Archive for the 'hiring' category

the hiring crap-shoot

Aug 28 2012 Published by under hiring, tenure-track OTJT

One of the hardest things of running a lab is hiring decisions. At least it is for me. My group is not so large yet (< 10 people), so we are pretty susceptible to the "dominant negative". If one person is a drag it can really slow things down. For everyone. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, because I'm in the process of hiring a technician. The first tech I hired I ended up firing, and that SUCKED. I really want to have a better outcome this time.

I had many, many applicants to the job that I posted, and I screened through CVs looking for those that had some relevant experience. And were able to write coherent sentences. I tried not to get too upset when folks claimed "proficiency in word"* or "excellent manual dexterity"** I narrowed down to about 8 that looked reasonable, and then I contacted references by phone. I feel like phone calls give me a chance to get somewhat "off the record" responses, and they take less effort than a letter. After talking to references I brought in four people for interviews. This is where things get difficult. There are two folks that I think would be good. HOW TO CHOOSE??

Seriously, I'm having a hard time here. Both of the candidates are fresh out of undergrad and looking to work in a lab for a bit before they go off for an advanced degree. They both have some undergrad research (not just lab courses), though one has slightly more experience here. All the references loved them, etc etc. I feel like it is now a crap shoot. No matter what I choose, it could be a disaster (or not), and one person is going to be disappointed.

I'm pretty sure it is bad for morale if I hire them both for a month and let them compete it out, Hunger Games style. Right?


*This is code for "I don't really know how to use computers but I can kinda turn them on and open really easy programs". ugh.


29 responses so far

When to disclose a second body

Apr 08 2012 Published by under academia, hiring

First, just to be clear. I am not talking about when to disclose where you have buried the second body (@Bam294) or thinking about a physics problem set (@eugeneday) or conjoined twins (@BabyAttachMode). I am talking about when you should disclose that you have a partner that will also need a position when you are searching for a tenure-track job.

The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about their recent job search. If there is one thing that can really get you worked up, it is when your junior faculty search fails. You put in all that work, spent so much time with interviews, maybe had an uncomfortable (or damn unpleasant) faculty meeting, only to end up not hiring anyone. Now, Dr. Zen claims that folks in his part of the woods don't get irritated when they have a failed search. That is not my experience. We aren't upset at a candidate that decides to go somewhere else. But it is definitely not a happy time when we don't hire someone at the end of a search. Searches can fail for any number of reasons. A common reason,  the person you want to hire has several other offers and goes somewhere else. You can then find yourself chatting with a colleague trying to figure out why the job candidate didn't pick your department. Did they have an offer from Super Prestigious Uni? Did another program spend more on a startup than us? Did their adviser tell your friend that they really wanted to leave near a corn field? This is often just idle speculation, but after you put a lot of work into a search sometimes you just wanna know. You know?

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post. When I was chatting my colleague, they seemed to think that their search had failed because of a two-body problem. Their top candidate had an offer somewhere else that was able to also provide a nice position for their spouse. Now, I don't really know if my colleague's dept. could have found (or even tried) something for the spouse. What caught my attention was that my colleague expressed the view that they wished candidates would disclose two-body problems up front in the job search process, even in the initial application.

My gut reaction is that this is a horrible idea. But I'm just one person. I went to twitter*:

There was a general consensus that no, you should not disclose this in your application. It is not relevant to your ability to do the job, and it is none of the search committee's business. All it could do would be hurt your chances of getting an interview. Dr. Isis put it bluntly, but this view was shared by many:

But there were a couple of tweeps that raised the same argument that my colleague had:

