Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Can See Myself

If you have ever applied for a faculty position or postdoc, or at least looked at the ads and thought about possible future applications, how closely did the ad need to describe your research expertise and interests for you to consider applying? I am ignoring other factors here, such as type and location of institution etc. I am just interested in the point at which you 'saw yourself' in the job description:

- in the first-order, big-picture title, which presumably lists the field or subfield? or

-in the more detailed text in the ad; that is, did you need to see a more specific description of your research expertise/interests before you decided to apply?

In some cases, ads have a list of research specializations under the umbrella of the general field/subfield. Does it matter whether this list is prefaced by words indicating that these are just examples, or, without this information, do you assume that what is listed is what the hiring committee wants and therefore if you don't see your research specialty listed, they aren't going to consider your application?

I am asking in part because of the hypothesis (not mine) that men are more likely to apply for jobs that might sort of be relevant to their expertise but women tend to apply for jobs that describe closely their expertise. According to this same hypothesis, posed to me in an email from a reader who also applies it to postdoctoral applicants, the reason relates to confidence level. According to this person, if they advertise for a postdoc who works on bandicoots, there will be some male applicants with expertise in wombat studies, but all the female applicants will have specific bandicoot research experience.

Of course there is some variation in terms of culture of a field in terms of ads/hiring, and also in how detailed ads are; some places cast a broad net and some have very specific needs in terms of specialty. Even so, these questions are still of interest (at least to me).
  • Did you ever apply for a job that had only a very vague description of the research specialty desired? Or did you only apply for those that described your specialty more closely?
  • Did you ever apply for a job that didn't really describe what you do, but you thought the hiring committee might be intrigued by your research anyway, perhaps because you are a bit interdisciplinary and/or in an emerging field that they might not have considered (but should)? or
  • Did you ever not apply for a job that didn't list your very specific field of expertise even if the ad was related to your research field in a broader way?
Why/why not? (and specify male/female, if you wish to provide this information)

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

My colleagues always obsess about the writing of ads, convinced that the right wording is essential to getting the BEST candidates. I always wonder who are these mythical applicants who wouldn't apply for every job that seems even close to what their background is?

Anonymous said...

female. postdoc: I applied to jobs which were related to what my background was; faculty: I applied very broadly. If I could even vaguely see my research in the description (and I use the term extremely broadly), I applied. The field is more competitive. The position I ended up taking - the add was for something completely different, but the school liked my field and me, and ended up deciding to change tracks. Lessons should be learned...

Anonymous said...

Female prof here: yes, yes, and no. I applied for anything related to my major discipline (geo) whether or not my subfield was targeted in the ad. Reason: I needed a job, and you never know what goes into hiring decisions, so what's the harm in applying?

Anonymous said...

I'm a woman, and I'll be applying for postdocs soon. I will apply to positions that fit my research interests, regardless of whether or not I am the "perfect" candidate. 1. I feel like those descriptions are idealistic 2. I will bring a new edge to a lab if I have experience elsewhere and most importantly 3. If I don't try, how will I know if I would've gotten the job (that's always been my thing - to just try).

Myrosia said...

I am a female researcher. Personally, I only applied for jobs directly suited for my skills. I have also been on three job searches where I was primarily responsible for applicant selection. I would say that we have seen women as well as men without the right experience. In fact, one of the more spectacularly unsuitable ones (i.e., someone with a B.Sc. and no research experience applying for a post-doctoral research position) was a woman.

However, the applicant pool was overwhelmingly male (typical in our field), so the sample of application from women was probably too small to say anything about trends.

MZ said...

As someone who is advertising for a postdoc to join my lab, this is very relevant to me! I am astonished at how broadly people will interpret the description of relevant interests/expertise, and though it's a small sample size, far more men than women will send in an application that says, "My experience in washing cars makes me extremely suitable for your position in string-theory-based stem cell research on hamsters."

Anonymous said...

male, assistant prof: When I first applied around out of grad school, I applied to anything remotely close to my field. Now my perceived area of expertise has narrowed to the point that the ad must mention my sub-sub-sub-field if I think I have any chance of being selected.

Anonymous said...

I'm still a grad student, but I learned this lesson the hard way by mismanaging a job hunt in a former career- from now on, I will always apply as broadly as I can. (Given that I also want to spend enough time on each application that it represents me well.)

Anonymous said...

male: I am currently a postdoc and my strategy has been to apply to faculty positions with any vague relationship to my field. The interest expressed in response to my applications has a very low correlation to the quality of "fit" that I saw in the wording of the announcement.

My strategy in choosing grad school and post-doc labs has been to seek the smartest, most pleasant-to-work-with (and best-funded) mentors as possible with secondary regard to the specific sub-field of research. As the tables hopefully turn and I am more on the hiring side, I will value a quality colleague far above their specific area of expertise.

mamallama said...

