Inside candidate much?

There are 3 ways to know that a job search is fake and you are there for no reason:

1. You don’t meet the Department Chair

2. Everyone is shifty and seems to feel sorry for you.

3. You are told you will hear back in a day or two.

Through these and other ways, it should become obvious to you during a visit. How to avoid putting yourself in this position? Spot them in advance! I received an anonymous email pointing out this add from Columbia.

The Division of Integrative Neuroscience of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons is seeking to fill the position of Assistant Professor. The position will be an independent lab position investigating the neural basis of learning and memory and requiring a degree of PhD in Neuroscience, Postdoctoral Fellowship experience, and at least 10 years of experience doing optogenetic manipulation, behavior and immunohistochemistry. The project will include developing and implementing a research program studying the neural basis of learning impairments in aged and Alzheimer’s disease mice. The applicant must be an expert in all aspects of behavior and optogenetic, from implant construction to surgery, trouble shooting, and analysis. 

Your first double take should be “10 years of experience” for an assistant professor.

The second should be “10 years of experience” doing optogenetics. Because I don’t think Karl Deisseroth has 10 years of experience doing optogenetics.

Also, freakily specific: you will do learning and memory in mice that we are going to pretend have Alzheimer’s disease. It is pretty weird for a hiring department to tell you exactly what you will be working on with what methods.

It would be terrific if you were a board certified psychiatrist.

Oh, and also? You start December 1, less than 2 weeks after the close date of the listing. (When exactly are the interviews?) So relocation will be a little hectic… oh, wait, you and your family already live on the West Side? Fancy that.

I think there are very occasionally valid reasons to create a position for someone. There are spousal hires, people who have worked on an alternative track (staff scientist, RAP) who have made important contributions to the department already and need to be retained, etc.  But there is also patronage, back room hiring, and all that nasty old boy stuff. But let’s assume it is legit sometimes. If an institution decides that this is sometimes something that they should do, they are ethically bound to create a different hiring process for this purpose (like spousal hires in most places). Conducting fake searches is lying. It is a waste of resources and is seriously harmful to the candidates who apply and interview in good faith. It is also harmful to your own faculty, who are coerced into to behaving unethically and lying to applicants. I sometimes wonder if when public institutions do this if there isn’t a valid due process (not likely) or equal protection (maybe?) claim.

Note the straight faced inclusion of an “Equal Opportunity” statement.

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8 Comments on “Inside candidate much?”

  1. biobabbler says:

    I was thinking of applying for a job, a sort of job I’d had (I’d also had jobs SUPERVISING that sort of position), and when I read “scientific illustration skills.” I froze. Whaaa?!? I’d NEVER seen ANYTHING like that in similar jobs. Gigantic red flag WAVING across the screen. WE WANT THIS PERSON. A cloaked version of, “Also, candidates who are 5′ 10″, 160 lbs, with blue eyes, answer to Ronald, and live on Red Bluff Street are preferred.” It’s a very weird situation, and I’m glad you wrote about it. And, yes, they were looking to hire the spouse of someone they’d already hired. And, they did. =)

  2. Alex says:

    I wonder what happens when, every now and then, some unintended candidate just happens to meet the requirements in one of those ads. If the candidate were from an under-represented group, and they had a lawyer, this could be interesting.

    (The stress of such a suit would probably be more than the candidate wants to endure, but everyone who’s ever been frustrated with bogus job ads would be offering moral support.)

  3. rxnm says:

    I have heard (second, third, fourth hand) of instances where there was a fake search and the inside candidate did NOT get the job. I think this probably has less to do with the outside candidate and more to do with factionalism in the department over the the internal candidate (or, perhaps, the person/group who chose the internal candidate).

  4. Alex says:

    The biggest shenanigan I’m aware of did not involve an insanely-specific ad. At least in that case any half-intelligent observer knows not to apply. Rather, the biggest shenanigan I’m aware of is one where a person who was well-known and well-liked (on a personal level) was offered a job despite having a CV that was, um, an awkward fit to the position. Like, imagine that the ad is for a microbiologist studying human disease, and they wind up hiring a person who studies evolution of trees. “Well, trees interact with microbes! And they experience disease! And sometimes this person studies things relevant to how trees interact with microbes!” But their research plan never mentions microbes.

    (Disclaimer: The actual situation had nothing to do with trees or microbes.)

  5. qaz says:

    Many universities require that departments put ads like this out to protect them against internal hiring and that patronage problem. Depending on the university, for some positions (at my university, I think it’s for all faculty-level positions), they have to actually interview from outside.

    A true story: When I was on the job market, one of the jobs I applied for turned out to have been intended to be an internal job like the one you are mentioning. They had planned an inadequate startup package because they had assumed the person would really be living in the lab they were already in. However, when they started interviewing, they discovered that the internal candidate wasn’t up to the same caliber as the outside candidates. Basically, the internal candidate had skill X. All of the outside candidates did both X at the level of the internal candidate and did Y which the internal candidate did not. So they didn’t hire anyone that year, and constructed a full outside search the next year. (Which didn’t help me, I admit…)

  6. Some universities (at least here in Germany) do not have the digression for ‘inside’ hires (or spousal ones for that matter). They are forced by law to advertise EVERY position – which yields ads like this one.

  7. […] As you know, academia gets a lot of its teaching done via low-paid adjuncts and lecturers with little or no job security.  These instructors, like any other group of people, run the gamut from excellent, to, um, no so excellent.  I don’t believe that hiring-from-within is something that we should do routinely–national searches have important virtues–but now and then I think it’s merited.  Especially for those rare adjuncts who manage to remain research active, or for “lecturer with security of employment” positions (found at some schools, e.g. some UC campuses) that confer something approximately similar to tenure* but carry little or no research expectation.**  Not every position should be filled internally, but occasionally it is appropriate, it should be treated as a promotion in return for outstanding performance, and should not be accompanied by a “kabuki search” that needlessly strings along applicants. […]


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