Monday, February 22, 2016

Can today's assistant professor candidates walk on water?

I was surprised and at the same time amused when I noted the sudden escalation of academic openings in the final three September 2015 issues of C&EN. In previous months, the number of advertisements had been mired at a few or several, encompassing one page or less. Suddenly, the number jumped to 12 pages and 90 positions in the Sept. 14, 2015, issue; tapered off to three pages and 17 openings in the Sept. 21, 2015, issue; and continued at three pages and 21 openings in the Sept. 28, 2015, issue. 
Though it is encouraging to see more listed academic positions, almost all positions had one unifying theme: Namely, to meet the requirements listed, applicants must be able to walk on water. What has happened to the simple requirement that all a potential employee has to do is be able to teach and maintain current knowledge about his or her specialty? Instead, in almost all the cases advertised in C&EN, the successful candidate is expected to initiate a research program, obtain outside funding, and bring glory to the department. 
Is the sudden escalation in positions available a result of increased enrollment, departure of faculty, or faculty retirement? In any event, if any other position, whether industrial or government, were available, I would suggest that any recent Ph.D.s should avail themselves of that opportunity with a workweek of 40 hours or less. 
Nelson Marans
Silver Spring, Md.
First, I think Mr. (Dr.?) Marans misses that the uptick is seasonal: it both marks the beginning of faculty hiring season and C&EN's academic hiring issue.

However, he points out something that I remember from recent conversations with those running faculty searches: the quality of modern assistant professor candidates is far higher than the incumbents. "I could not get hired these days" is something I've heard from tenured professors (albeit those with potentially non-median levels of humility or self-awareness.)

I doubt this is something that can be objectively measured, but it indeed is interesting.


  1. I haven't heard "I could not get hired these days", but I have had a department chair point out that he was several years into his professorship before he had as many papers as the last applicant he'd hired (who was a postdoc when they extended the offer). I think this is a general economic phenomenon--make the hiring process about papers, and you'll get monster CVs. Make it about funding, and you'll get applicants with grants.

    1. "I could not get hired these days"

    2. Sorry to hear that, Anon@4:05PM--there's a lot of that going around these days. (I say that a little tongue-in-cheek because I think you meant it a little tongue-in-cheek, but it really is tough out there.)

  2. Unfortunately for them, when they make the hiring process about finding someone who walks on water, Chemistry Jesus doesn't show up. Just the person with the best post-doc stat line.

  3. This isn't surprising, it's just another example of how easy things used to be. Earn six figures but can't afford a house in the same city your factory/clerical worker parents bought a detached house? You may be a millennial!

  4. I saw a lot of these descriptions during the job hunt this year. Interestingly, the definition of "vigorous , externally funded research program" varied greatly from school to school. What would be very interesting is seeing changes in tenure success rate over time. I wonder if that's really changing, especially at BS and MS granting schools.