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Environmental Factor

November 2011

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NIEHS trainees conquer dual-placement problem

By Erin D. Hopper
November 2011

Sergei Nechaev, Ph.D. and Archana Dhasarathy, Ph.D.

Dhasarathy and Nechaev met and married while working as postdoctoral researchers at NIEHS. They are excited to begin a new phase of their careers as tenure-track faculty members at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Paul Wade, Ph.D.

Wade heads the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis. He cites Dhasarathy's excitement and enthusiasm for science as keys to her success. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Karen Adelman, Ph.D.

Adelman leads the Transcriptional Responses to the Environment Group in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis. She attributes Nechaev's success to his technical brilliance and innovation. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS trainees and husband-and-wife scientists Archana Dhasarathy, Ph.D., and Sergei Nechaev, Ph.D., recently secured tenure-track faculty positions together at the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine and Health Sciences( Exit NIEHS, giving renewed hope to dual-scientist couples with academic aspirations. Dhasarathy and Nechaev have been working as postdoctoral scientists in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis under the supervision of Paul Wade, Ph.D.( and Karen Adelman, Ph.D., respectively.

The path to personal and professional success

Dhasarathy and Nechaev will forever treasure NIEHS as the place where they met, fell in love, and married. Both had aspirations to become lead researchers, but they also knew that achieving this goal without moving to separate locations would be a monumental challenge. When Dhasarathy was ready to start her job search, she immediately recognized that she would need the help of her professional network, so she started by notifying her contacts of her intentions.

She learned about the opening at UND through her supervisor, Wade, who was very supportive of her academic job search. Wade asserts that Dhasarathy's deep love of science and leadership qualities will ensure her success in academia. “She really embodies persistence and stamina,” he said. “She pursues her goals tirelessly, no matter what the obstacle.”

Although the vacancy announcement had already expired, Dhasarathy contacted the department chair, who invited her to apply anyway. Two months later, her CV rose to the top of hundreds of applications, and she received an invitation for a telephone interview and then two onsite interviews. She found that practicing her seminar, among her colleagues, was particularly helpful in preparing for the onsite interview.

Throughout the interview process, Dhasarathy advocated for Nechaev, with the hope that he could find employment at UND, as well. She ultimately received an offer, but her excitement quickly diminished when she learned that the best they could do for Nechaev was a research associate position with the opportunity to apply for a faculty position in a year. After further negotiations, Nechaev received an invitation to interview and so impressed the chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology that he received an offer shortly thereafter.

Adelman was not surprised at Nechaev's offer, describing him as an intellectual and creative driving force for her research program. “He was always eager to identify and tackle the biggest and most exciting questions in the field and, as a result, his work has made a tremendous impact and allowed him to establish himself as an independent scientist,” she said.

Playing the job search lottery

Dhasarathy notes that her experience at NIEHS was critical to her success. She improved her writing skills by contributing to the Environmental Factor, and she gained valuable teaching experience in the NIH Summer Internship Program and at North Carolina Central University( Exit NIEHS. Nechaev also had several years of teaching experience at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory( Exit NIEHS, and both scientists acknowledge that their teaching experience made them stronger candidates.

Dhasarathy and Nechaev were delighted to receive offers during their first round of applications. Dhasarathy attributed her success to both her current mentor and her graduate school mentor, Michael Kladde, Ph.D. “They were wonderfully supportive and behind me 100 percent throughout the application process. Their advice and experience helped me immensely, and I am eternally grateful,” she said.

Although Dhasarathy and Nechaev laid the groundwork for academic positions through excellence in research, they credit some of their success to luck. Nechaev emphasized the importance of increasing an applicant's chances by applying to a large number of positions, likening the academic job search to playing a lottery as many times as possible. Dhasarathy agreed, chiming in, “The point is to play.”

(Erin Hopper, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Structural Biology Mass Spectrometry Group.)

Tips for a Successful Academic Job Search

Nechaev and Dhasarathy experienced firsthand the challenges of academic job searches. Below is a run-down of their keys to success.

  • Cast a wide net
  • Be flexible regarding location
  • Apply to a large number of positions
  • Be persistent
  • Remain open-minded and flexible regarding departments and position descriptions
  • For couples: anchor yourself with one offer and use it to draw another
  • Build a strong network and use it to identify openings, strengthen your application, and learn more about the universities to which you are applying
  • Even if a posting has closed, contact the department chair and apply anyway
  • Practice your seminar in front of a group of experienced scientists
  • Talk to your colleagues, both past and present - they will be able to offer invaluable advice

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