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Unbelievable Job Candidates

Posted by Arjendu on November 12, 2008

We have a search on for an experimentalist at Carleton College, and yesterday I started reading the files.

The process is as follows (a look behind the scenes for some of you): With a Department as small as ours, everyone will read the files (everyone tenured or tenure-track, though Melissa being on sabbatical means that she gets a pass until we get to the phone-interview stage).  On the first pass, there are too many for all of us to read all the files, so we divvy it up so every file gets read by at least 3 of us, with the hope that we cull down to the ‘must-reads’ for everyone. We then identify the phone-interview candidates (usually around a dozen) and then from that we get to the on-campus candidates.

The culling is not going very fast this year — I’ve only read about 15 of the 90 files that are almost complete, and the pool is unbelievably strong this year. Usually the strongest looking candidates aren’t specifically targeting a small college, let alone Carleton. This time around it is clear that the candidates have done their homework and know what Carleton’s about and they want to be here, think this is an excellent place to be, and are able to make a strong case for them being here.

With this many strong candidates it’s going to be emotionally difficult to make the cuts. It’s compounded for me by the fact that I know at least 4 of the candidates personally. It’s in principle a good problem, and I am looking forward to learning more about these potential colleagues.

I can’t figure out the cause for the somewhat exceptional pool, though — some sort of demographic shift? effect of changing funding out there? Carleton’s profile got higher so we aren’t as well-kept a secret as we seemed to be earlier? the flattening of the world so rural Minnesota doesn’t seem as strange a place to relocate? Or …. ?

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14 Responses to “Unbelievable Job Candidates”

  1. Bob in Boston said

    Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, and Pomona aren’t hiring.

  2. Bob in Boston said

    …meaning you’re the class of the SLAC candidates, although Bates, Colby, Kenyon, Colgate, and Hamilton are right behind ya!

  3. jim said

    Wall Street isn’t hiring this year either. They (used to?) like Physics PhDs for quant positions: you know enough math, but have the right attitude towards it: think it instrumental, not fundamental.

  4. arjendu said

    Umm, Bob, AFAIK we haven’t competed with Amherst et al in the past (and anyway, the number of people who only apply to one of those and not to all similar LACs advertising in any given year is likely small). And Jim, Wall Street isn’t part of the competition either, since they hire theorists, usually those who can handle dynamical systems and stochastic calculus. And these aren’t thwarted Industrial physicists either, as I said, the thing that is impressive is how many seem to have targeted places *like* Carleton from early in their career, in the choices they’ve made through Grad School, etc.

    But the general downturn is likely part of the reason, irrespective. As Gordon Watts points out fewer jobs out there in general. And I’d like to believe that the relative sanity of the jobs at LACs speaks to people in troubled times irrespective of the economic arguments.

  5. rob said

    teaching physics at carleton would be my ideal job. i’d apply, but my app would get laughed at.

  6. arjendu said

    Rob: We wouldn’t laugh, promise.

  7. Bob in Boston said

    Umm, Bob, AFAIK we haven’t competed with Amherst et al in the past

    I doubt that. Carleton’s a top-ten SLAC, one of the few that can claim to get a solid share of the best and the brightest- I don’t see why that wouldn’t extend to faculty searches beyond a little bit of location prejudice…

    But, you’re right- if your pool is unusually good, and still only 90 people (typical size, no?) then something’s up…dunno.

    What annoys me the most about the process is the lack of unified schedules; I’m applying to a mix of research and SLAC positions, mostly because I think I could fit in at either, if the department, students, and location felt right. But I’m getting interviewed in early December for a SLAC who (if they offer me the job) will probably push for an answer by mid-January…which is right around the time I expect to hear about research shortlists.

  8. arjendu said

    Bob, you misunderstood my point: Us small places hire so infrequently that by tracking through the recent hires at either place, you can tell if there was a direct head-to-head competition any year. I may be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve competed …

    About the time-line, yeah, that’s standard operating procedure, and unfortunate. And it’s not just colleges versus Universities. It is entirely possible to have a deadline for acceptance from one college before you’ve visited the other (we don’t interview until Jan, for example).

  9. Bob in Boston said

    Ah, thanks, I see your point. But you are arguably the classiest of the the SLACs hiring this here, so it makes sense to me that you are getting classy apps. And not everybody applies everywhere; I know at least one postdoc who self-selected out of your current hire; I think he’s dumb for doing it, but that’s his business.

    Re: scheduling, do you think the early-bird school knows what they’re doing, i.e. do they believe they’re gaming the system by interviewing early? Or is it just random?

  10. […] Unbelievable Job Candidates […]

  11. arjendu said

    Bob, I missed the question somehow: Yes, interviewing early can help the school. It’s your basic “One in the hand versus two in the bush” argument, and if you are actually reasonably competitive with the others searching, you can gain some advantage. We’ve lost candidates from our final-ish pool to competitors, and I personally withdrew my application from a couple of places after I got my Carleton job.

  12. Bob in Boston said

    So have you hired yet?

    • arjendu said

      Yes, but general confidentiality rules means you’ll have to find out with the rest of the world when the dust settles on official acceptance, etc. We were delighted with the entire process.

  13. Me said

    Hello there. It’s on the Rumor Mill now.

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