People worry about college admission getting super-selective, with Stanford admitting less than 6% of the applicants, but the situation is much rougher for faculty hiring. Our department is currently trying to find an assistant professor who does protein engineering. We had about 120 applicants for one position, so the acceptance rate is only 0.8%. (Actually, it may be a little better than that, since we may get turned down by the first person we offer the job to, and we have enough good people in the pool that we could probably have a couple of offers refused and still get a pretty good faculty member, so maybe 1.6% is a more reasonable estimate of our acceptance rate.)
The list has now been whittled down to 40 applicants on the short list—our department chair had to identify a specific reason why each of the other 80 was not included before we could go on to the next stage of the process (I looked at many of the rejected ones, but nowhere near 80 of them). I spent today trying to read the folders for the 40 remaining applicants. The folders, luckily, are all electronic these days, so I did not have to camp out in the department office during the week, the way we used to for faculty hiring, but even just downloading them to my laptop took over 15 minutes (I had to click “download” separately for each one—there is no way to request all the files on the short list).
I looked mainly at the CV (had the person published a reasonable amount for the time since PhD, and were the publications on topics we were interested in) and at the proposed future research (was the person proposing work that matched my idea of protein engineering, which covers a lot of things, but not everything that has the word “protein” in it somewhere).
I managed to shrink the list of 40 down to 10, but I don’t know that my list of 10 is going to match up with anyone else on the committee. Most of the rest of the committee will be looking mainly at “science” rather than “engineering” and there were some pure molecular bio projects that might excite them, even though there is little chance of the person doing any engineering with the ideas in the next decade. I may have been the only committee member to look at the teaching statements (though most of them were so wishy-washy that they weren’t worth reading—only a few had bothered to propose a new course or look at our curriculum and see where they might contribute). I didn’t pay much attention to the recommendation letters—I think that those will have been given very high weight by other members of the committee, and I was pressed for time.
We have to get the list down to 6 to interview before we can interview anyone, which is going to be tough, as the candidates are all quite different from each other along many different dimensions—there is no simple linear ranking. We’re about 3–4 months behind everyone else in the recruiting process (thanks to foot dragging by our dean), and I’m afraid that some of the best candidates will get offers elsewhere before we even get to interview them. The one good thing about the awful job market for assistant professors right now is that it is actually fairly unlikely that more than one or two of our top candidates will be getting competing offers, so we should still be able to hire someone even with the bureaucratic delays.
Unfortunately, I’ll be missing the committee meeting where the reduction to 6 candidates will occur—I’m flying down to LA tomorrow to judge in the California State Science Fair Monday and Tuesday). I’ve sent the rest of the committee my shorter list, and asked them to send me names of any of their favorites that I did not include, so that I can look at them again and see whether I missed someone we should be interviewing.