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I finished my postdoc last year end of Aug. and have been unemployed ever since (not completely, I've been doing freelance work to support myself, but not research-related). The rest of time I've spent (1) applying to academic positions (mostly R1, some R2), (2) finishing writing manuscripts leftover from my postdoc (although I haven't submitted yet, except 1 which I'm only co-authored that's already published) (3) reviewing journal papers (apparently I'm still being asked), and (4) studying to get a professional certification (which IS related to my research, although getting the certification itself is not ever required for people doing research in my field, but the process of getting the certification contributes to my research).

So I have been getting several interviews from R1 institutions and been invited for campus visit and job talk. When I applied, it's clear on my CV that I stopped having academic affiliations since the end of my postdoc (I didn't try to hide it or fudge it). And at no point did anyone asked me what I'm doing since my postdoc ended during the initial interviews.

But now that I have to go on campus visits and give job talks, and they are asking me to give them brief bio so they can introduce me before the presentation and advertise my talk in the department. What should I tell them? Or rather, how should I phrase my current situation, so it won't sound pathetic and put me in a dejected mindset (which for sure will wreck my presentation and self-confidence). What affiliation should go on their posters and on my slides?

I'd like to think I'm not being asked/interviewed for "fake searches". In fact, in most cases, I actually applied after the stated "deadlines" (they are those "open until filled" positions). so I'd like to think no fake searches would last months (and almost the entire academic year). So I don't think they would invite me just to ridicule me or make me the obvious inferior candidate (although I guess this is possible). In any case, I'd just like some advice on how I should handle this. BTW, the end of this year would be 4th year since I got my PhD. And I didn't take anytime off (or ever been unemployed or have a gap on my CV).

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    "I've been doing freelance work to support myself". Then just say you are a freelancer. – gefei Apr 9 '18 at 8:19
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    @gefei I'm hesitant to say that because (1) my freelancing gigs have nothing to do with my academic position/research (2) I think I'm okay saying that, my problem more has to do with what to label my slides + what they will put under my name (where affiliation is usually listed) on the poster they send around/post in the department/school. – PandaPants Apr 9 '18 at 17:03
  • Do you have any basis for suspecting that there even exists such a thing as a “fake search” (specifically in the US)? Do you really think a reputable academic department in the US will go around flushing a couple of thousand dollars down the toilet and wasting hours or days of their faculty’s time (an even scarcer resource) to invite for an interview a candidate whom they had no real interest in? – Dan Romik Apr 9 '18 at 18:47
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    @PandaPants I assume this is something that differs from country to country, but what are R1 and R2 positions? Is this something US specific, and does it relate to the "level" of the post (ie. postdoc, junior researcher, lower permanent stuff, full permanent stuff or similar), or does it refer to quality of the post (ie. R1 postdoc is better quality / has better X (where X is a measure of something) then R2 postdoc)? it's not something I've heard of during my PhD+postdoc in France, nor my postdoc in the UK. – penelope Apr 10 '18 at 14:31
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    @penelope sorry, R1 + R2 refer to the level of research activity the university has, R1=highest R2=moderate, and so on (not sure if there's an R3) these universities typically have PhD degree programs (whereas liberal arts colleges may not, or have a smaller graduate population, since the focus is more on teaching undergrads, I'm not 100% sure on this though). I wouldn't say R1/2 refers to the quality of the post, it mostly refers to the university as a whole I believe (like how much grant $$, publications, patents, etc), there's always pros & cons to each, also it depends on the discipline. – PandaPants Apr 11 '18 at 7:33
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This answer will be quite similar to @Designerpots answer, but I hope I managed to avoid the risk of duplicating answers as I want to focus on a slightly different aspect.

You seem to ask What should my affiliation be?, however, based on the information you shared, this seems to be a slightly wrong question. What the university actually requested was A brief bio so they can introduce you before the presentation and advertise the talk in the department.

I think this kind of short bio is very typical, and is equivalent to what can be seen at the end of most journal publications; a short bio of each of the authors. Unlike in @Designerpots answer, I would say that you typically do not name any other people in those biographies, just institutions and dates of obtaining (most recent) qualifications. It is usually written in third person and has a fairly standard layout:

Panda Pants received his BSc and MSc from the University of Bamboo, Pandaland in 2013, and his PhD in 2017 from the University of Pants, Trouserland, while working in the ClothedAnimals Team on the topic of pandas wearing pants. He currently holds a position of Panda Researcher at New Panda Institute. He served as a reviewer for Panda Journal / received a student paper award in Panda Conference / received a prestigious scholarship from Future Panda Foundation. His research interests lie in the filed of panda behavior, more specifically behavioral changes observed in pandas wearing pants and more recently, pandas wearing dresses as well.

The sentences written in italics are optional; if you can not include any such information, simply don't. You can find endless examples of short biographies in this form - many from young researchers struggling to get to a decently sized paragraph - in fact, I keep one at hand as simply amend it for each of my submissions.

This is, as you said, to introduce and advertise you - so people from the department can better figure out if your research interests match and if the talk is potentially interesting. Since you are giving a presentation, you could also add a sentence more specific to what you are going to talk about.

