MCS Faculty Searches: Recommended Steps and Resources
Faculty searches are governed by College and University policy as well as obligations under Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action laws and regulations. To sustain and strengthen MCS’s commitment to an open, fair process consistent with excellence and inclusion, the purpose of this website is to provide recommended steps and resources to help carry out searches in accord with the revised and updated MCS Policy on Faculty Searches and increase our attention to diversity and equity.
While many factors can contribute to the underrepresentation of women and other groups in science faculties (e.g. degree of encouragement toward academia, mentoring, access to role models, issues of climate), this web site emphasizes the role of implicit bias. Information and advice from implicit bias research has helped to diversify the applicant pool and offers at other research universities (See Recommended Resources).
The recommendations described here are consistent with best practices to increase equity and inclusion that draw heavily on the work of several NSF ADVANCE programs.
This website provides key steps with links to recommended resources to support an open and inclusive search procedure. There are three primary audiences for these resources.
- Department Heads. This background information should help ensure that each of your Department’s search committees knows where to become familiar with implicit bias and its importance. A few key research articles are also highlighted in this web site for your convenience. We also encourage you to talk periodically with your faculty about the importance of diversity in a variety of contexts (e.g. inviting seminar speakers, recruiting graduate students, potential nominees for awards) to make diversity a normal part of the departmental conversation.
- Search Committee Chairs. The recommended steps [.pdf] for a search committee’s work are a key part of protecting against unconscious bias in the search process, along with individual awareness of potential unconscious bias. This website should help you at each stage in the process, including creating an open atmosphere for discussion of diversity. Please contact Rea Freeland and Curtis Meyer to facilitate a discussion with you and your committee at the beginning of your search about the implications of the implicit bias research for the committee’s work.
- Search Committee Members. The material on understanding implicit bias offers options by which you can learn how implicit bias (also called unconscious bias) can affect the search process. All members of MCS search committees are responsible for completing at least two of the options described here in preparation for evaluating applicants. Committee members may also wish to use the site to refresh their understanding at each stage of the search and to work with the chair on key points.
Bilimoria, D. K. and Buch, K.M. The Search is On: Engendering Faculty Diversity Through More Effective Search and Recruitment. [.pdf] Change, July/August 2010, pp. 27–32.
Proposing a Search
- The Dean should be informed as early as possible of any plans to propose searches for faculty positions. This will reduce the possibility that approval will be delayed or turned down due to inadequate advanced financial planning.
- Early discussions about defining the position broadly enough to attract a diverse applicant pool are important for attracting excellent, diverse candidates. If a narrowly targeted search is requested, the department needs to justify the constraints to the Dean.
- The search must be approved by the Provost and Dean.
Defining the Position [.pdf] (U. Michigan Handbook for Faculty Searches and Hiring, p. 6–7)
Dean’s Office Review Before Searching
- Reminder: The Department Head must receive approval from the Dean (or his/her designate) before advertising the position. The Dean will typically request a meeting with the Department Head and the Search Committee Chair.
It is expected that the following will be submitted in advance for discussion during the meeting, per the MCS Policy on Faculty Searches:
- The list of search committee members
- The proposed print and web-based advertisements (see Writing the position description)
- The search plan to expand and diversify the applicant pool (see Developing the search plan for sample plan and resources)
- The demographics of recent Ph.Ds. in the discipline. One recommended source is the Survey of Earned Doctorates Data available from NORC at the University of Chicago which provides data by gender and race for “detailed disciplines” through the Tabulation Engine. Other sources from disciplinary professional societies are also welcome. Breakdown of the data by subfield is needed only in the case of a narrow search area.
- The plan for tracking the diversity of the applicant pool in compliance with Equal Opportunity Services (EOS) requirements. All applicants are to be provided with a voluntary self-identification form for demographic data monitored under CMU’s Affirmative Action Plan. Aggregate data, maintaining anonymity for individuals, would be available to designated individuals to facilitate monitoring the diversity of the pool as it develops and if/when a hire is made. AcademicJobsOnline.org can meet these requirements and EOS can advise on how to do so. The search committee chair should consult with Courtney Bryant in EOS (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ensure that the information is collected in the required form if the committee is using a system that has not been vetted.
