November 15, 2007

The End of My Week Is Madness

Thursdays and Fridays are very busy days for me. Between teaching lab, office hours, and adviser meeting, Thursday begins a hectic 48 hours that don't end until Friday does. This week is particularly nuts, since I also have to get ready for the arrival of a friend from out of town and our plans to be in Boston and Cambridge for the weekend. LL has gotten us tickets to see Marcel Khalife at the Berklee Performance Center on Friday night, and I need to do laundry or else attend the concert naked. I believe that's still frowned upon in Boston.

Added into all of the usual craziness for today is the obligation to have lunch, along with the other graduate students and post docs, with a candidate being considered for a position as a microbiologist on the faculty. It was his seminar that I attended yesterday, and it was good. I wouldn't say great, but that doesn't matter. I don't think we really get feedback into this process in any direct fashion and I'm under the impression that having lunch with him is more of a way to convince him to take an offer should it come his way than anything else. There are three more candidates yet to come, so I'll be attending a lot of seminars and doing a lot of lunches for the next few weeks. I get free meals out of the deal. We'll probably hit the nearby Vietnamese place. It's hard to go wrong with free Vietnamese food.

Personally, I feel kind of bad for the guy because of something that happened yesterday. The chair of our department introduced him as being the cutest (yes, that's the word she used) of the candidates under consideration. This struck me and everyone else as extremely inappropriate; can you imagine the reaction if this had been a female candidate and a male chair introduced her as "the hottest microbiologist we have in the queue?" He probably would have found himself on the receiving end of a sexual harassment lawsuit, and deservedly so. As it was, this candidate fairly groaned and the introduction brought a reaction from those of us gathered for the seminar that ranged from confusion to audible annoyance. One of my more wise-ass colleagues replied with "So when's the swimsuit competition?" which I don't think helped matters much but was incredibly funny given the bizarre circumstance.

I'm rather cross about the whole thing. First off, it makes our department and our university look tremendously unprofessional. This clearly isn't going to be a draw for this scientist and I'm sure he'll tell others about his experience. That's really not the right light for us to be seen in. Second, I find it offensive that the chair felt that this is an appropriate criterion to have on her own mind or to discuss in the context of the seminar. We're not looking for a cute microbiologist, or a male microbiologist, or a tall microbiologist, or a black microbiologist. We're looking for the best microbiologist, the best scientist, that we can get to fill the vacancy. There should be only two criteria under consideration: the quality of the scientist's work and whether he seems like a good fit who can work well with our small department. Well, those and any grants the candidate might be bringing along as well. Appearance, gender, sexual orientation and shoe size should have no part in the deliberations.

I intend to bring this up in talking with my adviser this afternoon. I feel rather uncomfortable about this; it makes me question things that I'd rather not be thinking about, including how decisions are being made that affect us (after all, hiring new faculty is a huge decision).

After the seminar, one of the other grad students was running around the grad office saying, "Oh! I want him hired! He's so cuuuuute." I looked at her and said, "You know, if I was saying that about a female candidate, I'd be liable to get in trouble for it." You know, she really didn't make the connection. She didn't get it. That's plain weird to my mind; even if I did find some she-scientist attractive, it wouldn't make any difference as to whether I thought her work was good and I absolutely would not be making comments about the subject to others. Should it be any different when the candidate is male?

I thought about asking to talk to the chair directly about all of this, but as I'm the new guy in the department that's probably not the best course of action. I'll bring it up with my adviser today and see what he has to say. I saw his reaction yesterday and he was none too pleased. I wouldn't be surprised if he's already brought up the subject. Personally, I think the correct thing for our chair to do would be to write a formal letter of apology to the candidate as well as admitting to all others concerned that her behavior yesterday was inappropriate. Maybe she ought to get some sensitivity training, too. I believe that's one of the things that would be in store for me were I to have whistled at a female candidate and exclaimed "Nice rack! I've got a position for you on a lab bench!" Just saying.

Lunch today is going to be interesting. Personally, I find this guy's research interesting and I'm looking forward to hearing more about it. I hope he doesn't bring up yesterday's incident and I certainly have no intention of bringing it up myself. If it does come up, I think the most prudent thing I can do is not to participate in that particular conversation.

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