When applying for faculty positions, I pretty much stuck to ads directly related to my experience and interest. I didn't/don't handle rejection all that well -- so I tried to only apply for jobs that if hired, I would have a good chance of success (happiness+tenure) there. I'm more interested in community than conflict/competition.

However, it was a good market when I was looking. I was single and had no children. When I skim the occasional ad these days, I don't see much that I'd consider applying for. As I advance in my career, the options not only narrow, but also I'm also less open to seeing myself starting down some "related" path. Or, maybe I just see those ads with different eyes: I really like my position and it would take A LOT for me to even entertain the serious thought of a move... for myself and for my family. Or, maybe there just aren't all that many ads for mid-career openings.

Female.

Anonymous said...

I am a female asst. prof. I applied for all faculty positions that I was even vaguely qualified for, even those in departments different from mine.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated to your post, sorry, but had to get this conversation I had recently with a senior prof. off my chest. I originally asked him for career advice (last time I ask him!):

Important Prof: Did you hear about Dr XX getting promoted to Professor? Well I don't want to be labelled sexist but it's clear to everyone she was only promoted because she was a woman. This is a terrible thing for science.

Me: Is she not proficient?

Prof: She is ok actually. But clearly a man has been disregarded for the post - that's sexism!

Me: She is the only female professor in the department, right? I wonder why there are no other women professors?

Prof: Well, again, I don't want to be labelled sexist, but the coincidence of child-rearing and tenure is just bad luck for women. My wife was very busy for the first 2 years after each of our children were born. So in the end, if women are spending all their time taking care of their children, I don't see why they should be preferred for tenure.

Me: But there is only one woman professor out of 10 in this department. So clearly they are not favored.

Prof: Exactly. They chose to have children. It's not the fault of the people hiring.

Barefoot Doctoral said...

I am female and postdoc: I sit between fields. I visit the department website of any add that has key words in any of the fields I sit between. If the department has people that look like they may be interested in my work (loosely defined) I apply. My partner (male, TT) applied for a job where the faculty looked interesting, but the add was in a different field. The faculty wanted him, until the dean explained that, no really, the department had to hire in the subfield they advertised in.

Anonymous said...

Female TT asst professor.

For my postdoc search, I sent unsolicited letters to investigators whose research I was interested in pursuing.

For my first round of applications for TT positions, I behaved as what was hypothesized as a typical female, applying only for those jobs that specifically stated they wanted *ME* and my research.

For the second set, I expanded my search to anything, anyone, anywhere I thought could remotely be interested in me. Interestingly, I got a lot more feedback later in the game from those positions that seemed less likely/interested in my particular research.

The position I ended up taking was WAY outside of anything obvious, but perfect for where I want my research to go.

Anonymous said...

Female postdoc: I applied to the specific laboratory I wanted to work in.

Female prof: I applied to all relevant department openings at the level and in the geographic region I was interested in, and did not pay much attention to the fine details of the ad.

Both of these decisions were guided by mentor input.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I'm getting less and less interested in questions like this because it's all anecdotal. An actual scientific study of the data on this topic would be interesting, though. I'd be interested in differences not just along gender lines but ethnic differences as well. For the last faculty search our department ran we had a consultant from the University office of diversity come talk to us about where to "find" minority candidates. But again, it was all conjecture.

I'm with the first responder. In my field most people apply to anything even closely related but also most job ads are very vague. I once applied for (and got) a position that was originally advertised at a different level, although I did contact the search committee chair first to see if they might be interested in hiring outside their originally posted range.

mathgirl said...

(female). I've applied to all sort of tenure-track and postdoc jobs, including those asking for candidates in other areas. For me, the sentence "exceptional candidates in other areas will be considered" means green light to apply.

Of course, being in math, applying is trivial thanks to mathjobs...

Psycgirl said...

Female - I applied for any and all jobs that were remotely related to what I did

EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy said...

I look for a close enough correspondence of skills and knowledge to get along.

I've changed fields inside the umbrella of "experimental particle physics" (fixed target, medium energy electron scattering to low energy, large underground neutrino detector; it may not sound like much and some skill did carry over but there was a lot to be re-learned), and am open to changing again so I scattered my application around a little. But only a little for post-docs. The advertiser is looking for a particular set of skill.

With faculty my faculty search I was a little more liberal, especially if the add came from a less prestigious institution.
My target here was for the reader to pick up my packet and understand why I thought they might be interest in me. No point in wasting my time or the committee's.

Anonymous said...

not really answering your question exactly... but a few weeks before my defense a job came up which so incredibly closely looked for my expertise, it was uncanny. I had another career before gradschool and this job description linked that career with my phd work in a way I didn't even imagine was possible. These 2 things are not a typical career path so I would imagine in the whole world there are maybe a handful of people with that specific kind of background. So I applied, and had a phone interview, which I thought went well. They had asked some very specific things from my previous career (like how to do certain things with a software) which I left 5 years ago which I no longer remembered. It would be easy enough to look this up so I did not think this was a problem. I did not get the in person interview and could not believe it. So I contacted them again and just asked for feedback on my interview, at which point they changed their mind and offered to fly me in for an onsite interview. Again, I thought it went well, but I never heard back from them. The funny thing is, over a year later I still regularly see advertisement for that same job reposted which makes me think they never hired anyone which is kind of bizarre. My postdoc now is completely unrelated to either of the 2 things from my background and I found it by writing to the professor in the same general area of research, not through an ad, there was no ad. I love it! for the record, I am female.

