Three Fortunate Young Oslovians

Oslo colleagues have asked me to give a fuller account of the spring 2017 hiring that I called the most egregious case I’ve seen. This is not because they're trying to make the University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History look good, but because they feel that I unfairly singled out a single hire, when in fact there were three. I'm happy to oblige. For one thing, I hadn't even noticed that one of the three has no PhD.

Some background. Norway has a strong tradition of research performed at museums. Bergen's museum, for instance, was doing major science long before there was a university in town. The førsteamanuensis positions at the Oslo museum that I'm discussing here have 40% research time built into them. Hear that, academics everywhere? A full-time, lifetime job with 40% research time. 20 people applied for those three jobs.

I've kept stats on who has gotten lectureships and førsteamanuensis positions in Scandy archaeology for the past 14 years. The median age of the hires is 43. Half of the hires are between 40 and 46. The youngest person to get one of these jobs since I started counting in 2003 was 32, at Uni Oslo's Museum of Cultural History, this past spring.

But yes, there were three hires. They're 32, 35 and 39, that is, all three are exceptionally young. One worked at the museum when the jobs were advertised, another had worked there previously, and one of these two hasn't got a PhD! A third one had a post-doc position at Uni Oslo's main campus just across town, where this person had done their PhD (post-doc at your home department, huh!?). This one is also a long-term collaborator on two projects of the hiring committee's chairman, who is a professor at the museum in accordance with the fine Norwegian rules for these things.

I believe that by the time they reach 45, two of these people will have strongly competitive CVs. (They're getting paid to do research at 40% of full time, after all, and all three certainly seem bright enough.) My point in bringing them up is that in 2017 none of the three have this. There is nobody under the age of 40 in Scandinavian academic archaeology who can compete in front of a fair and impartial hiring committee with people who have published research voluminously for a quarter century. Because nobody starts publishing research at age 15. So it's pretty damn egregious the whole thing.

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I can't speak about the qualifications here, but rather raise a more general point.

One can argue that the best qualified person should get the job. This might mean, as you claim here, that it goes to someone who did research for decades with no permanent position. Wouldn't it be better for science, though, if people got permanent jobs earlier? Surely you could have done more research if you had a permanent job at 30, right? So, assuming that the people are smart enough (which, in my experience, one knows even after the first degree), isn't it better to give them a permanent job now, rather than risk them being less productive than they could be, perhaps even leaving the field, due to lack of job security?

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 02 Oct 2017 #permalink

No, because archaeology PhDs are a dime a dozen in Scandinavia. There is no need to nurture individual ones. Tomorrow there will be ten new ones to choose from.

Cynic or reaslist? :-|

Surely the best strategy is to give the best people permanent jobs as soon as you are reasonably confident that they are the best.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 02 Oct 2017 #permalink

...Also, the media is naturally calling him a “lone wolf”, since he’s white and so can’t possibly be a terrorist fed conspiracy theories.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 02 Oct 2017 #permalink