some advice re: advice

A thread on orgtheory talks about graduate admissions and what committees look for.  Over the years, I have read a variety of different blog posts, blog comments, and other sorts of forum posts of advice about graduate admissions or assistant professor searches or tenure panels or grant panels.  

I will here offer a bit of meta-advice.  The single thing that has surprised me most about serving on evaluation/selection committees is the heterogeneity of criteria that individuals on committees have.  There is a direct asymmetrical implication for how you should parse advice: when people talk about what matters to them and what they personally take into account, listen closely; when they talk about what doesn’t matter, regard any implication cautiously until it plainly aggregates.

Of course, this is sort of neurosis-producing advice, as it leads to the idea that “everything matters!  be strong on every front!”  (If it’s any consolation–or, hey, maybe it makes it worse–my experience has been that when the decision is about selecting a few from a large pool, where we are talking admittees for grad school or a short list for a faculty job or what gets funded out of a set of grant proposals–it’s really more about how strong the strengths are than how many weaknesses there are.  It may even be more about how weak the weakest weakness is than how many weaknesses there are overall.)   Same time: few things are as sobering as the icy math of how long a committee will take on the first cut of something.  I mean, say a department gets 300 grad school applications.  Three minutes with each file still implies 15 hours to the first cut.  Make sure all the superficial stuff is in order, and do not count on subtlety being appreciated.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

2 thoughts on “some advice re: advice”

  1. Completely agree – and I think the implication, too, is: do a good job of what you do a good job of, shore up or explain what you do a less good job of, and don’t worry about the rest. It’s tough to game the system.


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