Monday, February 16, 2015

Choosing the Best

And so the committee met to choose between the two finalists.

“It's easy!” announced Professor Tist. “The letter from Dr. Darlon states plainly that she is the best exolonomist of her generation!”

“No, no!” rebutted Professor Tast. “You are not an expert in her subfield like me. Darlon doesn’t really think she is the best, he was just being supportive of a young scientist."

“He was?” asked Tist.

“Oh yes,” said Tast. “He is very supportive of women. And besides he didn’t provide any concrete statements to back up his hyperbolic claim.”

“But he wrote that she was the first to exoblatanate a phemtomentorite!” said Tist. "The field of phemtomentorites seems to be really taking off!"

“I don't think phemtomentorites are very intellectually exciting,” chimed in Professor Took. “And besides, she didn’t really do anything innovative to make that discovery.”

“But she built a phemtomentometer! Only one other person has ever managed to make one – and hers is ten times more sensitive!” said Tist.

“Exactly!” said Took. “She is very hard working. But not innovative.”

“I think it was really her advisor’s idea,” mused Tast.

“But she published in Nature! Twice!” retorted Tist.

“I much preferred the specialist paper in Exolonomy Supplements by our senior colleague Professor Dogle. He is the true leader in this field!” said Took. 

“And she wasn’t very productive for two of the years,” said Tast. “How worrying!”

“But her mother was ill and she was the primary caregiver. There’s an easy answer to understand that temporary slowdown.” said Tist. “Her mother is better now.”

“We are sympathetic about sick mothers!” said Took. “We are not monsters!” 

“But we should make the decision based on excellence alone,” said Tast. 

“Yes, excellence alone,” agreed Took.

“Then what of the other candidate?” inquired Tist.

“He is simply brilliant! I spoke to him at a conference last month and he anticipated all my ideas!” said Tast.

“A singular mind like that will surely accomplish great discoveries!” said Took.

“But he hasn’t written any high-profile papers, has he?” asked Tist.

“It is the trajectory that matters! He reminds me of a young Professor Dogle.” said Tast.

“But he hasn’t built something like a phemtomentometer, has he?” inquired Tist.

“No, but if you speak to him you’ll agree he is a genius. We are looking for innovators, not hardworkers,” explained Took.

Fortunately, Professors Task and Took were ultimately able to convince their colleague. With a vote of 0-3, the position was awarded to the most meritorious candidate.


Anonymous said...

I am a woman grad student and I was talking with a mental health counselor about imposter syndrome last month. We were talking about people acting in this way during the hiring of women--- how women with a strong CV can sometimes be overlooked for a man "with potential" and how stories like this rather than making women feel empowered by knowing what to face, instead instill a sense of hopelessness in young women (it sure did in me! that was why I went to the session).

The woman leading the session was very good and she gave a much better perspective/spin on it: yes there are institutes that may be like this, but there are also a lot that aren't. Think of this as a good way to avoid wasting your time-- if a place like that had hired you, you would probably waste a lot of time defending yourself to your colleagues or feeling frustrated rather than doing good science in a more supportive environment.

Anyway, my point here is that these sort of stories are most useful if read by people making hiring decisions. If these stories are intended for grad students or women early in their career, then they have to end with some positive spin otherwise it just makes young women feel like giving up and leaving research.

Anonymous said...

This piece is written as irony, but, sadly, is a reasonably accurate reflection of attitudes in my department. I have seen this department overlook a female candidate because it assumed (without checking her cv) that she had a poor record. Her cv revealed about 50 publications in the last several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money. Her research accomplishments were well beyond the typical record of a new assistant professor in my department and even more numerous than the accomplishments in the tenure dossier of the most recently tenured faculty member in the relevant subdiscipline in my department. When the the facts about the female candidate's cv were brought to the department head's attention, he then argued that she must have relied on her post-doctoral supervisor, who is on nearly all of her publications. He neglected to mention that he and a few other members of my department had most of their publications (even after becoming faculty members) with their former post-doctoral supervisors. Not only did we lose the opportunity to hire her, but in doing so, we also lost the opportunity of the new faculty line that would have been created for her hire (as this was an unusual situation owing to a 2 body problem). Meanwhile, we had a male assistant professor who was viewed as extremely smart in spite of his obvious shortage of publications and the (unstated) failure of his research program. When he went up for tenure in the last possible year to do so, he turned in a dossier with only 1 publication and it was in an obscure journal. My colleagues leaped logical canyons in their effort to argue that he should be tenured. It was argued that he had great potential. The vote was overwhelmingly positive. eeeh gads!