22 November 2010

Dear Academic Search Committee

Dear Academic Search Committee,

            Do you have a minute? Are you sure? I’ve got something that I need to tell you. It’s a little embarrassing to have to bring this up, but it’s gone on a little too long now. We’re all professionals here, right? Can I tell you something that’s a little personal?
            It’s about manners. It’s pretty basic, really. Everyone bemoans the young kids and their smart phones, always texting, IMing, and in general being rude to the people standing right in front of them. But the interesting thing about all this technology is that they are communicating. There are so many ways to stay connected. It’s amazing. And while many of you on those search committees may not have grown up with a computer, it’s impossible to think that you don’t spend a little time in front of the computer each day. I know that you use email. And so here’s what I’m proposing: Use your email.
            OK, let me be a little more explicit. I answered that job add that you placed in all the academic journals and online job boards. First of all, if you aren’t going to answer email inquiries about the job, leave out the line “For more information, contact faculty@college.edu.” That’s easy enough, right?
            OK, next: I am not 100% certain when I hit that send button that your spam filter won’t see an incoming message from an unknown address (mine) with an attachment (my application package that you requested should be “sent by email only”) and unceremoniously direct my future into the junk mail folder. You don’t know how many times I’ve sent an application package to a committee and felt like it dropped into a black hole. Can you believe it? How do I know I’ve really applied? Why not try this: Dear Applicant, We received your application package. Thanks for applying to the position.” There, you can even cut and paste that text. I don’t mind.
            Maybe you’re not really not serious about hiring, despite the multiple postings – just testing the waters? I usually do get some response at this point. Sometimes it’s even invitation for a phone interview (or a Skype interview: now I know you’re into technology). As a postdoc, I’ve been to various seminars and meetings and workshops about making the next steps to independence. I’ve learned about the ways to make a letter and CV stand out, how to write thank you notes, and so on. And maybe it has something to do with growing up with a European mom, but manners mean a lot to me. I see these things as basic human courtesy. It’s easy for me to send emails or postcards to the interviewing faculty, thanking them for their time and thoughtful conversation. I do it without much effort.
            So when months go by, and I haven’t heard anything from you, I get antsy. I assume that I’ve been passed on – but how am I to know, really? Do I call or email to find out if there will be a follow-up? I don’t want to be annoying, I just want to know. I realize that there may be hundreds of initial applications, but generally they get whittled down to just a handful for the phone interviews. So someone on the committee should be able to follow up, right? So when you pick your onsite interview candidates, do me a favor: Update me. “We’ve reviewed the applications and have chosen our top candidates for onsite interviews. Unfortunately, we cannot invite you at this time.” There, you can use that text, also – I don’t mind.
            The thing I’ll never understand is why academia puts up with rudeness and social ineptitude. What is it about academia that forgives someone so easily for faults that actually affect their jobs. People should not be given latitude because they are “brilliant but eccentric.” If that’s really the case, then they should be brilliant enough to know that they need to pass on the responsibility to a secretary or another responsible faculty member. Science is increasingly about collaboration, so even the most “brilliant but eccentric” faculty has to be able to play nice with others. And please, give me a break with the other lame excuses about heavy teaching loads, grant writing, managing students and postdocs, committees. Sorry, we all know what those excuses are simply covering for your colleagues’ inability to think past the end of their noses. Delegating someone to send a 2-line email to five or ten candidates does not take up much precious time. Face it, we all could use a few more hours in the day. Regardless of rank or status, we’re all busy, we’re all doing research, and managing our lives as committee members, commuters, husbands, wives, parents, and those in need of grocery shopping. Just because you have made it into that precious faculty position doesn’t mean that your life is so much more hectic and troublesome that you should forgo simple human courtesy. Send that email. Do it now.

Frustrated Scientist

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