In theory, applying for academic jobs seems fairly straightforward. You see the job ad, you put together your application package, you send your application in, and whoever is the most qualified gets the job. In practice, the reality is a lot more complicated. So in this episode, we show you how the sausage is made.
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Ethel Tungohan: Oh my god. I'm just kind of cringing because there are some comments where you see the comments coming and you're like, oh, don't. You know, you kind of want to put your hand on top of your colleague mouths, but...
Sailaja Krishnamurti: Yeah, just stop.
Ethel Tungohan: Just stop, but you can't, and it's harder through Zoom, right? Because you're like, I can't, can I mute him?
Ethel Tungohan: I'm Dr. Ethel Tungohan, an Associate Professor of Politics at York University. This is Academic Aunties. Welcome to the first episode of season three. I'm so happy to be back. One of our main agendas in this podcast is to demystify academia, shedding light into obscure and confusing norms. And so today we jump right into academic job searches.
Ethel Tungohan: We take a deep dive into what really happens behind the scenes. In theory, applying for academic jobs seems fairly straightforward. You see the job ad, you put together your application package, you send your application in, and whoever is the most qualified gets the job. In practice, the reality is a lot more complicated.
Ethel Tungohan: So in this episode, we show you how the sausage is made. We discuss how job ads are written, to oftentimes idiosyncratic processes that various institutions follow when hiring a new faculty member, and internal committee dynamics. We chat about how factors outside job candidates control oftentimes determine who gets hired.
Ethel Tungohan: We puncture the myth of meritocracy and talk about the many ways job searches end up reinforcing prestige, culture and class hierarchies. And we leave you whether you're a job seeker, a job search committee member or just someone who wants to make academia a more inclusive space with some advice on how to make the job search process more equitable. Enjoy!
Ethel Tungohan: I am so thrilled to have two amazing aunties with us today. We are going to do a deep dive into the job search process. In other words, we're going to talk, not about how people should apply for jobs and how they should write cover letters and things like that. We're not talking about that. No, no, no, no. What we're gonna talk about today is: what really happens when job search committees deliberate. With us today are two amazing people, both of whom I love dearly. We've got Auntie Sharry and Auntie Sailaja, but I'll also ask both of you to introduce yourselves and tell us where you're from and you know, what your positions are.
Ethel Tungohan: So maybe Auntie Sharry, you can go first.
Sharry Aiken: Sure Ethel. So I'm an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at Queens. I've been there for about 20 years now. And most of my research and teaching is around migration and borders and the securitization of borders.
Ethel Tungohan: Amazing. Welcome. And Auntie Sailaja?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: I am the head of the Department of Gender Studies at Queens University. It's a brand new position for me. I've just moved to Queens from St. Mary's University. And my research is on religion, race and migration.
Ethel Tungohan: Amazing. So collectively all of us have had a lot of experience sitting in job search committees, not necessarily as applicants, although we've all had to apply for jobs as well, but more importantly, as people who were part of the selection committees. So my very first question to both of you is really simple.
Ethel Tungohan: Can you demystify the job application process? A lot of our listeners have zero clue about academia and need to understand how committees get assembled, how job ads get written, where they get circulated and just the various processes at play here. Can you shed some insight when it comes to how these things work?
Sharry Aiken: It starts with the job ad and they often look like the kitchen sink. Certainly in my own discipline, law, they're full of a list of aspirational qualifications that the committee is seeking. It's kind of like able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or whatever. Um, and it starts there.