Katarzyna Kulma said...

Great question and when I asked it myself I think I'd tend to give up applying for jobs not quite specifically linked to my specialty (I'm a woman). But it's becoming clear that I should change my attitude, as quite soon will start applying for my first post-doc :)

You can read more about it here:
http://scienceprone.wordpress.com

plam said...

I applied broadly for faculty jobs, but not to ads that seemed very specific (e.g. "databases" whereas I'm "software engineering" or "programming languages"). I certainly did apply to ads that were more general ("systems"). I'm male.

I don't think the right wording is critical for attracting the best candidates. On the hiring side, though, we do use the wording that we've previously agreed on to decide on which candidates are a better fit for the position. Again, it doesn't have to be an exact match, but it has to be reasonable.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

It's been over 25 years since I applied for a job, and things might be different now. When I applied for my current job, I didn't read any job ads---I heard that they were starting a new department which my research would fit in and sent an application.

When we post jobs, we try to make the description as broad as possible. Our goal is to get the best faculty available, not to fill some niche position. Occasionally we have made a job description too narrow and been unable to find a sufficiently qualified person, but usually a super person with a vague fit is better for us than mediocre person with a precise fit.

mOOm said...

I applied to anything vaguely relating to what I do unless there were really specific conditions that would rule me out. I'm male.

Anonymous said...

I applied to almost everything in my field (Humanities - specifically Classics), simply because the market's super-saturated, you've got to apply to as many places as possible to get a job, and at the basic level, most places are looking for someone qualified to teach courses in Latin and Greek, which I am. The only places I didn't apply were the T-T jobs with specific research requirements - i.e., they're looking for a Byzantine historian and I specialize in poetry several centuries earlier than that. I'm female.

Anonymous said...

I'm female. For my postdoc I didn't even look at job ads, just contacted someone I wanted to work with and somehow that worked out.
For faculty positions I applied to >25 positions in 7 different types of departments, party because my field is represented in those, but also because I took the broadest interpretation and applied well outside my comfort zone. If I could make a case, I applied (I got pretty creative)

Curby Alexander said...

Male, first job search after my doc program.

My major prof. gave me the best advice: The person they hope to hire and the person they are willing to hire are two totally different people.

My philosophy for applying to positions when I was wrapping up my doc program was to apply to anything that even vaguely looked like a match for me. I left it up to the search committee to decide if I wasn't a good match for the position. This worked out pretty well, but it did backfire once when it became obvious in the phone interview that they had not even looked at my CV. Or they did and just wanted to make me squirm. The position I finally accepted ended up being nothing like what they advertised and interviewed me for. I have now taken a new position because the university, job description and salary were all an upgrade and very specific to my research/teaching interests.

phagenista said...

My first month of grad school, the graduate director sent around an essay that echos FSP's colleague's hypothesis that female PhDs didn't apply for jobs in the same way as male PhDs. It concluded that if a female grad students wasn't prepared to apply for jobs like a male grad student, then she shouldn't take the fellowship dollars and training slot of a man or a more motivated woman.

This was an awful introduction to the academic job search and grad school. But years later, when I when it was time to apply for jobs, I remembered that article. My instinct was to apply narrowly -- I pushed myself to send in applications and let the vagaries of hiring committees decide whether they wanted to interview me. My experience as a faculty member has reinforced the idea that you should send your application to any job you would consider, because you don't know how much the wording of the ad was constrained by external factors, but that once the candidates are interviewed, the school will hire the best one.

Female R1 assistant prof

A Life Long Scholar said...

Female geologist: I applied for anything and everything that sounded remotely related to my field. The first post-doc position I landed was the one wherein my initial letter of inquiry in response to the ad basically said "Experimental petrology? Never had an opportunity to do it, but from the papers I have read on the topic it sounds interesting. How important is the part about 'experience using a piston-cylinder apparatus'?"

Anonymous said...

Female, Biologist. Postdoc - I applied to only a couple groups in a place where I wanted to live for a few years, got the interview, liked the person, and accepted the position before other jobs even got back to me.

In my field it's fairly easy to find a post doc as long as you have a strong recommendation and at least some publications and skills in what your future adviser needs done. Hence, no reason to apply too broadly.

For faculty I intend to apply much more broadly, basically anyone that offers a job in biology that could remotely be considered similar to what I do. Just hoping that doesn't mean I have to live in Nebraska, etc... However, I'm currently thinking more teaching less research than the school where I got my phd.