Sunday, April 12, 2015

Checklist for hiring in academia

A few weeks ago, Nature carried an opinion piece titled "Leadership: Ten tips for choosing an academic chair". Although "chair" is in the title, the article broadly addresses the decision-making process for the selection of "Departmental chairs, deans, facility directors and other leaders". Though this is obviously an important topic, discussions on it are rare in India and usually lacking in factual information about the decision-making process. This in turn is not surprising, because the decision-making process in our country tends to be a tightly guarded secret.

Part of the Nature article recounts the hiring process for a chair of clinical academic medicine. What I found more interesting than the article itself was an attached 10-point "Checklist for high-level hiring". (Apparently Nature too has realised that the only thing people read these days are 10-point lists!). I thought of picking out a few of these criteria and asking how well we follow these in India.

(i) Articulate requirements clearly in the job advertisement.
(ii) Articulate the offer clearly.
(iii) Ensure accountability in the selection process. 
(iv) Seek strong emotional, personal and social skills.

Note that my numbering does not correspond to the order in the original list.

On point (i), the authors of the Nature article say: "Before candidates can be considered, the hiring committee must clearly state the standards required in clinical ability, research and teaching." I looked at a couple of recent advertisements for the top job at two prestigious institutes in India, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai (here) and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre, Bangalore (here). The former says:

"He/She should have an excellent publication record and be highly regarded in both national and international academic circles. Desirable: Apart from the above essential qualifications, the candidate is expected to be familiar with administrative and financial matters, preferably in Government set up."

The JNC advertisement says:

Essential: The candidate should have a Doctorate degree in the area of physical sciences/chemical sciences/life sciences /any other related interdisciplinary area. Desirable: (i) Post-doctoral research (ii) Original published work of high standard and (iii) Evidence of high professional eminence by way of recognitions like fellowship of academies, national/international awards in science etc.

I find this somewhat baffling -- apparently a degree is essential, but having good publications and an international reputation are merely "desirable"! The IMSc advertisement does better, stressing that publications and an international reputation are essential.

One notices that nowhere in either advertisement is any meaningful statement made about the goals of the institution or the qualities required (as opposed to qualifications) of the candidate. Both ads are fairly dull and prosaic, worded in early 20th century English and scarcely inspiring. 

I'll end here for now and leave points (ii), (iii) and (iv) for another time. Meanwhile I invite readers to post an advertisement for a comparable position (Director/President of a research institution) from some other country, so we can compare the approaches taken. Among other things, I would love to know if literary gems like "Professor or Scientific Officer/H in PB - 4 with the Pay Band of Rs. 37400 - 67000/- plus Grade Pay of Rs. 10,000/-" are universal, or unique to Indian culture.


Ordinary Person said...

An advertisement in the UK would normally list out desirable and essential characteristics in different dimensions, such as "qualifications", "skills", "experience". See, for example this advertisement for an entry level lecturer,2383874934&key=171439591&c=98997758129833&pagestamp=segwlvhchibputwmzz
(sorry for the long comment!)


A1 PhD in Geography or Earth Science.
A2 Ability to teach physical geography.
A3 Research expertise in physical geography (with preference for experience in soils research).
A4 An emerging profile of physical geography publications in high quality international journals (with preference for soils research).

For appointment at Grade 8:

A5 An established track record of physical geography publications in international journals (with preference for soils research).
A6 A track record of attracting research funding.

B1 Research expertise in environmental and resource management.
B2 Research expertise in one of biogeography, biogeochemistry, environmental chemistry, ecosystem services.


C1 Research creativity and potential for leadership.
C2 Self-motivation.
C3 Ability for independent thought to generate original research questions, including ones that will lead to grant winning.
C4 Expertise that complements and strengthens existing research in the Earth Systems Research Group (ESRG), the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, the College of Science and Engineering, and the University of Glasgow more widely.
C5 Ability to teach/supervise effectively at undergraduate and/or taught postgraduate level.
C6 Readiness to become involved in postgraduate supervision.
C7 Excellent written and verbal communication skills
C8 Excellent interpersonal skills and presentation skills.
C9 Time/project/budget management skills as appropriate.
C10 Ability to work as part of a team.
C11 Ability to work with little supervision.
C12 Ability to accept collegiate responsibilities and act accordingly.

For appointment at Grade 8:

C13 Leadership and facilitation skills.
C14 Ability to provide strategic contribution at Subject or School level.
C15 Excellent people and project management skills.

D1 Clean and full driving licence.


E1 Normally 2 years postdoctoral research experience.
E2 Track record of established or emerging high quality research particularly as evidenced by physical geography publications in international journals (with preference for experience in soils research).
E3 Experience of successful teaching, tutoring or demonstrating Physical Geography at undergraduate or postgraduate level.

For appointment at Grade 8:

E4 Minimum of 3-5 years postdoctoral research experience in physical geography.
E5 Established track record of high quality physical geography publications and research funding (with preference for experience in soils research).
E6 Growing reputation in research/teaching at national and international level.
E7 Experience of successfully applying for, securing and managing research grant funding.

F1 Track record of success in securing independent external research grant funding.
F2 Experience of administration of University degree courses and/or programmes.
F3 Experience of field teaching at undergraduate or postgraduate level
F4 Track record of success in securing independent external research grant funding
F5 Experience of involvement in knowledge exchange activities with policy makers and/or other end-users
Job Features

Gautam Menon said...

Sunil: Good to see you posting after a longish break, that too on a very current topic.

One word (of course there are many others) that I find curiously missing in the specifications in both the IMSc and the JNCASR ads is "leadership". But, come to think if it, I don't remember seeing this word in an advertisement for any 'leadership' position in an Indian institute.