Saturday, December 16, 2006

an open letter to anyone who happens to find themselves someday running a sociology department

Sociology departments will often bring in multiple candidates for a single junior position, and decide that more than one candidate is suitable. Say Candidate A is the department's first choice, and Candidate B the second. A common strategy has been to call Candidate A and make her the offer, and not say anything to Candidate B until Candidate A has made up her mind. One justification is that if the turnaround time for a negative decision by A is relatively brief, B can then be given the offer under the impression that he was really the first choice and the committee just took its time deliberating. I'm not sure this was ever a great strategy from anyone's standpoint, but it really does not make sense in the age of the sociology job market wiki. Junior candidates who take the time to give a talk at your university and get all excited at the possibility of a future there shouldn't have to find out someone else has the offer from a wiki. That's just cold*, and sociology is supposed to pride itself on being nicer than certain neighboring disciplines.

* Given the common (but dispreferred!) pronunciation of my last name as rhyming with "knees" instead of "niece," nicknames given to the blog proprietor in graduate school by The Other Guys included "Frosty" and "2-Kold." These, certainly, were superior to nicknames from junior high or high school, which for obvious reasons of pride and propriety will not be shared here.

Addendum: Given that there are now several people actually in charge of sociology departments who are known members of the sociology blog universe, I suppose I should state explicitly to those prone to seeing subtext in blissfully subtextless posts that this not directed at any known blog author or blog reader. I have, though, heard more than one story of bad-news-delivery-via-wiki this year, which I think is fine at the stage of people finding out they didn't get a (first-round) interview but not at the stage of finding out they didn't get an (first-round) offer.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

don't forget about Gerald Frozen

jeremy said...

Ah, it's always good to receive confirmation I have readers from Back In The Day.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as one who hopes to someday soon find himself NOT running a sociology department, I couldn't agree more. I have always tried (although sometimes I have forgotten myself and mentioned my plan in front of the faculty and then been overridden) to notify candidates who actually come to campus what the status of the search is as it develops.

Others often seem to fear that the candidate is going to be insulted that they weren't considered to be the best person in the universe and will therefore hold it against the department should an offer actually come. I have not found that to be the case at all. Most candidates seem, in fact, to be considerably more mature about the matter than their more senior counterparts and easily understand that there are complicated sets of preferences and fit issues involved with any search and that coming in second in a search is not an commemtary on their intrinsic worth as a person.

Futhermore, if you withhold the information, you can't really deny that you are being manipulative. In my opinion, that is not a very good way to start what could be a very long, important relationship.

Collin said...

Amen.

As someone who's been on both sides of the table several times, I think that there's a great deal of unnecessary opacity surrounding these processes, and just for the reasons you list.

Some opacity is sometimes necessary, but I've lost a lot of my patience for weird job search customs. In almost every situation, I'd rather know what's happening than have to guess, both as a candidate and as a member of a search committee.

Anonymous said...

I recently heard about a situation in which someone who got a plum job was told she was the first choice, but not to mention it to anyone else, because the other person that (also) ended up getting hired might turn the job down upon hearing about being second choice.

Again, this was a fabulous position, and so the only thing I could think was, "Wha?" What kind of applicant for a junior position would do that? "I'm SECOND CHOICE? Well, EFF YOU! I'm going to take a job at MY second choice!" I just found the assumption so ludicrous.

sara said...

Thank you, Jeremy! This just happened to me -- i was choice #2 behind a person with more experience. i REALLY appreciated knowing that I'd had some support in the department and what the timeline was for choice #1 in making a decision. In the end, he took it but it made me feel better that the search chair kept me informed.

I'd also note that it's not just the wiki -- sociology is a VERY small world. At 4 out of 5 of my interviews, I was aware most of the time of others who were interviewing there as well. It's not unlikely I would have heard about offers as well so the search chair should be the one to tell me at some point...

andrea said...