The argument here is that, if you did disclose your two-body problem, that this would give the department more time to come up with a "solution". The corollary is that if a dept. had no chance of EVER solving a two-body problem that they know that they shouldn't bother interviewing you. Because you would never be able to join their faculty. If you interviewed it would just be a waste of everyone's time. This is bullshit on so many levels. First, as I have argued before, IMO job interviews are almost NEVER a waste of time (for the applicant). There is a lot to be gained from interviews outside of a job offer. Second, I think that it is generally not a great thing when a search committee spends a lot of time thinking about IF a given candidate will choose to join their department. It is true that at some level "recruitability" is going to be something that the committee cares about (see above about not wanting to end up with a failed search). But it is not our job, as a search committee, to decide for someone if they want to take a job on our faculty. There are lots of people that live apart from their spouse. I don't have to, thankfully, but I would be pretty pissed if I wasn't offered a job because this was not an option. Who is the search committee to make this decision for me? DrugMonkey also brought up that another problem with gating on "recruitability" or "fit" can be the exclusion of anyone that is at all "different" (read from bottom to top):

It may be that I have not sat through enough searches, but my limited experience suggests that women are more likely to have a two-body "problem" during a search. I cannot explain this (men get married, too!). I suspect that women are more up-front about the second body.

What would you tell a postdoc that was getting ready to go on the job market with a second-body problem? Would your advice be different for a man vs. woman?

For those of us that have to sit on search committees: what do you think is the best way to handle a two-body problem?



Here is what I would advise my hypothetical postdoc: Bring up the second-body the minute you have an offer, and not a second sooner. At that point, the faculty has decided they REALLY want to hire you. There is incentive to "solve" the "problem". Instead of just avoid it.




*thanks to all the tweeps that jumped into the conversation!

36 responses so far

do you want to work for me?

May 24 2011 Published by under academia, help, hiring, jr faculty

One thing that I have been thinking about a lot recently is how to attract good postdocs to my fledgling lab. This has only been intensified by the near-unanimous advice I have been getting both here and IRL that I need to focus on writing more grants and let the lab peeps collect the data. This raises the question: how do you recruit a good postdoc??

When I was looking for a postdoc, I wrote letters to people that I wanted to work for. They invited me for an interview, then offered me the job. I picked the one that I thought was the best fit and accepted the offer. Done! But, as a new lab I don't know if it works the same way. I feel like I should be more proactive, but I don't really know how. I usually have a couple people contact me after I give a talk, and I have put up some adverts on my website and subfield forums. But so far, there has been no one that I have been willing to recruit. There is one person that I have been in contact with that might come out for an interview, but they are almost a year away from defending.

I'm left sitting here wishing that a good (not even great) postdoc will call me up out of the blue. Surely there is a better way?

18 responses so far

Happy Friday!

May 13 2011 Published by under awesomeness, hiring, lab management

Jeebus I'm tired. Nothing even happened this week that should justify this level of exhaustion. But srsly, it was all I could do to stay awake at my desk today. But whatever.

Today was a happy day for me, even though my paper did get rejected (fuckers. But really, I'm over it). Because today I learned that another grad student will be joining my group!!!


So, for those keeping track I have now recruited TWO awesome students! I am not exaggerating when I say that these are two of the best students in our program this year. They work hard, read a lot, are enthusiastic and super motivated. They were recruited by some established, respected labs, but they chose me. So this summer I will go to the Big Meeting in my field with two students in tow. I'm so freaking excited!!

Of course now I feel even more pressure to bring in some more research money. Sigh.

6 responses so far

true colors?

Mar 11 2011 Published by under academia, colleagues, exhaustion, gender, hiring

As you may know, my department is in the middle of a junior faculty search. I went through the search process as a candidate last year, but this year I'm sitting in the room on the other side of the process. It is...illuminating. The process has certainly made me see some of my new colleagues from a very different perspective.

First, the statistics: we had almost 600 applicants for our position. 30-50 were very, very good. We picked less than 1/4 of these to interview.

I noticed that there were several women that disclosed in their application that they were married to male scientists that would also be looking for a job. Many of these women were REALLY good. In fact, I would say that all of the men were the trailing spouses. We did not interview ANY of these women (or men). I would like to know who gave these applicants the HORRIBLE advice to disclose this info in the initial job packet. Negotiating a two-body issue is something that happens after a job offer has been made. Please, women of the sciences that aspire to the tenure track: DO NOT MENTION YOUR MARITAL STATUS IN YOUR COVER LETTER.

