confident that her former/current advisor is doing a good job of explaining her recent employment situation --in a positive light, of course-- I would consider not mentioning it in the cover letter at all, to avoid dwelling on it too much. But a quick mention would be fine.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely hire her!
Here's a related question: Would you also hire a 'him' with a similar story? I am writing this because I (a man) had been a stay-at-home dad for several shorter stints (3-4months) between jobs (PhD-Postdoc-Postdoc) and I have noticed that potential employers didn't really appreciate this. I feel that paternity leave for a man is still not accepted while woman seem to be in a better situation for this.

Angela said...

@ anon 12:38:00, I would hope the typical "quota men" would also learn from this example.

Anonymous said...

The typical quota woman should learn from this example...

I... I have no words

Anonymous said...

I would hire her, though I wonder how many doors it has closed for her. SAHMs just aren't respected in todays society.

Anonymous said...

I once had an application for a postdoc position from someone who looked strong, but had spent a surprisingly long period of time as a PhD student. This was completely unexplained in her application, except for a single comment in the letter from her advisor, to the effect of "She rightfully decided her priorities were elsewhere after the birth of her child and, so, took longer to finish than her peers." She had already been hired by someone else before I could interview her.

I found the complete lack of mention of this in her application materials to be a little surprising (since the length of her PhD studies was certainly outside of the norms in our field). Perhaps her advisor had suggested she do so, and that he would explain in the letter. In any case, the "mommy time" certainly wasn't held against her.

Anonymous said...

I would hope that the advisor's recommendation somehow states, even though it may make him look bad, that this women was so committed to her work that she was writing papers/doing research while not being paid and having to take care of a child. That level of interest in and of itself would put her at the top of my list of candidates.

MathTT said...

We don't have postdocs in the same way, so the hiring is not so much up to a single prof as it is up to the whole dept. But as you say, if the quality of her research is as high as the other top candidates and her letters are as good as the other top candidates, she would certainly make a short list. The real question is, "would you hold the time away against her," and I think my dept would say no.

In our last bout of hiring, there were many comments like, "X hasn't really done much with three years of a non-teaching postdoc" and "Y has gotten a lot done, given that he's been teaching a 2/2 load (which is the same as ours)." The comparisons are relative to the position they've held, and part of what we consider is whether we think you'll be research active in our dept.

Anyone who's been staying in the field and staying productive while a SAHM has proven themselves able to multi-task in a big way. So with all other factors being equal, I think we hire her.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what everybody has already said. I would definitely also hire her and I think it's impressive that she kept working while being a mom.

That being said, I would try to come up with a strategy that takes attention away from the fact that she was doing a lot of work for free and that she only started to get paid once her "advisor noticed" that she "had been doing quite a bit of work for free".

To me this sounds, potentially, like she didn't really have the assertiveness to ask for pay and was simply waiting until someone offered to do so?

Obviously, I may be wrong, and I don't know all the circumstances, but I feel that it's important that she makes it clear that she knows that she's an excellent candidate, who also deserves to get paid for her work. Unfortunately, I feel that it is still especially important for women to make a clear statement on this point.

Maybe there's a good explanation for why she wasn't paid? Or maybe it's even the case that people in her position usually don't get paid, but because she did excellent work and this was noticed, they offered to pay her on an hourly basis anyway? If so, this could be highlighted.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Do NOT put "stay at home mother" on the CV. That is incredibly unprofessional!

It can be addressed in the cover letter, "working part-time for family reasons" but any more detail than that does not belong anywhere in the application. The bulk of that paragraph should be a detailed description of how she has kept active in the field.

She could be taking care of an aging parent or having babies or stuck as a trailing spouse... it doesn't matter what the family reasons are and the employer does not need to stereotype her because of it. She should be talking about what she has done, not what she hasn't done. She should be putting her work-self forward, not her personal life.

As employers, all we care about is whether or not she's going to be a good employee and we're not allowed to take into account her children, gender, marital situation. It's best if she doesn't give information on those things because it causes cognitive dissonance in the employer.

