“One-third of our job searches fail”
September 19, 2007
The DM has been talking, I think, about career progression in research focused tracks. This got started by some discussions around the usual blogs and even Science/Nature on the age old theme of “We’re producing too many Ph.D.s (or MD/PhDs) for the available jobs…it’s a crisis!” This is an issue that overlaps with traditional professor type job seeking. [UPDATE: 9/21/07, Chad Orzel has two thoughts on suckitude in the physics job market.] I’m trying to reconcile the usual thought that every academic job posting results in 200+ applications with a story I’ve heard twice in recent months.
The story is the quote that titles this post. I’ve heard it from two colleagues now which is why it sticks in mind. To expand, from the departmental job-search perspective, the applicant pool is not, repeat, not very deep. This is coming both from a heavy research focus University (R1 is the term, I think) and a private University with next to no research mission and a heavy teaching focus. The point, as I gather it, is that these departments will go to the considerable effort of a job search to end up with a “failure”. Which expresses itself as 1) hiring nobody because they couldn’t find the right candidate, 2) hiring nobody because the “right” candidate(s) went elsewhere instead or 3) hiring someone who didn’t fit and was gone within a few years.
My perspective for some years now has been exclusively from the applicant viewpoint. I’ve not been on any hiring committees and I tend to talk mostly to trainees and jr faculty peers who are complaining about the dismal job market and the “hundreds” of competing applications for the same jobs. So the above is quite a surprise.
The big caveat is that this refers to the same type of Department. One which tends to be a little, shall we say, old fashioned in outlook in many institutions. So this is not a good general example of the modern biomedical science / NIH supported scenario. Still, the R1 department has NIH grants and they hire people with great research records and prospects. So there may be some general application. Not to mention that many of the reasons I suspect searches may go off-track is in satisfying Departmental politics, which should generalize well.
I’ll have to do some more opinion seeking on this. By all means chime in if you have experiences from the hiring perspective. But absent additional info it seems that we have some rules for job seekers:
-Keep applying. Jobs aren’t always filled from a given search. The same candidates are the “top” at multiple places and they can only take one job at a time.
-Use your networks and contacts to see how a Department views their recent searches, it may give you clues as to how to present yourself.
-Hundreds of apps to end up with maybe 5 applicant shortlists from which the Department can really only agree on 1-2? Suggests this ain’t about the usual objective qualities over which you obsess. There is a whole ‘nother game at foot in which things like schmoozing and interpersonal relationships matter. A lot. The phone call from your high-falutin’ supervising PI is only the start of this process.
-Women and minorities aren’t even on the radar. My wonderful state U. system outlawed affirmative action years ago. Things weren’t very balanced back then anyway but now? Forget about it. The upside being that if you are a woman or a minority that is competitive, you are going to be in very elite company indeed. With search committees that value diversity, you are going to be a very precious commodity.