Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coaching Academics?

A longtime reader and sometime correspondent of mine recently posed some questions to share with FSP readers (if you are still out there). These questions are quite specific, although there are general questions associated with them (more on that below):

Question 1: Do you have any recommendations for professional coaches who have helped you in your job? It would be especially helpful to know of those who have had success coaching academics, and particularly women in male-dominated fields.

Question 2: Do you know any examples of universities conducting reviews of their own tenure process? Do you have any suggestions for academic experts in judgment & decision-making (or other relevant research areas) who would be good committee members for such a review?
I have no answers for these particular questions, and instead have questions about the questions. For example: 
Even if you don't have any particular recommendations, what do you think of the concept of having a professional coach to help academics? Do you think that would be useful, and if so, with what particular issues? Would this essentially be like a faculty mentor, though one possibly more likely to have actual, useful mentoring skills?

And to the second question: Most of us can likely think of universities that have problematic tenure procedures (and possibly using the term procedures is incorrect in some cases, as it implies a systematic process). Can you think (or better, name) institutions that do this evaluation well? If so, what is so good about the process at these places? Are these positive features exportable to other institutions (peer institutions or otherwise)?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

STEM survey for postgraduate women

A request from some researchers seeking postgraduate STEM women to do a survey by February 27:
Dear Colleagues,

We are conducting a study of postgraduate women in STEM fields (natural and physical sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to explore aspects of job satisfaction and the ways women are experiencing and influencing departmental and institutional culture. Culture is defined here as the predominant behaviors and beliefs that characterize an academic department or institution. This survey will not ask you to provide your name or institution, will take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete, and has been approved by the human subjects institutional review board of Nazareth College. Should you have concerns or wish to learn about the results of this study, please send an email to FemaleFacultySurvey@gmail.com. All correspondence will be kept confidential. 

Please click on the following link to access the survey:  

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us. 

Beth Russell, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Nazareth College
Tanya Smith, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Friday, February 13, 2015

Moving Stories

Have you been involved in moving a research lab/facility from one place to another within one institution, such as during a building renovation or a move to a new building on campus? How did that go?

I am particularly interested in hearing examples of moves that involved postdocs, grad students, or other researchers paid 100% from grants: did the postdocs/students/researcher do move-related work while paid by these grants, and was that a problem?

And if it was a problem, was this because:

1 - research was disrupted owing to the time required to move the lab (including downtime as equipment was moved) -- that is, time when researchers could not do their research as they would have without the disruption of the move. What was the total duration of the disruption? (Do you have any advice about to minimize this time?)

2 - there was an administrative issue regarding paying people (from grants) to do work not originally accounted for in the grant. For example, a researcher paid 100% time on a grant is not allowed to work on another project, not even outside of normal working hours (I have a problem with that, but that is another issue and the subject of previous post-rants on effort certification). Or were you able to justify the move-related work as being relevant to the grant(s) and the effort certifiers were happy?

3 - both of the above;

4 - none of the above;

4 - other (please explain).

If you were one of the aforementioned researchers who had to do move-related activities because your lab was moving (for whatever reason), did this have a negative effect on you (e.g., your productivity?), and was there anything that was done (or that you think could realistically have been done) to help you?

Some PIs and other researchers at my university and at other universities have wildly divergent opinions about the topic of how to deal with this type of intra-campus move.

So, I am looking for your Moving Stories. There are likely some impressive tales of moving woe out there, but I am hoping there are also heartwarming moving stories with happy endings (and beginnings and middles). 

Monday, February 02, 2015

Yes of Course your Course is Rigorous, if you say so

If you write recommendation letters for undergraduate students applying for graduate school, internships, and the like, have you ever included the fact that the student got a good grade in your rigorous, challenging, demanding class?

And if you wrote that, did you back it up with data? Or did you mention the fact that your entire institution is so uber-prestigious that the students are all super-smart, ergo, anyone getting a high grade in your rigorous class is exceptional?

I don't think I have ever described one of my own classes like this. Perhaps my classes are not rigorous. Perhaps I don't think my saying so would be compelling, even if they are. 

So, how do you feel about reading recommendation letters in which someone describes their own course as rigorous (challenging etc.)? Are you convinced by this? If not, what would convince you? Data? That the student was only one of (specified low number) out of (moderate to high number) to get a (high grade) in a course? 

Some (few) institutions give some useful information in transcripts about grade distribution and class size, but most do not. So we are left with the self-described rigorous professors to guide us.

Perhaps I sound a bit cranky about this. I am not really all that cranky about it. Compared to the heartfelt stories of inspiring uncles and chemistry kits that inspired the applicants as children to pursue a passion for science, including graduate study, the self-described rigor -- although surprisingly common -- is more amusing than annoying. 

