Is a Publication Gap on Our CV a Job Killer?
By Dora Farkas on April 6th, 2012
Thank you for your recent article about leaving a postdoc quickly with your reputation intact. My question somewhat parallels the matter you addressed. In my case, I didn’t leave my postdoc quickly; in fact I remained with that lab for a full two years (almost to the day). However, I did choose to leave at that time because, given the time and effort I did invest in that lab, being as objective as I could be, I didn’t see any tangible progress between Day 1 and the day I left. I was told by my PI, when leaving, that I should write up any and all results in a manuscript format and that we would certainly work, long-distance, to publish whatever had been successful either as a standalone paper (1st authorship for me) or combined with someone else’s project (2nd authorship or onward for me, but at least something!). I diligently wrote up what I had, but no publication ever arose from the two years I spent as a postdoc in that lab. All-in-all, I have very little to show from all the time and effort I invested.
I’ve been working hard in an industrial postdoc for ~1.6 years since then and now even have a manuscript submitted with my name on it. At the moment, it’s the best I could hope for since the publishing frequency in industry is far less than in academic. But now that I am looking to apply for tenure-track professorships, my 2 years in that academic postdoc are coming back to haunt me, because what little feedback I get from hiring committees are telling me that I now have a 2-year “publication gap” on my CV where it effectively looks like I sat on my hands for the duration.
Other than working as hard as possible in my current position to compensate, is there any way to soften the blow of that alleged 2-year “gap” in my career?
Mind The Gap
Dear Mind the Gap,
Thank you for your email. I understand how tough it can be to work hard for two years and have very little to show for it. I have received letters from several graduate students and post-docs who have very few publications, resulting in a publication gap on their CV. The situation is a little easier for those who apply to industry positions, because employers focus more on skills than on publications. If you were to apply to industry, I would recommend putting a very heavy emphasis on your marketable job skills on your cover letter and resume, and tailor them specifically for each position. In industry they need someone who can do the job the following day, or as quickly as possible, and does not need training. They also focus on leadership skills, specifically whether you had mentored other scientists in the past. In other words, your employer wants to find out whether you would be responsible enought to have others report to you. Having an industrial post-doc is definitely advantageous for an industrial career track, and the submitted manuscript is impressive. I know several PhDs who got industrial positions after a few years of “gap”, as long as they showed that they did learn skills during those years even if they did not publish.
In academia, the situation is very different, because search committees focus very heavily on publications. The competition is even more fierce than in industry, and it is not unusual for candidates to apply to 50 positions, and receive only one or no interviews. At the same time, committees look for the perfect fit, and there is a chance that there is a position out there that was meant for someone with your research experience. If you find such an opening, it would be worthwhile to follow up with the search committee head, and explain why you would be the perfect fit. Make sure you mention your published manuscript. If you do not have luck with research universities, I would recommend teaching colleges, where the search committees put more emphasis on teaching experience and less on publications.
Good luck ;)
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to DearDora@benchfly.com and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!
Stay tuned for Dora’s next article in two weeks! In the meantime, check a few of Dora’s recent posts:
- How to Leave a Postdoc Quickly with Your Reputation Intact
- How to Establish and Enforce the Chain of Command in Lab
- Walking the Thin Line Between a Great Result and a Lie
- Dear Boss: I Want to Graduate. Let’s Talk.
- My Boss’ Spouse: A Spy or Civilian in Lab?
- Bullying in the Lab: Are PIs Guilty
- What Came First: The Grad Student or the PI?
- Problems Communicating Science to Family? It’s Not Them, It’s You
- How to Address the Funky-Smelling Lunch Problem
- Does a Fellowship Yield Scientific Independence or Does the Boss Rule?
- The Arrogant Labmate: Face ‘Em or Forget ‘Em
- Is Grad School or Postdoc Success More Important for My Career?
Submit your questions to Dora at DearDora@benchfly.com, or use the comment box below!