In some cases when one of my colleagues feeds me a good FSP topic or anecdote, I am quite comfortable writing about it myself. Recently a colleague told me about an incident that I thought would be best told by the original source. So, today there is a guest writer for FSP:
I am a European Science Professor. Recently I was asked to write letters of recommendation for two aspiring FSPs (FSP1 and FSP2) who both applied to the same tenure-track position at a European university. I know both women well because I have collaborated with both on various research projects. FSP1 just came back from an “informal” seminar she gave at the university, in preparation for the formal interviews that will seal their fate. FSP2 had also visited “informally” a few weeks before.
FSP1 said to me that she felt very good about her visit because there is an excellent academic fit between her field of expertise and where the institution wants to go. Something worried her though. She was told that FSP2, who is also an excellent young scientist, had the preference of a fraction of the (male) faculty because of her looks. FSP1 has never met FSP2 in person and asked me, somewhat nervously, what I think of FSP2’s stunning looks. I am not used to taking these criteria into consideration, and the overall story gave me pause. It is bad enough for these men to make comments on FSP2’s appearance and use this in a hiring decision, but it is quite incredible to tell FSP1 about it.
This is an extreme situation perhaps, although I don’t think it is isolated in our male-dominated fields, but it made me wonder, beyond the fact that the men at this institution are pigs, what is the effect of looks in the hiring process. Here in Europe it is common, and often required, for candidates to include a picture ID in their application file. It is also common, as I did a while ago on a search committee, to hear comments made on the physical appearance of women applicants.
So, here is a simple survey:
6 months ago