Sharry Aiken: I work in an environment that is unionized. And so the formation of committees is actually very structured by the collective agreement. There are X number of faculty members who are appointed to the appointments committee for a given term, whether it's a two year term or a three year term at Queens. And those committees are actually chaired in the case of the faculty by the Dean. Who actually has a lot of say. Uh, directly into the process. And by the way, who often handpicks, who they want on the committee, even though in theory, the appointments committee is supposed to be elected by the bargaining unit. But in my own experience, very often the Dean handpicked who they wanted on that committee and urged them to put their names forward. And very few people in my own faculty dared to offer an opponent.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: Yeah, I would, I would agree. I think that putting the committee together, there's a lot that happens behind the scenes in terms of who's gonna serve on the committee. You know, you mentioned the kitchen sink nature of some job postings and what goes into that? Even before, before the ad even goes out that there's often some contention around what the field is gonna be, what the exact wording is. Who's gonna, who has to agree to it. Who's being replaced, whether or not the Dean will sign off on it. And so sometimes the kitchen sink nature of the posting or the very narrow nature of the posting is due to a lot of complicated things that are happening in a department before you even send in your application.
Ethel Tungohan: So it seems as though there a whole lot of different processes at play here, but it doesn't start when the job ad gets circulated. What you're both seeing is that there's a lot of politicking that comes before that, is that a correct?
Sharry Aiken: Yes. And trade offs too. Right?
Ethel Tungohan: What do you mean by trade offs?
Sharry Aiken: Well, not everybody gets what they want. And certainly the final arbiter of, at least in Queens. In our unionized environment, the final arbiter of what that ad looks like is often just one person or a couple of people who have the sign off on it. Somebody may feel for example, that we really need to hire an Indigenous scholar and it doesn't end up being reflected in the ad. I mean, it's not foreclosed, but it's not reinforced or it's not specifically framed. And so those trade offs actually matter because when an Indigenous scholar is looking at the job ad, do they see themselves in that ad?
Sharry Aiken: They may not because it hasn't been appropriately foregrounded. But those are decisions that are often out of the hands of just ordinary rank and file faculty if you will.
Ethel Tungohan: Then so, okay. So the job ad gets circulated. The committee gets composed. Everyone kind of agrees on, you know, what they're looking for. Then what happens? What are the procedures that get factored in when creating the long list and the short list and ultimately who gets the job.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: I think as we get into this part of the process, it's really important to remember what Sharry mentioned earlier about unionized workplaces collective agreements. Different institutions can have an impact on every part of the process from the posting, the language and the ad to how the committee gets constituted to the process for decision making the approval of the short list.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: And so every institution is different. And if you're really serious about a particular job, it's a really good idea to read the collective agreement and find out, or talk to a colleague who, you know, at that institution and find out how those processes work. It can often, in terms of a committee's deliberation about a pool of applicants, it can often come down to, like, I hate to say it, but how cranky somebody might be in a particular day or what they, you know, or what bee they might have in their bonnet about an issue that's happening in the department that has nothing to do with you. And so I think a good committee will think really carefully about its criteria before they even open the folder of candidates. Uh, will really think about what their priorities are, will come up with a process of assessing and ranking candidates. But there are lots of bad committees out there too.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: I hate to make it sound so dire, but it's true.
Sharry Aiken: No, I think you're right and I would say that, often collective agreements are weak in relation to what it asks appointment committees to do upfront. So comparing Queens University to Windsor. I would say Windsor's upfront process is much stronger because it's mandated by their collective agreement and their committees actually have to rank all applicants against set criteria. And those scores have to be shared at a committee level. We don't do that at Queens, right? Our equity process kicks in at the back end, if you will.
Sharry Aiken: The reporting is all about justify why you've chosen candidate X over candidate Y in equity terms, but that does nothing to get people through the front door. And I, I look at our collective agreement as weak in that regard. Now, of course the collective agreement doesn't bind committees. It doesn't prevent them from doing more than what they say, but in reality, you know, very few deans or chairs of departments are gonna want to take up that challenge and do more.
Sharry Aiken: And that's part of the problem. How, the long list and the short list is created has a huge impact on the outcomes of these appointments processes. And I think speaking from my own experience, we have a long way to go .
