Well, there’s at least one field that works this way: economics.
I’ve written in the past about my outsider’s fascination with how the economics faculty job market works. I find it interesting to learn about how different fields operate; it helps me look at my own field’s practices with fresh eyes. So I already knew that the economics faculty job market operates very differently than the ecology faculty job market in various ways (click that last link for background). But I only just learned about one more: in economics, it’s common practice for economics faculty and departments to talk up their favorite faculty job seekers on social media.
For instance, here’s the Yale Economics Department Twitter account officially announcing their faculty job candidates (i.e. their own finishing PhD students), and linking to a web page listing them all. Here’s the Cornell Economics Department doing the same. It’s not just Ivy League departments that do this. As best I can tell, pretty much every department does this; here’s a French economics department doing it. Here’s my own uni’s economics department doing it. And it’s not just departments that do this, it’s also many individual economists. For instance, widely-read economics blogger Tyler Cowen does many posts highlighting and summarizing “job market papers” that he liked (for instance). (Aside: the “job market paper” is the single paper or preprint an economics faculty job seeker writes to demonstrate their ideas and skills to prospective employers.) Jennifer Doleac systemically compiles a comprehensive list of economics job market papers by women and tweets them out. She also urges others to do the same, feeling that it’s your professional duty as an economics prof to read job market papers and publicize the ones you liked best. And it’s not uncommon for economists to use Twitter to talk up not just faculty job seekers’ papers, but the faculty job seekers themselves. Ok I doubt this sort of thing is universal–not every academic economist is on Twitter, and I’m sure many who are don’t tweet about faculty job market candidates. But it’s clearly pretty common.
I’m not sure what I think of all this. I just find it very foreign. But not totally foreign; there certainly are common practices in ecology that aren’t streets away from those just described. Ecology faculty giving research talks, or tweeting about their lab’s latest paper, often will highlight the postdoc or grad student who did most of the actual work. It’s of course common for ecologists to tweet in praise of talks and papers they really liked. Many departments in all fields publicize the work of their grad students and postdocs in various ways. And like many ecologists I’ve been involved in efforts to recognize outstanding junior researchers and their work (e.g.). All of that is fine. And some of it no doubt has some diffuse, indirect, unintended effects on the ecology faculty job market (e.g., by helping to shape ecologists’ collective sense of where the leading edge of the field is and where the field is going next). So what’s foreign to me about economics is that all this talk about junior researchers and their work is specifically and intentionally associated with the faculty job market. It’s individuals and departments implicitly–and often explicitly!–publicly lobbying for certain people to be hired. I honestly don’t know what to think of that.
I mean, one could argue that it’s an improvement on private lobbying. After all, it’s happening right out in the open! No need to worry if, say, Tyler Cowen read and liked your job market paper (or someone else’s!), or wonder who he’s talking to about your job market paper (or someone else’s). Because he tells the whole world which ones he read and liked! Though on the other hand, I can imagine that, for some people on the faculty job market, the only thing more anxiety-inducing than not knowing whether people read and liked your job market paper is knowing whether people read and liked it (“Oh no, nobody’s tweeting about my job market paper! They must not have read it, or else they didn’t like it enough!”).
There’s also a zero sum arms race going on here, or at least there’s the potential for one. It’s a bunch of individuals and departments all trying to be heard on social media, in the hopes that their preferred candidates will be hired. Which would be fine, or at least defensible, if it added some value in the aggregate. But it’s not clear to me how much value all that tweeting adds, whether for any individual faculty search, or for the faculty job market as a whole. When I sat on a faculty search committee recently, the search committee used various methods to bring the position to the attention of as many potential applicants as possible, to make sure we attracted a large and diverse applicant pool (advertising in widely-read venues, consulting the DiversifyEEB list, etc.). I suppose those methods could’ve included “look and see what, if anything, Twitter is saying about junior researchers in this research area, to identify potential applicants to reach out to”, but I don’t feel like that would’ve been very helpful. (But maybe that’s just me? And maybe it would’ve been helpful if it were standard practice for lots of ecologists to tweet about faculty job seekers and their work?) Then once the applications were in, I didn’t find myself thinking, “You know, in addition to all these cv’s, cover letters, research statements, teaching statements, sample publications, and (for the final few candidates) campus interviews and reference letters, I really wish I knew what, if anything, people on Twitter were saying about the applicants and their work.” That’s not a criticism of people on Twitter, individually or collectively. It’s just that I felt like the search committee already had enough information about the applicants to make informed decisions about who to interview and who to hire. Which maybe just illustrates that, for reasons we’ve discussed previously, faculty search committees in economics have less information to go on than faculty search committees in ecology. Maybe some economists do find social media a helpful way to identify and screen job applicants. Especially if the alternative is “interview and hire people who got their PhDs from ‘top’ programs”.
I know I should have a point here, but I don’t really. Sorry. As I hope is obvious, I don’t actually know all that much about why the economics faculty job market operates as it does. And I know even less about how economics profs and faculty job seekers feel about how their job market operates. I just find it striking, in anthropological kind of way, to know that there’s so much among-discipline variation in how the faculty job market (and everything else!) operates.