Thursday, February 24, 2011

Big Thirsty on Minty Freshness

Reading the travails of poor Ned from North Norwich set me to wondering: why does everyone seem to want to hire the "freshly minted"? I don't get it. Seems like a candidate with a couple of years of teaching after the Ph.D., and a bit more scholarship, would be the better candidate. But no...we're going through this right now at my university, where a candidate much like Ned was passed over for the Mento. In many cases (such as ours) the "minty fresh" get hired without even having completed their Ph.D.

I'm no Breath Saver myself but I don't get it. I just don't get it. All other things being equal, I would definitely go for Ned. So, can someone explain it to me? Is it something beyond "You've been on the vine a bit and not snapped up, so you are thus devalued in our eyes, and we can make a grab for a new person who hasn't yet been rejected by multiple search processes"?

Is it really the case, even now, that we think someone that hasn't been hired immediately is worth less? Because if it's as simple and stupid as that, we're all fucked.

Edited because I can't spell "thirsty".


  1. I am unsure about this issue. But I think it might have something to do with "molding" a newbie to fit our organization rather than finding someone who already has been formed and comes in with their own way of doing things. Just an idea.

  2. The newbie might be the "next great thing". Often Depts hire some hot new person out of grad school in the belief that this person will be winning the Nobel in a couple years. My experience is either this is a mistake, and the newbie is like the rest of us only untested, or the newbie is the next great thing, and will quickly be moving on beyond your 2nd tier school.

    Many places try and find faculty who fit into their level of research and teaching, the wise move.

  3. Working conditions in adjunct, instructor and lecturer positions are extremely bad. teaching loads are huge and the pay is very low. As a result, people who are forced to have such jobs for several years, don't have either time or energy to be very active in research. We all know how unforgiving research is. You do little of it for a few years and you get hopelessly behind. This is why employers are not eager to hire such people for tenure-line jobs.

  4. I think Clarissa is right - to a point - but there are a fair number who DO manage to keep reasonably-active scholarly agendas, and still get shut out when it's time to hand out the jobs. Like they're used goods, or tainted, or clearly inferior because they didn't get a job when *they* were ABD, or they remind someone on the search committee of his grandmother who used to make him eat soap, or whatever.

    that's incredibly disheartening.

    In this market, people with full-time VAP or term appointments *have* come out somewhere near the top of the heap, have experience teaching, and probably are maintaining as active scholarly agendas as they can possibly afford. But they're not shiny and new and full of promise. They're probably less wide-eyed and full of wonder, having seen the inner workings of a department (or three) and having been through the insanity of a job search (or four).

    I imagine it's much the same logic that seems to dictate men-of-a-certain-age marrying hot-young-twentysomethings. . .

  5. There's a misconception that mentos are 'cutting edge' learning 'new and exciting' things that silverbacks and people like me (six years out of grad school) have *missed* in the past few years (b/c grad schools are producing bright new minds with new ideas about old literature; at least in my area). Unless Ned teaches in some technological field (like quantum iPhone development), this misconception is unfair & silly. My dept. hired two new mentos two years ago b/c the silverbacks were starting to feel as if their ideas on Milton and Chaucer were not 'cutting edge' enough.

    I voted for the guy who had teaching experience instead of the mentos who got the job and are now struggling to transition from a research mindset to that of a teaching SLAC students who don't care about their research competitive agenda and just want them to edit their paper, please.

  6. Hastily Generalize much?

    It is no doubt true that hiring departments can and do project all kinds of future greatness onto the minty fresh in ways that they cannot do with people whose CVs are longer. In the latter case, they are what they are, and you can't imagine that they'll ever be something different.

    But there are also departments that don't favor the minty fresh. My department, for example, has hired minty fresh only twice in the last decade. We strongly favor people with experience, on the premise that they won't spend the first year or two drowning under the unfamiliar weight and disappointments of teaching that a recent poster here at CM complained about. And we aren't the only department that thinks this way. Lots of places favor hiring people with books for entry level position, for example.

