Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Posts tagged ‘grad school’

Hiring – Better Advice

HelpWantedI have tried to write about this before (post), but I think I was asking more questions and had fewer answers. After almost a decade of doing this, I think I have now learned some things – or at least made enough mistakes – that I can speak relatively intelligently about how best to hire. As always, there are multiple types of people you can hire for a research group. Undergraduates, technicians, graduate students, postdoctoral students, research scientists, administrative assistants, etc… Of course, as a faculty member, you will also have the opportunity to have a say about other faculty and staff hires in the department. Those are typically done by committee, and I have opinions about that process, too (more to come in future posts). This post is about some recent new practices that have been successful to hire people for your research group.

  1. Undergrads. OK, I don’t have much of a bar for undergrads. I do have a small hurdle. They have to fill out an application to be in the lab. The application is available on my website, or I send it to them when they request information about how to join the lab. When they turn in the application, they have to make an appointment to see me.  At that meeting, I describe the lab, some of the science, and how we run things. If they are still interested, they have to fill out an undergraduate contract. The contract has more specific expectations for hours and work. On the front, we decide together on how we will compensate the student: money via work study, credit via independent study, or volunteering. I am specific about the weekly hours, compensation, and I email the undergraduate program director or the personnel person in charge of getting the students paid at that meeting. We flip the contract, and outline the science that the student will do during their semester. I photocopy the contract – front and back – and keep the original, signed by both myself and the student, and they keep the copy. I have outlined this in previous posts, but it was a bit buried (post). Basically, if you are interested enough to fill out an application and make a meeting with me, you can be an undergrad in the lab.
  2. Grad students. I am apart of two different graduate programs because what I do is interdisciplinary. One program has formal rotations. The students actually work in your lab for a semester, and get to know how you work and vice versa. After two rotations, they pick an advisor, and that is where they stay until they graduate (or leave the program). The other program I am in does not do rotations. In fact, there is no formal, helpful mechanism for students to find their advisors. They basically have to try a couple, have some false starts, and then decide. It is like the most awkward dating game ever (previously described here).  They usually decide based on science, which I do not advocate (see post). For the students from the second program, I basically make them do a rotation over the summer for three months that I pay for out of pocket. At the beginning, I explain that it is a trial period, I even put it in writing. I pay them for their summer work, but that is the only commitment I make until the end of the trial. After the trail period, we have a meeting to discuss if they would like to continue to work in the lab.
  3. Postdocs. I recently hired a few postdocs. I had trouble getting good applicants for one, but had several reasonable applicants for the other. For both positions, I put out ads online. I think that was good because figuring out who has openings can be hard for recent grads who are applying (see post). In order to post an ad, I have to go through a formal process through my university equal opportunity office. Honestly, it totally sucked. They made it really long and difficult to get my ad out and to complete the hiring process. It basically took 6 months to fill one of the positions. This is terrible if you have to have results within a year for a grant. Once the ads were official and posted online, I started getting applications, and I definitely think I got applications from candidates who would not have applied if I had gone through the grapevine only. I made a spreadsheet for the applicants and set up a series of requirements including minimal requirements (which eliminated some applicants, but not many), and then preferred requirements. All the applicants who made it past that point were contacted to have a Skype interview, and I contacted all their references. In the Skype interview, I asked them about their work and described the lab. I basically tried to tell if they had some sort of red flag, but it is difficult to determine. The most important thing was to contact the references and ask them very direct questions about the applicant. I had a two-page set of questions (it really only took 30 minutes) where I asked about their research abilities, communications skills, work ethics, goals, and their personality and ability to get along with others. The last two questions I ask are: 1. Would you hire this person in your lab as a postdoc? and 2. Are there any red flags? You would be surprised at the number of people who say “no” to the first question. For the second question, this is important to make it clear that I cannot tolerate having a bad personality in a small lab, and I need to know if the person has issues. Honestly, every time I have called the references, and asked these questions over the phone, I made good hires. When I didn’t, I made bad hires. So, the most important thing in my mind is to CALL THE REFERENCES! After the references were good, and when possible, I had the applicant interview in person in the lab. I set up a whole day where they talked to other professors, gave a one hour talk on their research, and had lunch with the lab members at the faculty club without me. This last step was the most crucial because it was a litmus test of personality for the lab. I did not hire people based on this test if the people felt the interviewee was a jerk. In a small lab, the personality is crucial, but difficult for me to judge. The lab is a better judge, and I have to remember to always listen to them, no matter how good an applicant looks on paper.
  4. Technicians. I have hired a couple technicians/lab managers that didn’t work out so well. I now use the same process as for postdocs, and I think that will work better. Currently, I have a new technician who “grew up” in my lab starting as an undergrad and then a master’s student. This is a really great way to get a technician, but it is not exactly easy or common to find an excellent undergrad who wants to go this route.
  5. All. Lunch with current lab members. The lunch with the lab is the most important part of any interview, I think. I can’t tell you the number of interviewees who say stupid shit to the students when covering up their crazy for me. Plus, the personality meshing is so important, especially for a small lab. There could be a concern about racism or sexism, but educating students about their cultural biases, they can work to overcome them, as we all could and should.

So, what do you think? Any good advice on how best to hire people for your research group? Comment or post here. o get an email every time I post, push the +Follow button.

