Losing the hiring battle

As I’ve written about, we’re in the midst of a hiring swing which has created a divide between faculty members that are arguing between two candidates: the good pedigree with a good post-doc but very generic research (and no intention to change it), and the okay pedigree with industry experience with definitely unique ideas.  Half of us love the unique ideas and half of us like the pedigree.  The typical candidate also has a very common academic lineage, which is helping their chances.

I was backing the unique ideas (and industry connections), but my side lost in all of this, as the other candidate won out.  So the department will just be a lot more of the same.  Yawn.  Super yawn.  Because we are hiring a little later in the cycle it turns out that The Candidate has other offers.  Now we’re having to bend over backward to basically get someone for which we already have a few of their type.  And the other profs here that work in the same field want to give The Candidate everything they want so they can all share the equipment and create a ‘super-group’ so to speak.  This is all so fucked up.

This is also really eating me up because most of the students I talked to also prefer the other candidate.  So we have more cronies buddying up, and the system becomes more generic.  My department is heavily biologists and engineers and my background is physics.  For this reason (along with other more outwardly observant reasons) I really didn’t want another person who’s part of the club, doing the same shit, and breeding more of the same.  For selfish reasons, I feel like I’ll be even more isolated, from a research and personal perspective, if The Candidate joins on.

So here’s where we’re at now: we’re waiting.  They have multiple offers, and we’re being pitted against the other schools.  The Candidate doesn’t seem like they want to be here, to collaborate with us, and contribute to the university so much as they just want the most money and equipment.  I want someone that really wants to be here.  Part of me hopes that The Candidate doesn’t pick us and the other one accepts another offer out of spite. I’d really like to break this cycle though.

I have nothing against career academics.  My favorite collaborators and mentors are career academics and the best scientists I’ve ever met, but right now for this position in my applied department, I have this attraction to nontraditional candidates (e.g., have spent time outside of academia).  If we were too applied, I would be swinging the other way and begging to get The Candidate on board.  I want more diversity of thought, and The Candidate is as generic as they come considering the current makeup of my department.


We’ve started bringing out candidates and I’m noticing some interesting candidates that are very representative of my experience on this committee.  I’ve also been going to the job talks for other departments to see how they do things.  The candidates can each to boiled down into just a few categories, which is sad because I like seeing disruptive people, but there’s still a glimmer of hope for the candidates I like.

  1. The popular one.  I have (and so has Xykademiqz and other bloggers) touched on this before, but every search has the candidate that does nearly the exact same research as their advisor and someone within the department.  They have a wonderful pedigree and have been trained to walk the walk and talk the talk.  Simply put, they are boring from a research and personality perspective: they do well in politics and they are working on a topic that is already flooded with researchers but will get funding because they have a lot of other factors on their side.  I will probably never collaborate with them because I prefer to work on completely new things rather than incremental changes of their past research.  No harm in the incremental-I just get bored really easily.  I can tell they have the best chance of all the candidates.
  2. The diversity one.  One of the postings we have is specifically asking for underrepresented groups to apply.  And more specifically related to racial groups that are underrepresented.  Nothing about females.  This candidate gave an okay talk, but from conversing with them they will never establish themselves as a big funding or big paper kind of researchers.  I was even told by the head of the committee that this candidate has a huge leg-up, but will ultimately become teaching faculty.  Not a bad thing, but kind of shitty when I want to develop new collaborations.
  3. The wild one.  This candidate has researched typical topics seem in academia (see The popular one), and comes from a decently respected school.  However, the research interests are not something our school already has much of a reputation for and what they want to work on are in their wheelhouse, but different than the average.  I like these candidates because they think very differently, are the most passionate about their research agenda, and they have more spunk and personality.  I’d much rather collaborate with these folks because they’re fresh-thinking and interesting.  However, these folks barely got the invite to even come out, and they aren’t a carbon copy of the other faculty members here so they aren’t interesting.  They also are, by far, the most interesting to have a personal conversation with.  They speak their mind and are genuine and funny on top of all of that.  Even if they don’t overlap with my interests, I still prefer these candidates just to break up the homogeneity here.

I see myself in category 3 the most, which is probably why I like them, so I guess I’m not so different from my colleagues that want similar people to themselves….