Job applications, transparency and equity

I’ve been thinking about recruitment a bit lately. How it’s so opaque and obscure and difficult. Those of us on perpetually expiring contracts know what I mean, so do those involved in recruitment panels. So in the interests of transparency, here are two extracts from a recent job application I put in. My application was unsuccessful. The job was a ‘level B’ 2-year research fellow position.

  1. A PhD (or equivalent) that is relevant … with a track record of research as evidenced by high impact research output in leading venues, a record of developing and maintaining collaborations with world leading researchers and institutes and by other measures such as prestigious awards, invitations to give keynote addresses at leading conferences, elite membership of professional institutes etc.

My PhD entitled ‘Just a game? Playing in pursuit of sustainability, inclusion and justice in small-scale fisheries in the Philippines’ examined my design and use of a computer-assisted board game for cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary science communication. As such the thesis explored the interface between technological tools and human behaviour.

I have published in a broad range of journals, demonstrating not so much ‘impact’, but an ability to think and write originally and convincingly in a range of disciplines and genres, including qualitative and quantitative social science and creative non-fiction. Through my doctoral and earlier fieldwork with a World Bank funded applied science project, I became the co-leader of a network of ‘future leaders’ of coral reef scientists, made up of ECRs from across the globe, but predominantly South America, Asia and Africa. I co-compiled and edited a compendium of our work, and continue both professional relationships and friendships with network members, despite the failure of project leaders to secure second stage funding. More important than current leaders, emerging scholars are where much of the new ideas and energy for change resides, and I excel at making those kind of connections, regardless of discipline or profession.

I was invited to attend and present at a forum for ‘rewiring’ science in 2012, and give a keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Conference for Human Ecology in 2014. However, these invitations were not borne of some kind of objective measure of impact/achievement, but rather on my wide and varied network of colleagues and friends, who trust my ability to not bore the pants off a roomful of people, a surprisingly rare skill in keynote speakers.

As will be apparent, I am quite weak in this criterion. However, I suggest that perhaps the recruitment team did not pay attention to the descriptors of the expected career achievements of a B academic, and in doing so has jeopardised their implementation of ‘equal opportunity’ principles (see criterion 9). I believe anyone who can genuinely answer to this criterion is not (or should not be) looking for a B appointment, but rather a higher- level appointment, or, alternatively, either is overselling or underselling themselves. The implication of having already made a significant international contribution fits a C or D appointment, as per University guidelines. Therefore, the question I have for the Institute is: do you want to: a) underpay someone who has these attributes; b) employ someone who does not have these attributes, but thinks they do; or, c) employ someone who has the courage to say I do not have these attributes, but I believe with the right mentoring and team I can develop into a researcher that has them? I fall into the third category, and I encourage you to employ me.

9. A demonstrated high-level understanding of equal opportunity principles and a commitment to the application of these policies in a University context. 

As a feminist activist, I find it somewhat disingenuous (although perhaps encouraging?) that the XXX, a university with a questionable recent record of inclusion and equality, requires applicants to answer this question. Advocating for equal opportunity in the University context without career-limiting moves has been virtually impossible at least until the recent past, as many women and members of other minority groups can attest. I would hope that the Institute is not expecting junior staff to be the flagbearers of these policies, but rather that its senior staff will lead by example and make it clear that inclusion and equity, broadly conceived, are guiding staffing, teaching, research and curriculum decisions.

Equal opportunity does not start or end with statements encouraging applicants from diverse backgrounds, or completing online education modules. Rather, it assures both current and potential staff, through language and action, that their needs and culture will be supported, understood and celebrated in the workplace. Indeed, the wording of this position, with its requirement of extreme networking success at early career stages, is likely to have put off women, and other traditionally excluded groups, and likely to attract able-bodied white men, who are known to more frequently overestimate their own abilities and achievement. Therefore, using my high-level understanding of equal opportunity principles, I would suggest that perhaps some team-based learning around what equal opportunity would mean practically, rather than theoretically, may be a helpful step for the Institute’s members at this early stage of its existence, and I would be committed to making sure that this group learning process happened. My apologies if my answers to this final criterion, as well as my criticisms of the first, are upsetting or confronting. However, I hope the Institute will not replicate the past mistakes of new disciplines in being exclusionary to their very foundations. I would further encourage you to adapt the critical reflexivity, or even refractive insight, necessary to respond to, rather than close down, these criticisms.

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