February 4, 2013

Is the academic hiring process broken?

And can we bring this back to a discussion of the NFL?

Dan Nexon blogged on problems with the academic job talk and possible alternatives.  Tom Pepinsky and Jeremy Wallace both have posts on the subject.  I posted a defense of the job talk.

I think Dan's original questions was more broad.  Is the academic search process broken? What are the alternatives?

One of my favorite New Yorker articles is by Malcom Gladwell on the similarities in the difficulty of NFL teams predicting the future success of college quarterbacks and that of schools predicting who will be a good teacher.

Many universities pass over candidates that would have been great additions to their faculty.  More often, departments hire people who don’t pan out.  Again, sounds a lot like the NFL draft.

But evidence that mistakes are made in hiring doesn’t necessarily mean that the search process is broken.  It could mean that the search process is really hard, and there is a lot of randomness in this profession.

I personally think that most of us understate how much luck has to do with success in our profession.  Maybe most professions.

I hate to defend the status quo, since there are a lot of seemingly irrational aspects of the search process.  But I would also like to see some evidence that we would make better decisions with a different process.  To do this, we have to at least evaluate what types of errors are made in the search process and how alternative processes would limit this type of error.