Ethel Tungohan: Auntie Sailaja like you were saying sometimes people have bees in their bonnets. It's not about the qualifications of the candidate. It's about X, Y, and Z. And we don't know what X, Y, and Z is. Right? How do you know when a job search committee is working and how do you know when it's failing?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: How do you know, as a candidate or as a faculty member? Cause you know, as a candidate, you may never know, right, what, like what's happening behind the scenes and you probably shouldn't know. I would say it's particularly for graduate students who have opportunities to serve on committees or to observe what's happening, it's a really good idea to start watching before you go on the market and seeing how these things work in your own department. So you can get a sense of the flavor of those dynamics. Cause, there's a good chance that similar things are happening at other institutions.
Ethel Tungohan: Mm-hmm.
Sharry Aiken: So I'll, I'll throw something into the mix here. You know when I was on our own appointments committee for most of the positions we advertised, we received over a hundred applications per position.
Sharry Aiken: Often quite a bit more than that. And the committee had access to the full files, right? So all the elements of the job application from cover letter, CV, teaching dossier, student evaluations, referee letters, and writing samples. And how do you know when a committee is doing a good job? When they've actually read this stuff. I think a big problem is that committees get overwhelmed. That's a lot of documentation and are people actually reading this stuff or are they selectively cherry picking? I think they do a lot of cherry picking.
Sharry Aiken: I don't think they have time and frankly, to be fair, most committee members aren't given the amount of time they need to do this work. I don't think we actually recognize the significance of the service contribution if you're really taking appointments seriously. And especially if you've got more than one hire at a time, which happened in our case, we went through a real dry spell and then all of a sudden we had three lines. And what this meant for the individual faculty members serving on this committee was a nightmare. I mean, can you imagine hundreds of files to review? But we were doing our job where we actually did review them. And it, at least standardized an approach. So maybe you didn't look at everybody's teaching dossier, but are we committed to ensuring that we've all read at least an element and the same element from every person's file, because if we're not doing that, then the process becomes incredibly arbitrary and I'm afraid I have to say that in most instances that I saw this process was arbitrary verging on egregiously unfair, really fueling the processes of structural racism in the institution.
Ethel Tungohan: One thing I've noticed too, is that because people don't necessarily read all of, or nor do they have the time to read all of this people use shortcuts and sometimes these shortcuts lend themselves to bias, right? Like I've been in committees where depending on the strength-- I mean, I'm using this with huge quotation marks, right, cuz I don't really, really believe that-- depending on the perceived strength, or shall we say, prestige of the PhD granting institution. Those get a closer look, at least in some committees I've been in.
Ethel Tungohan: In my current institution that's not as big of a case. In my previous institution at the University of Toronto that was the case, right? Where you know, you do have candidates who have the prestige PhD, you look at it and you're like, yeah, but they have like one publication and that's co-authored as opposed to someone from a Canadian institution with really amazing publications, really great record, but they don't get a second look because they don't have that prestige PhD.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: Yeah, I would add to that having taught in a number of interdisciplinary type programs and departments that, it's often, you know what the degree is in right? So it's an Ivy League degree in a specific field. So even when there's a posting that says, a PhD required in, X area or related field, that there are committee members looking for someone who's like them or does their kind of research. And so they want something, really someone with a very specific kind of training. And so that can be a complication too
Sharry Aiken: Absolutely. And, and I will say in my own discipline, law, institutional pedigree, looms very large. And Canadian PhDs are, are frankly a liability at this stage.
Sharry Aiken: And for exactly the reasons and the dynamics you suggested Ethel, you get really great candidates and I can certainly speak to this experience when I was on our own committee, really excellent candidates with strong doctoral degrees from Canadian universities and amazing records, not even getting shortlisted because they didn't have the right pedigree. And ultimately that's classist in the worst kind of way, because it's, you know, where you do your doctorate is often all about your family's wealth.
Sharry Aiken: And the, the other huge filter that I'll mention the presence of powerful referees, right?
