Recently I have had to advertise for a PhD student and did so using a few listservs that have fairly substantial followings in the fields I am interested in. My deadline is not until this Friday, but the applicants I have so far are making me very nervous.
I was somewhat specific with what I am looking for. I would prefer someone with an MSc in a related field (even tangentially), some lab experience related to the tasks we are undertaking (which covers a wide range of basic techniques) and some ability to perform, or interest in learning, rudimentary XX. These requirements should not unreasonably narrow the field.
Nevertheless, I have only 7 applicants at this point (still four days prior to the deadline), and only one of these even partially meets my preferred skill set. The majority of the applicants have sent their CVs because I am working in an emerging field and they would like to learn some of the techniques and apply them to their own field of interest. While that is a reasonable goal for them, I am not looking to train a PhD student who is more interested in how they can use our methods to answer questions in their (completely unrelated) system, than they are in working on the project I need people for. It is one thing to have this goal and at least feign interest in the advertised project, but when your letter specifically discusses how you want to learn techniques Y and Z so that you can use them to improve your worm breeding project, then go on to describe the worm breeding project for a page, I'm just not gonna call you up to get you in here.
Granted, I could be worrying for no reason at this stage, with the deadline still ahead. When I applied for positions I never sent in my package substantially before the deadline, so I wouldn't expect others to. But with each new application that comes in from a Pakistani bee-keeper or Romanian goat herder I am becoming increasingly concerned that I may not find anyone suitable. If that is the case, I will essentially lose out on a departmental TAship to support the student and having one more person in the lab who can advance my projects. I don't plan to bring in a seat warmer just to keep the TAship this year, because I know that a bad student in the lab can cripple progress, but it makes me very uncomfortable giving up a lab position at this early point. Therefore, I may be faced with the unappealing options of either taking on a student who I will have to train from scratch and hope for the best, or declining the TAship for a year.
What makes the latter option even less palatable is that the process for assigning TAships to labs is one of the major policies being changed in our college-level reorganization. I was hoping to grab one before the changes happen so that my lab would go into the new system with two TAships, which might bolster my future claims on two or more TAships in the future. If I go into the "merge" (everything has taken on a "Survivor-like" flair around here lately) with only one TAship, I may need to battle to get a second in the future and it will likely take me longer to secure a third. Therefore, obtaining the second TAship or not has longer-lasting consequences than just the next year. We need a metric like the PiT Theorem for the cost/benefit of taking on inexperienced students and securing TAships for the future.