|| INITIATORS McAlpine (from left), Casey,
Viesulas, and moderators F. Fleming Crim of the University of
Wisconsin, Madison, and Jeanne E. Pemberton of the University
of Arizona. PHOTO BY PAMELA ZURER
Last month's American Chemical Society national meeting in Anaheim
saw the kickoff of the society's new Academic
Employment Initiative (AEI). Championed by ACS President Charles
P. Casey and funded by the National
Science Foundation, the experimental project aims to broaden
the process by which faculty members in the chemical sciences
The packed room that greeted AEI's inaugural event--a panel
discussion entitled "Recruiting Faculty: How Is It Done? Who Gets
the Job and Why?"--evidenced the depth of interest in the topic
among both young people and established professionals. But the
program itself drew mixed reactions, reflecting the challenges
underlying the effort to change entrenched patterns and practices
and the depth of feeling surrounding the charged issue of diversity.
"The success of higher education in the U.S. depends critically
on the quality and the variety of the faculty," Casey told the
Anaheim audience of more than 100 people. "Right now, approximately
700 chemists are hunting for jobs in academia. Ensuring their
success is the goal of AEI and this symposium."
In the current hiring process, Casey pointed out, chemistry
departments rely heavily on the paper portfolios of applicants.
"Realistically, departments never have time or resources to invite
more than a few candidates to campus--usually five or less," he
UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, an aspiring faculty
member's "pedigree" and informal word-of-mouth recommendations
carry tremendous weight. As recent studies by Valerie J. Kuck
and coworkers at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J., have
documented, Ph.D. graduates from the top-ranked research universities
are much more likely to be hired than other candidates [C&EN,
Sept. 29, 2003, page 42; J. Chem. Educ., 81,
356 (2004)]. The process has proven discouraging to many young
women, minorities, and candidates from less prestigious universities.
In an effort to broaden the recruitment process and make it
more inclusive, AEI is looking to the model used by the Modern
Language Association and other professional groups in the humanities
and social sciences. At those organizations' annual meetings,
prospective faculty members meet face-to-face with representatives
from departments looking to hire new staff.
For jobs in industry, ACS itself has long facilitated such
interchanges through NECH, the on-site employment center run at
national meetings by the society's Department
of Career Services. But the academic chemistry community traditionally
doesn't take part, noted Jura N. Viesulas, the department's manager
of employment services. "With the Academic Employment Initiative,
we're trying to change that picture and create more opportunity
for you to interview right at the meeting," she said in Anaheim.
Accordingly, Casey is sponsoring an AEI poster session at the
August national meeting in Philadelphia. The timing is set to
coincide with the start of the academic recruitment season in
the fall. While candidates present their research in the informal
setting of Sci-Mix, the popular interdisciplinary evening session,
they can talk one-on-one with chemistry department representatives.
At last month's AEI session on recruiting faculty in Anaheim,
four senior faculty members and four more recently hired chemistry
professors described how the hiring process currently works.
The panel members on the hiring side of the equation--Isiah
M. Warner of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge; George
McLendon of Princeton University; Frank
A. Gomez of California State University, Los Angeles; and
Michelle M. Bushey of
Trinity University, San Antonio--all had similar stories to tell.
They stressed that their institutions look for evidence of an
excellent teaching and research record, conference presentations,
journal publications, the ability to solicit external funds, and
the potential for a candidate's research to attract students.
Warner advised that grad students not wait until near the end
of their Ph.D. research to get their work published. "Submit early,"
he said. "You'll be at a serious disadvantage if you interview
with no publications."
The personal interview will make or break a candidate, Warner
added--an insight reinforced by Bushey. "Most important is the
research seminar," Bushey said. "We'll take it as evidence as
to how you will do in a classroom."
Networking is also extremely important, all the senior faculty
emphasized. Presentations at scientific meetings give young scientists
a chance to meet established faculty as well as to get important
feedback on their work.
"Princeton gets 250 applications for every job we advertise
in Chemical & Engineering News," McLendon pointed out.
McLendon, who soon will be moving to Duke University to become
Duke's dean of arts and sciences, acknowledged that a candidate's
pedigree is a significant factor in making the first cut. "All
institutions are slightly prejudiced toward taking candidates
from more prestigious schools."
