Brian L. Crabtree, PharmD, BCPP
Dean, Mercer University College of Pharmacy

Brian Crabtree is a psychiatric pharmacy specialist with a long career as a pharmacy educator with prior faculty appointments at Wayne State University and the University of Mississippi. He was a department chair at Wayne State University and is now Dean and Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Mercer University. He is past-president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

Are you considering career options as you progress into your residency, graduate degree program, or research fellowship? Here are some thoughts from the perspective of a long-time, academically-based psychiatric pharmacy faculty member and now dean of a college of pharmacy with prior experience as a department chair.

My first tip is that there are no tricks. From an employer’s perspective, there are no attempts to withhold information and no desire to see how low a salary you will accept. We hope you are straightforward and authentic in your interview, also understanding what we seek. It is important to ask lots of questions and share information freely. As a department chair, I spent time with candidates at the beginning and end of their interviews. I invited them to ask tough questions. All institutions have weaknesses or areas of improvement and development. Find out what those are.

These are some things we may not be able to answer definitively. For example, you may ask, “Will you support my engagement in professional organizations and travel to conferences?” The answer to this question will vary from institution to institution. Professional growth of faculty members is important to us, and we support travel and engagement as much as possible. However, resources may be limited in any particular year, and we must prioritize based on available funds. Ask people you meet during your interview about support that they’ve been given.

It is essential you are well prepared for your interview, that you understand the university’s vision and mission and ensure your goals align with those of the position and the university. I ask why you’re interested in the position for which I’m recruiting. You are not a serious candidate if your answer is generically related to any faculty position without any mention of our university, pharmacy program, vision, mission, key goals, population served, or teaching belief.

Do you understand the differences between types of academic positions (i.e., tenure-track versus non-tenure-track)? In brief, tenure-track faculty positions are usually research-intensive. They require more resources in the first few years, encompass explicit expectations regarding publication and external funding, and include a defined tenure clock with employment jeopardy if the promotion and tenure review is unsuccessful. We generally require high-level post-doctoral research training or experience with these candidates. We have little or no expectation that tenure-track faculty members will engage in patient care except perhaps to the extent that patient access is important to the faculty member’s research program. Ask about teaching and service expectations. If possible, I exempt tenure-track faculty members from routine classroom teaching and standing committee service during their first year. With heavy teaching and service loads, career advancement based on scholarly productivity is not realistic.

If you plan to apply for a tenure-track position, sufficient resources in the first three years is perhaps the most important area for negotiation. If we reach the point of talking about the startup, I tell the candidate to send me a list of everything that will be necessary during the first three years with as much specificity as possible, including quotes for major items. Consult with a mentor for guidance. Be reasonable, but don’t lowball the request for fear you will cause the institution to lose interest. We need to understand your needs since we are both harmed if you don’t have the resources you need to succeed. Don’t inflate your request by asking for more than you know you need in anticipation that we will counter with a reduced offer that is really what you hope to obtain. We are not adversaries. We are not buying or selling a used car. Common mistakes I see are 1) asking for too little, which is an indication that you don’t understand the position and what is necessary; 2) asking for obviously excessive resources for personnel, travel, and equipment; and 3) asking for creature comforts that are unnecessary to perform your work. If you are moving from a distant location, you will likely receive relocation assistance.

Non-tenure-track, clinically-based faculty positions, are usually teaching- and service-focused. Scholarship is secondary, often about twenty percent effort, but is essential for advancement. The pipeline for these positions is usually residency training of at least two years with at least one year in the specialty area of interest. If you are interested in a non-tenure-track, clinically-based faculty position, the most important advice I can give is to make sure you understand the difference between an academic pharmacist and a pharmacist who teaches. An academic pharmacist is someone whose primary mission is education, focused every day on being an educator. Clinical practice adds value, but practice is a platform for teaching, service, and practice-based scholarship. Although secondary in emphasis, scholarship and innovation in practice is what differentiates the academic pharmacist from the full-time clinician.

Keep in mind that you may not be the right fit for a faculty position if you are attracted to academia because it enables you to practice as you were trained and is the most appealing available opportunity but your passion is clinical practice without interest in research and scholarly publishing. Such candidates nonetheless are hired into faculty positions and, unfortunately, they tend to leave after a few years and move to full-time practice. It is important for us to recruit successful faculty members with a suitable understanding of academic life who will remain in academia so our students benefit from experienced faculty members. It is therefore important for candidates to find the best placement for their own growth and fulfillment.

Another suggestion is to see the practice site and interact with physicians and other clinicians with whom you are likely to work. A mistake that is sometimes made at practice sites is to create positions based on an understanding with the college of pharmacy, but not sufficient clarification of the role with providers in clinics or hospitals before recruiting. It is important the college and the practice site are consistent regarding duties and responsibilities with a vision for the position aligning with the college and the site. A common mistake is that there are overlapping, but different visions, and the faculty member later feels he or she is serving two full-time bosses.

There are generally not formal startup packages for non-tenure-track faculty members since the positions are not research-intensive. As a chair, I assure candidates they will have adequate office and technology and discuss teaching load, scholarship expectations, academic service, and support for professional engagement. I include language in the letter of offer to formalize commitments made during the verbal offer.

I offer a salary that is competitive with peer institutions, typically somewhat higher than the 50th percentile level for rank and years in rank and based on qualifications. My approach is to make the best offer I can and not negotiate on salary very much. I generally know what the market is offering. As long as pay is competitive with peer institutions, salary should be less important than other aspects of the opportunity. Be mindful that starting academic salaries are generally slightly less than practice salaries, but growth through various professional opportunities is arguably better in academia with more autonomy and flexibility.

A final thought, the decision to offer the position should be based on qualifications, experience, and best fit for the needs of the position. Family status, religion, where you live, and other factors not based on qualifications should not enter into the decision and should not be factors in the interview. Soft skills can be considered, such as communication ability, politeness, and podium speaking effectiveness. However, asking about marital status, whether you have children, whether you expect you can tolerate the weather, and other such questions are discriminatory.

As Jim Collins said in Good to Great, for an organization to be great, we need the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus. At colleges of pharmacy, we want people who will reach their potential and advance the organization. For candidates, you need to find the right bus and the right seat, wherever that is. Best wishes, and if you’re interested in academia, call me. I’m hiring!