Cronyism Hits Close to Home: Decoded Writer Experiences Hiring Discrimination

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Valerie Dufeu, PhD, excavating at a dig site. Image courtesy of Dr. Dufeu

Valerie Dufeu, PhD, excavating at a dig site. Image courtesy of Dr. Dufeu

Decoded Science’s own Dr. Valerie Dufeu, a highly-trained archaeology expert, personally experiences cronyism and hiring bias.

Dr. Dufeu has agreed to share one example of her experiences here, in hopes of increasing awareness.

When hiring committees at Universities hire researchers and approve research based on who they know, and even simply who they personally like – setting aside competency, education, and ability, it hurts everyone.

If you’ve been passed over in favor of someone less qualified, please share your story in the comments below.

Post-Doctoral Job Advertisement

The job’s advertisement was really interesting: Post doctoral research Associate. The title, which encouraged me to apply for it, read ‘Post-doctoral’ – which means you need to already have your doctorate to apply. It also said that a requirement for the position was, ‘with a specialism in geoarchaeology to form a pivotal role within this research team […] the ability to manage a research project, including supervision of the work of others and the ability to provide expert advice and guidance to teams.’ All of these are qualifications I hold, so I applied.

I then received an email saying I was shortlisted for the position, and would have the opportunity to present my research to the panel. During the process of researching and preparing for the presentation and interview, which includes reading everything available on the project, the key participants, the department hosting the research, cutting-edge technology that could be used during fieldwork, contacting people and networking, I remembered that I knew someone who was enrolled and studying for a PhD at that university.

I contacted her, and asked how she was. She mentioned that she should finish her degree over the next year, and I spoke to her about the position for which I was interviewing. She said that she’s heard about the project, said that there were only a few being interviewed, and wished me luck.

Research Project Interview

During the presentation and following interview, I noticed that one of the members of the panel did not participate, and was constantly looking at the clock and out the window. The two others acted interested and asked questions, especially about the fieldwork strategy I would put in place.

After the interview, I discovered that the University had changed the qualifications to include candidates who were ‘a researcher with the equivalent of doctoral levels of experience.

The day after the interview, I sent a Thank you email to the panel, but received no response. The same day, I contacted my acquaintance at the University. She responded to say that she had been given the job. Somehow, the panel hired her over other qualified candidates, despite her lack of PhD and complete lack of field work experience and teaching, which were requirements for the job.

Who You Know: Common Attitude in Academia

It’s common knowledge in academia that this is the way universities have been for years.

It’s often more about knowing the right people and being in the right place – not about integrity in research, or producing the highest quality data. Are implicit bias and cronyism damaging the end results of research, such as in the case of Dr. Dufeu?

Only time will tell.

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