Recommendations for Interviewing Job Candidates

Photographs of a Brown University community member sharing their experience with racial microaggressions and microaffirmations.
http://www.brown.edu/race
https://flic.kr/p/oPUPYg

I teach a PhD Job Market course on a biennial schedule, and we always talk about ways to combat gender and race microaggressions during interviewing. Over the past year or so, it has also come up in my family development course when we discuss the motherhood penalty, and in talks I gave to the Fisher Women in Business organization at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business. Given this, I decided to write an email to my colleagues and graduate students when we were interviewing for a new faculty colleague last year. I think there are recommendations in here for everyone. Check it out and follow this advice! I would love to hear your additional recommendations in the comments.

Dear colleagues and students,

As we bring our faculty candidates to our campus, we aim to set the tone that we are a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive community. In my role as the diversity representative on the our search, I want to offer some guidance to highlight our community and avoid challenges that can occur in an employee selection process.

First, a list of legal and illegal questions:

TOPIC LEGAL  QUESTIONS DISCRIMINATORY QUESTIONS
Family Status Do you have any responsibilities that conflict with the job attendance or travel requirements?
*If this question is asked, it must be asked of all applicants.
Are you married?

What is your spouse’s name? What is your maiden name?

Do you have any children or plans to have them?

What are you childcare arrangements?

What is your spouse’s job?

Pregnancy Status None. Are you pregnant? When are you due?
Race None. What is your race?
Religion None. What is your religion?

What religious holidays do you observe?

Sex/Gender Identity None. Are you male or female?
Age None. How old are you?

What is your birthdate?

Sexual Identity None Are you gay?
Citizenship or Nationality Can you show proof of your eligibility to work in the United States? Are you a U.S. citizen? Where were you born?

What is your “native tongue”?

Disability Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodation?

Show the applicant the position description so he or she can give an informed answer.

Are you disabled?

What is the nature or severity of your disability?

What is your condition?

Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations?

Military What type of training or education did you receive in the military? If you’ve been in the military, were you honorably discharged?
Source: Advance, University of Michigan, Handbook for Faculty Searches and Hiring http://sitemaker.umich.edu/advance/files/HandbookforFacultySearchesandHiring.pdf.

Note that these questions can also come much more informally. For example, in talking about my own children, maybe I ask “do you have children?” That would be illegal. Or, in talking about how Columbus is a great city for your partner to also find a job, I inquire as to whether they have a partner, or even worse, I assume that they are married and in a different-gender relationship, and I ask them about their husband (if they identify as a woman). This question would be illegal. Rarely are questions asked as directly as those listed in the table above. Often times, it is in casual conversation at a meal, or on a campus tour, that these illegal questions come up. If you accidentally ask an illegal question, and you realize it before they answer, you can say “oops, never mind, you do not need to answer that” and then change the subject. It is easy to slip up when chatting, so just be cognizant. If you hear someone else ask an illegal question, you can again say “oops, never mind, you do not need to answer that” and talk to the person about why the question was not appropriate later.

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Health and Social Science for All

Recently, I have been reflecting on the state of health and social science in the US.

How competitive is it to get an NIH grant?

The number of submissions to the National Institutes of Health has grown continually over the past 20+ years; in 2018, NIH received more than 55,000 grant applications, of which about 20% were funded, though the success rate varies by NIH institute.

Graph showing upward trend in number of grant submissions, and downward trend in funding rates.

Retrieved from: https://report.nih.gov/nihdatabook/report/20

Who is actually receiving grants?

NIH’s Data Book makes it easy to see the breakdown of grant awardees by gender.

Thus, about 70% of R01-equivalent (NIH’s main grant mechanism for large research projects) are awarded to men. I tried to find the numbers broken down by race/ethnicity in NIH’s Data Book, but the numbers were not available. Nikaj, Roychowdhury, Lund, Matthews, and Pearson (2018) examined R01 grant awards between 2009 and 2016. They found that less than 5% of awardees identified as underrepresented race or ethnic minorities.

