Graduate Student Input on Hiring
What input do graduate students have in hiring decisions in your department?
A couple of Daily Nous readers have written in seeking information about hiring practices in philosophy, and one area that has come up concerns the role of graduate students in hiring. Could you share your department’s practices? There are several questions here:
- In your department, what influence do graduate students have on determining the areas of specialization (or topics within that specialization) the department aims to hire in? Is this influence merely informal, or are there formal mechanisms for identifying graduate student opinion and/or incorporating it into the decision-making process?
- In your department, what influence do graduate students have in initial consideration of the candidates’ dossiers as the search committee agrees on a list of candidates for first-round interviews? Is any influence merely informal or are there quasi-official means for graduate student say in the process?
- Do graduate students sit in on first-round interviews? Do they take part in the discussion of candidates at this stage?
- Do graduate students have the opportunity to meet with job candidates during their campus visits without the supervision of current faculty?
- When it comes to selecting to whom among the finalists to make an offer, what steps, if any, does your department take to solicit the opinion of graduate students?
If your department differentiates in these regards between MA and PhD students, that would be useful information to have, too. Thanks for the information. Discussion of the desirability of graduate student input at any of these stages or elsewhere is welcome.
I’m in linguistics. In my department, one student (usually a fourth or fifth year in the area of the job search) serves on the search committee, but is sworn to secrecy about the process.
Then, around 4 candidates are invited to give job talks, and their names are announced to the whole department.
Students in the candidate’s area read some of their papers before their visit. During the visit, candidate has breakfast with all the graduate students and fields questions from them. Then, the students attend the candidate’s job talk.
The “Grad Reps” (elected student reps to the faculty) run a password-protected online forum (we used GitHub this time) where all students discuss each candidate, based on having read their papers, had breakfast with them, and attended their job talk.
Then, the Grad Reps compile this discussion into a report which they present to the faculty. After the report is presented, other students can chime in and mention their thoughts. However, the faculty do not share any thoughts at this meeting.
Afterwards, the faculty vote in private, the candidate is hired in private, and the new hire is announced several months later once they have signed a contract.Report
Oh, I forgot to mention:
(1) This is all just Ph.D. students. We don’t have MA students. Undergrads are not involved at all.
(2) Students do not have input on the area of the search.
(3) I think the grad student input during the process is valuable (but, I’m biased because I am a grad student). I think the faculty use their own judgment about the candidate’s research (rather than listening to grad students), but the faculty absolutely do listen to what graduate students think about the candidate’s personality, teaching ability, and advising style.
(4) Another upside to grad student input: grad students get to learn how the process works and see how candidates are evaluated, which I think will help us when we apply to jobsReport
We get to sit in on presentations given by shortlisted candidates, and ask questions too. We don’t have input into shortlisting decisions nor do we get to hear about who gets hired until after the decision has been made. Which is fine.Report
At my institution (a highly ranked research school), we take the candidates to lunch, we go to the job talks and are encouraged to ask questions, we go with the candidates to a pub after the job talk, and we are encouraged to write in with our thoughts.
Generally, graduate students at my institution feel that we are both actively involved in the process and actively ignored when it comes to hiring. Our department has made offers to people despite significant protest from the graduate student body.Report
Same here at my former institution (my current one does not have grad students). Was very frustrating experience, particularly as the grad students were very united on the preferred candidate and the not preferred candidates, and the faculty seemed quite split on the person they eventually chose, who was the least desirable to the graduate students.Report
We can have lunch with short-listed candidates and go to their job talks. Then we are invited to email the chair of the search committee with thoughts/concerns/impressions. It’s unclear how seriously this input is taken or how anonymously it is presented.
