Friday, December 30, 2011

I Would Consider Being A Postdoc In Your Lab

Has anyone else gotten one like this? I have, unfortunately, although it wasn't in the cover letter, it was in follow-up correspondence. This is, of course, another entry in the Cover Letter contest.

Professor Female,

You may remember that we met at the X Conference last year when my advisor, Professor Bigname, introduced us at the Z Inc. cocktail party. At the time, I mentioned that I would be finishing my PhD in May 2012, and I am on track to do so. I am therefore in the process of looking for a tenure-track faculty position, but would also consider being a postdoc in your lab.

As you know, I have a lot of expertise in A, B, and C. I have read a few of your papers, and think that my background would be a great asset to you.

Since I am also applying for tenure-track faculty positions and other postdocs, I can’t commit to coming to work with you until I know all of my options. Ideally, I will be offered a faculty position for the coming academic year, but if that doesn’t happen this year, and particularly if no other postdoc positions are available when I finish my PhD, I would be very pleased to join your research group as early as June 2012. My wife and I are planning on starting a family as soon as possible, and I think it would work out quite well if that difficult first year, when our child is an infant, coincided with time spent working with your research group, before I move on to a more challenging and time-consuming tenure-track faculty position.

We should talk soon about my options for a postdoc with you. I will be visiting family in your area over the upcoming holidays, and I will call or e-mail to let you know when I am available to meet with you.


A postdoctoral applicant whose assumption that I, a female professor, would be sympathetic to his plans to start a family was incorrect, not because he planned to start a family soon (that is fine with me) but because he managed to turn it into an insult to me.


MamaRox said...

Oh, yes, I've definitely heard all this from a potential postdoc before (via phone + email)... even down to the part about meeting during the holidays when it would be convenient for him. Not surprisingly, neither of us followed up. He was too busy/important/got a better offer. Me, too.

Anonymous said...

How did you respond to this, if you responded at all? Since I could do without sexist douchebags, I'd probably tell him good luck with the faculty search and with his new family, but that I had no place for him in the lab.

Anonymous said...

While I can't relate to the part about wanting to start a family, I did tell a potential postdoc mentor that I would prefer to stay in the city that I am currently in for my postdoc, if possible. I explained that this is because I just moved to this city a year ago, and would prefer not to have to move again. I conveyed this information in an email, not in the cover letter itself. The main focus of this email was to determine if the potential mentor's lab was a good fit for me, and the issue of moving was mentioned as an aside. I also mentioned that I am applying for another fellowship that would allow me to stay in my current city, but am not sure if that will come through, hence why I am applying for other opportunities. I also made it clear that the advertised postdoc would be my preferred choice if I am unable to postdoc in my current city.

While it was risky to mention my (un)willingness to move, I did it in the interest of being upfront with my potential mentor (I don't like to get people's hopes up only to unexpectedly dash them). Fortunately, I think it worked out okay, since the potential mentor is from my current city (and so understood my wish to stay there), and said that she wouldn't mention it to the search committee unless I make it to the on-campus visit. I was fine with that, since I should know by the time of the on-campus visit whether I will receive the other fellowship that would let me stay in my current city.

Question for faculty: Do you think that I handled this matter acceptably, or would you prefer that applicants give you the illusion that you are their first choice, even if they are unlikely (or less likely) to accept a position in your lab?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I had a grad student write something similar. They announced they would be joining my lab the following year and while they admitted that I wasn't exactly what they were looking for they thought I'd have some decent insights, at least for now. When I politely (really) declined they had trouble taking no. I honestly wish I had some of that nerve (tied to a little more social sense).

Kea said...

ROFL, that sounds just like quite a few dudes I know. And I can even picture some of the old dudes reading it without batting an eyelid. Maybe I should try that tack with my 3000th postdoc application?

Alex said...

Anon at 11:10-

You don't have to let everyone think that they're your first choice, but you don't have to tell them that they aren't, either. Just tell them that you are interested in the possibility of working with them, and what it is that interests you. That is honest and professional, it doesn't tip cards that they don't want to see, and it doesn't compromise you.

OTOH, nobody has ever accused scientists of having abundant interpersonal skills. God knows that I've made my share of over-sharing mistakes.

DRo said...

My husband and I got quite a laugh out of this. Thanks FSP!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your posts femaleScienceProfessor.

We all know that we cant always have our first choice so being 100% upfront is not always possible if one wants to dance the dance.

But here I seriously wonder how this applicant got into grad school or for that matter into a relationship....

Anonymous said...

I am also a phd student in physical science hoping to finish in a year or so. I am not in the USA so I don't know how things work there for a post doc jobs. So you just contact people in your field and ask if they want to hire you??? Ofcourse I wouldn't write a letter like that, it sounds stupid and arrogant, that guy shouldn't even get a PhD.

Anonymous said...

You could reply with "Gee thank you for deigning to consider my humble lab, I would consider being your mentor but I have other candidates who are better in every way"

Gingerale said...

FSP, thanks for this post. The letter could have been a fraction as insolent and I'd have turned away the applicant. Life's too short for that grief.

Sumit said...

I am on the verge of completing my PhD. what is the correct (and non offending)way to contact a potential postdoc mentor? Is it okay to directly ask him/her for any position? Please help.

Female Science Professor said...

This is what I suggest based on what I like to see in such letters:

1. Introduce yourself very briefly and state up-front the purpose of your e-mail: that you are looking for a postdoc.

2. Briefly explain your expertise and your research interests, and why you are writing to this particular person.

3. Ask if there are any opportunities for a postdoctoral position with that professor/group.

Make sure it is not a form letter, so the person reading it knows that you are sending a thoughtful and sincere letter. This will increase the chances of a response.

Also, if relevant to your field, you could mention funding avenues that you have or could explore, if you happen to know of these. This is more difficult if writing to people in other countries and you are not familiar with the funding system, so don't worry about it if that is the case.

Anonymous said...

A post doc with Balls ! Good for him. Finally someone that knows his value and does not do the whole grovel grovel routine !