By Robert F. Todd, III, MD, PhD
Dr. Todd is Professor of Internal Medicine and Division Chief of the Department of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Michigan.
Types of Academic Positions
In the disciplines of adult and pediatric hematology/oncology, there are three basic types of academic positions. The Physician Scientist has a dominant focus in basic or translational laboratory research (generally 75-80 percent effort) with limited clinical care and teaching activities. The Clinician Investigator performs patient-oriented clinical investigation (clinical trials, prevention, or health services/outcomes research) combined with patient care that is complementary to the focus of research interests. The Clinician Educator has a dominant focus on clinical care coupled with medical education. Academic titles and tracks vary among institutions, but starting academic positions often carry the titles Instructor or Assistant Professor. Junior faculty in the tenure track generally have six to 10 years to achieve the level of productivity to warrant promotion and tenure, with a guarantee of a longer-term financial commitment. Faculty working in non-tenure tracks often have renewable employment contracts, but generally without the longer-term commitment of "tenure."
Applying/Interviewing for an Academic Position
Academic employment opportunities can be identified from journal advertisements, the employment Web sites of professional societies, including ASH, and personal contacts (generally with the help of a mentor). On the basis of a review of submitted CVs and personal references, selected candidates are invited for a one- to two-day interview. The academic interview provides an opportunity for the applicant to meet with unit leadership and prospective colleagues, including potential collaborators. The applicant is generally expected to deliver a 50-minute seminar which highlights his/her research or clinical experience. Since considerable weight is given to the quality of the seminar (both its content and delivery), applicants are advised to prepare carefully, with particular attention given to clarity and the effective use of visual aids.
The Academic Offer Letter: What to Expect and How to Evaluate
The preferred candidate for an academic position is given a written offer letter which outlines the terms and expectations of the appointment. For the laboratory-oriented Physician Scientist, institutional commitments should include independent laboratory and office space, access to core resources, shared secretarial and grants management support, and laboratory start-up funding (for equipment, consumable supplies, recharges for shared core facilities, and technical support) sufficient to run a small laboratory operation for two to three years pending receipt of extramural support. The letter should also document the availability of "protected time" (generally 75-80 percent professional effort) to pursue research activities and a senior mentor to assist in career development. The letter should describe the salary and benefits with criteria for merit raises/bonuses and other factors that may influence the salary, as well as the terms of employment with criteria for achieving promotion/tenure/reappointment. For the patient-oriented Clinician Investigator, the terms of the offer letter are similar but with other elements that include the availability of patients (with relevant diseases) to serve as potential human volunteers in clinical research studies. A significant proportion of the expected clinical effort should complement the focus of clinical research. Other factors of importance to the clinical investigator are the availability of relevant laboratory collaborators, ancillary services critical to clinical research, and support personnel which may include data management, biostatical, and physician extender support. The time that is protected for clinical research should be clearly indicated. To avoid future misunderstandings, "get it in writing."
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