Career Development Tips for freshly minted STEM assistant professors

Congratulations on the new position, because so few make it to this point at all. The transition from post-doc to tenured faculty is a difficult process with many challenges that can derail your success, however the best lessons are usually stuck in the brains of your colleagues who have gone through this process so do not hesitate to pick those brains. You can achieve the transition to tenure painlessly if you begin to plan early. So start right away!

The first thing you need to do is learn what your departmental, college, institutional expectations are.
Key questions you must get answers to include:
1) What is the timeline for tenure?
2) What kind of funding am I expected to bring?
3) How many publications?
4) How much teaching is expected of me?
5) What about service?
6) Any other intangibles?

Secondly and equally important, you need learn your institutional culture and ensure that it is a good fit for your personality and career goals. Soft skills and interpersonal skills are important in academia.

Now let’s get to work on your success:
You have to identify and set benchmark goals for your success. This requires introspection and a clear mind. Some folks suggest you look at older colleagues and model your career trajectories on them. While this approach may have worked two decades ago, with the highly competitive funding and job climate of the 21st century, this may be a path to setting yourself up for failure. A more effective approach is to look at the resources you currently have and develop your 3-year plan that addresses your institutional expectations and personal objectives. To do this you need to know yourself! Think of it like the process for choosing a PhD program or post-doctoral program on steroids…

The goals and objectives for each subsequent year must build on the preceding years. You have to be adaptable and if you do not meet your benchmark goals be ready to have alternative objectives and pathways that will allow you to be ready to achieve tenure.

Ok now to the specific ideas and tangible steps that you have to take:
1) Establish and define research objectives and goals that will facilitate
successful funding and publications
2) Apply for Early Career Award opportunities and /or pilot grants to support
your research!
3) Actively seek Career development opportunities: examples include Keystone symposia early career awards, AACR etc
4) Identify faculty mentors to guide you in grant writing and help develop career goals
5)Partner with established researchers on grant proposals – be careful to avoid those that make you ineligible for early career awards except if they give you funding that is equivalent to (or greater than) your own early career award.

You must define your own research goals and objectives and they must be realistic, fundable and something you can build your academic career on. Yes this is a steep goal. -You cannot afford to invest any significant amount of your time / talent / treasure building someone else’s research program unless it is also your own and it accelerates your individual growth and success. So many folks before you have crashed out of academia despite developing amazing programs for others.

Even if you plan on conducting all your research as a collaborator within a stable team, you still need to show some level of competence and independence. But whatever you do, remember to only engage in symbiotic relationships not parasitic ones.

It is important to realize that during your first few years as a faculty member, you are being judged on your potential for success so use it wisely. During this brief window, you can establish and validate the trust put into your ‘potential’ through productivity. Evidence of productivity includes publications and other research outcomes. You also need to establish that you are capable of being trusted with $$$ as an independent researcher and not just riding the coat tails of your mentor. Early career awards will help you show your independence. Some awards like the NIH K01 allow you to define gaps that you need protected time to address. The beauty of some of these awards is that they are in your name and if your institution / department is not a good fit you can take award and your ass to somewhere that is a better fit.

On the other hand you can partner with an established researcher to get an administrative or other type of early career award based on their R01-type grant. This is an easier approach than your own grant but the huge caveat is identifying a suitable mentor with similar interests as yours and willing to build you up to independence and /or competence. These awards include minority and other administrative supplements that may suffice for getting tenure if you are in a smaller school and you are expected to bring in less than $1 million dollars in 6 years. Just remember that once you get certain grants, you lose your eligibility for others.

The data you generate from your early career awards need to be used to apply for the next award so plan your research very carefully. Also make sure that you can achieve your research goals within your institutional environment and with the resources that you have access to.

Good luck on your journey to tenure / independence / whatever the next step is and don’t get burned out.


Summer Research Experiences

One of the questions that I am asked most is “how do I get a paid summer internship?”
Most undergraduates understand the benefit of these programs yet do not know how/where to start. So I am going to post a few leads here for people that are interested.
1) Many schools including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, MIT, Baylor College of Medicine, Notre Dame, and other research universities have summer research experiences.

2) Typical deadlines for summer research programs are in December but some take applications till February.

3) I recommend that the students should visit the websites of local universities as many have programs. Also if they know which part of the country/world where they want to spend the summer a quick google search for “summer research” and the school name and will get a list of programs that the school offers.

4) The programs are competitive so I suggest that students apply to several so as to increase their chances. Students should try to go somewhere where they will get a good mentor who can help them with references in addition to providing the training to become a better researcher and scientist.

5) Here are other programs that pay for summer research for undergraduates. Some are less competitive than others and this list is far from exhaustive


Dakotas .
NIH programs
Cold Spring Harbor program
Other government programs:!

NSF link for REUs
Additional programs in Houston as follows:

The true enemy of global justice is apathy. Instead of worrying if other people are protesting enough or appropriately, each of us needs to continue to do our part to make our own little corner of the world just a little bit better. Like Wangari Maathai we should all be the hummingbird!

Step 1

The first step to eliminating privilege is treating everyone fairly. If white Christians are not responsible for Tim McVeigh, Jim Jones, David Koresh etc, why should muslims or black people be held accountable for the actions of strangers they do not know? Heck in America the parents of white serial killers are rarely held accountable for their actions. So next time you try to selectively blame certain groups, remember that makes you part of the problem. When you talk about black on black crime but not white on white crime, you are part of the negative forces destroying our world. When you “otherize” groups and “normalize” yourself, you are part of the problem. When you make excuses for extrajudicial murder that you would not make if the victim looked like you, you are not just part of the problem, you are the problem!

Evidence speaks: Grades matter.

When my daughter started kindergarten, she refused to do her assignments and tests. She said the work was too easy and she had done the  work in her Montessori preschool. She asked me why she was expected to do “baby work”? She complained about being bored in class. She  could not understand why she was expected to be working on three letter words and vowel sounds when she could read? This is a child who chose to make a model “icosahedron” as a two year old since she needed a shape that started with “I”. So I felt for her and so I listened to her complaining about everything, from the math classes to spelling tests… When she was done speaking, I told her that I understood that she was frustrated. My next words to her shocked me, I asked her “how do your new teachers know how much you know if you refuse to show them on the tests and assignments?” I agreed with her that she was smart and hardworking and she needed to always let her work show what she knows. We had this conversation almost 8 years ago and I think this was the best 30 minutes I ever invested in her academic career. She bought into the idea that people need evidence to believe you. Yes the work is still too easy for her (ok I still need to refresh her memory regularly and she has her limits), but that is another story, however no one can out work her even on “baby work”.