Archive for: February, 2013

They FINALLY did it! NSF has a real blog.

Feb 14 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Alan Townsend, Director of DEB at NSF, just announced over twitter that the DEB blog is live!

As regular readers will know, this is an exciting development IMO. I'm looking forward to seeing it develop. Many thanks to Alan and the DEB staff for the significant effort to make this happen. Hopefully it serves as a catalyst for other divisions to follow suit.

One response so far

Sometimes parenting sucks (a reminder to myself)

Feb 14 2013 Published by under [Et Al]

To become a parent is to abdicate an absurd number of decisions about your daily life to the actions and health of a human or humans who have little capacity to consider consequences. Much of your life is spent attempting to encourage them to use this power for good, rather than evil, but often you will be powerless to do so.

There are many wonderful things about being a parent and any number of Facebook friends and acquaintances will convince you of that via ascertainment bias. The good is on full display. The cute, the hilarious, the cuddly - it's all out there. The rest? Well, it's more complex and mostly hidden due to societal pressures and our need not to admit we don't know what the fuck we are doing. The minute you think you found the key, the lock changes.

On our best days we can't imagine anything better than spending time with these curious little beasts. On our worst we struggle with the challenges of taming them to the point where we can spend time with them without constantly wishing we were anywhere else. We are thankful for their general good health while cursing the days daycare refuses them and the schedule juggle begins.

During those prolonged times where behavior and health compound the pressures of parenthood to the point of a crushing weight, its hard to imagine a better time ahead. When you're lost in the trees, who cares what the forest looks like? But it always comes around. The trick is to remember it is possible.

10 responses so far

On luck, jobs and getting what you "deserve"

Feb 07 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I'm behind on just about everything recently, so why should blogging be any different? For work related reasons I haven't been able to keep on top on internet goings-ons, so only briefly saw a flurry of activity on twitter around the #postdocalypse hashtag. Since I missed the origin and reason, it looked like the typical venting of the postdocalytes, which, sure, I get it. It's a stressful time.

At some point I caught a link to the post associated with it, from Ethan Perlstein's blog. I've interacted a bit with @eperlste on twitter and have a sense of where he's coming from, but I found this post interesting. The main thing that caught my attention was:

Almost every single assistant professor I know has admitted that it was dumb luck, idiosyncratic departmental tastes or plain old academic tribalism that landed them their job, because they all had impressive CVs, stellar recommendations and solid proposals.

Let's talk reality for a second. As I mentioned in a comment on my last post, the perception of luck dominating a search decision only exists outside the decision making process. There was a time when I held this believe to a certain extent too, but then I got involved in the hiring process. There's nothing random about hiring, but it is subject to the needs and desires of the faculty members with a say in the process. This isn't transparent to the candidates, which might make it look whimsical, but I promise you that is far from the case. Whereas I have never been at an institution that is involved in "boys club" hires, and thus can't speak to those situations, the facts are simple: segments of the committee or department may have different interests, and those may be in conflict, and are almost certainly unknown to most job candidates. So let's put the randomness rumor to bed and accept that much of this is actually dependent on factors you are not aware of. There may be some luck as to which jobs come up in a year you are primed for the market, but search committees ain't flipping a coin in the back room to decide who to offer the job to.

"Dumb luck" is a great excuse if you don't want to think the situation through. Odyssey can give you a math lesson if it helps, but the bottom line is that even ticking all the boxes you thought you should does not guarantee you the job you want. Treating the process as waiting for that job people owe you is not going to help your efforts to obtain said job. At all.

Another typical disgruntledoc talking point is the insistence that only a top 10 department would be worthy of their presence. Anyone who has been around long enough to remember YFS will be very familiar with this mindset. The reality is that those jobs aren't for everyone and not every ivy-bred researcher is a special snow flake to be cherished. If your idea of a job search is applying to a handful of the very best departments in the country every year, you need to own the fact that you are playing a high stakes game with the odds stacked against you. If it doesn't work out, don't pretend that your downfall is economic, luck or unrecognized brilliance. Recognize that it is arrogance.

52 responses so far

Is there an alternative way to interview for TT jobs?

Feb 01 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

With minor variation, pretty much every job search for an academic tenure-track job works the same way:

1)Post an ad describing the type of research you are interested in adding to the department.

2) Wade through the resulting applications looking for metrics of success (publications, grant funding, awards)

3) (optional) Phone interview a subset of candidates (~10).

4) Invite 3-5 candidates for an on campus interview, during which they will meet with department members one-on-one, give a seminar about the work they have done, give some presentation on work they would do at the interviewing institution, eat a bunch of meals with the search committee.

From a logistical standpoint, getting the campus interviewee list right is pretty critical. If a committee goes through the campus interviews and doesn't find a suitable candidate, the search is either delayed while they scramble to bring different people in or is a failed search that may or may not re-appear in the following season. Neither option is good, so the committee really wants to get those invites right.

However, the metrics of success we use to evaluate people on paper don't always translate into strong interviews. It seems that every search has at least one interviewee who self-immolates in some way. I have been involved in searches in which only one candidate turned out to be acceptable to the committee.

This has led myself, and several others I have talked with informally, to wonder whether there is a better screening process by which we could identify candidates. There are so many good scientists out there who just need a shot at an interview, but can't get one.

It's an imperfect process, and yet I have never seen a department try anything different. What could we do better?

36 responses so far

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