Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

Networking in the Academic Job Search

by Andre on 22 August 2006

A post doc friend of mine is currently starting an academic job search and was wondering to what extent networking is involved. Knowing someone on the search committee can’t hurt, but that’s not quite what I’m getting at. For those of you that have been through this, did your advisor or perhaps some other senior colleague directly get in touch with potential employers saying that you were on the market? Did you ever get invited to speak at a department based on such contact? Alternatively, did you just apply to all the jobs that were advertised in journals, society periodicals, and online job banks that you were interested in, relying on your advisor only during the reference writing stage?

I imagine that there are rules governing job advertising, but are these rules commonly circumvented by, for example, picking a candidate and then tailoring a search to make this person the obvious choice?

  1. Ponderer of Things    4351 days ago    #

    There was some research (Wenneras, C. & Wold, A. Nature 387, 341–343 (1997)) that indicates that connections make a huge difference – comparable to male/female advantage which supposedly translates into being 2.5 times more productive all things equal in order to overcome the disadvantage.

    It’s an interesting study, but it doesn’t ring true – based on my anecdotal evidence. The swedish study claims the difference is equivalent to 3 Nature/Science articles, and in my experience just having a single Sc/Nat article improves your chances dramatically, especially if first-authored. Having two increases your chances even more, and universities will be competing for you, instead of the other way around if you have three or more.

    So overall, I think the connection bonus is about the size of the error bar. That is, if two applicants are within error bar, the connected one will be given a clear advantage. But if one has a record that is clearly better than the other one’s, the connection privelege may go out of the window. Remember that the committee’s have many people – so even if one committee member “wants” you, the others have to like you too.

    Sometimes connections may hurt too. For example, if you are an NMR expert and your boss, who is an NMR expert contacts his colleague, who happens to be NMR guy himself, well – what are the chances they will hire another NMR scientist?

    In the end, I believe capitalism works. The best scientist will get a job, and the departments that favor nepotism/sexism, will eventually lose out to the ones that favor fairness and old-fashioned capitalism, by getting better faculty.

  2. Bill Tozier    4349 days ago    #

    I often tell academics that if they don’t know (personally, in the sense of being comfortable calling on the phone during work hours and expecting a real chat) the person who will hire them for their first position by the time they’re a 3rd-year student, they’ll fail to thrive.

    And then there’s Cosma Shalizi, who says he got his post-doc at U-M because of his blog. Ask him about it.

  3. Andre    4347 days ago    #

    Here’s a comment received via e-mail (anonymousized):

    I didn’t get any inside information on faculty positions as a result of who I worked for, mostly because I didn’t talk about my search with my advisor in any detail. It’d be foolish to claim that it didn’t help though, because having a recommendation letter from a [famous scientist] doesn’t hurt.

    In the case of my post-doc, it definitely helped, because the job I got wasn’t one that was posted on job sites, or anything like that. When it came time to find a post-doc, I emailed half a dozen people who I thought did interesting work, and asked “Do you have a post-doc opening, by any chance?” One of them did, and hired me. I don’t really recommend this as a job-hunting strategy, by the way.

    I did benefit from “networking” in my faculty job hunt [...]. I know for a fact that [knowing a current colleague] helped me get invited to campus for an interview, but I got the job on the strength of my performance in that interview.

  4. Bill Hooker    4346 days ago    #

    “I emailed half a dozen people who I thought did interesting work, and asked “Do you have a post-doc opening, by any chance?â€? One of them did, and hired me. I don’t really recommend this as a job-hunting strategy, by the way.”

    This is the way I got my current position, too. Unlike Anon, I do recommend this method: it means starting with research you’re interested in, rather than starting with who happens to have a job open and kidding yourself you’re interested in what they do. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be scanning the want ads at the same time, of course.

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