Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Cat Search

If anyone doubts the warping effects on one’s brain of being on a faculty search committee that involves reading 100+ files and 100+ reference letters, perhaps this post will serve as evidence that the effects can be severe.

We have had a cat vacancy in our home since last winter, so we convened a diverse and distinguished search committee consisting of three experts (us). We recently interviewed several candidates intensively, following the European model of interviewing all candidates at the same time (very efficient). We were, in theory, open to hiring at any level, and we did interview one very intriguing candidate who would have had to have been hired at a senior level, but we were unsure about how this older cat would interact with existing cats in our home department. And, although the cat appeared active during the interview, we couldn’t help wondering: would she essentially retire once securing a permanent position?

Our short list of viable candidates ended up consisting entirely of kittens. None had had a previous home position before, not even as a postdoc. There can be a great risk in hiring such an inexperienced feline, but the rewards are potentially great if they thrive in their new environment and have a long and productive feline career in your home.

We evaluated each kitten’s background, their potential for interacting with humans and other felines, and we tried to gauge their potential for creative (but not too creative) behavior. In the end, I must admit that we favored stereotypical kitten behavior over kittens who seemed to be pushing the envelope. The kitten to whom we made an offer (which was instantly accepted) actually looks a lot like some previous members of our cat faculty. We weren’t expecting this, but it somehow just happened, perhaps because we feel most comfortable with this type of cat and weren’t ready to deal with one that was too different from what we are used to.

Introducing a new kitten into a home department dominated by senior felines can be tricky, and can involve some less-than-mature behavior on the part of senior felines, who feel threatened by the energetic addition. Even so, we are looking forward to the energizing effect our newest feline hire will surely have on our older faculty felines. We are reasonably confident that the new kitten will get tenure and have a productive career in our home, even if none of the senior felines has thus far been willing to be his mentor.

21 comments:

Mark Whybird said...

Coincidentally, your post and this link came to me only a day apart:

http://blog.whybird.net/post/18577652

I can't help thinking that the pictured cat could have also been a useful candidate.

Anonymous said...

I thought we had this figured out. You were the efficient one; I was the funny one.

What is there left for me now?

*walks away, head hanging*

Anonymous said...

"The kitten to whom we made an offer (which was instantly accepted) actually looks a lot like some previous members of our cat faculty. We weren’t expecting this, but it somehow just happened, perhaps because we feel most comfortable with this type of cat and weren’t ready to deal with one that was too different from what we are used to."

I wonder if that ever happens in inter-species hiring committees, say human ones. hmm...

Anonymous said...

intra. I meant intra!

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if in the steroptypical kitten behaviour the sex was included.

That seems like a fairly accurate account of the process by which the gender imbalance is preserved.

/Rettaw

smbelcas said...

I'm glad that I'm not the only person who interviews when attempting to fill open feline positions. Almost two months ago, a position came open in our household, leaving the most senior feline (19 years old) alone. We did some recruiting by email, reviewed some CVs online, and then did in-person interviews for the position. We did not consider kittens for our search, because we wanted to be able to evaluate prior work. The candidate we eventually selected had been on the market for some time---nearly 4 months!---and probably for this reason was much more enthusiastic about the collegiality aspects of the position during the interview than she has been on the job. Perhaps she's still adjusting, however.

Kate said...

Did the new junior hire attach a headshot? Normally I find that tacky, but this particular job search seemed to call for it... Alternately, you could share the photo that will appear on the faculty page of your department.

Congratulations to the hiring committee!

Mr. B. said...

But was it a Harvard cat?

Wayfarer Scientista said...

Love this...beautifully written and great for a laugh.

Schlupp said...

What were you looking for in the letters during this search?

Female Science Professor said...

I realize this is unethical, but I am going to post one of the kitten's reference letters, with the letter writer's name withheld. I am only posting one letter, but all 3 letters were identical.

Reference Letter for Kitten X:

This letter serves as a reference for Kitten X, who has applied for a tenure track faculty position in feline leisure studies at Your Home. In my opinion, Kitten X is the cutest kitten currently in our kitty group here at the animal shelter, and one of the most outstanding kittens I’ve encountered in my entire 57-year career. I would usually hesitate to recommend a kitten who lacks post-doctoral experience for a tenure-track position, but Kitten X is one of those unusual kitties who could enter a home with the playfulness, cuteness, and people-skills to be an immediate success.

