Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Hiring Faculty

1600px-Solvay_conference_1927Although hiring for your own research group is a difficult task, most people you bring on to do research with you will have a limited lifetime in the group. Oppositely, hiring faculty colleagues can have a lifetime impact on you, the department, and the college. Having great colleagues can be inspiring, uplifting, and enhance your creativity and science. Having terrible colleagues can make you anxious, depressed, and unwilling to go to work each day.  All departments have a mix, and not everyone feels the same way about all colleagues. Further, much of these issues come down to personality, which can be hard to evaluate during even long, 2-day interviews that faculty candidates must endure.

There is another issue, which is the gender and race gap in most STEM departments. We are certainly no where near parity on diversity with the population at large in this country. Most STEM departments have the same racial make-up that they did in 1950. That is to say, they are very white. We are doing a bit better with women, although most of them are white, too.

I am very proud of my department this year because they overcame some bad behavior to do things in a better way and actually get some diversity during their hiring this year. First, I am going to bag on them a little. Just know that I feel like they saw the error in their ways and course-corrected for this year. Learning from your mistakes is something that my department can do, but I am not sure all departments even recognize their mistakes.

Not so good behavior: Last year, we had only one “token” woman in our searches. To me, this is not enough, especially when we are so far down on the percentage of women in the department. We did have some non-white candidates. Most were Asian of some sort. The top candidate of the search was actually non-white, but he took an offer somewhere else.

When we closed the search, we had to write a memo about the people who did not make the cut (most of the candidates including the one woman). The faculty were presented the reasoning outlined in the memo. The male candidates were lauded for their credentials, despite the fact that they were not chosen. Sometimes the reasoning for not being chosen was also forgotten. The description of the woman was very different. Her credentials were not lauded quite so much. Odder than that, the reason why the woman was not made the offer was stated that “she did not know enough physics.” I had to step in here, since this is not exactly specific or clear. It is definitely the kind of vague critique people use to bash women’s competence when there is no good reason. Further, I felt that the higher-ups might be suspicious of this logic. Truly, if the candidate did not “know enough physics” why did we bring her here in the first place?

Second chance at good behavior: This year, we were allowed to try the search again. The search committee did several good things to help prevent some of the problems from the last year. The chair of the search attended, and paid attention to, the information from the equal opportunity office. *YAY*

Before the candidates files were downloaded and examined, the committee came up with an agreed-upon set of criteria for the candidates. Using this criteria, they judged the files and invited two women in the pool this year. *YAY*

Next, when the candidates came, they were treated as equally as possible. *YAY*

When the candidates were evaluated, they were judged against the criteria already established. *YAY*

Both of the female candidates were placed above the bar and many more of the male candidates faired better was well. Perhaps it was a special year with an exceptional pool? Either way, I felt the process was more equitable and resulted in a better outcome for the women.

Side Effect: The side effect of this process is that I am feeling much better about my department and about my place as a woman in that department. Good scientists should be able to learn and understand that random metrics are not a good way to evaluate candidates. My colleagues showed that they can learn and be better people and better scientists. For me, it is more than just the possibility of hiring more women in the department. There is a collegiality and respect that I feel to/from my peers that makes going to work much nicer these days.

So, what do you think? How does your department make hires? Do you feel the process is fair? Does it bring in the best candidates? Comment or post here with more ideas on best practices for hiring and helping with diversity.


Comments on: "Hiring Faculty" (2)

  1. I would love to hear more about the agreed-upon set of criteria. We tried to do this and had a hard time articulating clear criteria.

  2. I’m generally impressed by my department’s approach to hiring diverse candidates. I’d add to your post one thing which has made its way into our best practices: we do not release recommendation letters until after a first draft of the short list has been chosen to avoid the gender bias we know exists in these letters.

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