Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Academic hiring committees aren't doing enough.

I'm sitting on my first search committee this year (assuming we get approval for the two hires). It is sometimes hard to believe that I'm on this side of the equation now. Being here, I feel a lot of responsibility. 

Advertising.
The first thing I started thinking of was ways we can do a better job of recruiting a diverse pool of applicants. There are many people who have been thinking, writing, and talking about this, so searching google, and asking twitter is helpful. I can share what I've learned there. I'm also happy that the committee I'm on has already been vocal about not sparing expenses on advertising in as many diverse venues as possible. 

Why come here? 
But, it's nagging on me, that it isn't ever going to be enough to just advertise in a variety of places. Why should someone want to join us? Why should they want to be my colleague? What are we continuing to do to build an inclusive environment that values and respects each person's contribution? And how are we making that known? How are we, as a department, as a University, sensitive to all the bigoted garbage that disproportionately affects people from underrepresented groups? How do we support them? 

Academic job hiring is always a two-way street. I want colleagues who choose to come here, over somewhere else, because it is a great academic environment that supports their growth as a researcher and a person. Every academic department should be like this. 

I'm not doing enough. 
For the past two years, since I started in this position, I've been focused on how I can build the best laboratory environment. We (mostly I) will always be learning, and adjusting. I feel privileged by the students and trainees that have chosen to join my lab. I try to advocate for my trainees. I try to make a space where we can be open, and inclusive. 

Last year I ran our seminar series, and worked to take suggestions from across the department (it's technically a school, but I'm using department because that is how most places are structured), and invited a group of speakers that were representative of the range of disciplines in our unit, as well as considered other dimensions of diversity. But I could have done better. I see ways in which I could have improved - working more with each faculty group to build up a more diverse list. 

This year, my service to the department is co-chairing the Evolutionary Biology graduate program. In doing so, we are working to build a sense of community among the members of the program. We had a welcome potluck, we are hosting a journal club, and working to set up peer-mentoring for writing grants/fellowships. 

Okay, so I can work on my lab. I can work with the graduate students in my program. But, what am I really doing to contribute to the department as a whole. How am I making a lasting impact on the climate of the department? I think it has to start small, with the lab, with a program, but I need to contribute more to the department as a whole. I'm still working on how best to do this. I welcome your suggestions. 

Advertising isn't enough.
I also think every academic should be thinking about the health of our working environments. It isn't enough to advertise broadly. It isn't enough to carefully craft the language of an advertisement to be inclusive. Though, surely, those things are important. 

Some units are small, with single digit faculty. Some, like mine, have around 100. In every case, there will be people we want to recruit who don't look like us. Their science is different, their experiences are different, they won't look or sound like us. But, our motivations should be the same. We should all be motivated to lift each other up, to do the best science we can, and to be good mentors and educators. That motivation  - shared across the department - should be abundantly clear to all applicants. Maybe it could be simple. As an academic, this is the question I want each department to ask: 

How are we building an environment that someone who doesn't look like us will want to join?

We need to ask ourselves this routinely, and work towards answering it. It is the long game. It takes conscious and persistent effort. And it will never be a question we don't have to ask. I think making our environment the best it can be is the most productive recruiting strategy we can have. 

3 comments:

Kevin Bonham said...

Asking the question isn't enough - but it's the first step.

Another step (maybe the next one, depending on your bent) is to figure out how you would evaluate success. You say that you could do better - by what metric? It's really hard when your sample sizes are so small, but I don't think that's an excuse to ignore the question of assessment.

mathbionerd said...

Can you be more specific in what you mean to assess?

I don't think I've made any excuse or ignored assessment. Assessment isn't addressed here, but that doesn't mean I'm ignoring it.

I engage in a lot of self-assessment. Some via external avenues, some that I set up myself. If you have additional measures, I'm happy to hear them.

Kevin Bonham said...

I don't necessarily have good ideas - I'd love to hear what you're trying!

When I say assessment - I mean some way of quantifying (even with qualitative measures) your goals. I hear a lot of people bemoan the lack of diversity (I'm at Harvard Medical School, where the problem is particularly acute), but the conversation often seems to stop at "there's a problem" without continuing on to how to solve it. And even when there ideas for how to solve it, there's not necessarily a plan to see which ideas actually work.

I should be clear here - I'm not trying to say you fall into this camp, apologies for that implication. I suppose I should have written "How would one evaluate success?" It's a hard problem I think, because hiring a specific white man is not necessarily a failure of inclusion efforts. It's just that in the aggregate, across academia, those efforts are not yet good enough.