Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Job Talks

Our department didn't hire any new people for about a decade, so we've been hiring them right and left for the last few years. What this means is that I've seen an ungodly number of job talks by potential hires. A job talk is when an academic who is applying for a position in a department comes to that department and reads a sample of his or her research, usually a short essay or chapter from their manuscript. They come to town, get shown around the campus, meet with everyone, usually get a dinner and hotel room, read their work, and then leave. After we've gone through a few hundred applications, we boil them down to three or four potential hires, and that's who goes through the job talk process.

The grad students are asked what we think of the applicants, although honestly, our opinion really doesn't matter to the hiring committee. But, we're supposed to meet with them for an hour and get an idea of how it would be to work with them, and then show up for their talk. Usually, the PhDs show up for the meeting with the applicant and the Master's and PhD students show up for the job talk. This is because the Master's students are required by the department to come to the job talks, and frankly most of them won't take a piss if they don't think it's a requirement to get their degree!

Anyway, this time around, I seem to be in disagreement with most of the other grad students on the applicants. Basically, the guy they all like, I'm not too thrilled with, and the guy they hate, I think should probably be hired. The job is for a professor and director of an interdisciplinary department that I won't name, but will say that it's one of the few 'studies' that seems totally legitimate to me.

The problem they have with the guy that I like is that he seems like a bit of a prick. He was very cocky in his interview, and when asked why he wrote on the topic that he's dedicated his career to, told us at length about how well his books sell and how popular his courses are. So, he's in it for the money. And he's a bit full of himself. God's gift to academia.

So, the other grad students hate him. There seems to be a gender aspect to it too, because they're women, and they have all said that they don't want to work with a man who is so full of himself, as he's likely sexist. But, I don't really think that arrogant equals difficult to work with, and I don't think that difficult to work with equals sexist. In fact, I'm not really concerned with the interpersonal dynamic of the department at all, and that might be a gender thing as well. I just think his scholarship and his ideas for the department are better than the other fellow in line. Conversely, I think the other guy is nice enough, but his reasearch seems to have no point to it, no overarching context or theoretical model. He just studies what he studies and has very little to say about it.

It's strange this emphasis on 'getting along' and 'working together well'. Last year we had an applicant whose research was brilliant, but again, the grad students thought he was too full of himself. But, I guess we all know where I stand on pretension! So, I supported him based on the scholarship he did. Luckily, the committees aren't too worried about 'people skills' either and they hire based on the level of scholarship. So, basically, they seem to have gone with the same people as I have, and honestly, again, they don't really care what we think anyway.

But, I just find it strange to focus so much on interpersonal relationships. Most of us do our research alone, and if someone's not abusive or rude, I don't see why it matters if they're likeable or not.


Jen P. said...

Awesome. I think relationships are important, but agree that pretentiousness (etc.) isn't necessarily a bad thing! Slight arrogance---let's call it confidence---can be a very good thing in a high-placed academic. In any case, have fun with the job talks! At the very least, you'll learn how not to give one when your time comes ;-).

Rufus said...

They've been great for that. One thing I've learned is that you need to figure out how your research fits in with every sort of theory, model, or historiographical framework because there will be somebody who will ask you that.

Earnest English said...

Whether to hire for collegiality seems to be a big ongoing question for people. I've been told that there are people who don't support the usually 40-minute conference interviews because they are really just about learning how the person is socially. Personally, I think collegiality is really important, but that's because I'm very interested in the service work of a department. The pretentious dick you see in front of you now may be very troublesome when it comes to adding a new course, assessing grade appeals, or working with his graduate advisees. Or maybe the next pretentious bitch will try to hijack a hiring process. I've heard of such things. Though just "pretention" isn't exactly an indicator of how well a prof plays with others. As a grad student, I want someone who will work with me. As a faculty member (so hopeful -- am on the job market -- for more on that clusterf***, you can see my blog), I want someone not awful to get along with since I would be dealing with him/her for a long time to come.


Rufus said...

I think there is something to be learned from how people answer questions during that part of the talk. We've had one or two who were rather unfriendly when questioned about their work, and I assume it shifted people's take on them. But, it's also such an artificial situation, and people are often pretty scared in that situation, and we do tend to work in isolation anyway.