Wednesday 4 January 2012

Short listing and revealed preferences

Job hunting
Posted by Jean Adams 

Wow!  Fifty six people applied for the research post that Ihad advertised: "4 year research vacancy to support a series of studies on the acceptability and effectiveness of using financial incentives to encourage uptake of health promoting behaviours in the UK."

Four years is anice length of time for a research job.  But 56 applicants?  How's agirl supposed to do justice to the more than 600 pages of application stuffthat these generate?  Obviously, the solution is Newcastle University'sshort listing matrix grid.*  Tick here if your candidate has the qualitieslisted in the job description.

So of 56applicants, guess how many definitely looked like they had the rightqualifications and experience in an appropriate research area?  No, really- guess.  Wrong! 

Guess again. Wrong again!  

It was four. Including one person who didn't really but had such an outstandinglyimpressive academic record, and has run a successful business since the age of13, that I felt I couldn't not interview them.  Plus another six lookedpotentially like they might be good.

I don't have vastexperience of employing researchers, so I don't know if this is unusual. But I thought the general pattern was quite interesting.  The notshort listable fell into three, not mutually exclusive, groups:

1. People with aMasters in Public Health but no real-life research experience beyond their MScdissertation.  None of them had published a paper from their MSc - whichwould have counted as real-life research experience.  

2. Doctors andother health professionals from developing countries.  Some with vastclinical experience.  Some with Masters in Public Health (see 1 above). But still no research experience.

3. People withextensive laboratory research experience.  Lots of PhDs.  Even some muchmore senior people.  Some even said in their 'statement of intent' thatthey were looking for a position in Cell Biology.

Now as I writethis I'm wondering if I was too harsh.  How are people supposed to getresearch experience after their MSc if people like me won’t hire them?  Ibet you some of those foreign doctors are highly competent and could put theirhand to most things.  Why shouldn't research experiencebe transferable from lab to office?

But what really, really astounded me is that not one singleapplicant stated what their interest was in my particular researchproject.  They were all passionate about publichealth, keen to expand their skills and experience across a range of researchmethodologies, and excited to work in such a prestigious department asours.  But none of them had anything tosay about using financial incentives to encourage uptake of health promotingbehaviours.

Perhaps this is revealed preference at its sharpest.  Maybe nobody out there is interested in myresearch.

*Not quitetrade-marked yet.