Field of Science

Requirements for becoming a professor in ecology and evolution

ResearchBlogging.orgOh boy! If you're thinking about landing a tenure track job or similar in ecology or evolutionary biology, here's a kicker for you.

A study of 181 recently hired faculty members shows that to be competitive in ecology and evolutionary biology, the requirements are stiff as hell.

The authors report numbers at the time of hire for the survey respondents in four categories:
  • age at time of hire (mean = 33.54 years)
  • years as postdoctoral scholar (mean = 2.92)
  • total number of publications (mean = 11.75)
  • total number of grants received (mean = 4.20)

I am one of those who will be seeking faculty jobs in the future, and these data do scare me. I am a good way over the mean age at time of hire already (and am only just about to finish my PhD), but that really doesn't bother me at all. Rather, my suspicion is that the age distribution is an effect of those who end up in faculty jobs are mostly people who know what they want early on, and pursue that from the beginning. I didn't, but now I do pursue it, and I think that's all that matters.

What scares me is also not so much the number of publications (except that the data suggest that one first-author publication in a journal with impact factor greater than 10 is required), and not at all that the average number of years as a postdoc is about three at the time of hire, but rather that the number of grants received is 4.2. But, looking at carefully at the data, it turns out that this breaks down to about 2.20 grants of less than US$10 thousand, 1.20 between $10k and $100k, and 0.75 over $100k. That's still tough, especially in these financially hard times, but at least one can get about half of those grants as travel grants and other awards of any value. But, it is an eye-opener for me, how much the grant-issue means. I shall keep it in mind.

Marshall, J., Buttars, P., Callahan, T., Dennehy, J., Harris, D., Lunt, B., Mika, M., & Shupe, R. (2009). Letter to the Editors Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution, 55 (4), 381-392 DOI: 10.1560/IJEE.55.4.381


  1. Perplexed by that lucky fucker at age 22. How...?

    I have heard of skipping postdocs (supposedly for "exceptionally brilliant" people...or is it more for the exceptionally well-connected?), but apparently a couple people got in with no pubs... how does that work?

  2. Btw, good luck with your job hunt. Still keeping an eye out if anything pops up in our dep't; nearby, we have this:

    Though as I understand, you're looking for a postdoc right now?

  3. It makes sense, in a way. Wouldn't universities want to hire people who've demonstrated an ability to obtain money? I've gotten the impression that, especially in America, higher learning institutions are chronically short of funds.

  4. Allium fur allesJuly 21, 2010 5:09 AM

    The 22 year old - typo, community college adjuct, nepotism, alternate universe (or alternate university), child prodigy??

    On a more relevant note, Jan Aerts at Cambridge has a postdoc position listed that could be right up your alley.

  5. I can understand very young people occasionally getting hired, no publications?! If you're a prodigy, shouldn't you still have something to show for it?

    I'm thinking it may be that they are hired by someone they know right out of their PhD, and that their papers are submitted but just not accepted and published just yet. I'm actually in that situation, though I am neither 22, nor being hired for a faculty job.


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