Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flying under the radar

As I mentioned earlier, I recently threw my hat into the ring for an academic administrative position. Having met previously with a representative of the executive search company working with this Institution, I was very positive about my chances for this opening going into my interview with the supervisor. My discussion with the firm representative was a positive one, which ended with him commenting that I was a strong candidate.

Fast forward to interview day. I had made all the phone calls to learn more about this supervisor and how he worked. I prepared my answers to some of the important questions I had been asked previously or expected to be asked this time. It's been a long time since I've prepared for an interview in this way. Most times my preparation was a lecture about my research, something that becomes second nature after 15+ years on the job. I even cut the hair and bought a new outfit - one that looked professional but not stuffy.

Well to make a long story short, the interview didn't quite go as I expected. I was asked things like "Did you ever have your own R01?" and "How many faculty committees did you serve on in your previous faculty positions?" Now neither of these questions are really pertinent to the job on the table and I suddenly began to feel like the purpose of this interview was not to find out how I could do the job but how we could list things that could be used to keep me out of the job. I was told I didn't have a lot of administrative experience, yet the position is heavily weighted to bringing investigators together to advance translational research - i.e. something more easily tackled by a person with a lot of scientific experience.

Those questions were followed by a 20 min description of the components that the person in this position would be involved in. Very interesting and useful information. But the way it was delivered gave me little opportunity to be part of that discussion and emphasize how my experience would serve me well in that position.

Then I was told that it would be in this Institutions best interest to find a way to use my experience to their benefit "even if it's in another position". Pow. Bam. Down for the count. That was a signal, I believe, to tell me that I wasn't what this individual was looking for.

So my hopes were dashed, my sails deflated but it did get me thinking about some of the decisions I made as I traveled from Institution to Institution, faculty position to faculty position as the "wife of the recruit". I've done this type of move 3 times, but only once was I recruited with a real 'package. That was at a non-academic research Institute so there weren't traditional faculty committee service requirements. The other two times I had to work at gaining the respect and acceptance of my colleagues in departments that were outside my area of expertise. In these situations, I put my head down and focused on doing good research and publishing papers. I didn't push to be on committees or involved in working groups. In some sense I felt like I needed to fly under the radar. Now I know that was not the thing to do. I should have focused on building a broader portfolio and enlisting the help of the department chairman or senior faculty. What remains clear is that dual recruiting requires the full support of the chairman for whomever is the " spouse of the recruit". If you don't have someone who can see your qualities and knows how to use them to benefit their department, and who isn't committed to your success as much as the success of the primary recruit, then it isn't going to work.

Hindsight is 20/20. I can only say that I have the experience I have and I'm confident with who I am. I just don't know where that will end up taking me but I've been down windy roads before. I can't wait to see what's around the next corner.

1 comment:

The bean-mom said...

Some useful advice for those in dual recruitment positions... And I'm sorry to hear that your interview didn't go as you wanted, but perhaps it went better than you think?

"Then I was told that it would be in this Institutions best interest to find a way to use my experience to their benefit "even if it's in another position"".

That sounds encouraging to me, actually--they sound like they do want to find a place for you at their institution.

It's strange--until recently I didn't even know there were non-bench, non-PI positions for Ph.Ds. in academia... and now I have something like one myself, and am discovering other people in the blogosphere with similar roles. I wonder if these positions are increasing? And the job descriptions for these positions also often seem rather ill-defined...