Career Fair Focuses on Challenges Finding a Position During the Pandemic

Kate Calder (UT Austin) provides a general review of the academic job market in statistics.Abel Rodriguez (U of Washington) discusses some of the intangibles associated with an online hiring process.Jiayang Sun (GMU) reviews the qualifications for positions in the Department of Statistics at George Mason University.

During the Fall and Spring of 2019 and 2020 NISS hosted 8 different career fairs, each gathering experienced senior statisticians and each featuring positions either in academia, industry or government.  We thought we might have tapped out on sharing understandings into the nuances of the job market and gathering advice for securing a position.  Then in March of 2020 everything changed. The pandemic seriously disrupted what we knew as normal approaches to anything!  In fact, it is common knowledge that many institutions have slowed or even froze hiring as a result.  Faced with these new challenges, we all look for ways to adapt and will continue to find new ways to move forward!  

In light of the changes to our lives, NISS reached out to find ways to support job seekers from our affiliate institutions by asking the department heads of three universities to share not just their advice for how to approach applying for an academic position, but how this process has changed under current circumstances and their insights for those on the job market as a result.  They ought to know, all three departments currently have open positions open that they are trying to fill and have, along with their faculty, have tried to articulate new guidelines for how to handle this process in a virtual setting. 

The three department heads were Kate Calder from the Department of Statistics & Data Sciences (SDS) at the University of Texas at Austin, Abel Rodriguez from the Department of Statistics at the University of Washington and Jiayang Sun from the Department of Statistics, George Mason University.

Kate Calder began by reviewing the status of the academic job market in general, characterizing the impact as one of uncertainty - but only in the short term.  As a result, her advice was to apply for positions and don’t give up!  Kate described the three positions that her department is seeking to fill: one tenured, one tenure-track, and one open rank.  She also shared that UT Austin expects to be hiring at both the junior and senior levels for the next few years!  That has got to be good news.  But perhaps her most valuable comments were her general advice when applying for a position.  While some of these may be obvious, i.e., “be prepared”, “ask questions”, “your job talk is important”, etc. to hear this from someone who will be directing search committees indicates just how important these suggestions are.

“I'm hopeful that the long-term impacts of the pandemic on the academic market in statistics will be minimal.”  

Kate Calder, Department Chair, Department of Statistics & Data Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin

The Department of Statistics at the University of Washington is also seeking to fill a number of positions.  However, the deadline for some of these are fast approaching! Abel Rodriguez described these positions and how his department is situated within the university.  In addition, he provided a detailed description of the hiring process in place.  First, Abel made it clear that what matters in a tenure track application has not changed due to COVID-19.  What has changed, however, is the process.  Traditionally hiring was a two-round process which included a first round with short Zoom interviews that lead to campus visits for a selected set.  Abel explained that it is now a three-round process. A first round of short Zoom interviews, which leads to half-day interviews that include a one-hour talk, followed by additional half-day third-round interviews.  Having recently accepted his position as department chair, it was clear that Abel is sensitive to the challenges of having to interview and then move his family to Seattle under the challenging conditions the pandemic presents.

Jiayang Sun’s shared that her Department of Statistics at George Mason University is looking to fill one senior tenured and one junior tenure-track positions with the possibility of additional hiring needs as well!  She gave a detailed explanation of the qualifications that are preferred for tenure track faculty and shared that her department has worked out the details of a hiring process at GMU that will be 100% online.  In brief, department faculty will first conduct screening interviews.  This will be followed by a formal interview which then will lead to a decision and possible job offer.  Jiayang’s advice for candidates was straightforward; apply early, be yourself, be honest and be prepared!   However, she also added that the ability to show yourself (including your face) and interact well online is essential.

The Question and Answer session was unique in a couple of ways, first attendees asked their questions live, and now that the ‘formal’ remarks had concluded the speakers really opened up in sharing good advice and insights into how to approach the job market given today’s reality.  Moderator Lingzhou Xue (Penn State) had his hands full facilitating attendees ‘stepping up to the mic’.  There were several very interesting questions such as: “Would it be recommended to pursue a postdoctoral position before applying to some of the faculty positions?”, “How would you advise candidates to negotiate salary or other aspects of the offer?”, “Would someone still be a good candidate for an R1 institution without much teaching experience but considerable research experience?”, “What advice would you give applicants who are from outside the field of statistics?“ and “Can you explain some of the details of phone/zoom interviews?”  This discussion was clearly appreciated by those that attended!

Please Note: The recording of the session and links to the slides the speakers used is made available to NISS Affiliates now and then made available to the public on December 11.
 

Sunday, November 15, 2020 by Glenn Johnson