- The Department Head will report periodically to the Dean on the search, including progress in implementing the search plan and monitoring aggregate demographic data.
Developing the Pool via Active Recruiting
- The Search Committee follows their search plan.
- Some programs find it very helpful to view recruiting as a year-round activity where people scout for talent and network in many settings. For example:
- Departmental seminar series are a great opportunity to regularly incorporate diverse speakers who both inspire current students and expand the network of those who would recommend strong potential faculty members.
- A couple of faculty members can be asked to seek talented senior graduate students and postdocs at conference poster sessions and cultivate their interests in the department. Particularly for top candidates from underrepresented groups, cultivating their interests from graduate school through their postdoctoral work means taking a long-term approach and staying in touch.
- Faculty members can connect with exceptional diverse colleagues and students when visiting colleagues as a seminar speaker.
- Investing in a recruiting booth at conferences organized for underrepresented groups in relevant disciplines provides opportunities cultivate faculty and student contacts at a variety of institutions. Some examples of these organizations are:
- Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students
- National Organization for Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers
- National Society of Black Physicists
- Society for Chicano and Native American Scientists
- Conference for African American Researchers in Mathematical Sciences
- The Search Committee Chair is encouraged to check periodically with Equal Opportunity Services for aggregate data on the demographics of the applicant pool. Courtney Bryant (email@example.com) in EOS can also discuss ideas if additional outreach efforts are desired to diversify the pool.
See these Recommended Resources.
Implicit Bias Research and Diversity of the Applicant Pool
Inclusion of 20–25% diverse candidates in the pool may help to reduce bias in evaluation by reducing effects of gender stereotypes. One study showed this effect in experiment related to hiring police officers and another showed a similar effect in study of more than 10,000 job vacancies across various employment sectors in the Netherlands (Heilman, 1980; Van Ommeren, de Vries, Russo & Van Ommeren, 2005). The underlying principle is that when women are well represented in the applicant pool, gender is less salient and the applications are viewed on their own merits with less influence of gender-based expectations.
Developing a Short List of Candidates
- A particularly important step for the Search Committee is to discuss and agree on how criteria listed in the job ad will be evaluated before reviewing applications. Using or creating a standard evaluation form for candidate review helps make comparisons systematic, avoids shifting standards, and reduces implicit bias when the committee discusses expectations about each of the criteria in advance. Note, however, that it is advisable to avoid quantifying at this stage since small biases in ratings can have undue impact when accumulated.
Models for Evaluation Tools
Applicant Evaluation Tool — University of Michigan [.pdf]
Sample evaluation form with more specific criteria [.pdf] — Extracted from Michigan State faculty search handbook
- Using a standard evaluation form is advised when search committee members evaluate all of the applicants for the initial screening, with at least two members of the committee reviewing a given application. While the initial screening may rely on a brief review of a large number of applications, having clear evaluation criteria greatly aids in consistency across all applicants. Also, note that early screening focused on including all qualified applicants (rather than screening people out who may have less traditional qualifications) has been found to lead to decisions that are more strongly supported by evidence and less subject to unconscious bias.
- The search committee normally narrows the applicant pool to a list that all members of the committee carefully review and discuss. If the applications to be assessed by the full committee do not seem to include diverse candidates, it is helpful to consider having a “medium list” instead of a “short list” at this stage. Including strong individuals who may have less traditional qualifications as part of a “medium list” or “long short list” can help to ensure careful, equitable review of their materials. Research has shown that setting aside adequate, undistracted time for careful individual review of all of the “medium list” applications is a good way to reduce bias.
- The search committee members discuss the potential candidates to be invited for an interview. If phone interviews and reference checks [.pdf] are part of the process, please see recommended practices for consistency across potential candidates.
- The committee should be prepared to explain their reasons for including or excluding each candidate in terms of the committee’s evaluation criteria. Although an external challenge to a search committee’s decision based on bias is rare, records about these decisions are important in such cases. Some search committees use a form to keep track of these evaluations by committee members.
