It’s easy to make fun of mid-20th century style behaviorism (Two behaviorists meet in a bar, one says to the other, “You’re doing well, how am I?”). But my recent sociological research into the machinations of academic search committees has turned me totally to the perspective that our subjective narratives are nothing but post-hoc and self-serving rationalizations that are utterly irrelevant to understanding the mechanisms of any decision making process.

I’ve been asking lots of PIs I know how short lists are made. They squirm. Then they say things like “it’s the whole package,” or “we want to see a couple good papers and a solid proposal.” References, of course, matter, but most deny that who wrote it matters very much.

Then, I review the short lists that, you know, actually get made. Pedigree, pedigree, and…oh, looky-loo…pedigree. I mean seriously, check these guys for hip dysplasia, because whatever is going on with their papers (or lack thereof) they are thoroughfuckingbreds of the Bio-Aristocracy. So I do some back-of-the-napkin calculations. How many jobs are there in my field each year? How many living Nobel prize winners and other top dogs in my field who are writing letters of reference for my competition? I have good papers and a brand name postdoc institution but no heavy-weight references, so I’m guessing my fate is to be strung along as an also-ran on a handful of shortlists before the blue ribbon goes to some puggle who, between his/her PhD and postdoc advisors, unites two large branches of the Neurotree.


8 Comments on “Behaviorism”

  1. funkdoctorx says:

    Well perhaps it depends, in part, on where you want a job…if you want a job at top 10 university, then yea, you’re probably right. The profs there probably don’t have the guts to take a chance on someone that doesn’t have ivy leagues from undergrad to postdoc. Or at least support from a NAS member. But I imagine at reasonably decent state or tier 1/2 schools you would be competitive…at least one would hope…

  2. miko says:

    Yes, that’s my hope… I am applying at tier 1/2 state schools. Whenever I look at a department web site I try to figure out who the most recent hires were… I should start tracking this. Some fields (I think poli-sci, notably), have whole blogs/forums to gossiping about each year’s job market, so everyone has a good sense of what kinds of people each place hires. Often includes anon reviews of job talks even! Not sure it’s healthy….

  3. jbashir says:

    most deny that who wrote it matters very much.
    let me get back to you in a few hours after I stop laughing.

    I feel you on this. Here I asked about funding (K awards etc). I was assured such things were nice but not remotely needed to make the short list at our top 30ish university. Guess who they brought in for interviews last year? A bunch of K award winners. It’s tough to find people who will be blunt about the job market. Most just want to sound hopeful and be nice.

  4. miko says:

    Some truly don’t know. I love my PI, but she grew up in a pedigree bubble and honestly thinks if you just work hard at the bench, the R1 job, fellowships, and grants just kinda happen.

  5. funkdoctorx says:

    I second that on having evidence of funding. When I had the good fortune of being on a search committee as a grad student, funding was very high up the list. Along with a consistent publishing record and (of course) well known names writing recs…an Ivy League didn’t hurt either…

  6. miko says:

    Ugh… I did not get a fellowship. I’m going for a K while on the job market, which is probably pointless for a whole variety of reasons. What’s frustrating is that I significantly contributed to my PI’s R01, but get no credit for that. The ref letter mentions that I provided ideas and preliminary data, but my name’s, of course, not on it. Would it be weird to put details of my contribution to a successful R01 on my CV? In my cover letter?

  7. funkdoctorx says:

    I think cover letter would be appropriate, but CV probably not; Having in the letter of rec would be best I imagine, but who knows if it gets read. I haven’t had much success trying to get fellowship funding either, but I bet with your C/N/S paper it would be within your grasp…

  8. miko says:

    The 3 reviews of my NRSA went something like this:
    1. This project is too preliminary.
    2. This project is already finished.
    3. No one should study your model organism.

    Trying to learn what makes a K99 proposal fly, but I think the success rate is too low for there to be a formula. NINDS lists K99 recipients… tempting to do pedigree v. productivity analysis…

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