Yet for chemistry departments to succeed, McLendon noted, they
need to make sure their faculty reflect the demographics of their
students. "Half of undergraduates in chemistry are now women,
as are a third of the graduate students," he pointed out. "You
could make the same argument for underrepresented minorities.
Places that don't pay attention to that will do so at their own
Speaking in his new role as a Duke dean, McLendon said the
next three hires Duke will make will all be female--and they will
all be blondes. Although he later explained that he meant his
statement literally, given that he had met the women in question,
the remark struck many people at the session as insensitive.
"The blonde comment made me feel uncomfortable," said Malika
Jeffries-El, a postdoc at Carnegie Mellon University and a Younger
Chemists Committee associate who was in the audience. "For someone
to say something like that in public makes me wonder what goes
on behind the scenes."
The recently hired faculty members on the panel--Eric
L. Hegg of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Anna
K. Mapp of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Shelli
R. McAlpine of San Diego State University; and Linda
H. Doerrer of Barnard College, New York City--each had a dual
perspective to share: They had been through the hiring process
recently enough that the experience was still fresh, yet each
had also served on search committees for their current departments.
They underscored the need for candidates to begin early in their
careers to identify their own goals and to meet as many members
of the chemical community as possible.
"Preparation and personal contact are important not just for
the job search, but for succeeding in your career," Mapp said.
Among the ways to network she suggested was for grad students
and postdocs to get involved in their institutions' seminar programs.
"Have lunch or meet with the seminar speakers," she said.
McAlpine stressed the need for candidates to differentiate
themselves from their advisers and colleagues. And she reiterated
the importance of pedigree. "You can overcome not coming from
a top grad school through a second postdoc or by staying on at
your first to build your publication record," she advised.
WHILE THE AUDIENCE welcomed the panel members' description
of the status quo, a number expressed disappointment that the
program had not attempted to address the troublesome issue of
race or how to change the existing culture within chemistry.
"Diversity issues didn't come up explicitly, nor did the barriers
to hiring and advancement if you are Latino or African American,"
said Robert L. Lichter of Merrimack Consultants, in Atlanta, who
is a member of the Committee on Minority Affairs.
For Jeffries-El, the pattern she perceived in the backgrounds
of the recently hired faculty members--all of whom had spent time
at prestigious universities--overwhelmed the practical message
they presented. "For people looking in from the outside, it was
discouraging because the panel didn't show any exceptions to the
rule. The take-home message I'd have gotten if I were an undergrad
would be not to even bother going to graduate school if you couldn't
get into one of the top 10."
Robert C. Wingfield Jr., associate professor of chemistry at
Fisk University, Nashville, expressed a similar opinion. "As an
adviser to young people who plan to pursue academic careers, mostly
minorities, I found the session informative but not encouraging.
There wasn't enough discussion about how to level the playing
field. It's good to learn how the game is played, but some of
the students ended up feeling 'How can I win at this?' "
Nevertheless, Wingfield said, he thinks the intent of AEI is
great, and he's looking forward to seeing how the Philadelphia
experiment turns out. "It's wonderful ACS is addressing these
issues. The world is changing, and we're going to have to be open
to diversity in our students and faculty."
Give A Poster! Get An Interview!
Modern Language Association meetings, it's known as the "meet
market": an opportunity for aspiring faculty and hiring institutions
to connect one-on-one. But in the chemistry community, there's
been no such tradition of a central exchange at which both
parties can assess each other without the stress and expense
of formal on-campus interviews.
To give colleges and universities an opportunity to cast
a broader net than has been the norm in the search for new
chemistry faculty members, the American Chemical Society's
president, Charles P. Casey, is sponsoring an Academic Employment
Initiative (AEI) poster session at the fall national meeting
in Philadelphia. Candidates can present their research and
teaching philosophies, while department representatives will
be able to meet face-to-face with many more applicants than
they could afford to bring to their campuses for interviews.
The posters will be featured at the popular evening Sci-Mix
session, which draws contributions from all the ACS divisions.
Casey is inviting chemistry departments to participate both
by spreading the word to their grad students and postdocs who
are searching for academic jobs and, for those departments
with openings, by taking advantage of the opportunity to meet
Aspiring faculty members who would like to take part in
the Philadelphia AEI mixer should submit an abstract by April
30 at http://oasys.acs.org/acs/228nm/AEI/papers/index.cgi.
If they want, contributors will also be able to present their
posters in divisional sessions as well as at Sci-Mix.