Friday, October 28, 2011

Job market survivor

I hope I'm wrong, but I wonder how similar the academic job market is to the TV game show Survivor. In case I'm the only person who reads this blog who also watches the show, let me explain the idea. In Survivor, two teams compete against each other in various challenges on a desert island or similar exotic location. After each challenge, the losing team has to vote one of its members off, and they leave the game. It makes sense to vote off people who don't do much to help you win the challenges. But then at some point the two teams merge and challenges become individual. The winner of each challenge is immune for that round, but one of the others gets voted off. At this stage in the game, it makes most sense to vote off people who are good at challenges.  When only three people are left, a jury of contestants who didn't make it that far votes for which of the final three gets the million dollar prize. The winner has to be strong enough to survive the first round of cuts, non-threatening enough to survive the second round of cuts, and popular enough to get more votes than any other challenger at the end.  

The comparison with the competition for jobs at teaching-oriented colleges almost makes itself. Candidates must be strong enough in research and teaching to make it through the fist round of cuts. But then (and this is the bit I hope is not really true) they have to avoid being cut on the grounds of looking too strong when it comes to research. If you're too good, after all, you might not stay. You might not even take the job in the first place, in which case a valuable interview slot will have been wasted. And then, if you make it to an on-campus interview, it basically comes down to a popularity contest.

It make a kind of sense, but anyone who's watched the show knows that the best person does not always win.


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