Evaluation of Faculty Applicants [.pdf] (U. Wisconsin Madison, Searching for Excellence and Diversity: A Guide for Search Committees, 2012, p. 71)
Evaluating Job Applications and Letters of Recommendations [.pdf] (U. Montana)
Ensuring a Fair and Thorough Review of Candidates (Boston University)
Logistics for managing the review of applicants and Resources [.pdf] (U. Wisconsin Madison, Searching for Excellence and Diversity: A Guide for Search Committees, 2012, pp. 60–64 and 68–70)
Creating the short list [.pdf] (U. Michigan Faculty Search Handbook, pp. 16–17)
Phone Interviews and Reference Checks [.pdf] (U. Florida Faculty Recruitment Toolkit, pp. 24–25)
Sign-in sheet for evaluation of applicants [.pdf] (U. Wisconsin Madison, Searching for Excellence and Diversity: A Guide for Search Committees, 2012, p. 70)
Dean’s Review Before Interviewing
Reminder: The “short list” of applicants, with brief summaries of each of the candidates, must be submitted for approval by the MCS Dean before invitations for on-campus interviews are made, per the MCS Policy on Faculty Searches.
The Dean will frequently approve this by email, but may request a meeting to discuss the proposed interviewees and others on the “long short list” considered for interviewing. The Search Committee Chair may also want to provide data from Equal Opportunity Services on the demographics of the entire pool for context.
Interviewing, Selecting and Recruiting
- The search committee is advised to develop a set of standard interview questions that will be asked of all interviewees to provide for direct comparison. These should include appropriate questions related to each of the criteria in job ad, including contributions to diversity, if mentioned in job ad. (link to attachment II for the Sandler interview questions)
- Distributing information to faculty about illegal questions to be avoided during interviews is recommended to avoid awkward, uncomfortable situations for candidates. Particularly over meals that may be part of the visit, conversation may sometimes move from the intellectual to the personal, but those meals are formally part of the interview and the same guidelines about questions apply there. While the intention may be friendly, small talk over a meal or a desire to begin recruiting during the interview, candidates may not appreciate questions that can appear as indirect or inappropriate ways of finding out information prior to an offer. A good alternative is to steer the conversation back to job-related topics. If difficult questions come up, please refer those questions to Courtney Bryant (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Equal Opportunity Services.
Guide to Legal and Illegal Pre-employment Inquiries [.pdf] (Skidmore College)
Appropriate and Inappropriate Interview Questions (University of California, Riverside)
- It helps to show the welcoming nature of the University community and to provide all candidates with information about campus support and resources across a wide range of personal and work-life issues, including dual career concerns, before or during their campus visit. Information can be obtained through Jeff Houser (email@example.com) in Equal Opportunity Services, including about the Mid-Atlantic Higher Education Recruiting Consortium, which can be helpful for dual career searches.
- A diverse interview schedule helps to ensure that the evaluation criteria for research, teaching, and service will be viewed from a variety of perspectives within the department. Candidates generally appreciate meeting with a diverse set of individuals (e.g. by rank, area of interest, gender, etc.) and having the opportunity to explore whether the position could be one where they could be successful. Faculty interviewers are advised to allow enough time for the candidate’s questions.
- It is helpful to remind faculty before the interviews that rapport between interviewer and candidate as an indicator of “fit” can be complicated. When the interviewer and candidate have different backgrounds (gender or culture, for example), interviewers may need to be especially self-aware to establish good rapport with those less similar to themselves.
- For consistency, a warm welcome should be extended equally to all candidates during the campus visit. Strong attendance and enthusiastic participation of current faculty members (e.g. at seminars, “chalk talks”) ensures that all candidates feel treated respectfully.
- Similar to using a standard evaluation for screening applicants, using or creating a systematic evaluation form for all interviewers meeting with the candidate helps to keep the process focused on the individual candidate’s merits and reduce effects of gender-based expectations. The committee is also encouraged to formally request feedback from those who have attended the candidate’s talk(s) and provide the standard evaluation form to them.
