Explaining Interdisciplinary Research In A Faculty Job Interview

When interviewing as an accomplished post-doc for entry level faculty positions, the issue isn’t what you did with your own hands, but what you understand and can talk about. For highly interdisciplinary projects that include, e.g., genetics, physiology, biochemistry, behavior, and imaging, of course no single post-doc did all those techniques.

The question is whether you as a post-doc on one of those projects can understand and explain the full scope of what was done sufficiently to be considered a likely prospect for having the capacity to *lead* such projects in the future. Key evidence for such likely capacity includes being the first author of a manuscript reporting the results from such a project and being able to explain and field difficult questions about *all* of the technical approaches employed during your job talk.

I’ll never forget one faculty job candidate we interviewed a few years back who looked great on paper and was the first author of an impressive multi-disciplinary paper published in a very prominent journal. His job talk was quite nice, and explained physiology, biochemistry, genetics, and behavior. During the question period, someone asked him a question about the biochemistry results. It was a somewhat detailed methodological question: not to the level of what concentration of DTT was in some buffer, but more than “was this done in mice or rats”?

The candidate looked at the questioner as if she was out of her mind, and said “How should I know? That was the other post-doc who did all the biochemistry experiments. I did the physiology, so you can ask me about that.” Needless to say, no offer was forthcoming.

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