Things that need to change for #womeninscience

Last week, this article appeared in Neuron:"A Tale of Two Sexes" written by Marian Joëls and Carol Mason: the current FENS and SfN president respectively. They write a powerful piece about women in science, the leaky pipeline and factors that cause women to leave science. You should go and read it (and then come back!).

There is one thing that I want to highlight here, which is this:

A study in the Netherlands showed that 77% of all newly appointed medical full professors in the period 1999–2003 were recruited through a closed appointment procedure, i.e., not involving advertisements (Van den Brink, 2011). Understandably, committee members look for candidates who are a younger version of themselves, in other words, Caucasian men around age 40. Just pointing out this fact helped to change things.

This is actually something I have observed as well - and not just for full professor jobs, but for most jobs in academia. In the homecountry, MANY of the post-doc positions, assistent prof positions and apparently also full prof positions are filled without an advertisement. Needless to say, this does not at all increase diversity. And even though the data from the paper that is cited are from 1999-2003, I highly doubt if this is much different now. I haven't been able to find data supporting one or the other, but judging from what I see around me, I wonder if this has changed a lot in the last decade. So that last sentence that I quote: "Just pointing out this fact helped to change things." I have a hard time believing this. I think that in order to change this, a policy should be in place that jobs need to be advertised. Because even though people may post adds while the vacancy is already filled, it makes people stop and think about other candidates, instead of going for the obvious person.


10 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    There will be approximately 24 responses to this that point out the sham of posting jobs where the inside candidate already has a lock in the US. Particularly for non-faculty positions in Universities. Despite this reality, it is still an improvement over not posting. At least there is a chance to outcompete the insider.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Yes I totally realize this. But as you say it's even more annoying to hear that a friend of the department chair got an awesome job that you thought you qualified for as well but never even had a chance to show that...
      Makes me wonder if this is one of the reasons The Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of women in science

    • Cynric says:

      As a counter point, in my institution we had an internal candidate that was lined up for a faculty position, but the job had to be advertised "for appearances sake."

      One of the external candidates performed so much better at interview that they got the job.

      • Jim Woodgett says:

        That's exactly how it should work. The faculty wins, the best candidate wins: the internal candidate has to look elsewhere and improve their skills (so they also may "win" in the longer term).

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    There are already significant inherent advantages for internal candidates in terms of familiarity with the environment, opportunity to make an impression, helping others in the department, etc. There are also significant disadvantages to appointing internally such as lack of independence from mentor, lack of scientific and personal diversity, etc. If a department thinks an internal candidate cannot compete with externals, they are appointing the wrong person. Likewise, an internal candidates position, reputation and strength of negotiation, if appointed, is much better validated if they compete and win against external candidates. An internal appointment rate of 77% is a genetic catastrophe.

  • potnia theron says:

    I believe that public universities in the US are required by law to advertise (may vary by state).

  • pyrope says:

    PT - I think we are likely required to advertise faculty positions, but there are definitely ways to get around advertising postdocs. We only have to fill out some paperwork describing how our target candidate is qualified (at a public R1).

    Any trainee I've ever hired has emailed me first and convinced me that they are qualified and, job seekers: keep polishing the CV and sending out queries to people you'd like to work with - In my field I think that method tends to land jobs much more than focusing on advertised positions. Although I agree it leads to hiring biases - my lab also looks 80% like me, which is in large part because women (much more than men) tend to email me asking for positions. Not sure if the reverse is true for male professors?

  • EUanon says:

    This is quite unexpected to hear and I think this may be against EU hiring regulations and free market policy. I've worked in three other EU countries and everywhere all academic job annoucements (academics, postdocs, PhD students) had to be published for at least 30 days not only nationally, but internationally within EU.

    For example, we put our stuff here: as well as on national portals (e.g.

    Not doing so could bring a law suit so every University in every EU country I worked in made sure that they advertised the positions. So how is it even possible that in the NL this does not happen?

    • babyattachmode says:

      I think that what happens a lot is that people are initially hired as post-docs. For some, at the end of their contract the full professor will just let them go, whereas for others their contract will be extended and changed into a tenure track-like contract. I can imagine that this way, it is not technically a new position and therefore wouldn't have to be advertised. But I'm no expert on these kind of things, I'm just describing what I see.

  • onemonkey says:

    I agree- was about to mention this yesterday to you, and then forgot ;).

    But! My own position was also not advertised, as I made the contact with the financer myself, and thus, created my own job.

    But I agree, people tend to hire (and I feel this also applies to awarding grants to) younger versions of themselves, thus, keeping the causcasion male bias very much alive.

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