    This kind of talk--the minty fresh have a HUGE advantage--is just a hasty generalization. There is some group of minty fresh flakes on some other blog who are right now complaining that all the jobs go to people with books and teaching experience.

    Neither group is right.

  7. I just left a Faculty Senate meeting where a similar situation has been hashed and rehashed over the last year.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but it comes down to money. Even a modicum of "teaching experience" moves a potential faculty member further to the right (and sometimes down the page) on the pay chart. The closer to the upper left-hand corner of the page you are, the less you have to be paid.

  8. @Sawyer - in my experience that only matters at all once you jump to the next rank. We've been told point-blank not to bother to look at someone who could credibly be at Associate level, or is at Associate level, because they'll cost too much. But as long as they don't have enough published to get tenure tomorrow, they're still assistant-rank, and hireable.

    Money matters to the administration, but the administration isn't making the hiring decisions, at least not at my institution.

  9. I was finding this thread very, very depressing until Archie chimed in. Now I'm just hoping he's right (and wondering how in the world I can produce a book while teaching 4/4 plus summer).

    My own department seems to hire mostly people with a few years of experience past the Ph.D., and at least one article in a fairly selective journal covering our field as a whole, or the candidate's specific field. But I'm not seeing many successful candidates who have been adjuncting, or even holding down the kind of 4/4 load the contingent faculty in our own department carry, perhaps for some of the reasons Clarissa mentions (though our field doesn't really move *that* fast, unless you count fads that come and go).

    There seems to be a presumption that people who have taught a bit and published a bit can keep up or even ramp up the publishing while tackling a heavier and/or more complex teaching load. It seems to me that it would be equally valid to reason that people who have taught a lot and published a bit could publish more if they were teaching less (especially since they'd be able to draw not only on extensive teaching experience, but also on all the survival tricks those of us on 4/4 loads learn). But I don't see that theory being tested nearly as much as the first one. If anybody wants to set up the experiment, I'll happily volunteer.

  10. On the other hand, reading Merely's post (which went up while I was writing), I wonder whether I *should* aim for a book, since then I might fall into that potential-Associate category. Not that there's any major danger of my facing that problem in the near future.

  11. My experience is a little different because I'm in a science department. We only hire people with previous funded research experience. This excludes all new Ph.D.s and postdocs. In our eyes, it's worth the higher start up costs to lure them here because there's a high chance of getting money back through overhead of research grants and increasing the reputation of our school.

    Picking the next big researcher is like starting a rookie NFL quarterback. You just don't know who will be good and who's a dud. As h_p said, if we are lucky enough to pick a great one, he/she will be gone soon enough anyway.

  12. Ah. Hm. Not sure if I should say this, because I know several great people who've ended up with fabulous jobs after several years of adjuncting, but there's something I think Archie's not saying: the non-minty-fresh favored by his prestigious department aren't currently adjuncts. They're coming out of another TT position or a hot-shit humanities post-doc. (Please do correct me if I'm wrong - I would *love* to hear that.) My department hires this way as well. We tend not to hire the mentos (we fear they'll leave if they're really that fab), preferring to hire senior assistant profs (we're hoping they're ready to settle, and their profile looks better than most of ours anyway) or out of post-docs (they've had time to get some teaching experience without losing research time). But nothing is set in stone and all kinds of things can happen that are specific to each search.

    In answer to Stella's question, though: I don't know why this happens, but it makes me as crazy as it makes you. As long as their research has stayed current and they're continuing to publish (and extra f***ing kudos, for god's sake, if they've been publishing hard as an adjunct), I have no idea why the Neds get passed over. But it doesn't always happen. I know of someone who left a first TT gig, spent 5 years adjuncting, nailed an amazing book contract and some solid articles and landed her dream job in her dream city. This is very unusual though, and I think F&T is right: give yourself a deadline.

  13. Our college's reward system used to tilt heavily toward "potential", which seems to come from the same line of thinking as preferring the minty fresh over experienced. My favorite example was the large raise handed out to one untenured assistant in the hopes of motivating them to finally publish some research. Suffice to say, this person never published squat and didn't even put in their dossier when their tenure review was due! Thus, this person's "potential" was still infinite, I guess.