Plus, a lot of candidates (or at least I) will assume that if I don't hear pretty quickly after the interviews ended that I am not the #1 choice. So, it's not like even without wiki (or contacts) you don't figure it out. None of these are infallible, of course, but it's not like not telling someone they're second choice means they don't figure it out. Or that they'll be in a position to protest too much.

(I was once in the position to be a not-first-choice in a department where I had a visiting position -- having the search committee avoid eye contact for a week or so did not keep their decision a secret).

andrea said...

Plus -- what Sara said. Getting a little encouragement and acknowledgement of support can help a lot, even if you ultimately don't get the job.

Rhea said...

I will have to forward this my friend who runs a sociology department at an East Coast college to remain unnamed!

waiting impatiently said...

I'm "Candidate B" at two schools and nobody has told me anything directly. My fairy-god-advisor has been great at informally inquiring on my behalf, but I still don't know where I stand. Am working up the bravery to just inquire myself.

I wouldn't feel the least bit bad about being their #2 choice. I might if it were a marriage proposal, though.

The world would be a much better place if Frozen were in charge of all the soc departments in the world....

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. Where search chairs do need to show some discretion is relating anything about reasons positions were offered. It is usually best to make it sound as if the department liked the candidate and would be happy to make an offer if they just had more positions.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of the sociology wiki--but in the spirit of "we're all adults here"--I think the wiki would be much more interesting if it listed the names of candidates receiving offers, and perhaps also those brought in for interviews. This is how other job market rumor mills work (for example see http://particle.physics.ucdavis.edu/rumor/doku.php).

Anonymous said...

I also think people who are brought in for interviews but aren't offered a job deserve something more than a letter informing them. Twice I have been brought in for interviews and then had to wait about 2 months to get a rejection letter. Clearly I figured out I wasn't getting either of the jobs, but still. I think if a person comes to your department and gives a job talk, they deserve a phone call or email in addition to the form rejection letter, just out of politeness.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and for one of those positions I actually did email the committee chair at one point to ask about the status of the search, since I was being asked to sign another year-long contract at my current job and wanted to be sure not to do that if I still had a shot at the job. The search committee chair said they were still deliberating and that they were going to contact me very soon. Two days later I got the form rejection letter. I really don't understand why she couldn't just tell me in the email I wasn't their choice. What did they have to lose at that point?

Steve M said...

I agree, but Chairs need to be careful. Quite often there is no official B candidate, only a tentative ranking of who a department might turn to next (sometimes simply a vote tally that selects candidate A and implicitly appears to rank the others but could, in the end, be misleading about a second stage vote). A Chair can get into serious trouble with her colleagues if she reveals a ranking that is far from an official motion to offer a job if candidate A rejects an offer. For this reason, some opacity is necessary, although not as much as prevails in the discipline. Clearly, informing a candidate of the state of a search is fair, and Chairs should be duty bound to give an honest portrayal if asked directly.

Anonymous said...

Are you one of the persons who accepted to Harvard?

jeremy said...

Anon who asked about Harvard: No, I have not interviewed for any sort of position in the Harvard sociology department. I do know who it is that Harvard has hired, though, and can say that Harvard is fortunate.

Anonymous said...

I'm not in Sociology, but I did serve as a search chair at my public LAC last year. I know that we were instructed by the higher administration NOT to divulge any information about where the search proceedings were until there was a signed contract with someone. In other words, if you are Candidate B, I couldn't tell you that you were even the second choice (as opposed to completely out of the picture). Once the decision was made and the hire had been confirmed, we had to send a one sentence letter stating the position was filled. I find this horribly cold and distant, but this was what needed to happen for "legal reasons."

Tom Volscho said...

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http://www.maic.org.uk/aboutus.htm

My partner and I are giving a sizeable portion of our christmas money to them.

Anonymous said...

I was on the job market in the days before wiki. I found out I didn't get a job through my roommate, who works in an entirely different field. A friend of hers from high school encountered the person who accepted the job at a party in a different city, and relayed the news to my friend. I ended up feeling I was the last person on the planet to know that I didn't get the job.