Faculty Recruitment

We’re starting to look at application packets for new TT openings we have here and I’m realized a few things that I thought I want to talk about.  Also, I’ve realized that I have opinions that very few people are listening to here.  So the internet shall be my sounding board.

  1. A lot of people are the same.  It’s amazing the number of people that come from similar backgrounds with similar research focuses and very little differentiating them.  How many Ivy league PhDs does it take to screw in a light bulb?  I don’t know, but I know where you can find dozens that are relatively indistinguishable on paper.  This also kind of speaks to science these days in general, I guess.  There are too many projects that are just slight variants of each other since that’s where the money is.  But what happened to doing novel research?  I know it’s harder to fund the research if everyone doesn’t think it’s hot.  But why can’t we, as great researchers, convince people that our research matters.  Even if no one had thought that it mattered.
  2. Some people are different-but in different ways.  There’s a huge push to hire ‘diversity’ candidates.  The r/enlightenedcentrism person in me just wants great collaborators that can help me and others around here.  I love diversity and think it should absolutely be pushed, but the quality of the last two candidates we have brought in have been very subpar.  They work in typical fields, but they can’t bring in money because, to be honest, they aren’t great researchers.  They came from very small schools with very few research papers under their belt before being offered a TT position here.  So atypical candidates are being pushed extra hard and I’m fighting it because they won’t help the school.  I’m very genetically atypical for this field, and I’d love to see more diversity, but not at the expense of bringing in researchers that can’t develop a successful program.
  3. Where are the industry folks?  My industry experienced shaped me differently than the rest of my colleagues.  I pull in industry funding, I have a different work ethic, and I connect students with leaders in the field to get them experience and jobs.  And with funding dropping, we need to be focusing on other sources for research money.  I’m advocating very hard for the couple industry folks that have applied.  These two don’t have the best pedigrees, but they have amazing work experience and plenty of patents that would really boost the department by broadening the industry expertise.  I’m from a biomedical background and have industry and clinical connections and relevance in mind when doing research.  This has helped me immensely in regard to papers and grants and connecting students.  However, if a student wants to enter aerospace or the semiconductor industry I can offer almost no help whatsoever.  I want to bring in at least one industry person to help push some of the other PIs to create more relevant research.  I think nearly every ‘applied’ department could benefit from a couple ex-pat industry folks.  Especially at the non-top-tier schools like mine (still R1, but not MIT).  This has been my biggest fight.  I’d much rather take a ‘lesser’ pedigree with successful industry experience than a good pedigree straight out of school.  Especially in my field (which is more applied).
  4. Why do some profs want people exactly like themselves even down to the way they look?  Do you want to be competing with students with a younger more energetic version of yourself?  What the fuck is up with that?

Recruitment

Last year I took on/was-volunteered-for a new initiative by my department to recruit more underrepresented students in.  I suspect it’s because I look and talk differently than the rest of the people here.  My only caveat to leading this was that I wanted to develop the initiative from the ground-up myself.  The goal of this is that there are a lot of kids graduating from local high schools all around our metro that 1. Aren’t coming to University of Phindustry, and 2. Aren’t majoring in STEMs.  The surrounding area is mainly white, and the minority students that are here are already coming to either my school or a neighboring one.  However, the neighboring one doesn’t have the type of program I’m in, so I have that working for me.  So I split this into two focus areas, women and minorities.

To get women interested I have focused on getting them into my field specifically (more of applied than theoretical).  If I can do this then the only local school is mine.  The neighboring university doesn’t have a good applied program.  Ultimately, if the kid is good enough to get into MIT they’re going there regardless.  I specifically focus on recruiting girls interested in STEMs, just not sure which area they want to enter.  Once I have them excited about my field I get them into the university to do some research for pay.  The money comes from my grants.  The majority of the recruiting is focused on girls so correspondingly more of my time is spent on this.  And this has been working very well.  Every single one of my recruits has come into my school and are getting involved in research already this semester (though none in my lab).  If this is successful I’m going to write an outreach grant so I don’t have to use my own grant funding for these ‘employees’.

For minority students, it’s a little different.  A lot of students have no idea what to do for their lives (shit, I still don’t).  So I have to recruit very broadly.  Instead of going to science fairs I start with community centers.  I have to sell them that science and math are cool.  And the vast majority like the technology but hate the science.  I don’t have time to convince everyone, but there is a subset of interested kids.  Especially when I mention that they can get paid.  But I can’t keep them interested.  I’ve tried taking them on tours, showing technology, getting amped, bringing by students, having local events, and talking to parents and I just can’t connect.  There has been just one student interested.  I’m visiting a program a little ways away that has had good success since there’s a conference there next month, so hopefully, they’ll shed some helpful tips.