The same side of two coins part 2: The dark side of the coin

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about being on the other side of the job search for the first time. Now I’m on a departmental hiring committee for a second time, and I am also one of the non-departmental members for the Econ department’s hiring committee. I thought I would share what it’s like the second time around.

I must say, we haven’t gone too far in our search yet. We have done a preliminary reading of the applications and summarized our thoughts for a meeting we will be holding next week, and then we will be reading more carefully and selecting our top candidates to interview at the Joint Meetings (or via Skype if they are not attending the JMM).

Last year, this process was very difficult and I felt somehow incapable of judging who would be a better fit (I had many that I really liked, and we were only able to hire one!). This year, so far, the process doesn’t seem to be quite so emotional and complicated (although, like I said, I may feel differently come February). I have been able to see from reading the materials that some people would be better fits than others, and some things jump out at me as being really interesting or really wrong for Bates. In the really wrong category (in case you are wondering), I mean for example when the application looks like it could have been for a postdoc, or a research job. I’m not saying that is proof that the person would not be right for the job, I’m just saying that one can tell if this is not the job you really want.

I mentioned in that blog post that one reason it felt complicated is that we were looking at people in two areas. So having hired in one (pure math) things have gotten a bit easier. Not a lot easier, mind you, because we are focusing on “computational and applied math”, which could mean a lot of things. And the areas of people applying are quite different, but many of them are really interesting and fit the description well. Anyway, at least we are not going to be deciding between someone who does algebra and someone who does computational biology later on. That part was definitely stressful for me.

Also, you may recall, I felt quite intimidated by the applicants last year. That is not completely gone this year, but I find myself being more critical. This probably has something to do with the fact that I am going up for tenure this year. I think that having gone through a very similar process so soon before reading applications (I also have to write a teaching statement, research statement, and sell myself and what I’ve done) made me in a way more critical by reminding me of all the work that goes into this. So in a way, when I read a research statement where I can’t even understand the introduction, I have been thinking “wow, that person is way smarter than I am!” less and more “look, kid, I should be able to understand your introduction”. Or when a person says, again, that “you have to prepare for class, you have to show enthusiasm, you should be available outside of class” to be a good teacher, I used to think “this person is so thoughtful, and they won a teaching award!” and now I also think “but I still don’t know what you are like“. Anyway, I feel a little bit like I am getting meaner (hence the “dark side” in the title), or maybe more judgmental. I have never been comfortable judging other people, so this might be, in my case, a step in the right direction.

What is going to be hard again (as Joe Silverman pointed out in a comment in my previous hiring post) is deciding among the really great pool of applicants. As always, there are many really qualified people, and only one job. I have not felt this stress yet because we haven’t had to narrow things down, but we will need to soon. And again for campus visits. Anyway, I am not looking forward to that part.

In the good news part of this, we did hire a great new colleague last year, who was the star of last week’s blog post on Math Circles, actually. I can only hope that we do that well again.

So, dear readers, did you experience any shifts in the way you read applications the second (or twentieth) time around? Any advice on how to make this hurt a little less? Please share any thoughts in the comments section below.

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