Thursday, February 22, 2007

Faculty Search

So there's this paper I've been stalling on writing for the last while. It's difficult to define "while" in this context, but there have been at least two months during which I feel like I just... haven't done anything. Or the things I've been working on haven't been the right things. Or all the time I think I've been working I've secretly been playing computer games without telling myself. Or perhaps with the quarter starting in January I managed to come across a veritable plethera of excuses for not working.

Once such excuse is that we've had four faculty candidates visit in the last six-ish weeks as part of our search for a theoretical cosmologist. The OSU Department of Astronomy being the graduate student friendly place that it is, this means that a handful of us (myself included) got to have lunch with all of the candidates, sans faculty. Well, all of the candidates except the unlucky one who visited in the middle of last week's snowstorm and University shutdown. I think the setup is fantastic: I'm a fairly judgemental person, and I like free food and talking about science. Then there's "speaker harassement," the hour-or-so the graduate students spend with the speaker (we do this for any colloquium speaker, not just job candidates) after their talk, harassing them about science and minute details of their talk. Different people react differently during speaker harassment; we often get visitors who treat speaker harassment as fun and interactive, asking all of us graduate students our names and what we're working on and with whom, but then we also get the ones who sit there like duds just waiting to be asked something. I have also noticed when eating out with visitors, in general, that some will make a point of asking me about my research, whereas others are satisfied by keeping the conversation in their own area of expertise. Normally, I just assume that those who don't ask me what I'm working on after a two-hour science-laden conversation simply don't care to know what I'm working on, and they don't care to know what I am working on because on some level they are a big fat self-centered jerk. Ah, but with the faculty candiates I found myself wondering: do they not care because they don't think of graduate students as Real People with Real Research, or do they not care because I give off "I AM UNINTERESTING" vibes, or do they not care because they are ignorant and afraid of anything outside of their own little niche?

In any case, I've been glad to note that I have enjoyed talking about science with each of the candidates—whatever writer's block I have isn't due to falling out of love with astrophysics—though it is quite entertaining to watch certain cosmologists' eyes glaze over when I mention I'm cataloging variable stars at the Galactic center. (Stars are so boring!) Sociologically, the entire process is quite entertaining to observe—entertaining because, as a lowly pion, I don't have to deal with the political decision-making goop of the whole thing. It's this intricate dance of, we're trying to impress the candidate so they'll like us, and the candidate is trying to impress us so we'll give them a, you know, job offer. It's also interesting learning about the job-search-and-pick process from this end (e.g., what exactly does one have to do in order to leave a "good impression"?) before I have to go through it myself. During a one-hour job talk, for example, it's probably a good idea to know whether or not your presentation has a burning desire to be two hours long. That falls under the "obvious" category. In the not-obvious category we have such examples as, how much of what kinds of science should I do now in order to ensure I'll be able to find a job when the future arrives?

It's just a hunch, but I'm going to guess that it's probably better for this paper to get itself finished so I can move on to something else. Rather than, you know, not.

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