Sharry Aiken: That's a filter that I think is very misplaced. So, a powerful referee, somebody who's very, highly esteemed in the particular subfield writes a letter. It may even be a crappy letter that says nothing more than this person is the best thing since slice bread. I mean, literally. And that matters. And I've seen letters by scholars without that stature and pedigree. Very detailed, careful letters explaining the accomplishments of the individual applicant be dismissed because they're not considered a big enough name. That's been really, really disturbing to see. And again, it's all wrapped up in this optic of pedigree that's deeply problematic and ultimately exclusionary.
Ethel Tungohan: A hundred percent and this is what's frustrating, right? Because I think what we're all hinting at is there's the job ad and there's kind of the set criteria outline in the job ad and that's fairly straightforward. But these other filters get factored in. And that leads to egregious equity concerns which I think we can start talking about as well. What are some of the hidden ways where class, race, gender, and all of that get factored into the job search process that our listeners need to know about?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: So, what, what do you eat when you get taken out for lunch? Do you have the appropriate manners? Can you do small talk, you know. How well do you comport yourself at the at the reception, if there's such a thing. Do you drink alcohol? Right? I mean, there are there, I've heard many different versions of that story, right?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: You know, where people who don't drink or judged for not participating in dinner and drink situation with colleagues. I've also heard people who have heard of people who, who were judged for ordering a glass of wine with dinner. Like there's really ridiculous things that become the unwritten unrubriced ways that committees are assessing and judging you. And this comes back I think, to the founding mythology of academic hiring, which is the notion of merit and collegiality. That we say that we hire without bias on the basis of merit and to create this Collegium. But actually what happens in academic hiring is that departments want to reproduce themselves. Right? Even if they say that that's not about what they're committed to doing. What they're trying to do is find people who are like them, look like them, talk like them, teach the things that they teach and do the kind of research they're doing.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: So especially when you have a situation in a department where you have senior colleagues who are leaving, there's a sense of wanting to fill a void with someone who is like the person who is leaving. Those are the unwritten dynamics I think that become the ways that classist, white dominated departments continue to be classist white dominated departments.
Sharry Aiken: I a hundred percent agree. And the one other thing I'll throw into the mix is this idea of who, you know. The network is very important. And I think there's actually an opportunity with networking to resist some of these dynamics. But speaking about the structural problems with hiring right now I would say, it's very important that committees can position you in their networks. They want to know that you know the important people that they know, and that becomes part of the small talk over dinner, or over the reception or whatever, um, which can, again, hugely alienating, for BIPOC applicants and and other folks, frankly, who come from different forms of positionality.
Sharry Aiken: I mean, speaking from my own experience, I wasn't a young, newly minted graduate student when I went on the job market, I was somebody who was kind of in mid-career, having worked in the trenches in legal clinics for well over a decade. And so I entered the job market process myself as an outsider, and I didn't understand all this code. And it was a huge barrier in terms of navigating it. And I, it just replicate that times a hundred for others today from BIPOC backgrounds, trying to break in to this very exclusive club. It's super hard.
Ethel Tungohan: For those people who are sitting on hiring committees, who are invested in equity, who want to change things up, who want to say, look, maybe it's not about who you know, but about the actual qualifications of the person, or maybe it's not about the networks they're part of, but about you know, the unique contributions they can bring our department, how can you exercise your power at specific junctures as a committee member who wants to push against all of this criteria?
Sharry Aiken: So, let me just jump in and say this. I think that we can actually start our work before the files arrive in terms of doing outreach to make sure folks apply in the first place and to offer to speak to people before the closing date to talk about why they might want to come to our particular department, faculty, whatever, and to be supportive and to share information. It needs to go beyond just posting a job ad on Facebook. It needs to really be proactive because who applies, is a big part of, you know what happens. It's obvious a lot of other dynamics filter in, but that's something that I think we can all take up very seriously. And then once they do apply, making sure before we're silenced by this code, I think most universities have a kind of um, requirement that once you're on a committee, it's a firewall. You can't talk about the committee's deliberations. You can't talk about the candidates. You're not supposed to share anything with anybody outside the committee, but before that process is actually engaged. I think we can talk to our colleagues and build support for particular applicants to make sure they get on the short list. Right? Because often advocacy for individual applicants has to go beyond the committee to the people who have a say in your department or faculty. There's a lot of lobbying that goes on behind the scenes.
