Monday, April 14, 2008

Accidental information

Hey! This is a pop quiz! Guess what I accidentally found out today?

a) My department is interviewing people with fewer first author papers than I have now. Fewer, in fact, than I had when I applied for jobs before and didn't get any interviews.

In one case where the candidate is very likely to be interviewed, the candidate has not published a single first author paper in several (>5) years, but has a couple of recent reviews in High Impact Journals and works for the very famous ex-spouse of someone in the department.


b) The candidates' packages are each reviewed by no more than 4 faculty, but usually only 2 or 3 faculty, to determine whether they are worth interviewing.

You might get reviewed by two faculty, and get turned down because one of those hated everyone. Meanwhile someone else might get reviewed by two totally different people. Or maybe you could be the lucky one and get reviewed by the softie who wants to interview as many people as possible. But only if you pick a department where you know there's a softie who works on something related to what you do, or if you have a friend who will snatch your application out of the pile and insist on being the one to review it.

But I'm not saying this happens. Nope. I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say it's a lot like the way NIH reviews grants, either, or how fucked up that is.

c) The administrative assistant gets the first run at the stack of applications, which means you could get cut by a non-scientist before a scientist ever sees your application.

You might have thought that was more common in places that have applications filtered by HR, like companies and places with staff. You'd be wrong.

This must be why buzzwords matter so much, eh?

d) There are no standout candidates on the list that everyone can even agree is worth interviewing, but they're going to interview some of the ones they have already looked at and deemed mediocre, rather than going back to the original pile of packages to see if the admin threw any good applications in the trash.

(I'll refrain from mentioning that this admin has a proven history of throwing out the best candidates for staff positions, since there's no chance that would be an issue here!)

e) all of the above

f) none of the above, I'm just making crazy shit up, nobody in their right mind would do it this way

g) why I am really glad I am not applying to this department, or anywhere else right now

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At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boss: You know X didn't get any interviews this year.

Big Visitor head of hiring: Why didn't X apply to us. X is really good.

Boss: Why didn't you apply to where X is?

X: I did.

At 1:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, this is my first comment here. But let me just say, as a recent ex-postdoc in well-known scientist's lab, that what you post in your blog I totally understand and it's (sadly) comforting to know that I wasn't alone.

At 5:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if it makes you feel better, hiring committees don't tend to pick their own people. at least not in my biomedical subdivision... your own former trainees are on their own!

At 5:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you observe with faculty searches is typical. The process has an enormous component of capriciousness to it. For this reason, it is imperative when applying for jobs that you apply to as many places as you can, to give as many search committees as possible the chance to actually get it right and interview you. :)

At 6:27 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

Combining this post with your last post, perhaps a bunch of faculty members are looking at the mediocrity that are applying for faculty jobs and thinking maybe you're a bit better than they realized. Of course, it sounds like this isn't a place where you want to stay long-term, but, being appreciated is always nice.

At 8:07 AM, Anonymous Betsy said...

So hiring isn't completely fair? Shocking! :)

Until I got to your last line, I would have thought that this would be encouraging to you--that you don't have to be the "perfect" candidate with 12 C/N/S papers to get interviewed, that it's more about who you know and how you sell yourself.

Why does this make you glad you're not applying? Why are you not applying? Yes, this system isn't perfect, but it's not going to change. If you want to change the system, you need to change it from the inside. And the first step towards doing that is applying for and getting a job.

I've seen far too many postdocs waste years not applying for jobs because they didn't feel their applications were perfect. They spent those years as miserable postdocs who sat and watched people with similar or less stellar CVs get jobs.

If this is what you really want to do, then do it now. If you can't bring yourself to do it now, then think hard about why that is.

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as it sucks, this is how the world works. The only consolation is, sometimes you end up being the benificiary from things like this (i.e. your CV was the one picked by the admin, over someone more qualified who was chucked in the trash).

Que sera, sera........

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With regards to a) this is news? My very prestigious, big-name department actually hired someone with zero first author papers as a postdoc (4-5 years), although one was in press, while a friend of mine is getting a job with only 2 firsts as a postdoc and 1 first as a grad student. Number of papers means pretty little...

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous saintlouis said...

wow. what a crazy process. Makes me feel less bad about the rejections that I have received.

At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Helen said...

Sadly, I find it all too believable. I think processes like these get made up under the assumption that everything will go perfectly, and no one ever stops to think about what happens if it doesn't.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 1:01 AM,

I'm having trouble following that story due to the anonymizing. Is there more than one X in that equation? If so, could you reset the variable before reusing? Thx.

Anon 1:44 AM,

I know what you mean. In a way it explains a lot- that it's not that we suck, the lack of a scientific (!!!!) system of hiring is what sucks.

Anon 5:41 AM,

I don't understand what you mean. My own former trainees? My future former trainees-?

I wouldn't apply to this department for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that I know they don't hire their own postdocs (the official unstated university policy).

I think that's actually a good thing for the department. I worked somewhere that hired mostly their own postdocs, and it was bad for everyone, I think.

Anon 5:48 AM,

Tried the blind firing of many shots in the dark. Hit nothing.

Fear now that it made me look unfocused, exposed my cluelessness, and will ultimately hurt me when/if I apply again.

This statistical game was the old way.

From what I've learned, my understanding is that it's MUCH better to apply to departments that you've researched and networked heavily.

