Transitioning from Trainee to Assistant Professor

Transitioning from Trainee to
Assistant Professor
Alana L. Welm
Assistant Professor
Department of Oncological Sciences
Huntsman Cancer Institute
University of Utah
• My background/experience (perspective)
• Advice for postdocs
• Advice for the job search
• Advice for the new Assistant Professor
• Special Topics: balancing family and dual careers
•B.S. Microbiology, University of Montana 1992-1996
(learned I LOVE science, research)
research since age 16, but no real publications
• PhD, Baylor College of Medicine 1996-2000
• Postdoc, Baylor College of Medicine 2000-2001
(learn how to think, how to write)
3 first author and 4 middle author papers
(married in 1997)
• Postdoc, UC San Francisco 2001-2006
(find a specialty, gain independence)
2 first author and 2 middle author papers, 1 review
(Ella born in 2004; Corey born in 2006)
• Assistant Professor, U of Utah 2007-present
(dual career – 2 tenure-track asst. profs. with 2 labs and 2 kids, both up
for tenure in ~2 years)
7 middle author papers, 1 review, 2 “real” papers in revision
Advice for postdocs:
• Go to the best lab you can! It’s easier than you
think….Your work as a postdoc will set the stage
for the rest of your career
• Gain intellectual independence, and try to mentor
junior researchers
• Write your own grants/fellowships/papers. Give as
many talks as possible
• Carve out your own “niche” to serve as a starting
point for your own lab – work with your mentor to
ensure you have your own angle on the project
At the Postdoc level:
Two things I wish I had done (in hindsight)
Running a lab is like having a small business. Postdocs
are NOT trained for this  trial by fire!
•Learn how to manage people
(everyone has to be mentored differently)
•Learn how to read/manage budgets
(what IS an encumbrance, exactly?!)
At the Postdoc level:
What I wish I had done (in hindsight)
Attend “job talks” and “chalk talks”
• Talk with faculty afterward to hear their
• Learn what works (and what doesn’t!) and use
the former in your own presentations
Advice on applying for academic research positions:
• 3 components to a successful application (at least)
1. Cover letter: how do you fit in the department?
2. CV: honors, funding, papers
3. Research Statement: outline your first R01
• First impressions REALLY matter – a typical search
yields 150-300 applications (at Utah)
• Read your application from THEIR perspective – how
will you benefit their program?
• Have others read your application CRITICALLY
Advice on applying for academic research positions:
• Interview
• Job talk – practice, practice, practice!
• suit the audience – most won’t know your
• One-on-one meetings
• review their papers/website beforehand
• Social events (e.g. dinner or gathering)
• be yourself! Are these colleagues you can
envision “hanging out with?”
• CHALK TALK – extremely important!!
• describe your first R01
• handout to outline your Aims – keep on track
• practice writing on the board
Starting as an Assistant Professor:
• Know the “unwritten rules”
• Find a mentor(s), determine the expectations
• Get advice on managing people
• Use your resources (admin assistants, etc.)
• Get your lab going with a technically-competent
person – often a senior technician who can do
experiments AND train others
• Get exposure to graduate students early
• Invest time/money in a good website
Special Topics
Balancing family with a career
• set priorities (special evening/weekend time)
• manage time effectively
• learn to compromise
• be flexible
• utilize a sense of humor
• take care of yourself, and ask for help!!
✓ spouse
✓ get someone else to clean the house occasionally
✓ break the routine (e.g. eat out once in a while)
Special Topics
Dual careers
Coordinate the job search
* set priorities
* find compromises
Communicate the issue at the interview
Heading two labs
* Juggle or tag-team lab-related tasks to make
things easier for both