This month the Bulletin is revisiting two articles from distinquished chemistry professors (Graham Peaslee and Cindy Larive) regarding finding the right academic academic position. Specifically, they look at this question from their respective viewpoints at research intensive and primarily undergraduate institutions. What are the similarities and differences between these different types of schools, and how can you decide which one is the best fit for you? These are critical questions that delve beyond the crafting of an application packet.
Failure to fit?
Finding the right fit can range from finding the right type of department that supports your particular research and teaching aspirations (as discussed in the two articles above) to finding a comfortable environment with people you can trust.
A professor on a faculty search committee once told me about a promising academic candidate who was interviewing for a tenure track position at his university. The candidate demonstrated a solid research background, proposal and presentation. The candidate also conducted himself very professionally in all of the formal portions of the interview. However, in the evening when the faculty took the candidate to dinner, he appeared shy and uncomfortable around the food, drinks and light hearted conversation . Because of this, the search committee decided not to extend a job offer to the candidate.
It may seem unfair that this candidate was eliminated on the basis of a his quiet demeanor at what was supposed to be a relaxing event (not all great chemists are known for being social butterflies after all). My friend, the professor on the search committee, did not think this was unfair. Knowing whether a candidate fits, he said, is more than just recognizing the best resume and background, it also means looking to see how the person adds to the group dynamic. To be a good fit someone should be able to contribute socially and professionally to a group and in turn be supported by the group. Not considering these factors in the beginning could potentially lead to a major problem down the road.
Unjust or Reasonable?
I reflect more on my friend's (the professor on the hiring committee) words now as I see all the articles on the web about the happening on the 'Today' show and the analysis of why it is happening and who is responsible. In this context, not being offered a job does not seem the most unfair of treatments that can happen in one's career. In fact it may be an act of this hiring committee decision not to hire him that eventually led the candidate to an academic institution where he can flourish professionally and even enjoy a beer now and then with colleagues. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, I had the pleasure of meeting this former candidate a couple of years ago so that I know this is actually what happened...