Monday, February 19, 2007

Couple hires.

This issue was discussed over at Science Professor, but I had so many thoughts about this, I figured I'd put them here instead of clogging up her comment box.

I think the thing that bugs me the most about these couple hires is that, since men typically look better on paper than women do, the wives of recruited men get closer consideration than single women applying our own.

Her CV gets pulled out of the B pile when he gets picked for an interview. So someone who might have fewer papers - but gives a great talk - gets the chance to give her talk, where she might not otherwise.

Obviously I think everyone brings different things to the table, and I'm glad these women are being hired, however they got there.

In fact, the vast majority of successful women in my field were couple hires, because of their husbands looking better on paper and the sexism of their generation, etc.

That's fine, except for the part where they are horribly ill-equipped to advise me on how to get my foot in the door. And in some cases, they are so psychologically non-functional as to not even want to admit that this is probably at least part of why they were able to get a job at all.

Perhaps the hardest part - getting noticed - was at least a little bit easier for them because of their husband's work and/or boy's network contacts, even if they were ultimately hired on their own merits.

I ran into a friend recently who is in the opposite position. His wife is a successful young professor, and because he wants to be near her and everyone knows it, his department has been exploiting this fact by keeping him in a glorified postdoc position for way too long.

It's cheaper for them than offering him a faculty position, and because they know his wife isn't willing to move away, it seems like the savvy business choice.

Except that he's spectacular and they're idiots not to give him more resources; conversely, he and his wife should be getting competing offers from elsewhere, even if they're not sure they'd want to move. It seems to me this is the only way he'll ever get out of his current rut.

Except that he's feeling like I am, that maybe he's not deserving of a faculty position or he would have had one by now.

Little do they realize he's thinking of quitting and going to industry. Academia is always more than willing to cut off the nose to spite the face.

I suspect his type of story occurs more frequently, or used to, with the woman as the trailing spouse and the man as the professor who doesn't want to leave?

I'd like to think the tide is changing. I have another friend who just published a very high impact paper, and she and her husband have been going on interviews. I'm not sure if she realizes it, but her work is MUCH better than his. And I suspect this is why they're getting interviews.

I'm curious, though, to see if she continues to outshine him after they both start their labs and start having kids.

Something like this happened with a couple hire at our university a few years ago, and I still don't quite understand how it all played out. Having seen both of their job talks and publications, my impression was that the wife was the better scientist and more of a 'catch' than her husband, and that she was the reason they recruited him.

But since they've been here, he seems to get all the attention, and I don't really understand why. Has anybody else seen this phenomenon? Is she just getting buried with writing grants and papers, while he is out giving talks and getting face-time? They seem to have a division of labor where he is much more social and political, perhaps because she's the one taking care of their young child. I've found the whole thing really discouraging, even just watching from a distance. I have to wonder if it's because he dumps all the house and childwork on her, if he's that type of guy. They seem to be in the majority, even now.

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At 8:10 AM, Anonymous phdwned said...

Why/how do men typically look better on paper than women do?

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Diane K. Danielson said...

Hi - I'm working on a magazine article about what Gen Y women think of Boomers and lack of mentoring, opting out, single v. moms (do the latter get preferred treatment? - which is why your post intrigued me). I have a survey I'm using to collect data -- and if you want to be interviewed, you can fill in your data at the end. Please share with your colleagues. Love the scientist angle.

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Men generally have more papers, especially first author papers, while women tend to have fewer/more middle-author papers.

At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"since men typically look better on paper than women do" - not in my world and I hope that I'm not an exception.

We just had 4 candidates out, 2M, 2F. Both F candidates were better because their science was better and they gave better talks. One M candidate was senior and has mucho NIH funding, but when you normalize for experience that pretty much went away (at least for my vote - I had him #3). The F candidate we're making the offer to has a spouse who needs a job in another dept in the college. Great, if the Dean goes for it, we'll have a much better shot at getting our offer accepted. We did the same thing last year with M candidate and F spouse co-offer. We nearly beat a higher tier school since we were the only ones with a serious spouse offer.

Anyway, that's my data point.

At 5:16 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Based on your description, the men DID look better ON PAPER. Why would you invite them at all if the women's "science"- defined how, exactly?- was so much better? How do you know?

But inviting half and half and having someone like you declare the women better overall, I think you're an exception, not the rule. I wish it weren't that way, but it's the reality of things.

Most places would take the guy with tons of funding over the F, which would fit with what I'm hearing from, well, everywhere else but you. Especially now. And especially if they have to pull extra strings to get an FTE for her spouse. I'm curious to hear what the final verdict is.

I met a YF Engineer the other day off campus, and she said (quite memorably) "It's a man's world." She was in her twenties.

I was also somewhat chagrined to see an article, written by a guy, about how the Turing award went to a woman this year, and how there aren't any women in Engineering.

It's not any big mystery why not.

At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Men generally have more papers, especially first author papers, while women tend to have fewer/more middle-author papers."

Really? Where did you get this information? Is there an actual study that has been done that shows this to be statistically significant? It sounds like a blanket statement that you are throwing out there based on your own observations.

In addition, if your statement is indeed true, why?? What could possibly explain why men have more first author papers? Are you going to tell us that women are bullied more by their P.I.s into accepting lesser roles on papers? Or that women are more cooperative thus end up working on collaborative projects in which they don't get first author credit? I'm sorry, I'm sure women have it tougher than men in science, but I can't just accept that statement at face value.

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This 'looking better on paper' that you speak off, is is something that starts during grads school?


At 3:34 PM, Blogger Holly said...

That's interesting - the idea that a couple offer would be extended because it's more likely to be accepted. Hadn't thought about it that way before. At the colleges I've worked at, particularly the last, there are a lot of couples and I always wondered if I'd have an easier time getting a future position if I "married into" one. I think that's a crap option for women. I do see more men benefitting from the couple deal now days.

At 11:45 PM, Blogger Allie said...

I am curious: the differential in the first author papers, at what point does it start?

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Sorry, I'm really busy and don't have time to look this up, but see posts in the archive about the various studies on women publishing vs. men.

Also, try looking it up on Google, Pubmed, AWIS... I am a bit behind on the times and there may be even more data now than last time I checked.

On this blog, some links to specific articles and statistics came up around the Larry Summers scandal with Harvard; see also the National Academies report on women in science and posts around that time.

Since most people don't publish before grad school, then yes I would say it probably starts in grad school (?) but maybe not until postdoc (?). It definitely starts before the faculty level and some have suggested it partially accounts for why in some fields there are ~50% female postdocs, but only 30% or fewer at the assistant professor level.

The explanations ranged from:

...suggestions that women aren't leaders on projects (how many papers have you seen with two first authors whether the First* first author was the guy and the Second first author was the woman?)... the idea that women don't always get credit for their contributions (this happened to me twice)... the idea that women tend to collaborate a lot and how that is looked down upon rather than valued by the scientific community (although that varies by field and depends a lot on whether it's a field where order of authorship matters or is determined by the flip of a coin).

At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have fewer papers than the (male) students who entered my grad program in my year. I can't fault them for being more productive, at least in terms of getting their papers out. This is the point at which I say "quality not quantity," but who am I kidding.

I have also been shafted for authorship in the past. There is, of course, some drama behind this story but it ends with the male first author getting all the glory and putting the people who collected the data in the Acknowledgements and leaving out 2 names completely.




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