Anonymous said...

I'd hire her if she fit well with the group's needs. The fact that she was publishing papers and giving talks even while she wasn't really employed is a very positive thing.

Anonymous said...

When I hire someone I do not only see if they publish a lot or are super productive; I make sure the person is cool and fun to be with. I already have a job, if they want to get their shot at TT then they need to find motivation to work hard, I don't need to hear about it in some cover letter or recommendation. In the recommendation letter I want to see: "likes to go out to happy hour after a long day in the lab".

SocSciPhD said...

I'd hire her. My advice, though, is to be prepared in an interview to answer questions about motherhood. I was on the job market this year and, even though search committees aren't supposed to ask, I was asked about my marital status, whether I took my husband's last name, how many kids I had, even whether I planned to have more kids! I don't know what the right answer was to those questions, but I wish I had thought to have answers prepared beforehand. (I'd naively assumed no one would be so crass as to ask them.)

julia m said...

What kind of job is she applying for? Does it matter? Would it be different if she were applying for postdoc positions vs. faculty positions?

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed she kept analyzing data, writing papers and going to conferences although she wasn't employed. Since some people don't understand the responsibilities of parenthood, I wouldn't write "stay at home mom" on a resume, but rather "volunteer research associate" as to highlight her involvement with science. Great job!

Dr. Sneetch said...

Yes, I would hire her. No I am not the author of this email. But it could have been me (some years ago).

I didn't mention anything in my resume and the gaps show prominently. Perhaps references writers mentioned something, I don't know.

Be bold, take a risk, do something different. These things will increase your chance of a finding tt appointment or some other position.

Answering anonymous 4:01am, yes same is true for men, provided you do something bold like start your own company. No need to mention that it didn't quite work out. That's assumed when you are in the job market again.

Anonymous said...

@nicoleandmaggie: I agree that she shouldn't call herself a "stay at home mom", but for slightly different reasons. To many readers, that implies full-time parenting, doing no other work. They might not read further to discover how much more she was doing. "Work-at-home mom" (WAHM) would be both more accurate and better received.

I agree with everyone who says mention it, but don't dwell on it.

Not long ago, I was looking for a full-time out-of-the-home job after four years of a WAHM situation even more jumbled than this woman's. I acknowledged that it *was* jumbled; explained briefly that I had done this intentionally, and why; and declared that I was ready to return full-time focus to my career. No one had a problem with that. Furthermore, by being the first one to mention it, I defined the boundaries of the conversation. No obnoxious additional questions such as SocSciPhD mentions!

Anonymous said...

The situation, once explained is fine, I would hire her.

I would not put the term "Stay at home mom" on the CV. or even in the cover letter. She should say she worked on a volunteer basis and then part time for family reasons. Parental leave is a good term to use.

Perhaps it is unfair, but I think she has to err on the side of sounding formal.

a physicist said...

I'd happily hire her. I agree with what others have written, that it would be useful to at least briefly mention it in her cover letter, to address questions of "what has she been up to in all this time." The other thing I would want to see -- as is true for all postdoc applicants -- is what she wants to do next, after the postdoc. Someone who wants to work hard during their postdoc because they see it as a way to get further in their career would be great, which is the picture I'm drawing from the generalized email.

Everything I've written also applies to a stay-at-home-dad who wants to get back into research. A very good friend of mine from grad school was a stay-at-home-dad for a while, I'd be happy to hire someone like him who was applying.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely *NOT* put "stay at home mother" on my CV. Never. I don't think there's any need for her to explain the "gap" because it doesn't sound like there really has been one - she's been working on publications. As long as there's a record of academic work, I don't see any reason to draw attention to the gap. Maybe something to explain in a cover letter, possibly something to discuss in an interview, but no need to put it on the CV.