Unlike HappyClappyDewan, I’m not very happy with this system. I’d like to have a grad student on the hiring committee. Even if no individual graduate student is around for more than 8 years (hopefully!), we as a group are very affected by new hires. Will they be good supervisors/teachers/mentors? Do they fill gaps in the department that will be beneficial for future students as they form committees? Do they demonstrate bias against certain groups of students? These are the kinds of questions we should be able to give input on, and that input should be anonymous and presented to the hiring committee by someone who is concerned with representing our interests.Report
Yes, that’s what my institution does when the Grad Reps compile a report of all of the students’ comments (gathered from the online discussion site). These comments are organized into thematic sections and quoted anonymously, so that no one is biased by the identity of the commenter.Report
At my grad program, students aren’t looped in until the campus visit stage. We are not consulted about which field to hire in nor are we involved in determining the short list. While we are invited (and encouraged to attend) job talks, dinners, lunches, etc. with the candidate and are asked for feedback (in the form of a grad student vote) on which candidate we prefer, it seems like our input is pretty much completely ignored. It feels like the faculty involve us more as a learning experience so we can know how the job market works than because they actually want to know our opinion. I have been through many different hires at my institution and the faculty has never taken the graduate student vote seriously.Report
Respectfully, how do you know that your opinion is ignored? I’m not saying it isn’t– I don’t know who or where you are. But even if every single graduate student vote is overruled by the majority of the faculty, that does not mean your opinion was ignored. It might have been thoughtfully considered, and disagreed with, or outweighed by other factors (some of which you might not know about, and might not know about for good reasons)Report
I should have emphasized more in my previous post that it FEELS like the grad student vote is completely ignored. Part of the reason for this is that there is a severe lack of communication to the graduate students about the rationale for selecting the winning candidate. For example, when one candidate was selected (who a very small portion of the graduate students supported) the graduate students asked why he/she was selected. In response we received a very generic answer from the DGS, but were told a completely different story from different faculty. This resulted in very low morale among the graduate students, because we no longer felt that the faculty wanted to communicate honestly with us.Report
I don’t know the situation, so I have no idea what went on there. But of course, the fact that you received different accounts from different faculty members makes sense– different people have different views about why one should hire someone, even if they agree that that’s the right move to make (not to mention the fact that perhaps one of the faculty with whom you spoke had a different view about who should be hired, and so their account of the reasons there were for offering the post to the person to whom it was offered might, without ill intentions, be coloured by that fact). Without knowing more, I’d be inclined to think that the DGS actually was the one who made the right move in giving you a totally generic answer– only an answer like that is going to (a) not side with some particular faculty view rather than another; and (b) not reveal confidential information.Report
tl; dr: There’s often no such thing as “the” rationale–there are differing rationales, weighed in different ways by different faculty; there’s rarely unanimity, further complicating matters; and some aspects of the rationale may have to do with confidential information to which you are not, and ought not to be, entitled to know.Report
This raises a question which might or might not be too tangential to go into in this thread. What are the kinds of information that graduate students ought not be entitled to know?
I think that sometimes hiring can bring out the worst with respect to faculty division, and this might be one reason to not have graduate students involved in the process. Two reasons: (1) Hiring and promotion are perhaps the only two counterexamples to Kissinger’s old quip that academic disagreements are so vituperative because so little is at stake. Here the future of the department as well as the well being of the potential hires is at stake. (2) In addition to the stress of the stakes is the stress of operating under so much heuristic uncertainty. We really do not have a very good idea how these people are going to evolve over their careers, and our ranking of them is extraordinarily imperfect. Paradoxically though, the uncertainty is so great that many, many faculty members respond by repressing it, convincing themselves that they have almost godlike knowledge about how their favored and disfavored candidates will end up affecting the department. This also leads to a vituperative atmosphere (among much other foolishness).
Anyhow, it’s very bad for graduate students when they get caught up in departmental division. It encourages unphilosophical hubris and the kind of behavior towards faculty members of the other side (and philosophers the grad students associate with the other side) that can lead to career damaging burning of bridges. In a dysfunctional department it can also lead to subsets of the graduate students being shitty to the new hire, because their faction of the faculty were so opposed to hiring the new person.
Is there another problem with graduate students getting access to potential hire’s full files? I don’t see this problem so much, but maybe I’m being dense.
Anyhow, I think it’s an interesting question, and would love to get people’s intuitions.Report
I think all of what you’ve just said is true. But in addition to all of that, there are indeed it seems to me certain kinds of information to which students should not be privy. For example, confidential letters of recommendation written for the candidates (and other similar such).Report
At my grad department, student representatives read the letters. So, FWIW, it is by no means universally agreed that students should not be privy to that kind of information.Report
Facultyperson, I’m going to register some concerns about the way you’ve conducted this conversation. It’s interesting to me that wrt other disadvantaged demographics, we’ve all (correctly) decided that various forms of “‘splaining” are ethically problematic, but that when it comes to graduate students, telling them how they should feel about the position they are in–even when we have no direct access to that position whatsoever–is just fine, well, because we’re faculty. This, in my view, is one of our profession’s moral blind spots: we rail about ethical imperatives in various domains and fail to see that the most obvious forms of silencing and discrimination occur right under our nose, with people who are paid peanuts to do our grading for us under the increasingly deceitful presupposition that this will get them a job.
Now, I know what you’re going to say: as a faculty member with the relevant experience, you DO have an improved epistemic position, and you do have the right to “correct” GradStudent here. But as you yourself repeatedly (and puzzlingly) say, you have no access to the kind of situational information which might allow you to say with any confidence that the DGS said the right thing or that confidential information played any role in the faculty’s lack of communication. So why go on to opine from your position of privilege about those things? Why not accept that something may have gone seriously wrong with this process, and withhold judgment there?Report
I’m sorry I gave that impression. As I did indeed say, both of the times I addressed grad student, I don’t know what is their situation, in fact explicitly saying in my first remark that gradstudent may have been right that they were ignored. I didn’t take myself to be ‘correcting’ as you put it, but to be offering alternative explanations based on things I know to have been the case when faculty in my own department have made hiring decisions that went against the majority graduate student view.Report
I just graduated from an institution with just Master’s students (no PhD’s) in English. At my university, they always have a second year grad student specializing in the area of the position on the hiring committee who helps with the going through resumes (as much as their time permits since there are often a crazy number of applicants)2 and first round Skype interviews. Then, for campus visits, my department makes sure that there is a grad student present at every meal (paid for by the department, which is especially nice for the fancy dinner after the job talk) and invite grad students to come to the morning round table with the candidate, the job talk in the afternoon, and the reception in the evening. Grad students (normally 2-3) also have an hour of unsupervised time with candidates during a campus tour.
