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New article examines credentials sought by faculty hiring committees

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 13, 2017) – In a new article in the journal, Nature Biotechnology, University of Kentucky Assistant Professor Nathan Vanderford and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Eye Institute Charles Wright highlight the most important credentials that faculty hiring committees seek when hiring Ph.D. trainees for assistant, associate and full professorships.

Every year, doctoral graduates enter the job market in search of tenure-track professorship positions at universities throughout the world. Unfortunately, the number of new Ph.D. recipients increases each year while openings for current and new professors fail to keep pace.

Vanderford and Wright surveyed a seven-member faculty hiring committee tasked with recruiting new hires in the UK Department of Toxicology and Cancer Biology and UK Markey Cancer Center. Faculty credentials fell into one of four categories: core competencies, initial necessities, necessities for advancement, and unnecessary credentials.

Not surprisingly, their analysis showed that trainees entering the faculty applicant pool need to demonstrate they will be good long-term investments for the department, noted via research strength, the ability/likelihood to secure grant funding, and fit with the department’s culture and research vision. Other credentials, such as regional or national recognition for their work, proved less important.

However, the study also highlighted some longstanding challenges in academic culture, including the current importance of journal impact factor (which may conflate social prestige with scientific quality) and the social hierarchy in career advancement.

“Faculty hiring practices are a black box, especially for Ph.D. trainees who are applying for their first tenure track positions,” Vanderford said. “It is important for the science community to think deeply about how we hire faculty and how we prepare the next generation of scientists to successfully navigate the faculty hiring process. We hope that this study will promote discussions in this regard.”

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