NISS Career Fair Continues Discussion of Advice for Job Seekers During the Pandemic

Irina Gaynanova (Texas A&M) reviews the open positions her department is seeking to fill.Robert Krafty (Emory) asks candidates to reflect on the direction of their chosen career.Martin Wells (Cornell) reviews the current interview process in place given the restrictions of the pandemic.Jessica Li (UCLA) facilitates discussion during Q&A among panelists.

This was the second Academic Career Fair for NISS Affiliates.  Three NISS Affiliate institutions were represented by faculty intimately familiar with the hiring process.  They included Irina Gaynanova (Hiring Committee Member and Assistant Professor) and Brani Vidakovic (H.O. Hartley Chaired Professor and Head of the Department of Statistics), both from Texas A&M University, Robert Krafty (Department Chair and Professor, Department of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, Rollins School of Public Health) from Emory University and Martin Wells (Department Chair and Charles A. Alexander Professor of Statistical Sciences, Department of Statistics and Data Science) from Cornell University.

These distinguished panelists were asked to share not just their advice for how to approach applying for an academic position, but how this process has changed under current circumstances and their insights for those on the job market as a result.  Once again, the good news is that all three departments currently have open positions that they are trying to fill.  Furthermore, along with their faculty, each of these departments have worked to articulate new guidelines for how to handle the hiring process in a virtual setting.  As noted during this session, COVID-19 has had more effects on candidates than the evaluators.  For this reason alone, you will want to review this session!

Brani Vidakovic (Texas A&M) began by characterizing the changing field of statistics and what this means for academic institutions and the emphasis of faculty research.  He noted the shift to practical relevance in real-life problems, including the shift from classical mathematical statistics to data science and methodological research that is driven by the needs of research in a wide variety of content areas. Hence, his department “is particularly interested in expertise in the broad area of data science. Evidence of interdisciplinary research and focus on computational aspects is a plus.”  Irina Gaynanova followed with an overview of Texas A&M, the statistics department, and positions they are currently looking to fill. Yes! These positions are still open!  The most valuable part of her remarks, however, was the extensive list of tips and personal advice she offered candidates along with a description of how the hiring process has changed given restrictions due to COVID-19. 

“Things are crazy with COVID –be ready to be flexible, but do not hesitate to voice logistical considerations.  If you are invited for an interview – the department wants to interview you!”
Irina Gaynanova (Texas A&M University)

The next speaker can certainly relate to all those currently on the job market who are contemplating a move!  Robert Krafty (Emory University) explained that while much of his interviewing took place in February before the COVID-19 outbreak, he managed to visit the campus in June, later accepted the position and moved his family to Atlanta, Georgia “smack in the middle of the pandemic!”  His department also has a number of positions that they would like to fill. Robert provided a quick review of his university and his department similarly noting as Brani had earlier that his faculty are involved in “Almost any area of basic or applied health science you can think of.”  The underlying message for candidates here is the importance to establish an independent methods research program with impact.  Much as Irina had earlier, Robert offered his own valuable list of personal and practical advice for candidates both in terms of the applying and interviewing but more importantly in thinking about your career and life

The final speaker was Martin Wells (Cornell) who began by describing a bit about what it is like to live in Ithaca, New York, a much smaller locale than the previous two speakers.  He also described his department along with a description of the multiple tenured and tenure track positions they are seeking to fill!  Martin was clear about the type of candidates that they are looking for: those with the potential to contribute strong research, a strong commitment to teaching and mentoring, along with the potential for scholarly impact and service.

“Being able to explain your research to a broad audience is as important as the research itself.”
Martin Wells (Cornell University)

Martin’s remarks also included advice for candidates to think about regarding how to balance describing the breadth of your experience versus depth in one area.  This involves being able to answer very specific technical questions but also being about to talk with statisticians and non-statisticians alike.  As was discussed later in the session, departments are looking for candidates who can establish a readiness for and a growing maturity towards becoming an independent researcher.

When the Question and Answer section of the session began, moderator Jessica Li (UCLA) was looking at a blank slate, however, questions came in quickly and included a number of very interesting and perhaps even delicate questions!  The panelists relied on the wealth of their collective experience to provide substantial answers to questions which included: “What is your advice for dual career couples?”,  “What is the best way to sell yourself when your papers are not yet published?”, and “Are there thresholds for number of publications and manuscripts needed to get an interview?”  There were several questions that focused on the pros and cons of doing a postdoc including: “Will a postdoctoral position be more likely to get a tenure track position than a fresh PhD graduate?”, “Is there any difference in how you would evaluate a candidate coming from a postdoctoral position versus coming straight from a PhD program?” and “Is it a good idea to apply for both a postdoc and a tenure track positions within the same department?”  

Wow – good questions! The discussion around these topics is definitely worth reviewing!

Please Note: The recording of the session and links to the slides the speakers used is made available to NISS Affiliates now and then made available to the public on January 9, 2021.

Thursday, December 10, 2020 by Glenn Johnson