I came to the US with my PhD classmate having similar backgrounds and took postdocs at two different universities. My research output is much better than him, but he has won three awards from reputable societies/organizations. Now he got a tenure-track position, but I was not even invited for an interview.

The point is that his PI nominates him for every possible award, but my PI never does. I specifically asked several times, but he doesn't care.

What should I do? Should I move to another group whose PI supports me in getting such credits?

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    It is very unlikely that he got a tenure-track position and you didn't, simply because of three awards. Hiring committees in my experience don't put much weight on awards. Rather than blaming your PI, you might be better served to understand what you can actually do to improve your chances. Perhaps your research output isn't as strong as you think it is. Perhaps your cover letter is off-putting. Perhaps your letters of recommendation are not great. Any of these are far more likely to be problems than the lack of awards. – iayork Jul 26 '17 at 12:17
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    Could it be that his PI is much more connected than yours? Just based on the two facts that you have mentioned. – The Guy Jul 26 '17 at 13:05
  • @iayork why aren't awards important? They represent the approval of the scientific significance of his works by reputable panels. At the senior level, don't search committees care if an applicant has a Nobel Prize or something at that level? – Googlebot Jul 26 '17 at 14:04
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    @All Sure, if you have a Nobel Prize, you're probably OK for job searches. But it's not the Nobel Prize or other award itself that makes the person attractive, it's the work that led to the award, which -- key point -- a hiring committee can judge for themselves. If the work is good, then scientists will know. I suppose if the work is way outside the expertise of the committee, an award might help (but then they wouldn't know if the award is prestigious either); but why would a hiring committee be so out of their depth that they can't judge a candidate's work by themselves? – iayork Jul 26 '17 at 15:55
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    Hiring committees in my experience don't put much weight on awards. — Your experience is very different from mine. – JeffE Jul 26 '17 at 17:11

"My research output is much better than him". "Better" is not well defined in academia. No one has grades: you can't compare an A to an A-. Instead, everything is "graded" more casually.

But this casual grade has nothing to do with how hard or difficult the work is. If you mean "better" as "I work harder, have more publications, and my publications use more difficult techniques etc." then I think you have the wrong definition of "better". In academia, "better" means your research is clear and interesting. Doing better in academia seems to usually be less about doing harder and more technical work, and more about picking the right problems to pursue and communicating the results well. This has nothing to do with how "good of a technical mathematician/scientist" you are, rather it has to do with how good you are at understanding what is interesting to a research community and clearly communicating results which reflects the interests of said community.

Your classmate is likely doing "better" because his PI is very interested in the results of his research. Others must be interested as well: that's why he got awards. You should look at his work and ask: who finds this interesting and why? See what you can learn about what his success says about the research community you are engaged in.

A good practice to do from time to time is to take a few papers from a high-impact journal and just try to understand why these are considered as highly impactful. What I have found is usually two things:

1) They have a really clear introduction which motivates this work as part of some larger research question which many people are interested in.

2) They are simple.

The first is pretty simple: writing clearly is important. "Selling your work" is important because if people don't know at a glance that your work is interesting, they will never dig into the paper to find out. The second point is kind of counter-intuitive. Academia tends to be very elitist about "being smart", but a lot of the most impactful work is actually relatively simple in its methods and arguments. One reason this occurs is because a simple result is easy to generalize to other fields: biologists can follow clear and simple mathematical results, but a more advanced mathematical treatment is a subject for mathematicians, meaning breakthrough mathematical models without all of the extra bells and whistles are the results which are most widely known and applied. But also, people more easily understand it and see all of the nuances they can add to it, generating a lot research interest surrounding the idea (i.e. you left something for someone else to look into!).

Of course, this depends on the audience. In mathematical journals sometimes very dirty mathematical derivations contain some of the most cherished results by other mathematicians. Knowing your target audience for each paper/presentation is the best way to make sure your research is read and appreciated.

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  • Technically, better research output means that the OP has published more papers in better journals (probably judged by the impact factor or prestigious). – Googlebot Jul 26 '17 at 16:52
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    @All No, that's just more research output. – JeffE Jul 26 '17 at 17:13
  • @JeffE It is meaningless to debate what's in someone else's mind, but the reasonable interpretation is that better is an adjective describing the quality. – Googlebot Jul 26 '17 at 17:28
  • This response aligns not only with my experience in academia (as a PhD student and a Postdoc), but also, to some extent, with promotion decisions in the industry. The prevailing academic culture seems to encourage PI's and researchers to take up popular projects and come up with 'positive' results. If your results are negative (e.g. 'xyz cannot be accomplished within the specified constraints'), then all you get is a 'meh'. This makes me wonder about the risks of younger researchers gravitating toward popular/easy problems. – RDK Jul 26 '17 at 20:23
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    @All I completely agree that "better" describes the quality. But your proposed definition only describes the quantity. – JeffE Jul 27 '17 at 5:25

Apart from your research and academic recognition, such things as personality, and social and communication skills can be crucial when you are being considered for a teaching job. Especially at a small department. Same goes for your relationship with your PI. Not only your research should be interesting and promising, but your personality should fit into the local culture. While occasionally a university might hire a world renowned genius who generates horrible student reviews, when it comes to regular professors, they want somebody who won't complicate matters at the department.

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