After all of the visits, the grad student rep will gather thoughts and reactions from any grad students who met the candidates and give these to the committee. We can also e-mail or speak to the department head or other faculty, if we prefer to give input that way. Then, the faculty meet behind closed doors to vote. I’m not sure how much they take into account grad student input, but I’ve been happy with the hires we’ve made and have certainly felt listened to when there was a candidate that was especially awful interacting with grad students. I’ve made a point of being as involved as possible in the process, so profs who know I’m invested will let me know who they’ve extended an offer to and often tell me why as well. The official announcement is made once a contract has been signed, normally within two weeks of an offer being made.
I’ve also been invoked with searches for the Women’s and Gender studies department. They have a similar process to the English department, but since they have a much smaller department, they also involve undergrads in the process as much as possible, especially in meeting the candidates at lunch on campus.Report
Wow this is an interesting comment.
The personality archetype you describe is sometimes referred to as a kiss up/kick down. I have noticed that such people are *very* good at instantiating an old person’s idea of a young person as opposed to being an actual young person. The job market to some extent pushes this, because there is so much pressure to present oneself as what an aging baby boomer (and increasingly aging gen Xers like myself) is likely to regard as a promising young man (I use the masculine pronoun deliberately, and not happily, here). Effective kick up/kick down people are by definition going to be better at doing this.
And I do think it is plausible that actual graduate students on average have a better nose for this kind of thing than many faculty members.
In general, there is not enough humility in the hiring process. In my remark above I worried that the characteristic lack of humility by faculty members (making life altering decisions under conditions of extreme heuristic uncertainty) sometimes rubbed off on graduate students, to those students’ detriment. But from your comment I see that my modus ponens above is also a modus tollens. Perhaps the greater epistemic humility of graduate students can help faculty with respect to hiring. In this case with respect to kiss up/kick down grifters, but surely in other respects as well.Report
Oops. Meant this to be in response to Mateo below.Report
I think graduate student involvement in hiring decisions is very important for several reasons. One reasons is that there is a certain kind of undesirable, uncollegial personality that graduate students are generally much better than senior faculty at picking up. I call this personality the “sycophantic elitist”. This character, typically an early career person, is very good at networking with and buttering up to those at, or above, his level, yet sees himself as superior to those below his level, treating them with disregard and even contempt (I use the masculine pronoun because the trait is more common among men). I have known several early career philosophers who display this characteristic and I am often surprised as how ignorant their senior colleagues are of their attitude and behavioral problem (I recall one senior person saying: “I have trouble believing that so-and-so would do something like that as he is always so warm and friendly towards me. Are you sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding?”). For obvious reasons, graduate students are generally better than senior faculty at picking this trait up. Admittedly, some sycophantic elitists are skilled enough to put on a convincing show of collegiality to graduate students during the interview even though they will go on to treat them as dispensable inferiors. However, when there is significant student directed interaction between the students and the candidate I suspect that this double act is hard to pull off.Report
As grad students, we get involved after candidates are invited for job talks. We get breakfast with them and attend their job talks. Then we give informal advice to the hiring committee (we have in the past sent an email to the hiring committee with all of our names signed).
Ideally, we would get to sit in on either hiring committee or faculty-wide deliberations, but we understand why not. There is often a huge amount of tension and arguing that goes on in these deliberations (in particular the department-wide ones), and a lot of professors don’t feel comfortable being so confrontational with graduate students being there. The other reason is that negative things (whether about the job talk, their research, CV, or the person herself) are often said about potential job candidates. If that job candidate is, indeed, hired, they don’t want to foster a relationship where the grad students know about a couple faculty’s objections or misgivings.Report
I was interviewed for a job at a small, liberal arts college back in ’88. One of my two days of interviews was lunch with, not grad students, but undergrad philosophy majors. We spent a good two hours interacting about philosophy and anything else going on in the world (politics, sports, etc…). Then the students returned a report on what they thought to the department and hiring committee. I do not know how the department weighed the students’ analysis, though, it might have been advisory or more. I thought this was not only appropriate, but desirable! BTW: I got the job.
So, I do support input from grad students. How the school weights them is maybe an issue, just as it is in using student evals for promo or tenure. In hiring, though, given limited exposure, perhaps ought not have great weight, but surely worth taking into account. Of course, one might say that about the two day or less visit with the department and hiring committees; but experience here counts in favor of the committees.Report