Sharry Aiken: They do it all the time on behalf of their own, their own people. We need to take that process back. So I guess that's what I'm saying. We need to lobby, we need to advocate. We can't just sit back and expect, committed to equity as we are in a committee, we're gonna be able to have a positive influence because one voice cannot carry the day.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: Yeah, I think that's, that's a really important piece. If you're working in a framework where the department has a vote, members of the department are part of a decision making process. Absolutely. Advocating for candidates or talking candidates up among voting colleagues I think is really important. There are different models at different universities. The institution I've just left at St. Mary's, the entire department gets a vote on recommending a candidate or accepting the report of the committee. And it's the entire department at 50 plus one of the total voting members.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: So that means that if someone decides not to vote or abstains or doesn't show up or doesn't respond to the email, it counts as a no.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: So the advocating piece, right? Like for the community, like that actually becomes quite important to really get colleagues on side.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: At other institutions, there is no such process. The committee is tasked with hiring someone and then it goes from the committee to a Dean. So depending on what your role is as a committee member or as a department member, I think that that kind of advocacy is really important.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: And I will also say to push a bit further on that piece in our own auntie networks, and particularly if you're not on a committee but you know of a position, so you're not in a position of conflict of interest, you can really support candidates by giving a sense of what your department is like and what people might be expecting. Right? And so that's a good way to be an auntie and to be, do we part of those informal networks, as you said, Sharry. Like, you know, they they've been doing this for a long time. We should be doing this too. And I think that's a really critical strategy.
Ethel Tungohan: I love this conversation because it kind of highlights the responsibility we have as folks who want to change things up to do a lot of pre-work before the actual work begins. That sitting on these committees is not just about doing the work within the committee. There's a lot of work that goes beyond it.
Ethel Tungohan: And you're right. I love the way you talked about using your auntie networks. Certainly I've done that too. I'm like, okay. If you're interested, I can talk to you. I can Zoom with you. We can talk about dynamics that you may not be aware of that can help you put your best foot forward. Right? I think that's incredibly important.
Ethel Tungohan: One question I have though is even if we've done all of. Even if we've marshaled our fantastic list of candidates, we're like, okay, these are really, really amazing people who the department would be lucky to have, power usually fights back though. Right? And then you have opaque criteria like fit kind of pushing back at you and other things that like you're like, oh my gosh, I've done all of this work, but then the people with power keep fighting back. And now we're at a stalemate where like, you know, it gets really difficult because then you see the committee completely fractured. And I guess this is one question that one of our fellow aunties, Nisha Nath, our producer for this podcast asked as well, right? When do you know when to fight back? Like it's so fraught and remember as well that some of the people you're fighting back against, they're your colleagues, right? So how do we deal with that?
Sharry Aiken: You have to have a thick skin. I think signing up for a tour of duty on an appointments committee requires a thick skin. I remember feeling very frustrated at times. Drawing from my own experience, but, you know, just keeping your eye on the prize and being prepared to be fearless because at the end of the day, especially for those of us that already have tenure, right, it's much harder if you're an untenured person on a committee, but if you're tenured the truth is you have nothing to lose. Some of these people may make your life a little difficult for a while, but you know, in the grand scheme of things, there's not much to lose. And it's important to remember that. And so maybe you'll be unpopular. Who cares?
Ethel Tungohan: Mm.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: And you're doing it, not just you're for the people who are already in your department, because you're trying to create a place for the people you want to hire. Right?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: So I think that's important to, to remember that it's part of building a better culture. So sometimes we have to have those arguments and fight those fights so that we are creating a space that the candidates that we want can come into and feel supported.
Sharry Aiken: And sometimes it is a fight.