(And I certainly don't hold it against the applicants, who are, after all, typically have few choices of letter writers and know nothing of the letter-writing skills of their referees.)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Contest Entry : Rejection Letters, 7

This rejection letter arrived 5 years after the actual application/search process. That seems excessively long.

What do you think:

1. better late than never?

2. if an institution is going to send a 5-year-late rejection, couldn't it be a bit more appropriate?

3. I am just glad to have closure.


January 28, 2015

We, at the University of Wisconsin, would like to thank you for taking the time to express your interest in the FACULTY-OPEN RANK position that you applied for on December 10, 2009. We have now completed the search process and unfortunately you were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, it is our hope that you will continue to consider other employment opportunities at our institution in the future.  Please continue to visit our job site  for the most current opportunities.

Thank you,
Search and Screen Committee Chair

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Contest Entry : Rejection Letters, 6

Sad but apparently true, though I hope it wasn't recently true and I hope the administrators concerned all ended up spending their days dealing with major, expensive all-encompassing software upgrades that were supposed to link many vital academic/administrative systems but instead caused mass chaos that never ended.

Submitted by a reader:

Dear Jane:

Thank you very much for interviewing for the open position, Director of Herding Cats.  We were impressed with your qualifications and we all enjoyed your visit several months ago.  I do apologize for the long delay in getting back to you, but I believe Professor Tuna, head of the search committee, informed you that we made an offer to another candidate.  We appreciate your continued interest in the position.

At this stage, after negotiating a counter offer with her home institution, the candidate has decided to leave the field and accept a highly lucrative position in industry.  The search committee has recommended that, as the second-ranked candidate on the short list, you be offered the position next. 
Unfortunately, the Department Head decided to reopen the interview process by inviting someone ranked below the short list, an acquaintance of his.  That candidate has been offered and has accepted the position.

Thank you again for your interest.


Wira Mess
HR Representative

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Contest Entry: Rejection Letters, 5

A late but great entry!

Dear Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in our advertised position. I am very sorry to announce that after careful consideration of your 36 page application by a panel of international experts, we are unable to offer you an interview.

If this makes you feel any better, please consider that despite flying 12 international experts in from around the world, spending an entire week sorting through all the applications in a very expensive conference centre, the result of this is nearly equivalent to a random process.

I say this constructively, i.e. to encourage you to apply again to any future positions we may advertise, since the quality of applications is ultimately uncorrelated with selection to the short list.

An. Eminent Professor (who also happens to be your former advisor).

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Friday, January 02, 2015

Contest Entry: Rejection Letters, 3

Would you want to get a letter like this?

(Too?) Much Information Letter

Dear [applicant name],

We received 154 applications for our advertised position. Of these we selected 32 for a "long list" of applicants and we requested letters of reference for those. You were in this group of 32.

Of those 32, we narrowed the list further to 12 individuals. One or more members of our search committee met with most of these 12 at the Big Conference or at least attended their conference presentation. You were in this group of 12.

Of those 12, we selected 5 to interview. You were not in this group of 5. The selection of the 5 individuals was not based on merit. How could it be? All 12 on the next-to-final short list are highly qualified. In fact the 32 on the long list are highly qualified and probably another dozen or more beyond that.

It might not make you feel better to know that the selection process is nearly random in the end. The struggle is to make that semi-random selection fair (that is, not favoring those we happen to know and like or whose advisors are our friends, trying not to let unconscious bias creep into the process, and so on).

So how did we decide? Is it about that nebulous concept of "fit"? Sort of, but fit can go both ways. The faculty could decide that the best "fit" would be someone who "builds on our strengths" in a certain subfield or "fit" could be defined as needing a person who works on something new and different that would nevertheless somehow "fit" with our vision of exciting future directions. In this search, we interviewed some of each type.

Was there anything in your letters of reference that caused you to be non-selected for an interview? No, there really wasn't anything. All the top candidates had excellent letters of reference.

Was it number of publications? No, it was not. Was it the impact factor of the journals? No. Citation index? Definitely not, you are all too early in your careers for that to be any useful indicator of anything.

In the end, the interview list was selected by the search committee, with input from other faculty and other interested parties, after reading and discussing the application materials, including publications (Perhaps it is useful to mention that the research statement can be quite useful as an indicator of what each applicant's ideas are for future research and teaching.). It is a time-consuming process so even if there is some randomness, it is a thoughtful randomness, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, we interviewed the interviewees and a few stood out and we made an offer to one of them and that person accepted, so our search process has now been completed and we wanted to let you know that.


The Search Committee Chair, on behalf of the Search Committee