Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pressured to consider female candidates

I applied for a tenure-track academic job at the university where I got my bachelor's and master's degrees. The current department head there knows me fairly well. He taught me both undergraduate and graduate classes, in which I did very well. He also supervised my undergraduate thesis, and gave me an excellent grade. When the faculty position opened up, he wrote me personally and asked me to apply.

All this to say, I thought I might have a reasonable shot at this job.

My PhD co-advisor (the one who didn't really do the major advising work) just came in to talk to me. He had gotten a request for a letter of recommendation, and had called this department head to ask for details about what he should put in the letter, and what exactly they were looking for in a candidate. What he learned from the conversation does not look good for me.

I'm not being seriously considered for the job. Apparently the department head felt "pressured to consider female candidates." This is somewhat understandable. The department has never had a female faculty member. Seriously. Did you even know there are departments in the world that don't have even one woman? They have once made an offer to a woman; she chose to work at another university, which also had a faculty opening for her husband.

While I understand to some degree the politics that force search committees to put a token woman on their shortlist, it also pisses me off. They're wasting my time and the time of my recommenders, and they have no intentions whatsoever of actually hiring me. And now that I've been fit into this token-woman spot, I doubt I'll be able to get out of it. Even stunning recommendations are unlikely to change the minds of the search committee, now that they've been biased against me.

The truth is, I know I'm not that great a candidate. I have a single publication in review right now, and this is a Research I school. Yeah, I need to publish more. I also need to learn to write grant proposals. Other than that I'm pretty good (growing subfield, good school, teaching experience with positive evaluations, can make an excellent presentation) but not quite good enough, yet. So if my publication record wasn't good enough, they should have just not considered me. Also, there's a relatively young faculty member there whose research overlaps significantly with my own, so I can see them thinking they don't need to expand that subfield.

I'm disappointed. I had problems with this school anyway: the unsupportive administrative staff; the long public-transit commute to anywhere I'd want to live; and I didn't actually want to take on all the burdens of being the first woman professor. But as I started to think I had a shot, I was coming up with positives: the friends I have in the city; the excellent quality of the students; the opportunity to be a sorely-needed female role model for the women students.

There's no reason for them to mess with me like this, and to waste their time and mine.

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