  14. At community college, it's generally the opposite. We want people with teaching experience because that's our #1 priority. Adjuncts often have the inside track because they've proven themselves at that particular institution. I bore the brunt of suspicion when I first came because I was one of the few who was hired from outside the adjunct pool (though I had plenty of adjuncting experience and one year as a VAP at other institutions). It's not uncommon, in fact, for an adjunct to be interviewed in the same department for a TT position two or three times before being hired.

    It's all a moot point now however anyway as we aren't hiring anyone (and won't be for at least a few years) other than nursing professors and other occupational/technical specialties with differential tuition that bring in extra funds.

  15. My experience here in the physics department at middlin'-state-U-that-aspires-to-be-an-R2-but-still-has-a-4/4-teaching-load is somewhat similar to Ben's. The last time we had an open t-t assistant professor position was four years ago, just before the economy crashed, but every time we did for the past ten years, we got a stack of 100 applications. We never hire anyone straight out of grad school, much less ABD, for a t-t job: that takes care of about 1/3 of the stack. Just about everyone else has one or, more typically, 2-3 postdocs doing only research, about 5-10 years after the Ph.D., and an impressively long list of refereed publications, and little or no teaching experience.

    The ones who do have teaching experience, as well as funded research programs, winnow the stack down to about 3-4. Those are the ones we invite to our campus for interviews, and we typically can hire only one. The only exception in the past ten years has been a for a medical physics position, which we had a difficult time filling, because our university administration couldn’t understand that medical physicists get paid much more (typically $80k/year) than most other physicists (typically $50k/year), for an entry-level t-t assistant professor.

    I had three postdocs, in astrophysics, spanning five years after the Ph.D., and a two-year Accursed VAP with a 2/2 load, at a place where the senior faculty were constantly leading me on by telling me that if I worked harder, I might be offered a permanent position. (There was no tenure there.) When all they could offer me after the second year was a one-year extension to prolong the agony, I took what was left of my Hubble Space Telescope grant and went off to the t-t job elsewhere I’d gotten. It kills me that those bastards got the overhead on that grant, but at least they didn’t get the next one, which was in the pipeline.

    Honestly, this level of competition is brutal, inhuman, and in no way conducive to the production of thoughtful science. The next time some politician or "science education professional" tells me that the United States is facing an imminent shortage of scientists, I am going to throw up, preferably directly on him. My niece’s 9-year-old son wants to be an astronomer. I wonder whether it wouldn’t be more responsible for me to encourage him to take drugs.

  16. @Cassandra and Cass: You should finish the book if you can manage it. A different way of saying "potential associate" is "guaranteed tenurable." That's one of the main reasons we favor the experienced over the minty fresh. We have stringent tenure standards, but we do hire with the intention to tenure. Choosing people with some experience and a book in the pipeline means we rarely have to face the problem of denying someone.

    That said, Cass is half-right. The experienced people we hire are nearly always from other tenure-stream jobs or coming off multi-year post-docs. But, the ones from other jobs aren't necessarily from other "desirable places" (although that also happens). Some of my colleagues came here from third-tier regionals or sub-safety SLACs with 3-3 loads and abysmal pay. But they had books accepted by presses and we knew they would laugh at our teaching load.

    But as others have pointed out, CCs and other institutions might favor someone who has done a lot of adjuncting. So I won't make the same hasty generalization and say that my department is a metonym for the profession or anything like that.

    The key point was made by Froderick. What is really being complained about here is not that minty fresh flakes are tastier than more seasoned cajun flakes. It is that the academic job market--if something this distorted can even be called a market--is simply brutal. So we look around for some rational explanation for something so dehumanizing. Unfortunately, there isn't one.

  17. I'm thinking about our assistant-level hires in the past 5-8 years. Five minty-fresh, three in TT jobs elsewhere, and one lecturer who was a spouse.

    I think adjunct or lecturer positions do carry a taint with an R1, and that's quite unfair. We do hire the underemployed, but it seems to have to be tenure-track. I hope that changes as more and more people have to patch along for a couple of years post-Ph.D.


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