I'd certainly hire someone like this, if everything else checked out and they fit well into my research group. I don't view taking some time off for parenting as any kind of drawback and wouldn't hold it against a woman or a man, for that matter. I'm especially impressed with her output while on leave, because I didn't get anywhere near that much done while I was at home with my child.

And all I have is a giant o_O for anon#1 with the "quota woman" BS.

Anonymous said...

I also don't think she should use the words "stay at home mother." Unfortunately, that phrase still has negative associations. "Parent" is a little better. Maybe "Family matters" is better, but I don't know what the best phrasing is.

(Sorry, Anon at 4:01, but yes, the "rules" are still against you as a dad. I wish the pro-women movement would fight for dads as hard as they do for moms. My pro-equality husband probably would have taken some time off between PhD and post-doc to take care of our baby if it were more accepted. He considered it and decided it was going to be too detrimental to his career. Instead I took a break from my PhD. Blech.)

I disagree with nicoleandmaggie; it has to be on the CV. You need to explain the gap in the employment section. But I agree keep it to a minimum in the cover letter.

In addition I think she should avoid mention of "working for free" or even "volunteering" while being a SAHM. She was doing academic work, period. Yes, she also had another non-paid full-time job. But you set yourself up for low pay if you mention that you're willing to work for little or nothing. It doesn't have to be mentioned if/how much she was paid. She can just say she was a part-time researcher while managing family matters full time.

Thanks, FSP, for running this post. And I'm heartened to see the "yes, hire" responses. I'm going to have a bit long PhD due to baby #1 and I plan to take some time off between PhD and postdoc for baby #2. Glad to see that if I'm a good researcher my baby time won't be held against me (most of the time, at least).

Anonymous said...

The relative amount of experience compared to other candidates will matter, so if she's competing with other candidates who have full postdoctoral experience, then she might be at a disadvantage. But if competing with people straight out of grad school, she'd have at least as good, or better chance. The fact that she continued to be active during her hiatus could easily be seen as a positive. But if the amount of work hasn't been a whole lot, the hiatus could definitely be seen as a negative, too. So how you sell it will matter. And I agree that putting "Stay at home mom" on your CV is a terrible idea.

Cherish said...

While I think what she's doing is great, I question putting it in the cover letter besides 'personal reasons'. If a person has a medical condition that requires them to do the same thing, people will assume that it's more risky to hire this person. It really shouldn't matter what the person was doing during that time as long as they were still being productive.

Anonymous said...

Anon @4:11

Except that there is no such thing as a "quota man". The National Academy of Sciences has nailed all your sexist lies in a 2009 extensive report that starts its "key findings" section with the words:

"Men and women faculty have enjoyed comparable opportunities...and gender does not appear to have been a factor..."

You folks can take the empty chair in cloud cuckoo land...right beside the Creationists, Flat earthers...and global warming deniers.

Monisha said...

I vaguely recall having seen someone put "scholar-at-large" on a vita, which cracked me up.

it is hard to read between the lines about whether the productivity is typical for what would be expected at her career stage, or is a bit low for someone who was employed in science, but astoundingly good for someone who was doing the work unpaid and without an institutional affiliation and the supports that come with that, or whether the productivity on her record is well within the norms for someone who'd been working more or less fulltime in an official capacity. if the latter, i'd not bother to mention this; in the former, i as an employer would want some context for understnading how amazing the productivity in fact is.

nicoleandmaggie said...

*cough cough*

We think that perhaps that first anonymous poster is suffering from this scientifically-diagnosed typical member problem: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/stereotype-threat/

Anonymous said...

I'd definitely consider hiring her. Continuing to stay involved in science while a SAHM shows impressive dedication and genuine interest in research. What field/sub-field is she in? I'm looking for a postdoc... :)

Anonymous said...

I'd hire her - and might also encourage her to look at grants specifically designed for women who have taken a 'break' (doesn't sound like she has from the science just from job titles) from science for family reasons. The EU has money for this and I think AAUW does too. Anybody know if there are other resources like this? These would help because really anytime you bring money in it makes most questions about 'what were you doing' go away.

