The always interesting Timothy Burke has a post on the economics of conference attendance, inspired by Brian Croxall’s essay about why he didn’t attend the MLA. The key problem for both of them is that the way the academic job market is structured inn the humanities forces job seekers to attend the MLA for “screening interviews,” used to cut a long list of applicants down to the three or so who will be invited to campus.

This is almost a two cultures moment, because this isn’t the situation in my part of academia. It’s not that the job market is any better, but there isn’t the same automatic “screening interview” step in physics. In the umpteen job searches we’ve done since I started here, we’ve done phone interviews once, and had a colleague informally talk with candidates at a national meeting once, maybe twice.

I’m curious as to how general this is, though– is physics an outlier, or is the interview-at-a-conference thing an odd quirk of the humanities? So, here’s a poll to try to make this quasi-quantitative:


While I haven’t had the experience of interviewing or being interviewed at a conference, I can’t say I feel deprived. The whole thing sounds horrible to me, and I’m more than happy to do without it. Of course, doing without it does put a lot more emphasis on the folder-reading stage of things, because you need to immediately cut the list down to the three-ish candidates who will visit campus. I’ll take that, though, over cattle-call interviews.

Comments

  1. #1 onymous
    January 18, 2010

    I’m a little confused about the issue of why inviting job applicants to interview is so expensive. When a physics department is considering applicants for jobs, they’ll typically invite them to give a seminar. And these seminars go on whether hiring is happening or not, so inviting job applicants to give talks isn’t an added expense, it’s part of the normal operating budget of the department/group. Do history and English departments not normally have weekly seminars that they can invite their job candidates to?

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    January 18, 2010

    I’m a little confused about the issue of why inviting job applicants to interview is so expensive. When a physics department is considering applicants for jobs, they’ll typically invite them to give a seminar. And these seminars go on whether hiring is happening or not, so inviting job applicants to give talks isn’t an added expense, it’s part of the normal operating budget of the department/group. Do history and English departments not normally have weekly seminars that they can invite their job candidates to?

    Outside speakers are frequently chosen to be cheap– we generally invite people who are local, or within a few hours’ drive of campus. This is because the money to pay for their travel comes out of the department’s operating budget. We can sometimes tap other pots of money for a particularly worthwhile speaker, but we try to hold the costs down as much as we can.

    Job candidates are generally charged to the Dean’s office, so we’re limited to three invites, maybe four if one is local. We could, in theory, invite more if we paid for them ourselves, but that’s generally not done.

    Science and engineering departments tend to run weekly (or nearly weekly) talk series, but this is much less common in the humanities and social sciences. This is probably because the operating budgets in sciences and engineering tend to be larger, and thus allow for the occasional speaker payment.

  3. #3 onymous
    January 18, 2010

    Job candidates are generally charged to the Dean’s office, so we’re limited to three invites, maybe four if one is local. We could, in theory, invite more if we paid for them ourselves, but that’s generally not done.

    I see. When the group where I was a student did searches, essentially the entire winter/spring seminar schedule consisted of job applicants, and then two or three of the preferred choices were invited back to speak in front of the whole department. But this practice is probably limited to a thin layer of the best-funded schools, I guess. (There was also no geographical limitation on who to invite.)

    Science and engineering departments tend to run weekly (or nearly weekly) talk series, but this is much less common in the humanities and social sciences.

    I just checked the English and history departments at my current institution; it looks like they each have weekly talks, but they rotate among groups (e.g. in English one week it’s Victorian studies, the next week postcolonialism, …) whereas in the sciences individual research groups are more likely to have their own talks every week.

  4. #4 MRW
    January 18, 2010

    I picked “No, and I work in the natural sciences”, but I should note that the American Chemical Society has started holding a poster session specifically for people on the academic job market to present their work. From what I understand, it hasn’t produced a whole lot of interest or interaction.

    My impression is that the standard in chemistry is to narrow it down by application materials first, then by phone interview, then by in person interviews. I think there’s significant variation in how much narrowing down happens at each stage, though. My current employer had 5 phone interviews and 3 in person interviews, but I got the impression that some of the schools I had phone interviews with were doing so with significantly more people.

  5. #5 Eric Lund
    January 19, 2010

    And these seminars go on whether hiring is happening or not

    Often time constraints will lead to two candidates being interviewed in the same week (typically, one on Monday-Tuesday and the other on Thursday-Friday, to minimize the chance that the two will meet on campus, as well as to take advantage of Saturday night stayover fares when applicable). This is especially true when the department has a longer shortlist of five or six candidates, or when there are multiple positions open within the same department. Those are extra seminars/colloquia (and often the candidate is expected to give both a seminar and a colloquium), since normally there is only one colloquium and one seminar per series each week.

  6. #6 acdalal
    January 20, 2010

    I answered “no, and I work in the natural sciences”, because I’m a computer scientist and, well, there *is* no national meeting in computer science. Sometimes we’ll be lucky enough to meet an applicant at one of the many CS conferences beforehand (if we happen to share a subfield), sometimes not. We’ve never done phone interviews, either, but that’s mostly a timing thing—we never seem to remember to budget enough time in the hiring schedule for them!

  7. #7 Cosma Shalizi
    January 21, 2010

    Statistics does not, thankfully, do this for academic positions, though a fair amount of it seems to go on for industrial jobs at the annual Joint Statistical Meeting. (And for the record, here at CMU statistics is in the college of humanities and social sciences!)

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.