On my recent post on hiring, written in response to MsPhD’s survey- MsPhD left the following comment. I find it sufficiently interesting that I’ll reply point by point… (I’m gearing up for grant-re-writing, can you tell?)…
Great post! Mostly what I suspected.
But do you see my point? How SUBJECTIVE it is? If every person on a hiring committee has a different ranking system for assigning points and cutting people from the list?
I say- Actually, I don’t know how this works elsewhere- but you would probably be surprised by how quite overlapping the faculty search committee members short lists are (let’s say the top 10 candidates or something) when we actually get around to comparing them and deciding who to invite. However, yes- there are people that fall from the list here and there, and not everyone uses the same reasoning and people can get caught up in their own agenda, that’s for sure. There’s usually a pretty healthy discussion in my experience about the candidates and who should be invited to interview. And finally- I don’t assign points to a particular attribute when I’m ranking the candidates- you don’t get 5 points per science paper and just 2 points for a JBC paper, etc. There is some subjectivity for lots of reasons that are fairly unavoidable- because candidates are not cut-outs that followed the same path from point A to point B, and faculty members are not cut-outs that all the same agenda. Furthermore- hiring a faculty member is about hiring a colleague that you want to be around for the long term- just because someone has 10 science papers doesn’t mean they can’t simultaneously be a rotten human being.
Then MsPhD said:
Although we might agree on some of the main criteria being important, the weighting of those is different depending on the person doing the ranking and on the position that happens to be open.
It’s hard for me to see how, as a scientist, I’m supposed to be okay with a very un-systematic system. Different rules for different people, and changing all the time? That smacks of a breeding ground for bias, if you ask me.
To which I say- Again- actually you would be surprised about how much we are in agreement about what the major important factors in a hire are… papers, grants etc.- because if a candidate’s got it, they’ve GOT it and it’s pretty hard to argue that they don’t (at least on paper). I should say this is coming from the perspective of an extremely competitive job market this year. The hard part comes in the more subjective- who ‘fits’ and what area do we want to emphasize as a department, etc.- and all the politics around that which really depend on the makeup of the hiring group. And as for that bit about whether we make different rules for different people and the ground is shifty, and your discomfort with the ‘un-systematic’ nature of the system- I think for the most part we are as systematic as we can be- but we are talking about a working situation with human beings, there are relationships involved, there are egos, there are different priorities, etc. etc.- I don’t think one could ever completely quantify this process.
I also think it’s quite interesting that you ignore the teaching statement, although I know this is the norm in the R1 schools. To me, the TS is usually QUITE revealing about a person’s attitude toward mentoring and science philosophy, so even if there wasn’t a large teaching load, I would look at these carefully for signs of a standout thinker with some real creativity… or a standoffish snot. Or someone just doing everything for show- typing in some plagiarized list of cliches for a teaching statement… that person might also be ethically bankrupt enough to do the same with their science.
I say: Well, I don’t totally ignore it- but I don’t make any decisions based on what is in it because it is pretty low down on my list of factors that are going to get a person tenure. We can discuss the political correctness of this point some other time, but it is what it is. And as for the mentoring- you can write whatever you want on a teaching statement and it doesn’t say anything about how you are going to be as a mentor- I actually think that the letters of rec are more revealing for this- if a candidate has already had teaching/mentoring/rotation student guiding experience as a student or postdoc.
You get a gold star for one part- I particularly liked the part where you said if you found someone good who didn’t fit with what your department needed right then, but you could hook them up, you would do that. I would love to think that all search committee members are willing to put in the extra minute it takes to do that. But I suspect you’re in the minority there.
I say: I suck as a matchmaker in the romantic sense- but I’ve been successful at this kind of matchmaking when it comes to hiring. I don’t know how common it is for people to do this kind of thing. But- I do know that when I myself was applying, I had at least one place pass my application on to a different department that they thought would be a better fit (at least one that I know about).
Finally- MsPhD said:
A final minority point- I would be curious to know how many WOMEN have been able to declare a conflict of interest with their advisors and still get faculty positions. With only a single exception I can think of (and she was from an older generation), all the success stories I’ve heard of postdocs who managed to estrange themselves from interfering advisors were men.
My impression is that the women who find themselves in this kind of situation often end up leaving science altogether, or going to industry where conflict of interest with the current boss is more the norm than the exception (job searches are often confidential from the current employer, etc.).
I’ve got no idea about this one. I think you mean women who don’t want to ask their advisor for a letter, because the have had a conflict in the past? (That’s not typically what I think of when I hear the phrase ‘conflict of interest’, but nevertheless). I’ve not seen many cases like this that I recall- I know of one specifically but the applicant was a man.