I would also like to know what the heck a "quota woman" is. Personally I think reading that comment means I've met my monthly quota of jackasses.

Angela said...

@ anon 11.01 I was being sarcastic. It is demeaning to imply that women who have been successful in obtaining a research position are there purely to fill some quota (regardless of ability) and therefore to call them 'token quota women'. It is as correct to call men in science 'token quota men' as calling women in science 'token quota women'. Both men and women can learn from this mother's impressive ability to multitask and continue self-motivated with her research, in such a way that she has been able to publish and present talks while not researching full time. It is encouraging to read in the comments from others that this will not hinder her employability as a postdoc.

John V said...

I think this boils down to how productive she's been in the last few years, as it would for any other applicant.

An employer might expect her productivity to step up a notch from landing the full time job, but also might expect her to spend fewer hours in the office and have a more constrained schedule than some other candidates due to having three young kids.

She certainly shouldn't use the kids as an excuse - they are not going away any time soon save using her salary to hire more help. She might or might not mention working w/o a fulltime position - perhaps a nebulous reference to a position working with her collaborators during that interval would suffice. It's definitely a disadvantage in the eyes of many to not be writing proposals and working daily within an active research team. Playing the difficulty of managing kids would not gain plaudits in my eyes, it's a lifestyle choice somewhat at odds with the long hours many in science contribute.

But if the accomplishments in the last fews years are as impressive as FSP relates, she's a very good candidate.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why she shouldn't be hired if her research profile matches.

However, I do have to say that I am shocked by how many people I see around me who are working for free. A lot of freshly graduated phd students at my institute come in regularly for months to finish projects without pay (they are being sponsored by parents and by the state as you can get benefits after a phd in my country). Others are being sponsored by their partners (like in this example).

This is fundamentally wrong for research, especially as most examples I have involve research which is writing pipelines for large projects.

Elena said...

I would consider hiring her. I would put some (minor) explanation on the cv, but I wouldn't make a big deal out of it.

I also think how this is received is culturally determined. Here in Canada, we have a section on grant applications, etc., where we are asked to list any maternity, paternity, or other extended leaves, so it is not so weird to have something like this listed on a cv.

At the same time, I wouldn't make a big deal out of it, but would request the supervisor to add an explanation (like the one FSP suggested, which shows a strength based on her performance while a "stay at home" mom) in his/her recommendation letter.

GMP said...

I would hire her, but would recommend against mentioning the word "mother" on the CV or in the cover letter. I know it shouldn't, but it automatically puts you in a different category in people's eyes; besides, hiring decisions should be devoid of influences from the candidate's personal life choices.

I think the key in the CV is to indicate that she never ceased to have an academic affiliation, it doesn't matter if she was part-time or fully without pay. I think that's sufficient. If she is able to write that in years 200X-20YY she was a part-time research affiliate, research associate or honorary fellow, or some such title, associated with (presumably) her previous academic institution, that's perfectly sufficient for her CV. Academic CV's don't have to show how you earned or didn't earn money -- if you are short on money and moonlighting at McDonalds in grad school you don't put that on CV -- but what your scientific affiliation and activities have been. That's perfectly sufficient.
The part-time affiliation can be explained in the cover letter as being due to family obligations, but I personally would not; it sounds too defensive.

Anonymous said...

I'd consider her in the same way as any other candidate, and wouldn't be turned off by the gap. I would like an explanation on the CV of any gap, regardless of the reason, however, but it needn't be extensive or detailed, and it could come in the cover letter. I then interview any reasonable postdoc, and have them meet the members of my lab. A person who managed to be actively engaged in science, giving talks and revising papers while raising three kids, would sound like a pretty good time manager in my mind.

Mark P

Cloud said...

I agree with those saying don't put "mother" (or for that matter, "father") on the CV if you have actually been working as a scientist, even part time. I don't think it matters whether you've been working out of a home office or going in to an office. What matters is that work got done.