Ethel Tungohan: Absolutely.
Ethel Tungohan: So we've been talking about, you know, how the sausage is made and maybe listeners who are looking for jobs are like, holy shit, there's a lot more at play here, and maybe people are getting a little bit discouraged. So I wonder if both of you aunties have advice to people who were job seeking and are on the job market right now.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: I mean, I've been thinking about this in preparation for this podcast that, you know, I don't want to come across as a cynic. Like everything is terrible and, you know, university hiring is terrible, but I mean...
Sharry Aiken: But it is.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: But the fact that.. but it is, but also the fact that we're having this conversation... It is, but the fact that we're having this conversation and that job seekers know that there are folks like us who are trying to have these conversations and pushing back against what we see as being inequitable processes, I think is really important. Right? So I think like knowing that your aunties are there is a really important piece of this and seeking out for, for job seekers, I would say seek out those mentors, right? Like I wouldn't do this for every job. And I know that there are job seekers who are applying for like 80 jobs a season. But for the jobs you really want at institutions where you feel like you might have an investment, reach out to someone in the department that you're looking at. Use your auntie networks, use your mentor's networks to try to find contacts so you can get to know a little bit more about that space. I know I've done that for lots of potential candidates and I think that's a really important piece of the puzzle, right? To get to know the institution a bit first and to get a sense of what you want to put into your application. And to know what's happening a little bit behind the scenes, if you can.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: And then I would also say, be prepared. Like you can have the most spectacular application. You can sail through a job process. You might even be the number one candidate and there could be something stupid that happens. Something structural that happens. It could be a university committee, it could be a Dean. It could be one cranky person in a department who holds up a vote. Right? I mean, depending on what the particular process is that can mean the difference between you getting an offer and you not getting an offer. Right? So I think it's really important to remember that in the final analysis, it's not about you, right?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: You are awesome. And universities kind of suck.
Ethel Tungohan: Auntie Sharry any advice?.
Sharry Aiken: Yes. Well, I would say ditto to all of that and um, maybe just offer two further the things in terms of using that auntie network, don't worry if you don't know those people directly. It's totally okay to cold call an auntie, and in fact can be quite useful. Right? So you look at a department and you say, hmm, I don't know these folks. Right? You, you pick somebody who looks like they would, you know, share your interests and reach out. Nine times out of 10, that person is gonna be responsive and it's super helpful to get some intelligence, quote unquote, before you even submit that application. So that's number one.
Sharry Aiken: Think carefully about who your referees are because they matter so much. I rail against their importance. I think they have an overinflated role in the hiring process in many cases. But they are important. Think carefully about it and get feedback about it.
Sharry Aiken: And maybe the other thing is the job talk, at least in my discipline, actually matters quite a bit. Especially for people who haven't read the files, which is, you know, pretty much, most of everybody except for the appointments committee. At Queens, in our faculty, students actually have a very big vote. They have a very big say. Their views carry a lot of weight, but they haven't read any of the writing.
Sharry Aiken: They see the job talk. And so preparing a job talk well and making sure that you leave enough time to shine in a conversation after the formal presentation is really important. I think if I've seen a mistake that a number of people make is over preparing the formal presentation, having it go too long. And running out of time so that you don't get to shine in that more engaging, back and forth. So those are just a couple of things I've observed along the way.
