TITLE: Academic Searches AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 30, 2007 2:06 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Physics blogger Chad Orzel has written a couple of articles on the process of searching for new faculty, including his recent tips for applicants to schools like his. I haven't been part of a CS faculty search in a couple of years, after what seemed an interminable decade of trying and failing to feel an open slot or two. Our last two searches resulted in three hires, and we couldn't be much happier with the results. Our department is much better now than it was before. I attribute our success as much to good fortune as to any particular actions we took. When I first became involved in job searches, I thought that a good search committee could reliably produce a good result. Write the correct job description, do the right sort of applicant screening and reference checking, and interview the finalists in the correct way, and out would pop the Ideal Candidate. After years of trying to do the job better, I came to understand how naive I had been. The process of searching for and hiring a member of the faculty is inherently risky, and the best one can do is hope to hire a good person while avoiding any major disasters. It's much easier to watch for the red flags that indicate a higher-than-usual level of risk than it is to recognize the signals that ensure a winner, but even on that side of the equation the committee must have the the patience it needs not to rush ahead in the presence of red flags. Faculty searches are tougher than most, because the outcomes on which success will be measured are forecasts based on a small set of data points from a world that is not all that representative of the world in which new faculty will operate. We do our best and then act on faith in a person. Sometimes we just guess wrong. When things don't turn out right, both the new faculty member and the hiring department have suffered a loss. The split may be amicable, but neither party is better as a result. For some staff positions, I think a good search committee can deliver a good result with a much higher probability, if only because the parameters of the position are easier to delineate and evaluate. Besides, there usually isn't the messy specter of a tenure decision complicating most such hires. But there's still an element of risk involved. As a department head, I've come to appreciate that another challenging kind of search is for administrators and staff who affect the longer-term strategies of the department. I'll write a bit about this kind of search next time. -----