Schmoozing is the 'new' way. See lots of previous posts mentioning my various revelations on this topic.


Ha ha, well I'd like to think so.

"Look ma, I'm not more mediocre than anyone else!"

But it's cold comfort when I'm looking at still being stuck a while longer.


"not perfect" is a major euphemism for how fucked up the system is (to borrow some profanity from physioprof).

It's also bit of a euphemism for my application status right now. I've been told repeatedly by many people that I'm too this or not enough that, and the only thing I can do to make up for my 'flaws' (including being female, did anyone see the opening of L'il Bush last night?) is to improve my CV before I apply.

And it's a lot of work. And really not rewarding or educational.

How much feedback did I get from the applications I've sent thus far?


At least with papers and grants, you usually get comments back-!!!

But yes I'm thinking hard about whether this is what I want. It's not the Doing Research or Being A Mentor part that I worry about.

It's that I see the same kinds of fucking up at least as bad, if not worse, in our funding system. And I'm heartsick at the thought of being tied to a system this bad. Because it's not just for a little while. It's a long while before (if???) you get tenure and you might be able to start really wielding some power to change things. And even then, look at FSP. How much power does she have as one of the lone women in her department? Not much!

It does make me worry about whether there are other ways for me to change things in science and be happier than I would be as yet another mouth-shut cog in a giant, fucked-up machine.

Anon 9:34 AM,

Spoken like a beneficiary, and not like someone who wants to fix the system.

I don't believe in que cera, cera.

I believe shit happens, and you're going to step in it eventually if you don't clean it up.

Anon 10:42 AM,

See, that's not what I've been told, but I think there's a major disconnect. I know some people who've gotten jobs with very few papers, and I know others who've gotten jobs with several high impact papers and an international reputation for publishing tons of great work.

Maybe it has to do with expectations or something, but everyone seems to want to push me to be more like the latter, and nobody seems quite sure how/why some people are able to get away with less.


Amen! Me too. But sad too to know how illogical it is and how I was trying to logic my way through a minefield of bullshit.


That's exactly my point. If everyone were really objective and thinking about all the potential for corruption, cluelessness, etc. this is NOT the system a smart group of people would come up with.

What really pops my cork is that at least one of the chief PIs in this particular shenanigan loves to bluster on about how it's all such a crapshoot, but he's knowingly running his own search the same way.

I just do not get that. At. All.

At 10:04 AM, Anonymous j said...

Are you sure the lack of short listing/interviews is due to your number of papers and out-of-your-control factors, and not something like your cover letter or research/teaching statements? I don't ask to be confrontational, and I will admit that my science seems different enough from yours (and I'm at an SLAC to boot) that our papers number requirements might not be comparable. That said, so often what will cause me to look unfavorably on an application is a really bad cover letter or clueless statements.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

No, what I've been told (vaguely) is that the only sure-fire way to overcome the out-of-control factors is with more papers.

But isn't the definition of clueless that you don't know you are?

So it could be that too.

But I've had a lot of people look at my cover letters and statements (all 10,000 versions of them) and tried hard to incorporate all their feedback.

At 4:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Boss: You know X didn't get any interviews this year.

Big Visitor head of hiring: Why didn't X apply to us. X is really good.

Boss: Why didn't you apply to where Big Visitor is?

X: I did.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

No, what I've been told (vaguely) is that the only sure-fire way to overcome the out-of-control factors is with more papers.

Not true. There is no "sure-fire" way. The way to get the odds in your favor, however, is to apply to more jobs and potentially to diversify the "type" of job you are applying for.

I'm not a consistent enough reader to know if you've discussed how many jobs you've actually applied for? And recent comments suggest you've taken a break from applying for jobs?

Watching a few trainees around me, I see them just keep applying and applying until they get the right fit of interests..

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Ha! I knew someone would say there's no sure-fire way. It's hyperbole, get it?

All told I've done ~80-85 applications.

You are correct, I am not applying right now.

In my case it has nothing to do with interests or fit. I see other people getting offers who work on the same kinds of things I do, or who are even less qualified or a worse fit. What they have that I don't have are the C/N/S papers.

I'm pretty sure my application goes directly to the B pile for lack of high-profile publications.

If they bothered to read my research statement or look at my CV, they'd realize I've already applied everywhere that I could possibly 'fit'.

If I'm going to apply again, my application (CV) will have to be substantially different. Otherwise I'm wasting my time, and a lot of trees.

At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boss: You know X didn't get any interviews this year.

Big Visitor head of hiring: Why didn't X apply to us. X is really good.

Boss: Why didn't you apply to where Big Visitor is?

X: I did.
I had this also happening to me. I am looking for a job in industry. Only about ~ 6 weeks ago, I started getting phone interviews, and now also invitations (2 so far) for on-site interviews. What did I change in my Cover Letter? I made it sound arrogant!!! Another suggestion: Profs told me "applying via a company website to find a job never works"!!! I can confirm this, I only hear back positively when I send my CL & Resume directly to a person (in as high a position as possible) within the company! So, in meetings, always collect people's business cards, and if a speaker from industry comes to your university, ask for a time slot to present your work yourself to him/her, & get his/her business card. :) ds

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

Well, you've confirmed what I suspected all along: this whole application process is often a complete crap shoot! I got interviews at some really good places, while I was flat-out rejected at some really shitty ones. Absolutely no feedback, but I guess that's how it goes...


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