Kitten X has not been part of my research group at the shelter, but I have seen him in his cage and I’ve seen him interact with other shelter workers and felines – he is the “go-to” kitty for advice about all things involving kittens.

Kitten X has several truly outstanding qualities. The first is that he has great kitty judgment. This is the intangible that lets really good felines choose the most productive path in what can be a bewildering set of options. For example, Kitten X has made marvelous choices in his selection of cage toys. He could have chosen the fake mouse, likely indicating a vicious and predatory streak, but instead he selected the ball with the bell in it, indicating a concern for global issues, music, and sports. In addition, Kitten X has grabbed the bull by the horns, teaching himself feline techniques to lure hiring committees to interview him. I know that this was very much Kitten X’s initiative and not something he was told to do by the cynical orange tabby in the cage next to his. This approach has already produced very significant advances in the field of feline-human interactions, and his paper on his first research results has been accepted by Nature/Feline Sciences His last remaining step, which has been frustrating through no fault of his own, is to determine the influence of feline eyeball diameter on the magnitude of human attraction for kittens. Through careful analysis, he has determined that the best indicator is not eyeball diameter itself, but a dimensionless number calculated from a ratio of eyeball diameter and distance between pupil centers. No other cat in our shelter has ever invented a dimensionless parameter.

Kitten X is a natural leader. When he eats his kibble, other cats in the shelter follow his example and eat their kibble. He’s the kind of cat that cats of all ages look up to. In some ways, I think of him as a colleague just as much as my human colleagues. Kitten X would be completely ready to lead a team of his own cats, and perhaps also dogs. He is that good.

Kitten X is already very accomplished at oral communication. He just gave a wonderful series of meows at lunchtime, and it was really more like an inspired conversation than a complaint. In his meows, I could hear how Kitten X visualizes a rich set of questions that derive from his eyeball work. His purr is the most advanced I have ever heard for a kitten with no postdoctoral experience.

Although his research and personal credentials are reason alone for you to hire him, in this day and age, we all know that there are other considerations – e.g., the so-called Broader Impacts. Even in this respect, Kitten X excels. He loves doing public outreach, even with the most odious people who wander into the animal shelter.
Kitten X has the complete tool kit for a feline. He is good at tail chasing, snuggling, and doing all the cute things kittens do, with none of the less sanitary habits of some less-qualified kittens. He’s shown the ability to learn new techniques, and will likely continue to grow as a cat. I fully expect that Kitten X will be a leader in his field.

If I had a feline vacancy in my home right now, I would most definitely consider hiring Kitten X. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need more information about Kitten X.

Susan B. Anthony said...

That's it... I'm going back to school to get a degree in Feline Leisure Studies. I have two experts in my own home department who I'm sure will be happy to serve as mentors during the 2 hours per day they're awake.

EcoGeoFemme said...

Hilarious!

Jamy said...

Hilarious! Thanks so much, I can barely contain my laughter.

Tara said...

This is just great. I've shared with with all of my friends in academia. :)

PhysioProf said...

I can has start-up packij?

Patricia said...

Does a feline "post-doc" translate to having been spayed or neutered??

amy said...

Just a warning: these reference letters can sometimes be inflated. An eminent full professor in my department was originally hired on the basis of a reference letter stating that he was so full of energy he was like a miniature cyclone. But as soon as he got tenure and went through the "snipping ceremony", he became the laziest professor I've ever seen and consumed vast quantities of departmental resources. Furthermore, the letter stated that he was to come with a large NSF (National Society of Felines) grant, covering all his start-up expenses, but the grant never came through and my department was forced to buy specialized equipment, like carpeted trees and fluffy beds. I can say this for him: he is working on exciting research into rates of heat transfer from human laps to feline bodies while watching TV. He is very diligent about replicating results.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Hilarious! I suppose that means I'm also a kitten.... looking for adoption.

ready to graduate said...

Awesome. Now I just want the interview results, e.g. "My biggest flaw as a kitten? Well, sometimes I purr so loudly that people need to turn up the TV...."

ETK said...

THAT was AWESOME!