It used to be that at the smoker famous supervisors and professors of job seekers would make the rounds and chat up their students. I got the sense that more famous and more senior people at more prestigious departments did more of this than less famous, less senior people from less prestigious departments. I've been on one search committee and we did get a little bit of this sort of thing via email and if anecdotes from trusted friends are to be believed, there are some people (and indeed some departments) who really hype their students via email and phone calls now that the smoker is less of an event. So a couple questions (which are possibly concerns too):
1. IF this sort of student promoting goes on, do more prestigious departments take part more than less prestigious ones?
2. IF this sort of thing goes on, should it be of concern? I think it should be if 1 is a 'yes'.
If it doesn't go on (or if no one pays attention to it if it does), never mind me. My sense is that it does go on and that it matters. I think it would make more sense if everyone to agreed to write the letters they want read and let the committees work with those rather than doing this extra thing that not all supervisors are comfortable or willing to do.
Because the questions Bob is raising here are ones I've briefly thought of before and seem to me important, but I have not seen discussed publicly, I thought it might be a good idea to devote a new post (and comment thread) to it.
For my part, I share Bob's concerns. Although I don't know how often faculty (particularly "famous" faculty) call or email search committees to push for their job candidates, I have seen a similar phenomenon play itself out on social media, where (for instance) a famous person at a top department will make a public comment saying how great their grad-student/candidate on the market is, linking to the candidate's webpage, and encouraging people on search committees to take a closer look at the person. While, in theory, this is a practice "open to all"--as any faculty member could just as well take advantage of social media in similar ways--I share Bob's concern that the practice disproportionately favors job-candidates with "famous" connections. After all, if Unknown Philosopher tweets or facebooks about their "awesome candidate on the market", it will plausibly have little effect--whereas if Super-Duper Famous Philosopher does the same, one would naively expect lots of people to pay attention indeed.
In any case, like Bob, I'm curious about a few questions:
- Does this sort of thing happen a lot? (specifically, (A) faculty/famous faculty contacting search committees on behalf of their candidates?, and (B) faculty/famous faculty doing something similar via social media)
- Is it problematic in a way that we, as an academic discipline, should set some formal or informal rules (i.e. "best practices"/expectations) regarding?
I'm genuinely curious to hear what everyone thinks!