Early stage investigator = 10 years or less from terminal degree; New investigator = never been awarded an R01; Experienced investigator = has held an R01. Underrepresented Minority = investigators who identified as African American/Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Data source: Nikaj, Roychowdhury, Lund, Matthews, & Pearson, FASEB Journal, 2018. doi: https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.201800639

Thus, the majority of NIH-funded biomedical, health, and social science research grants are awarded to men who are non-underrepresented; or primarily white men. That is, the nation’s NIH funded research agenda is being primarily driven by white men.

Why does the lack of diversity matter?

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Fighting Back: Implicit Bias, Micro-aggressions, and Micro-resistance

I have been planning to do a post on diversity in graduate education, but it requires me being vulnerable and I wasn’t even sure how to even do it. On Tuesday, in my first-year graduate proseminar, we had a session on implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and micro-resistance, and ironically, 2016 was the first year that I have included this session. I thought as I taught that class that the glass ceiling would be shattered that night and that the need for a class on these topics would become less necessary over time. How wrong I was. Now, more than ever, the necessity of promoting diversity, and strategies for dealing with implicit bias in the academy and life, have never been more important.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is a major pathway through which privilege is enacted. Using the definition from Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute: “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.”

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A Graduate Family Course Syllabus

I have been revising my Theoretical Perspectives on the Family syllabus (see the final product here). [Check out this post for tips on how to design your own interdisciplinary graduate seminars]  In a given week, I only want to assign about four readings. But, given that I have to cover theory and substantive topics each week, four readings is always too few. Further, I don’t want the students only reading work from psychology, but also from sociology and economics, and even from communication, public health, anthropology, and law when appropriate. My courses therefore end up being a lot of work for students, and a lot of work for me in design.

Two principles that informed my design:

First, I spoke with a student last year who was talking with me about race discrimination and overall racial ignorance in her graduate program. One example she gave me was that in her classes, diversity was either ignored all together or relegated to a specific week in the semester. This was insulting as race and diversity issues touch every issue, every week. With this in mind, I tried to incorporate readings about marginalized families every week.

Second, all readings must be accessible online. I will only assign a reading that is not online if I have access to a pdf that I can post to our course management system. I do not want to contribute to grad student debt if at all possible.

Here is a list of theories and topics that I cover each week, and the readings I chose to represent them.

Introduction to the course. What is a fact? Historical changes and the American family. An introduction to theory

Cherlin, A. (2009). Why it’s hard to know when a fact is a fact.

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Where should I go to graduate school?

After you decide to go to graduate school [after reading Should I go to graduate school] and are accepted [see Crowdsourced Advice for Students Applying to Graduate School], it is time to decide where to go to graduate school. Many students are making those decisions now. Yesterday I received an email from a student who was trying to decide where to attend graduate school, and wanted to know my opinion on which of two graduate programs (neither that I had attended or worked at) were better in terms of their statistics and methods training. I didn’t know the answer, but I also thought the student was not asking the most important question. Here is a list of issues I would evaluate on when trying to decide where to go to graduate school, in order of importance.

photo credit: ¿? via photopin (license)

photo credit: ¿? via photopin (license)

Note these are considerations for after you are accepted, but could also inform where you apply. Hopefully, you will be able to ask most of these questions in person when  you visit the graduate program.

  1. The Mentor

This is by far the most important issue to consider. First, does the mentor study what you want to study? This is absolutely critical. Graduate students who study want to study what the mentor studies get 1) more opportunities for co-authorship, 2) help from a mentor who knows the field well and can give excellent feedback on whether a study idea is a contribution to the field, and 3) can help you network within the field, opening up opportunities for fellowships, awards, and postdocs. You absolutely need to work with a mentor who does research in your interest area.

Second, is the mentor productive? The job market is brutal, and even if you want a job at a primarily teaching college, you need to have publications. Thus, publishing in graduate school is likely to be the most important activity you can do to advance your career. Working with a productive mentor will help you get publications because 1) you may coauthor with the mentor, and 2) you can learn how to publish from the mentor. Evidence of productivity: publishing papers in the top journals in the past few years, active research grants, and/or grants under review. The best way to get a sense of productivity is to look at a current CV (note that a CV is the academic equivalent to a resume). But, faculty often do not keep CVs current. I suggest you search the mentor’s name on Google Scholar. That will also allow you to click on hyperlinks of their publications, and you can read their recent work.

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