- In order to make a strong impression on the candidates, the search committee should consider the interview from the candidate’s perspective and be well prepared to answer his/her questions. Consistent messages are important for strong positive impressions on the candidates.
Interviews and Campus Visits (U. Oregon Best Practices in Faculty Hiring)
Sample Interview Questions for Faculty Candidates (Iowa State)
Sandler Search Committee Diversity Questions [.pdf] — pages 1, 2 and 5 for prospective faculty; all pages for prospective administrators. Taken from Strategies for Successfully Recruiting a Diverse Faculty [.pdf] (Best Practices, Johns Hopkins)
Final Candidate Evaluation (U. Oregon Best Practices in Faculty Hiring)
Evaluating the Finalists [.pdf] (U. Wisconsin Madison, Searching for Excellence and Diversity: A Guide for Search Committees, 2012, p. 64)
Mid-Atlantic Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (for dual career searches)
Reporting Data and Debriefing
- The search committee chair should work with Equal Opportunity Services to obtain the aggregate demographic data for the applicant pool.
- The search committee chair should work with the departmental administrator and CMU's Equal Opportunity Services (EOS) to ensure that the legally required diversity data about applicants and interview appraisals are available to the University for required reporting. Contact EOS for a menu of reasons for decisions to interview (or not) and to hire (or not).
- Reminder: Per the MCS Policy on Faculty Searches, at the end of the search, the search committee chair must provide a debriefing report on the effectiveness of the committee's diversity efforts and lessons learned.
The debriefing report provides an opportunity for search committees and departments to build on others’ experience. Along with the demographic data about the pool, debriefing reports will be most valuable when they highlight information for improving the success of future searches, for example:
- challenges encountered in implementing the search plan,
- feedback from potential applicants contacted or those interviewed,
- summary of the offers made and any special efforts in recruiting after an offer was made (e.g. related to dual careers), and
- ideas for improving the interview or recruiting process.
The Mellon College of Science’s recommended search practices in this web site rely heavily upon the excellent research and extensive university toolkits of many other institutions.
Bertrand, M. & Mullainathan, S. Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination. NBER Working Paper No. 9873, July 2003.
Diversity Best Practices — Faculty Members, Produced by the Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey September 2013
Fine, E., Sheridan, J., Carnes, M., Handelsman, J., Pribbenow, C., Savoy, J. and Wendt, A. “Minimizing the Influence of Gender Bias on the Faculty Search Process” in Gender Transformation in the Academy. Published online: 07 Oct 2014; 267–289.
Heilman, M.E. The Impact of Situational Factors on personnel decisions concerning women: Varying the sex composition of the applicant pool. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 1980, 26m 386–395.
Moody, J. (2011). Faculty Diversity: Removing the Barriers. New York: Routledge.
Moody, J. (2010). Rising Above Cognitive Errors: Guidelines to Improve Faculty Searches, Evaluations, and Decision-Making. (Resources for Medical, Law, & Business Schools and Colleges & Universities).
Moss-Racusin, C.A., Dovidio, J.F. Brescoll, V.L. Graham, M.J. and Handelsman, J. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012, 104 (41), 16474–16479, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211286109
Nelson, D. (2007). A National Analysis of Minorities in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities. [.pdf] In C. N. Brammer & H. Rhoads (Eds.).
Schmader, T., Whitehead, J. and Wysocki, V.H. A Linguistic Comparison of Letters of Recommendation for Male and Female Chemistry and Biochemistry Job Applicants. Sex Roles 2007; 57(7-8): 509–514. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9291-4.
Trix, F. & Pesenka, C. Exploring the Color of Glass: Letters Of Recommendation for Male and Female Medical Faculty. doi: 10.1177/0957926503014002277 Discourse & Society March 2003 vol. 14 no. 2 191–220
Valian, V. (1999). Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Van Ommeren J., de Vries, R.E., Russo, G & Van Ommeren, M. Context in Selection of Men and Women in Hiring Decisions: Gender Composition of the Applicant Pool. Psychological Reports, 2005, 96, 349–360.