Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Getting a "good job" -- advice for the graduating PhD student

A graduate student that I considered to be very smart and toward the top of her field recently graduated with her PhD (I won't say from what university or what year, given that there are only but so many of us). I've always wanted my research to be as exceptional as hers. Well, I found out a few weeks ago that she had only received 2 job offers (for academic positions) after she had interviewed! At the time she was interviewing I knew that she had received an offer from an overseas institution that she had decided to turn down due to distance; but I had assumed that she must have had many offers in the US! Turns out she only had 1 other offer, at a relatively unknown school (I assume university, but it may be a college).

This revelation was quite shocking for me (despite the fact of how out-of-the-loop I have been to have only recently learned about this)! Here is this great researcher and student, who ends up accepting a position much below her capabilities. Do any of the rest of us even stand a chance at being hired when we graduate??

Well, talking to others that knew her better, I found out that there is a very likely reason for why this happened: letters of recommendation. Apparently, she defended her thesis AFTER she completed her job search. At the end of her defense her committee were all pleasantly surprised at how astounding her contribution was to her field. From what I hear, it is likely that the letters were not as strong as they would have been had she defended before they were written.

So, the lesson of the day: Defend your thesis BEFORE you go on the job search, even if it could mean 1 more year in grad school. You may get better letters of recommendation, which can make your final set of employment choices much better!

(Although I tagged this as pertaining to women, it pertains to ALL graduate students)

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