I work in industry, not academia, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

This is one of those situations where it is clear to me how different hiring in academia and industry are. If an applicant were aiming for an industry job and had a similar situation, I would advise him or her to network like crazy until (s)he found someone who could make an introduction to the hiring manager or at least someone else in the target company.

Then explain the situation in person, when you can respond to the cues that the hiring manager gives.

With that said, I would happily hire a qualified candidate with a gap on his or her resume. There are some dinosaurs out there who wouldn't, but you probably don't want to work for them as a parent of small children, anyway. Of course, sometimes a job with a jerk is better than no job... but think carefully about that. I think it is harder to recover from a bad recommendation from a jerk boss than from a gap in your resume.

Anonymous said...

I think honestly the reason so many people are willing to give her a chance (deservedly!) is that she is looking for a postdoc position, which is fairly low risk for the employer. I don't think there would be as many positive responses if the break was between postdoc and faculty. I would love to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 7:42 who is only interested in people who are cool and fun... What are you thinking? She has three kids. I guarantee she is not going out to happy hour after a long day in the lab. Your attitude is as discriminatory as any knuckledragger.

Anne said...

Bless you all for your positive responses. I'm in a similar situation and it's good to hear your reactions. Granted, the people whose opinions really count may not be represented by commenters here, but it's good to know that open minds abound.

I've been leaving the gap on my CV unremarked upon and inserting one line into the very end of my cover letter that reads "after my last position I took a maternity leave but am now ready to return to full-time employment". I view my CV as a list of my academic accomplishments, and prefer potential employers to see it that way. If they are curious as to what else I've been doing with my life, they can ask me about it during the interview.

Anonymous said...

Anon @5:25, I agree with anon@7:42, why would anyone want to work with someone they don't enjoy the company of. Also, you are the one that is discriminating by implying any mother of three is not fun. I know lots of mothers with multiple kids to come out after a long day and enjoy a nice glass of wine. This is why we interview, a lot of people are great on paper, but personalities are more important. I would rather work with an average researcher that is fun than a superstar researcher that is antisocial. Ideally they will be a superstar researcher that is also the life of the party....like me:)

Anonymous said...

I would hire her, although I would be suspicious of the fact that she traveled to conference to give talks while not technically employed. How did she afford the travel, hotel and conference fees if she wasn't a paid member of any organization? unless they were all local conferences? But still, conference registration fees can be pretty expensive it you have to pay out of your own pocket.

Female Science Professor said...

I edited that info from the original e-mail. To me, it's a detail.

Azkyroth said...

I would suggest "full-time parent" in place of "stay-at-home mother." And I'd certainly be inclined to hire her if her work was the best or among the best. Doing any of that while parenting is impressive and her career/family decisions suggest a strong sense of conviction and confidence that would serve my organization well, I think.

Anonymous said...

I think it's strange that a woman can't use the term 'mother' without seeming unprofessional, but the generic term 'parent' works. I suppose a stay-at-home father should also use 'parent', so it's an equal-opportunity problem with the gender-specific terms, but I personally wouldn't care if someone (in an application) referred to their status as a mother/father vs. parent.

prodigal academic said...

I would hire her, but I agree with previous posters that she should leave "mother" and "parent" off her CV. Since she was working in academia part-time, I would put that on instead. Either her letter writers could address her situation, or she could use one line in her cover letter to explain that she was working part time, but now is ready for full time employment.

SHe does not want to go in the "mommy" pile before getting a chance to show off her stuff. Unfortunately, moms are seen as less capable (though dads are seen as more).

Coco said...

I think the perceived stigma associated with the word "mother" or the phrase "stay at home mother" is extremely interesting and very, very telling.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call it a stigma. I just don't think any form of parenting belongs on a CV. A cover letter can bring it up to provide context for "gaps" in employment history, but in a CV, it just comes off to me as too much information that I wouldn't divulge to someone else and that I don't want to know about a complete stranger.

neurowoman said...

