Sunday, March 05, 2006

Followup to affirmative action post last week

Wow, some interesting comments from people, so I wanted to continue this discussion and respond to a few points that people raised.

First, what is a risky hire? Here's my thinking on this.

A 'good' hire is someone who fits the formula, which goes something like this:

Oustanding pubs + outstanding letters from famous people + named grants/fellowships (Burroughs Wellcome, Damon Runyan, Helen Hay Whitney, etc) + pedigree from famous schools = future success

A 'risky' hire looks more like this, but nobody knows it because they don't qualify for the 'bin 1' pile to be looked at more closely:

solid pubs + good letters from people no one has heard of + government postdoc fellowship + teaching experience + leadership experience in the scientific community - Harvard = future success

I think the whole point of affirmative action is, this person might not 'look' as qualified on paper, because the wrong qualifications are being measured, and the important qualities are being missed.

Notice that none of these things have to do directly with race or gender, but many of them were probably affected by slight disadvantages throughout a career, possibly due to economics, or discrimination, or both.

I've had many interactions with both teachers and students who benefited from affirmative action. In no case did I find the teachers to be in any way lacking. In a couple of cases, the students lacked some of the skills that their non-AA peers had, but in most cases they made up the difference by working hard.

I've never been one of the people who thought I should get a job only based on my abilities, because nearly every year I have an encounter that could qualify as discrimination or harrassment. So if somebody wanted to use me to fill a quota, I'd jump at the chance.

However, one of the drawbacks is, you can't get the job for the wrong reasons and not be expected to work extra hard to prove that you deserve it.

But you reach a point where nobody has been willing to really give you a chance, and you're willing to work extra hard if that's what it takes. I'm willing to play that card if I have to, because I've never used it thus far, but it has been used against me.

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At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you ever fear that this affirmative action theory you write about may be working against you and prohibiting you from getting a job?

At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you described yourself as a great postdoc.. someone with great publications and good pedigree..

my question is, if you don't have the qualities of a 'good' hire - which you apparently aren't - aren't your expectations a little unrealistic? I mean, you need to keep in mind how competitive academia is, and how many of the 'good' hires you are competing against.

Honestly, if you aren't one of these 'good' hires, then maybe you should be shooting a little lower (ie community college, liberal arts, etc)... or perhaps something like Louisiana State or something like that... but don't expect to get somewhere without the outstanding pubs + grants/fellowships.. there are just too many better candidates...

I'm not saying give up - I'm saying be realistic... and if you take on another postdoc, make sure it gets you the outstanding pub..

At 4:47 PM, Blogger MouseModeler said...

It's nice to see PHD's with blogs!

At 4:10 AM, Blogger dlamming said...

a lot of the things you've mentioned are networking issues. these are important, but you haven't mention something else i think is important in networking- conferences and collaborations.

i'm just a grad student, but it seems to me going to conferences and presenting are very important in terms of getting to know people and putting yourself (and your work) out there.

plus, it seems to me that a lot of times, faculty want to get someone into the department who is useful - not only someone who doesn't compete with them, but brings skills, equipment and interest in working together on common problems. so collaborators who already have jobs could be very useful in getting a job of your own (as long as you work in distinct, non-competing fields).

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Down the list, as usual:

Yes, I fear everything is working against me getting a job. Affirmative action, could be. Lack thereof, maybe. It could go both ways. Politics, yes. Market forces, yes.

A great postdoc... hmm... I am very good at what I do, and nobody does what I do. I'm really sort of a unique commodity, but nobody knows I exist. I think that's the main problem.

Hmm. What would Sartre say... Schrodinger? Nietzche?

I have a good pedigree, I guess, but not enough famous names on my CV. My publications are good, but not in the top 3-4 journals, yet.

I would rather do this for another year or two and try to get a couple more papers out, maybe on in a top journal, and maybe get this stupid grant I'm waiting to hear about. Then yes, if I still can't find something, if Bush is still ruining our country and wasting our funding... then community college, or writing freelance... ha ha ha. You guys would read my writing, wouldn't you???

MouseModeler- I love the pictures of the male mouse with the erection! That totally made my day yesterday.

DLamming- re: conferences and collaborations, I have LOTS of collaborations, but a couple of the papers that should have been out a year ago still haven't been submitted. Just goes to show you, helping people out doesn't necessarily bring you any rewards in a timely manner, beyond the sheer fun of it.

re: conferences and people knowing you. People in my old field know me, know my advisor, know my work. I switched fields and now I'm trying to promote my inter-disciplinary stuff, and much of my current work isn't yet published. So I go to meetings in this new field and nobody knows me... and there is nobody to introduce me to anyone.

I'm meeting people, slowly, but the first thing they always ask is, "who's your advisor?" That's the only framework people know... My advisor's work has nothing to do with what I work on, so no one is going to remember me or my stuff if that's their only mnemonic.

I'm not an easily forgettable person, once you've met me, but it's a slow process trying to meet people and tell them about my stuff one at a time... It would help tremendously if I could get myself invited to give talks, instead of standing by a stupid fucking poster. Gotta get out of the poster trap, I think.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

Been away for awhile at a grant review panel and missed some of the discussion. First, based on grant review, I'd not be in such a hurry to get that faculty position because paylines are so, so low. Everyone, junior, senior, is striken with fear right now. Perhaps you could hold out until this administration is out and NIH budgets recover.

I agree with all commenters who previously disagreed with the "one hot paper" advice you got. It may get you in the door of depts where you want to be, but most of my search committee service has been for asst prof candidates with a good overall track record. The one time I fell for someone with a great pedigree, Science papers, etc. - well, I just learned that they were denied tenure.

Being a woman who is "not an easily forgettable person" stuck at a "stupid fucking poster," I'd suggest going to a Gordon Research Conference or some other suitable small venue. I am a very small name in my field, yet my grad students and postdocs have gotten postdocs and faculty position inquiries in such settings from the fact that posters there are up for the entire meeting, right in the beer drinking area, and word gets around as to what posters and presenters you should see (unlike the wham-bam, get-em-up-take-em-down posters at huge international meetings). Getting invited talks is harder and harder, even for established folks because, even then, you have to be in the know. It sucks, and its killing me that so many excellent junior people are looking for work elsewhere.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

It was always a hope of mine to get picked up as a long shot and then be able to prove I really know what I am doing. Too bad the world doesn't work like that. I wish you good luck dealing with not fitting into established circles and routines.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger MissPrism said...

I agree with pharmboy. Or give talks at smaller conferences with a more specific subject focus - I actually find small conferences much better for networking than the biggies, as it's easier to catch people in the bar to ask them questions. Plus, you can pretty much give a talk for the asking at many of them.

Again, good luck, don't let'em grind you down...


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