Field of Science

How do universities choose professors? The survey is in.

Several studies have looked at university hiring practices. Search committees (committees in charge of filling vacant positions) around the country were surveyed, and the results are in.

The studies, published in Teaching of Psychology, looked specifically at psychology departments, so it may not generalize well to other departments. However, as a PhD student in psychology, it's the department I care most about.

The older of the two, written in 1998 by Eugene Sheehan, Teresa McDevitt & Heather Ross, all then at the University of Northern Colorado, had several interesting results. One was that teaching was valued more highly than research, which was surprising to me. I would like to know how this broke down by type of institution. Some schools are said to highly value teaching (i.e., Oberlin, Swarthmore) while others are said to highly value research (i.e., Harvard, Georgetown). Since they only got back 90 complete surveys, they probably couldn't do do an analysis breaking down by "teaching schools" and "research schools."

Luckily, R. Eric Landrum & Michael A. Clump from Boise State University wondered the same thing and published an answer in 2004,. They compared public and private universities as well as undergraduate-only departments against programs with graduate programs as well. Private schools were significantly more likely to care about teaching experience, whereas public institutions were significantly more likely to care about research-related issues and the ability to get grants. Undergraduate-only departments were similarly much more conserned with teaching-related issues, whereas programs with graduate students cared more about research- and grant-related issues.

Another interesting result was that the Sheehan study found that the job interview was the most important factor in deciding between interviewed candidates. This is not surprising in the sense that we all know that the interview is very important. It is surprising because it's well-known that job interviews are very poor indicators of future performance, and you would think a university psychology department would know that. The later study did not consider interviews vs. CVs vs. letters of recommendation.

Now for the data.

Sheehan et al. 1998:

The factors that the search committees considered when deciding who to interview are listed below, in order of most important to least:

Letters of recommendation
Fit between applicant's research interest and department needs
Experience teaching courses related to the position description
General teaching experience
Quality of course evaluations
Quality of journals in which the applicant has published
Number of publications
Potential for future research
Quality of applicant's doctoral granting institution
Awards for teaching

The factors considered when deciding among interviewed candidates were, in order of most important to least:
Performance at interview with search committee
Performance during colloquium (i.e., the "job talk")
Fit between applicants research interests and department needs
Experience teaching courses related to the position description
Performance during undergraduate lecture
Candidate's ability to get along with other faculty
General teaching experience
Letters of recommendation
Candidate's personality
Performance at interview with chair

Landrum & Clump, 2004:

Factors more imporant to private schools vs. public:
It is important that applicant publications be from APA journals only.
Teaching experience at the undergraduate level is important for applicants.
Research experience utilizing undergraduate undergraduates is important for our applicants.
Experience in academic advising is important for the successful job applicant.
It hurts an applicant if he or she does not address specific courses listed in the job adertisement.
In our department, teaching is more important that research.
Teaching experience.
Previous work with undergraduates.

Factors more important to public schools vs. private:
Our department has an expectation of grant productivity.
Faculty in our department need to receive grants in order to be successful.
In our department, research is more important than teaching.
Quality of publications.
Potential for successful grant activity.

The comparison between undergraduate-only and undergrad/grad programs revealed many more significant differences, so I refer you to the original paper.

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