Wednesday, January 17, 2018

It is grad school/faculty job interview season. How do you pick where you will end up?

As you go on campus visit for grad school or faculty positions you not only have to decide if this is the university for you, but also whether this is a place where you want to spend a good chunk of your life. You may have done a wide search and be unfamiliar with some of the cities and schools, so what do you look for? How do you pick?

I was debating this issue with one of my senior mentors who suggested a clever approach, develop a ranking system. Define the things that are important to you for your work AND your life, and rank the different aspects of each option. One place may be #1 for work and #8 for life, so maybe you'd rather be somewhere that is only close to the top but has more attributes you like. It's an interesting exercise, especially because it really makes you think about what you want.

This is how I did it for faculty jobs. I came up with 7 criteria for work and 7 criteria for life, so that the scoring would be balanced. I chose things that are important to me personally and that I realized I would like for running a lab:

WORK: good colleagues, resources (cores, internal funding, etc), percent of salary support, students, good administrators, ability to attract good students/postdocs, recognition/ranking

LIFE: large city, proximity to friends and family, good art museum, good theater, good symphony orchestra, weather, distance from New York City

Then I made an Excel spreadsheet and assigned a value from 0-10 to each for a possible total of 140 points. Interestingly, the highest value I got was 106. Being in NYC immediately gives a score of 66, because let's admit it, the weather is not the best. It was clear that there is no perfect place and the final order was not necessarily what I expected. While this is not the only decision-making tool you should have, if you have been going back and forth in your head about some universities and cities, seeing how they rank on all aspects can be eye-opening. Defining your criteria can also remind you to ask specific questions during your interview to properly assess whether the place is a good fit. If you want a primer on which questions to ask and how to ask them there is an old post here. And another here on the all-important, but very loaded "Are you happy here?" and how to deploy it on a job search.

PS: Grad students: I was so confused when I had to pick a school that I literally let it up to fate, so don't feel bad if you don't know what you want. But trying this may help...


  1. Very quantitative, scientific approach. I've heard of other people doing a similar thing, but I am not in that camp. I guess I qualitatively know the importance of things similar to your list but I also go with my gut-feeling. It worked really well for selecting my graduate school, and I'm hoping it will do the same with a faculty position this year. (I had very few postdoc options, so I can't say I used the same method. What was important there was first and foremost the quality of the science/name recognition, as I knew it was a short-term situation).

    Only difference now for my faculty search is that I have a two-body situation, where the other body is in another country. So there's a lot of trust put in me to assess and accurately incorporate the other person's opinion too!

  2. Thanks for the blog posts! These days - politics & environment (not just physical) are very important - so being in a place that cares about the quality of air, water, etc. and tries to protect it is vitally important to me. And a place that values the rights of people, arts, and intellect are so critically important. Ever so thankful I left the places that did not then & do not now seem to honor those things....

  3. From a individual struggling after campus visit.
    Thank you for your fantastic posts on your blog. These are really helpful to me. I have a question about a waiting period after campus visit. Three campus visits have been passed two to three weeks since I walked out of campuses. Fourth one is next week. I felt a positive feeling and I really enjoyed the visit instead of torturing. One campus is still inviting other candidates til the end of this month and two are already finished one to two weeks ago. When can I expect news either a good one or a bad one? When is a good time to contact them for the progress? Or just wait...?