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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Desperately seeking employment

OK, perhaps a bit of an exaggeration...

Some months ago, I took part in a survey about how Scientific job databases could be improved. Having used these appalling excuses for a search engine for the past few months, I had plenty of forthright opinions on why the whole lot of them are bloody useless. I flirted chatted with a young lady on the phone for about half-an-hour, and got £30 for my trouble. Cool.

Once upon a time, job-hunting in science largely consisted of flicking through the back pages of Nature and New Scientist. The jobs are still there, but really if you are serious, you use their online databases.

There are several -; (The New Scientist database); and (more aimed at industrial positions). Obviously, there is a lot of redundancy between them, but it is worth checking all of them, nevertheless.

Needless to say, despite paying me £30 and thanking me for my valuable input - they have taken fuck-all notice of my criticisms and the databases are as shite as ever.

So here are my main criticisms, in no particular order:

1) It would be nice if the check boxes actually did something. All of the databases have options to refine your search, by geographical location, salary, field and keywords. None of them work. Seriously. I am a molecular biologist, looking for a postdoc position in the UK - thus a Professorship in high-energy physics at the University of Stuttgard is not what I am looking for. Neither is a veterinary technician in equine biology, or a part-time Masters by Research in colloidal chemistry. Thus the only recourse is to check "select all" and trawl through the 200 plus vacancies thrown up each week. For each database. Sciencejobs is the worst for this, but none of them come out smelling of roses.

2) With that in mind, it would be nice if you could tell at a glance if the position may be something worth clicking on. For sciencejobs in particular, the descriptions are absolutely cryptic. "Post doctoral position University of Sheffield", read one description. That tells me fuck all. I opened it and naturally it wasn't even biology. Another 15 seconds of my life wasted. Now imagine that repeated several dozen times twice a week - it soon adds up.

3) On a related note, The University of Dundee (among others) likes to post adverts saying that it has vacancies in life sciences - and just leave it at that. You have to visit then navigate the university's own homepage to find out what they have on offer. Another few minutes wasted.

3) Given that I do this about twice a week, and the cutoff is usually "jobs posted in the last week", the ability to order jobs by date posted would be useful - particularly when you have to search through 200+ vacancies. has this sorted, it presents the jobs as a long list, which I work my way down until I start seeing previously visited links, Sciencejobs is also OK, although peculiarly my visited links don't change colour (lazy web designers), so I have to make a note of when I last visited. Naturejobs doesn't - it just dumps them in a long list higgledy-piggledy with no discerniblele sorting criteria. Royal pain in the arse. Displaying the closing date for applications (which only does) would also be useful.

4) On a related note - what the hell use is posting a job for which the deadline passed a month ago (Naturejobs)? One or two days leeway perhaps, but a month - the post is probably filled already!

5) The databases are geographically challenged. For example "Stevenage" is not in the Northwest ( . Neither is the University of Oxford in London.

6) Then you actually get into the advert. Some are decidedly reticent about what the actual salary is. I'm not a greedy bloke by any stretch of the imagination, but I have finally worked my way off the bottom end of the salary scale and have no intention of dropping back (and might not be allowed to do so anyway). Most postdoc positions advertise themselves as being on the RA1A scale, a £10K range usually negotiable based on experience. Some say up front that the starting salary will not exceed the mid-point of the range. Others are less honest. They advertise themselves as being on RA1A, but give no more details. After reading the description and deciding that it sounds interesting, you are then redirected to the University's homepage. After several more clicks of the mouse, you can get to the research group's personal page, read about the lab's work and finally download a lengthy word document, describing the post, with an application form and equal opportunities statement. At the end of the document it describes the University's Terms and conditions and benefits such as childcare. In very small print it then states that the maximum salary for the post is the bottom point on the scale. I don't want to mention any names (*cough*Durham*cough*), but I wasted the better part of an hour and was about to start filling in the application form when I realised that they were a bunch of time-wasters.

Obviously, some of these shortcomings are the advertiser's fault (as is the appalling spelling of some of the foreign university adverts - how they intend to get applicants when they can't even spell the job area correctly... 10 seconds with an dictionary would have sorted that out). However the database administrators can play their part by setting out stricter guidelines.

All in all, I've spent more than that £30 worth of my time on these infernal sites.



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