The information about your current status is known to the interviewing team; the presentation is there to assess your academic fit into the department. So I believe any specifics about your work, including projects you worked on, people you collaborated with (supervisors and otherwise), reviewing work you did (I would only mention reviewing work in the short bio if it was for an outstanding journal) any anything demonstrating your suitability for the position you are applying to should go into your supporting presentation.

  • Thank you for a very detailed analysis of my dilemma and suggestions! and I must note I really quite like your panda-themed sample paragraph :-) I wish I could just use that! – PandaPants Apr 11 '18 at 7:43
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    @PandaPants I can have a little fun answering ;) And besides, I think it helps the flow of the article, while using "topic X, team Y, university Z" actually makes it harder to follow. Also, I'm just trying to think hard if I still had an affiliation or not by the time I applied for my current position (I didn't while waiting for the immigration documentation to go through and actually had to get a "freelancing job" as well for a few months), and I'm not so sure about it. But in any case, you are trying to present yourself as a researcher, not you as part of your (past) research group. – penelope Apr 11 '18 at 10:10
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How about "I've done my PhD at [PhD university] with [PhD supervisor], working on [PhD subject]. For my postdoc, I went to [postdoc university] to work with [postdoc supervisor] on [postdoc subject]." If you want, you could also say "I did my postdoc at ...," from which a good reader can infer that your postdoc has ended.

I don't think you need to stress your temporary freelance status any more than that. It's clear enough in your CV and you got an invitation for a campus visit + job talk, so apparently the interviewers do not think it's a big deal. Of course, you should have a good explanation for that gap during on-site interviews.

Finally, try not to worry too much whether you're being invited for fake interviews/to be ridiculed/as a filler candidate. I think mostly you are a bit uncomfortable about your current situation and that's putting some doubt in your mind that (I'm guessing) does not have a basis in reality. Simply concentrate on giving a good talk and having fun chats about the research you'd love to do.

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    Thank you! I agree w/ what you recommend. You read it correctly, I'm borderline ashamed of my unaffiliated status, which is partially due to my postdoc being a terrible fit + ended badly (not in terms of research, I had an independent project, but in terms of my relationships with my "mentors" who really did 0 mentoring.) So on my slides, I basically just won't put any affiliation? on the poster the department sends around, there also won't be any affiliation underneath my name? (where - from what I've seen at my own universities - there's usually an affiliation). Thanks! – PandaPants Apr 9 '18 at 16:56
  • Oops, the above comment is for @Designerpot – PandaPants Apr 9 '18 at 17:05
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    @PandaPants The answerer is automatically notified of comments to their own answer, so the system (usually?) automatically removes leading tags thereof as they are superfluous. As for your slides, you should probably mention the institution(s) that supported the research, if any, much as you would for a publication. I think I've seen some speakers leave this to a verbal statement at the start of the talk, but even on the title slide you should have room for a blurb like "Research partially conducted while at the University of Whosville". – zibadawa timmy Apr 9 '18 at 20:29
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    Just for completeness' sake: as others already said, you don't need to put any affiliation underneath your name or in your slides. Slides and talk announcements tend to have such wildly varying formatting that I'm pretty sure no one will actually notice. – Designerpot Apr 10 '18 at 8:10
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    I think it's perfectly reasonable to note what institution work was done at regardless of your present affiliation, and it will be fairly clear that is what you are doing if you note multiple universities in your slides, like in this answer: "This work was done at ____" - that's less about claiming affiliation and more about giving institutional credit for the work. I think you are only nervous because of your anxiety about your current (though normal) situation. – Bryan Krause Apr 10 '18 at 16:54
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I suggest putting the focus where it belongs, on your work and its merits, which after all were good enough to get you the interview. The affiliation is a purely cosmetic issue and has little significance. Give the best talk you can, and don’t call even more attention to your status than necessary by trying to come up with some creative label (“freelancer”, “independent researcher” or whatnot) to fit some imaginary “affiliation” box that you imagine needs to be filled in the slides or your bio. If asked, tell the truth about your current employment status, but don’t mention it otherwise. Most importantly, as I said, the talk and its contents are what matters, so focus on those things and don’t let yourself be distracted by unimportant trivialities.

Good luck!

  • Thank you very much! sounds good. thanks for taking the time to respond to my post! – PandaPants Apr 10 '18 at 0:19
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I've seen plenty of faculty candidates from industry give academic job talks without an affiliation, so it's not so uncommon, in my opinion to not have an affiliation on the flyers or on the slides.

In part, this choice by these candidates is due to the fact that they are not giving the talk as part of their current industry job, and they most likely do not want their current employer to know that they applied to a different job (they may even request the talk not to be advertised broadly or at all).

As for the second part of your questions, many of the same industry candidates apply for academic jobs well after 4 years from their PhDs. You're most likely not being invited for "fake" interviews. Good luck!

Obviously their reasons are quite different than yours, but like them, you shouldn't worry too much about not having an affiliation.

  • thank you! wow, I didn't know that re: people coming back to academia (know people go the other way) and having to apply in stealth! – PandaPants Apr 11 '18 at 7:40

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