While the positive responses here to this situation are encouraging, I'm a wee bit skeptical that it would be so positive when faced with a CV with a gap and you didn't already know the situation. Would you ignore any gap? A history of unemployment can indicate work problems and lack of interest, and that the person would need some time to get up-to-date in the field. Obviously you would include in your CV any science-related activities that would mitigate that perception. I just think you're darned if you do indicate 'family leave' and darned if you don't. Your best chance is finding a position with known contacts, at least on a short-term basis to get back into the market.

And we're definitely talking postdoc-level reentry or perhaps a teaching position or some other transitional position - there's zero chance that a gap would fly with research-intensive tenure-track searches.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a post asking this question if her break had been post postdoc and this were a faculty hire. As others have said, I suspect the answers might be very different.

Anonymous said...

As long as her interests and experience fit the position, I would not see her mom-status as a drawback, but as a strength. I would advise her to not include it in her cv, but explain it in one brief sentence in her cover letter and ask her advisor to discuss it in the recommendation letter.

And, yes, I believe men in a SAHF situation should do the same.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a problem with listing the gap in her CV as due to having left the workforce for family reasons. If it's not explained upfront, the employer is left to their own imagination as to why there is a gap and could come up with negative reasons like she was a bad worker and no one wanted to hire her, or something like that. If she didn't have kids but instead decided to spend a couple years traveling the world or joining the Peace Corp, that would also be a gap on the CV that I feel should be explained rather than leaving the prospective employer to guess about.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I don't see a gap in employment as a problem, even in a research-intensive faculty hire. A gap in publication may need explanation (a stint in industry can stop publication for several years), but is not a show-stopper.

If one is re-entering the job market after some time out of it, there does need to be something in the cover letter to indicate that one's skills are current and one's enthusiasm for work high. Saying something like "After several years of doing research part-time while raising my family (only 2 papers/year), I am ready once again to … " might be all that is needed. More detailed explanation can be left for the interview.

Anonymous said...

I would rather work with an average researcher that is fun than a superstar researcher that is antisocial. Ideally they will be a superstar researcher that is also the life of the party....like me:)
(-Anon 7:46)

Anon, what do you have against introverted people?

"Enjoying someone's company" or thinking they're a "fun person" is probably one of the most subjective things there is, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think the correct question is:

Everything else being equal (publication record, etc), would you hire her or somebody with a full-time postdoc experience or even a fresh PhD?

Anonymous said...

I don't see her being a stay at home mom as being in any way relevant to the job that she is applying for. I don't hold it against her, but I don't think it makes her a stronger candidate either. I wouldn't deduce that she was super efficient and a good multitasker just because she also has kids, for example. Just stick with her academic skills and experience and stop worrying about what else she did besides academia.

Anonymous said...

I think the comments are unrealistically positive. In reality, I think most prospective PI's -- even women -- would in fact not be impressed by her multitasking skills (or would not care) and would worry that her family would keep being a distraction.

I wish it weren't true, but it is: taking any time off for childbearing/childrearing does hurt your career, especially in very competitive fields such as academia; plus, the more male-dominated the field, the worse it is. If I were her, I'd try to get my foot back in the door with one of former advisor's buddies where he can vouch for me strongly.

Anonymous said...

I am troubled by many aspects of this post. It is not lear to me what exactly this woman was doing OVER TIME OF HAVING 3 children - not one. DId the PhD take longer because of kids, even though it seems like the last one was at the end. And attending conferences etc. I agree with the other comment about who paid.

I am a woman but I have to say that I would be dubious about this woman, unless she convinced me that she was 100% into the postdoc. I'm sorry, but granting agencies look at productivity. Period.

I am also not convinced that all those who replied 'yes I would hire her' are being completely honest with themselves.

It depends - if you want a 'glorified technician' or someone who can do something that you need in your lab - then possibly. If you want a 'go get'em' postdoc who is looking for a faculty position afterwards, I would have to be convinced by her that she can do it.

Dr. Sneetch said...