“Subtle” Harassment

DoorPinsMost harassment is not very subtle to women, but I realize that not everyone is as clued in and keyed up about it as I am. I was recently harassed, probably not on purposed or even pointed directly at me, but I inadvertently stumbled into some harassment, and I wanted to have a little talk about it. What to do, how to report, and make it clear to my male friends and advocates that this stuff is not just annoying, it affects us pretty much daily. So, I am going to post about “subtle” harassment – the pervasive kind that wears you down.

Chalk Board Harassment. In my career, I can clearly recall two instances of chalkboard harassment. In both cases, I literally walked into the harassment without warning. I reported the harassment to authorities, and nothing was done about it.

The first time, was in graduate school. I was TAing, and I had to use a photocopier to make copies for my class. The photocopier was in what I call a “party office” where many grad students have desks and work. It wasn’t really a party office in the sense that I never once saw a party or celebration occurring, but it was a “party” more like a “party line” for phone service in the olden days. You might also call it a “grad student ghetto,” which probably better captured the mood of the room. Anyway, this day, like many others, I went in to make my copies. The copier was directly in front of a 6 foot chalk board. This day, I looked up from the copier to see a 3-foot tall, very detailed drawing of a penis. I stopped my copying and went to the department office directly to the chairman, and actually got him to come to see the masterpiece. He actually took me seriously and came to see it for himself, but erased it immediately upon seeing it. He was quite harassed, as well as me. I informed him that it was this type of, well, not subtle, but pervasive harassment that scared women away from male-dominated fields.

Recently, now that I am a professor, a similar situation has occurred. On the chalkboard outside my lab and near my office, the word “penis” was written. This is certainly not as bad as the graphic drawn in gory detail when in grad school, but it is perhaps more troubling because it was drawn immediately next to some drawings my daughter (elementary-school age) had made on the same board. In fact, she wrote the word, “LOVE” and immediately next to it, was the offending word. Nice. As before, I informed the department chair and this time, I also took a picture and emailed it to the UniversityDiversityOffice who is responsible for following up such offenses.

A couple of things occurred to me about these two situations:

1. Why are dudes so obsessed with penises? Why not be obsessed with vagina? It is weird to me. Statistically speaking, some of the dudes in my department are likely to be homosexual. They don’t seem to be out. We do have an openly gay faculty-member, and there doesn’t seem to be overt homophobia in the department.  I could be wrong, but no student has come to discuss it with me.

2. I was surprised about how much more offended I was by the word in the second instance compared to the drawing in the first instance from grad school. I think it was because of the proximity in space and time to my daughter. It pissed me off that they defiled some nice drawings and lovely writings that were clearly done by a child. My child.

3. Finally, in the same note as number 2, I couldn’t help thinking that they had targeted my space in the department. In the first instance in grad school, the picture was in a closed office and was more likely not targeted at me. Yes, there were other women in that office, and they were the likely targets of the harassment, but it wasn’t targeted at me. But, this second version felt targeted because the board is right between my office and lab. That made me feel badly, too.

Everyday Stuff. Last week, there was a particularly horrific situation on the campus at UCSB, and I am sure most blogs dealing with women’s issues are mentioning something about it. The misogynistic rantings of the shooter are worrying to any woman who works in science, particularly some fields that are male dominated. Scary.

One of the topics that was described in the commentary of the “Yes, All Women” trend was women trying to explain that we often feel uncomfortable in situations, even everyday situations, because of the very real threat of men. One of my favorite comedians has a particularly clear view of this idea (See a video here).

After the women comments, there was a backlash with the tagline “Not All Men,” where dudes were trying to say, “Hey we aren’t all like that!” but as many women pointed out, WE CAN’T TELL WHO IS OR WHO ISN’T LIKE THAT. You all look the same to us.

Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say 1% of men are like that. Now, you are a woman running a class of 400 students where only 20% are women. So, you are in a classroom with 320 men, and 1% are women-haters – that is 3-4 woman-haters are in the room with you.  Not that many, but enough to harass and demean you, if they sought to do so. I have talked to women who have been physically intimidated by male students in classes with these types of numbers. The students physically get into their personal space and demand differential treatment. I, personally, don’t let students get near me. I have a very large personal space bubble. But even so, there are other ways to cause trouble.

Outside of classroom situations, I have tried to notice my reactions to other, regular, situations in the past week. I have noticed that I make certain decisions about myself because of a fear of men. Let me give you two examples.

1. I was at the gym with HusbandOfScience. I wanted to stretch in the area near the mirrors. There were two men in the area – basically taking up all the room in the area in front of the mirror. There was just enough space between them for me to fit, but I didn’t do it at first. Why? I was afraid of them. Not deathly afraid, but wary enough to avoid. I decided that the likelihood that these two guys were both bad guys was low, statistically speaking. I was right. They were fine – just taking up more than their fair share of space, as men often do unconsciously (Not All Men).

2. I was taking my child into daycare. Normally, I park right at the front door, but there wasn’t room, so I had to park half way down. At the far end of the parking lot was a group of men. They laughed when I got my kid out of my car, and it made me sort of flinch. I noticed that I was wary of them. I went to drop my kid. After coming back to the car, I took a closer look, and I realized that they were latino, and that made me feel safer. Statistically speaking, dudes who hate women are white. (Sorry to my white men friends – I realize it isn’t all white men, but stats are stats.)

So, here is my say. The WomanOfScience addition to the #YesAllWomen movement. What do *you* think? Comment or post. Push the +Follow button to receive an email every time WomanOfScience posts.

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