And now, a thing that really pisses me off: the extra scrutiny. I have noticed that the white d00ds that I work with have a habit of looking at certain candidates a little more closely than normally. Not in a good way. For instance, when women did not mention a 2-body problem, there was generally some discussion about whether we could "guess" if there was a second body. This was NEVER brought up for male candidates, though I assume that the men were just as likely to be married to another scientist. But the real kicker was that EVERY single non-white sounding name would lead my colleagues to reveal that they are assholes. People would wonder whether their English was "understandable". Yes, we do some teaching in our department. BUT SERIOUSLY, these are folks that have had a very successful postdoc. They wrote papers and gave talks at conferences. Many have been in the US since they were undergraduates. WTF?!

And then, there were a few instances of bad behavior that made me so mad that I wanted to throw something. I am not going to go into details with these, because I would like to maintain some level of pseudonymity. These events often involved ridiculous statements made directly to candidates. And this is when everyone was supposed to be on their best behavior!! I tried to "nudge" my more senior colleagues when I witnessed these incidents. I tried to explain why their "innocent" statements were offensive (in the most respectful way possible). On one occasion I was so horrified that I even went to the Chair to make sure he knew what was going on.

So, here is a question for my esteemed reader(s): as a junior faculty, should I just shut my trap and keep my head down? Or should I keep pointing out when things are fucked up, in the hopes that I will be able to "nudge" the d00ds to behave better?

56 responses so far

>Any advice?

Jun 01 2010 Published by under help, hiring

>I don't know if anyone is listening here, but I have a question. How does one go about hiring a lab manager? I have the money and I'd REALLY like to have someone who already knew the ropes step in to be a role where they take care of most lab business (ordering, taking care of rotation students, etc). I have the $ and I don't have a problem with delegating. The problem I'm having is WHERE DO YOU FIND THESE PEOPLE? I'm in a large PacNW city with big biotech, but the only folks that are applying for jobs in my lab as "techs" are kids fresh from college. Is there some secret words that you put in an ad so the real SuperTechs know that you are looking for them? How can I convince someone like this to work with me??

9 responses so far

>who should you hire?

May 21 2010 Published by under hiring, lab management

> This is NOT a post about the postdoc vs. tech debate, which I've run across a lot (so many places that I'm not going to try to find all the links. Sorry).

I'm in a kind of weird place. I know that starting up a lab is basically like starting a business. But my "training" to date is how to do science. Benchwork. But now, I have run a lab. That means I need to hire people, motivate them to do good work, get money (always), manage a budget, etc, etc, etc.  Not to mention navigate the politics of my new department without any of the backstory. I know this everyone that has started up a lab has been in this same place. But that doesn't make it less weird for me.

Today, I am thinking about hiring. I need to hire people. Good people. Fast. This has been on my mind for a while, as I try to figure out how I'm going to do everything that I'm getting money to do. I'm lucky to already have cash, but I've started to realize that there is no way that I can turn that cash into science (papers, talks, etc.) that will leverage more cash unless there are some peeps in the lab. Right now, my lab space is empty, save for a few dust bunnies. Holy crap.

Today, I got an email from someone that wants to join the lab. This would be my first lab peep! But I'm conflicted. I've heard over and over about how important the first person is to get your lab group going in the right direction. I know the person that contacted me. We have friends in common and have hung out some. This person got a PhD from someone that I really respect and worked on a pretty difficult problem. All great so far, right? Here's the hitch: this person has NO INTEREST  in staying in science. A gig in my lab is a 1-2 year job to get some cash while searching for a "real" career.

Am I insane for considering taking this person on? I mean, of course I will have a frank (off the record) conversation with the former grad advisor. But if it goes how I think it will this is going to be a really tough decision. On one hand, this could be a super opportunity for me to take advantage of someone with skills that would be AWESOME to have in the lab. But, the whole situation could go to shit. Then I will have to fire the first person that I hired, which, in addition to being a sort of sucky thing to have to do will also end up messing with my relationships with our shared friend.

I am going to have to talk this out with a lot of people. But seriously, if there is anyone listening here I would hearing your views/comments.

7 responses so far