Strangely enough I agree with the last few 'hold on now are you sure about this' type comments. Those who read my blog know I'm living proof that something like this is possible. But ... they have a valid point.....

The letter writer said...

Thanks to FSP for this post and to everyone who responded. This discussion has helped to clarify some things about how I want to present myself and how I might be perceived - I think it has been quite helpful.

In the comments that have expressed doubts, I see a few common issues and I'm wondering if it's possible/advisable to address them in my applications.

*Future career plans - I am planning to go on the job market for a tenure-track job as soon as I complete an appropriately productive postdoc - in my field 2-4 years is typical. I don't see an obvious place in the usual application materials to discuss long-term career goals. Is this something you typically see in an application or more of a read-between-the-lines thing?

*Travel funding - I'm a little surprised that this is an issue. My travel was funded out of my former advisor's grant as it was related to my PhD research. This is not unusual, so I do not address it in my application. Could someone elaborate on what their concerns are?

*The kids - the only mention of them in my application is the one sentence where I state that I have been at home with them for the past few years. I don't actually say that I have 3 in my application, but with my name and a few seconds on Google someone could find out all about them. I do state that I am excited and ready to return to full-time research. Is there anything more I could say to be reassuring that I'm ready for a normal postdoc workload?

Thanks again for your input.

Anonymous said...

hi Letter Writer, I'm the anon @ 5/23/2011 09:00:00 PM who expressed doubts about the travel.

I'm glad to hear that it was indeed all legitimate so my concerns are gone now.

But until you stated that it was in fact legitimate because your former advisor had grant money left over and spent it on your travel even though you were no longer being employed by him/her (a situation which I personally have never heard of, as usually I have seen left over grant money go to fund "existing" students rather than those who have already left, or else to fund the advisor's own travel), I was concerned if there was academic dishonesty going on as follows:

if a new job applicant says they have long ago left their former employer and have been unemployed for awhile, yet also says that he/she went to conferences to give talks during that period of unemployment, I would think this highly unlikely and difficult to believe because of the exorbitant costs of attending conferences when funded out of one's own pocket. Since the applicant said they had long ago left their lab, how could they afford to attend conferences without an employer to pay for it?

Therefore, I would suspect the job applicant must be lying about having given those talks during the unemployment period. And that any conference citations with that applicant's name, must be due to the former advisor having continued the applicant's project via putting new students on the project but also putting the applicant's name on it due to his/her past involvement.


maybe I'm weird or close minded for not having assumed that the former advisor had left over grant money that they were willing to spend on a former student who has already left the lab...but I dont' think I would be the only one to find this strange.

anyway, with that cleared up you sound like a strong candidate. good luck with your job search!

Anonymous said...

Letter writer: My travel was funded out of my former advisor's grant as it was related to my PhD research. This is not unusual, so I do not address it in my application. Could someone elaborate on what their concerns are?

I have seen this happen but for a short period of time (maybe 6 months or up to a year after graduation). But it seems at best unusual and at worst really wrong (from the standpoint of granting agency obligations) that the advisor would pay travel for someone no longer affiliated with the university for several years after he/she has left (presumably the original grant have long expired).

Anyway, I am one of the anons above
(5/26/2011 01:23:00 PM). I wish you the best in your job search. Just make sure it's unequivocal that you are planning to be every bit the go-getter during your postdoc and that your ambitions have in no way been dampened since you finished grad school.

Also, I would write the CV so as not have a gap in the academic affiliation -- as someone said above, you probably have some sort of title as a part-timer (research affiliate or associate), so list that.

I would still think that trying to get a postdoc with one of your advisor's trusted collaborators/friends or someone you know personally from conferences is your best bet.

Best of luck!

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"maybe I'm weird or close minded for not having assumed that the former advisor had left over grant money that they were willing to spend on a former student who has already left the lab...but I dont' think I would be the only one to find this strange."

It is not unusual for grant funds to be paid for travel expenses to conferences for the person who did the research, even if that person has since graduated or was working without pay. I would do it for a volunteer or part-time worker in my lab, if I had any funding.