Ethel Tungohan: So final question, because this is Academic Aunties and we do want to create, uh, you know, subversives who are listening, do you have suggestions for how we can shift practices to make job searches more equitable?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: I'm just gonna put my union hat on for a second. Outside of specific processes of hiring I think one of the most important things we can do within institutions is work with our unions and work to push our employers to have better and more robust employment equity policies and initiatives. And by robust, I mean, not just that the language is really great, but that the processes are really great. I think Sharry began by talking about the difference between what happens at Queens and what happens at the University of Windsor. Right? This is an example, at St. Mary's, where I just left, our collective agreement didn't say anything beyond merit. So we had no employment equity language in our collective agreement that could help us to push the institution further. So I think it's really important for us to be invested in those processes even before we get into a hiring.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: When we're in the hiring, as a committee member, it's the advertising and the networking. It's pushing the committee to come up with good rubrics and to really think meaningfully about what equity means, right? That equity is not just about being a member of one of the four equity deserving groups. But it's also about thinking in a non-classist way about where you did your PhD, for example, or not discounting the additional teaching experience that someone might have if they had worked for some years as a part-time instructor. Right? Those are real concrete ways that we can address equity, not just in terms of symbolic identity but in terms of practical things that might make or break someone's application.
Sharry Aiken: Well, maybe I'll just throw in that the dinner or the lunch or the reception that involves anybody from the appointments committee should be banned. I think to be in 2022 and still talking about these dinners with members of the appointments committee going to them, just, I mean, it should be a non-starter for all of us. There's tons of research supporting how problematic it is. And I think it needs to be banned and we don't need to wait for provisions in a collective agreement for that. I think we can move to advocate for that in our own departments and faculties.
Sharry Aiken: So yes, candidates deserve to be taken out for dinner, right? Like if they want to actually have a dinner, they've come from out of town. They don't know anybody in the place or whatever. Take them out for dinner for a break, but make it clear that it's not part of the process. And if you can't do that, if you can't assure just a hospitality dinner, don't have it at all.
Sharry Aiken: I'd also like to see no more questions in interviews around where you want to live. I've seen this over and over again, right? This is code. When you work at an institution that's outside of a major urban center, those universities are preoccupied by wanting everybody to live in their own small community. It's none of their business where the candidate seeks to live. It's not a requirement for the job. If I want to commute two hours to get to my job, that's my business. So those are things that I think we can advocate around right now, no matter where we find ourselves. And, I think they're pretty important. Not all universities are unionized. I think for those of us that work in unionized environments, we're fortunate because we have some very clear points to pressure our institutions, but for people working in institutions that aren't unionized, I think there's still a lot of advocacy that can be done. If you think about how your own institution handles staff hiring, for example, you'll probably see that the staff hiring process is far more sophisticated than faculty hiring and makes much better use of best practices in the HR space than faculty hiring does.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: I just wanted to say that your comment about where are you going to live? That question? I've definitely been asked that question in different hiring contexts and have perceived it in a context which was kind of micro aggressive, I would say. In one interview at one institution in a place that was not in an urban center, I got told, yeah, you know, we really expect that everybody lives in town, but also, you know, you might have a hard time with that because we don't really have a lot of ethnic grocery stores. And people really struggle.
Ethel Tungohan: What, what?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: And I thought like, wow, that is wow. So that, it just put me in mind of I think, as a committee member, one thing that you can do, and I think particularly tenured committee members have a responsibility to do is pay attention to when your colleagues are doing those weird micro aggressive things and call them out.
Ethel Tungohan: Oh my god. Oh my god. I'm just kind of cringing because there are some comments where you see the comments coming and you're like, oh, don't. You know, you kind of want to put your hand on top of your colleague mouths, but...
Sailaja Krishnamurti: Yeah, just stop.
Ethel Tungohan: Just stop, but you can't, and it's harder through Zoom, right? Because you're like, I can't, can I mute him? Can I mute him? So yeah.
Sharry Aiken: Yeah, but we can jump in and say, yeah, you don't have to answer that question by the way. Like, I've said that.
Ethel Tungohan: I know, I know. And you can say it and you're just like, oh my, and you're just, anyway. Yes. A lot of these comments as a committee member, you can just be like, yeah, you don't, you can intervene to, you can be like, you know what let's, you don't have to answer that question. Right. And I'm sure the candidate would appreciate that as well.
Ethel Tungohan: That just reminds me of so many things where I can't, I'm not gonna talk about it 'cause then we'll be here for another hour.
