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I was in the fortunate position of having more than one job offer to choose from, with two more interviews on the immediate horizon, when I chose to move to The University of Texas School of Public Health. Fortunate, but agonizing. In The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner writes that more choices do not increase happiness: people are usually happier with less options. I don’t know if the feeling of choice is important,so I don’t know if one (agreeable) option trumps a few options, which trumps several options… but, I will admit that the wealth of choices before me, at the time, caused much agony. I drew up tables and spreadsheets of pros and cons and sent them to friends, colleagues and mentors. To, pretty much, no available. I made my decision in the same way that Jonah Lehrer in How We Decide, argues that we all do: through impulse and emotion at the ‘last minute’. Lehrer argues that this is a wise approach, but I am not so sure. I think I was lucky to, so far – 6 weeks in – love my new institution – but going on impulse I guess it could have been quite a different story. Part of my problem was that I had no idea how to choose a faculty position – what would be important. So, I share with you, the things about UT I am glad that I happened upon:

(1) A place with a wealth of datasets held by the PIs.

(2) A place with a variety of disciplines: there are virologists, epidemiologists, geneticists, exercise scientists, and more all at the SPH. All hold data, and although there is a lot of collaboration, not everything has been done with every dataset. Plus, there are many departments in the wider UT: somewhere, there is a niche for me.

(3) A place with a lot of ‘offshoots’ that have ongoing studies: UTSPH has connections with Baylor School of Medicine, MD Anderson, The Children’s Learning Institute, hospitals and so on. It opens doors.

(4) A place that is not saturated with junior faculty / postdocs. At UAB, although I loved the place, my PI had many faculty and many postdocs, across many sites: she had all the expertise she needed and a lot of data were claimed (although she carved out a ‘niche’ or phenotype for me, and was fairly free with her data). UT has more need for genetics specialists – outside of the Division of Genetics of course 😉

(5) People who really care about young Scientists. I truly get the sense that a lot of senior people at UT are invested in making sure their new faculty are successful – even if they have nothing to do with them directly / nothing to do with the hiring decision. People have gone out of their way to say hi, and to make introductions. One of these introductions may (I hope) form the basis for my first major project.

(6) A head of department (division at UT) who really cares about the happiness of his/her department, and the happiness of the junior scientists within.

(7) A mentor with a good name, who people want to keep happy 🙂

(8) A mentor and a department with a lot of money. Not essential, but it can make things easier

(9) A working group with interests that closely align with mine – making connections outside your University only is hard. It is also nice to receive positive feedback on your ideas / passions rather than mystified looks.

(10) Great admin staff.

(11) A Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences (CCTS). Clinical Research Suites and individuals who are employed just to help new / junior Scientists get grants and get their careers off – whatever is necessary.  At both UAB and UT I have used a CCTS for Science advice and feedback, making connections, grant information.

(12) People with enough job security to be happy, but not so much as to be complacent. I am probably going to apply for a K12 at UT, but the problem is there can be a gap in funding between that grant and the next, due to the complexities of the rules involved. Some places, this would mean ‘out of a job’. UT investigators said they would be ‘deeply’ shocked if my K were successful and I had grants ready to submit and lost my job – given that I had discussed why this K was perfect for me at my stage with both my mentor and my Dean, and received their approval.

(13) People who are just nice – nice to be around and work with. Give off an air of caring. As an example I bought little cupcakes in for my birthday and offered one to my mentor. He declined until he found out that it was for my birthday when he took one and ate it in the spirit of the day. Just kinda nice, ya know?

(14) People supportive of families (obviously ymmv with this one). UT not only pay the usual ‘please-don’t-sue-me-lip-service’ to news of Firework, but seem genuinely excited for me, and talk about how to help me maintain productivity given an impending birth – NOT, ‘we can help work you into the ground while you are still recovering’, but ‘we can get you some grants in beforehand, and then easy papers that you can just write from home. This will tick the boxes while you enjoy your new family’. Huge heart to UT.

Some of this is pertinent only to me (baby on way), my Science (large, clinical intervention studies) and my career path (chopping and changing, not bringing a grant with me, not bringing data with me. Well, not bringing data was the plan – I still use UAB’s data a lot as it happens. It is so rich!).

And, of course, I found most of this out after I had joined. And I have zero tips for how to find it our beforehand, except that, from speaking to other people a second interview (a luxury I never available myself of) can be invaluable for taking the ‘shine’ off a place, and meeting the less enthusiastic people. Institutions are no fools: they will wheel out the happiest, most enthusiastic supporters for your first visit. After then, you may get a more representative sample.
Oh, and I should acknowledge that much of my happiness is due to how well UAB trained me, and the ongoing emotional and professional support of my UAB mentor Donna Arnett. She is a honey.
How about you? What has been helpful to you for finding a faculty institution? What have you found you looked for?