In many fields it is not unusual for people to pay for conferences out of their own pockets. Conferences in those fields are usually less expensive than in the fields where everyone expects someone else to be paying. I'm in a field where everyone is expected to have travel funds, but I've paid for conferences out of my own pocket.

I certainly would not expect that someone was lying about conference presentations, since that is so easy to check on the web for most conferences.

Anonymous said...

I too haven't seen situations where someone who has left the lab is still being funded to go to conferences by their previous advisor. to me this raises legal/ethical concerns as to accountability. But could be because I work in a federal government lab where we have a lot of red tape about how money is and is not to be spent. I often envy the flexibility given to academic researchers in how they spend research funds as I think it makes life a lot easier (though maybe or maybe nor "fairer") for everyone for example in situations such as this.

Anonymous said...

Dear Letter writer,

Re: number of children - you do mention 'your middle child' so I assumed 3 (rather than, say 5).

Your responses seem very defensive ( and not very thoughtful). Frankly, after reading them I would be less likely to hire you.

May 'clocks' are counted from year of PhD. So it will be obvious that you have a 'gap' even though you have papers published after that date.

I do not know what you should say about it, but if your PhD was 'a few years ago - how many? - it will leap out at you.

I wonder why the letter writer says that with her name and Google people could figure out how many kids she has? What does she have posted on line? I could be very careful to make sure that if someone Googles her (in prep. for an interview, for example) she is certain that potential employers will find only what she wants them to find.

Anonymous said...

The kids - the only mention of them in my application is the one sentence where I state that I have been at home with them for the past few years. I don't actually say that I have 3 in my application,


"My third (and final) child is now over a year old and I am applying for postdoc positions."

?????

The letter writer said...

There seems to be some confusion - the email I wrote to FSP (that she printed with this post) is not the letter that I am including with my application materials. In writing to FSP, I emphasized the family situation because I was looking for feedback specifically on that issue. In my follow-up comment, I was attempting to provide additional information about what is in the cover letter in my application materials - it contains much of the same information, but the application letter is much more specific with respect to career stuff (dates, research projects, names of conferences, etc) and contains less information about my family. I am not trying to hide anything about my family situation - I don't mind if someone Googles me and finds our family pictures page - I just want my application to focus as much as possible on my research while still being honest about my employment history.

Anonymous said...

"I am not trying to hide anything about my family situation - I don't mind if someone Googles me and finds our family pictures page - I just want my application to focus as much as possible on my research while still being honest about my employment history."

well said. You don't have anything to hide. You have a family, you took time off for them. So what's the big deal? it's not like you were in jail for a felony as the reason for the gap in your CV!!

Just be completely transparent. that's my personal motto anyways. otherwise it's easy to drive yourself nuts and become neurotic trying to predict how as-yet-unknown people (potential employers) are going to interpret the situation you present. Any situation you present can be interpreted any way, so the best is to just tell it like it is.

(but you don't have to take my word for it. while I am content with my career so far, there are certainly many who are more "successful" in their careers than I...depending on what metrics are used to define success. I am where I want to be, though. so my above advice has served me well. But it may or may not work for you.)

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who works a non-academic job but continues to publish and do research. He describes himself as an "independent scholar". Given her ongoing publication/presentation record, this could be a fair description if she didn't feel like highlighting being a stay-at-home-parent on the CV.

Anonymous said...

i wouldn't hire a him or a her with this story. science is not fit for everyone. someone who is not in the lab for many many hours a day simply isn't going to be competitive with someone who is. science is under no obligation to hire this person. for those who think they would be fine hiring her, that's great! go for it.

The Letter Writer said...

I doubt many will see this, but for the record...

I applied for almost every open position in my field over a period of 4-5 months, around 20 jobs in all. I only got one interview, but it was with a really good group and they hired me. So I am now happily and busily employed.

Female Science Professor said...

Congratulations!