Ethel Tungohan: One thing I would add though, For search committees as well is maybe committees can consider cutting down the number of documents required at the first stage. Right? It is ridiculous that for job applications, people are requiring like writing samples, sample syllabi, and in some cases I've actually seen sample syllabi for courses being offered within the department.
Ethel Tungohan: Right. I'm just like, why? Why are you asking for that at this juncture? It's not acceptable. And it's a lot of work as well. And thinking about the gendered implications too, right? Like, some people don't have as much time to compile together, like a 100 page dossier.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: And are the committees really gonna read them?
Sailaja Krishnamurti: Right? Like if you have all of them thanks but as we've already established, no, that's not gonna happen.
Ethel Tungohan: Absolutely. Yeah, no, one's gonna read all of that. And I would even venture to say it. I don't know if you'll agree with this, like maybe not ask for letters at the first stage. Maybe when people have been long listed, maybe ask for letters then, because I know that a lot of people have told me how hard it is and how, how, how anxious asking for letters to makes them, um, especially at the first stage, right?
Ethel Tungohan: Yeah, but, Um, I'd like to thank both of you so much again. Final, final, final question. If people want to find you on social media, do you have Twitter handles that you can share?
Sharry Aiken: Absolutely. @SharryAiken.
Sailaja Krishnamurti: And I'm @DrSailajaK.
Ethel Tungohan: Amazing.
Ethel Tungohan: For those of you immersed in job application season right now let me say that I feel for you. If there's one takeaway from my conversation with Auntie Sharry and Auntie Sailaja, it's that this whole process sucks.
Ethel Tungohan: It's excruciating, it's intensely stressful. It's dehumanizing. I get asked so many times by listeners. Is it me? What's wrong with my CV? And while there are things that you can maybe change about your file, so much of this is structural. I've seen searches where the best candidate didn't get the job, where the best candidate didn't even get shortlisted.
Ethel Tungohan: Instead committees were dazzled by the star power of the letter writers the candidate has, or the fact that this candidate seemed to have good pedigree, said with huge quotation marks. Class, race, and gender biases are clearly at play here. As we always say in Academic Aunties, it's not you it's the academy.
Ethel Tungohan: But our aunties also raise a good point.
Ethel Tungohan: Job seekers, you can also try as much as possible to strengthen your networks, your auntie networks, and find out information that you can use to your advantage in your job search. What is this institution really like? Who determines which candidate gets hired? Does the department vote? Or is it just members of the search committee?
Ethel Tungohan: I also think creating strong networks makes life in the academy more sustainable. These networks can help you find collaborators, find friends and possibly even give you a heads up for when job opportunities emerge and support you when you're applying for that job.
Ethel Tungohan: And for those of you who were part of hiring committees, remember that you can push for change. I think it is critically important that we fight back and try to make hiring processes work for us and for our communities. The Feminist Critical Hindu Studies Collective of which Auntie Sailaja is a part, recently published an article on auntylectuals that we link to in the show notes. They talk about establishing communities of care to destabilize dominant power structures in the academy. Ask yourself and your fellow committee members, are there different ways of doing the search to ensure greater equity? Just because academic hiring has always been done one way doesn't mean that you have to continue following the same path.
Ethel Tungohan: And that's Academic Aunties. We have a fun season planned for all of you. If you like what you're hearing would love it if you could spread the word and introduce the podcast to someone you know.
Ethel Tungohan: Follow us on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie, and find out other ways to support the podcast academicaunties.com/support, including providing us with feedback, purchasing some Academic Aunties swag and becoming a Patreon supporter, which goes right into the projection of this podcast.
Ethel Tungohan: Shout out to our latest Patron, S McMenamy for your support. Thank you so, so much. Today's episode of Academic Aunties was hosted by me, Dr. Ethel Tungohan and produced by myself, Wayne Chu and Dr. Nisha Nath. Tune in next time when we talk to more academic aunties.
Ethel Tungohan: Until then take care, be kind to yourself and don't be an asshole.