Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A conversation with an anonymous commenter

Anonymous said...

Wait, science actually works like this? I've been through this end of the job search process twice now, once when I was looking for a faculty position, and once when my spouse was. I don't think that other than criteria 1, we had anything going in my favour. Yet here we are, both with faculty positions in great departments.

What's a great department? I'm not being sarcastic. What should we look for? And is your university generally good, or is it someplace we might not have heard of but that's great for your field?

My impressions

1) Get that high impact paper (easier said than done!)
2) Make sure it is in the right field at the right time


First of all, I still think it's very hard to get a high impact paper if you work for/with people that no one at the high impact journals already knows. I think there's a lot of bias in that system, which prevents us nobodies from getting past that step (see other posts on related topics).

And to that end, am I supposed to switch fields? How does one guess the right time a year or more in advance, in order to set up the experiments?

I worry that I've already had my once-in-a-lifetime chance at working on something just before it got big, and in that case my advisor blocked me from even trying to publish in a high enough impact journal (this was a while ago). My current advisor isn't like that, but the other part of the equation (the great idea, at the right time) has to be there, too.

The rest I don't think actually matters. I had never met a single person in my current department before and what I do is so alien that I am still shocked that they hired anyone doing this kind of work. Ergo, right place, right time.

That's actually really heartening. Did you apply to an advertised slot? How was it advertised? Did you call the department first or just mail your package? How many applications did they get? Do you think your cover letter mattered, or was it just the high impact paper? HOW DID YOU GET THEM TO INVITE YOU FOR AN INTERVIEW?

In fact, while some of my colleagues who were hired at the same time worked for famous people, the only common thing that links all of them is the quality of their work (criteria 1).

My point is partly that there are a LOT more quality workers out there than can get hired.

So which ones get hired, of the ones who don't get screwed out of their jobs by bullshit politics where some well-connected moron gets the job?

Answer: The well-connected quality workers, who have high impact papers BECAUSE they're well-connected.

Networking, alchohol or any such quality played no role in their hiring.

a) Are you sure? It took some digging to find out the real, indirect, and very powerful connections people at my university used/took deliberate or inadvertent advantage of to get their current faculty positions.

b) I don't know a SINGLE person who didn't get their job through a connection, +/- alcohol.

I know a LOT of people who think/tell themselves/pretend it was not because of their connections.

That's the weird thing about being connected- you can't get rid of it, so even if you don't exploit it yourself, it still helps you. Unless you change your name, everyone will know who matters will already know who you are or associate you with something that triggers a 'good' signal in their brains.

The difference is, if you don't have the good connections, or if you have the misfortune to be associated (or mis-associated) with not-so-good connections, there's not much you can do about that either, and it works silently against you in the background.


But my impressions are based on a small sample, so take it for what it is worth. Don't lose hope!


Thanks. I'll try.

Labels: , , , ,

5 Comments:

At 3:43 AM, Anonymous Alex said...

I totally agree about most people not realizing their own connections. The fact is that most people who get jobs do it with their connections. It's not just something exclusive to science, that's true across the board. These days, far too many people are applying to the posted jobs, it's almost impossible to stand out. The best way to get work, no matter the situation, is to network.

 
At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, both the department and the university are far from being obscure. And yes, the position was advertised. I don't think the cover letter mattered much. The bottom line: I (and the three other interviewees, whom I knew pretty well) happened to do the kind of research that the department wanted in its master plan for that hiring cycle. And the impact paper helped.

As for the other folks, each one of them was able to bring in a technique/approach/skill that perhaps 5 other people in the world could. That said, for all of us, our current position was either the only one or one of two offers.

Fine, if your definition of connections is being in a well-funded lab that might have the financial and personnel resources that might be necessary to publish a high-impact paper, I guess then connections/networking are important. But beyond that, I am pretty sure that nothing else matters, as long as you are doing something that a department percieves as a need.

But hey! I'll know more when we go through our next round of hiring junior faculty.

 
At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Zuska said...

Anonymous, that is either incredibly naive or incredibly disingenuous. Everybody knows that connections make a difference in getting a job. Coming from a high-profile lab or university - whether you published a high impact paper or not - automatically gets you an extra point or two over somebody from No-name lab or university. People can't help it, they just respond to the big names. Having had access to the bigwigs may have given you a chance to network more and find out about more openings than somebody who didn't get to network. As Ms PhD said, you can't get rid of your connections - they work for you even if you don't ask them to, even when you don't invoke them. MIT on your resume is speaking for you even if you don't ask it to. To say nothing matters except being a good scientist is the height of foolishness.

Beyond that, yes, you need to "fit" with a department but beyond that it's also a whole host of things that are out of your control. Scheming on the search committee, internal issues you know nothing of, somebody didn't like how you ate at dinner during the interview, somebody owes someone a favor so their favorite candidate gets a stronger look, and so on. All the stuff that goes on on search committees that the candidate has absolutely no control over. Not to mention the mood someone is in when they start reviewing applications.

Please, please, don't pretend all it takes is to be a top-notch scientist. Everybody is a top-notch scientist. There just aren't enough jobs for them all.

 
At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Networking is vital outside of academia. Friends tell other friends about job openings, route resumes around the black hole that is human resources, and so forth. Head hunters deliberately try to place candidates with other alums from the same school. Many companies have cliques based on where a subset of people worked together in the past. Citizens are miffed when non-citizens "take" jobs they wanted to see go to their friends. Non-citizens are miffed when any are laid off, since it is easier for citizens to find other jobs. Studies show that cubical wall height is determined by the height of the manager, and male managers tend not to hire men who are taller than they are.

Why _wouldn't_ academia run on connections and reputation? The rest of the world does.

 
At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having had access to the bigwigs may have given you a chance to network more and find out about more openings than somebody who didn't get to network. As Ms PhD said, you can't get rid of your connections - they work for you even if you don't ask them to, even when you don't invoke them. MIT on your resume is speaking for you even if you don't ask it to. To say nothing matters except being a good scientist is the height of foolishness. my blog usagamezone.blogspot.com

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home