Columns @IndiaBioscience

From the Young Investigators’ Meeting 2024: What do Institutional Representatives say about hiring?

Ankita Rathore

At the 16thYoung Investigators’ Meeting (YIM 2024) in Bhopal, IndiaBioscience asked representatives from a diverse range of institutions and universities across India some quick questions about faculty hiring. Let’s take a look at their responses!

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Select institutional representatives at YIM 2024 (Left to Right): Rajesh Singh from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Divya Uma from Azim Premji University (APU), Bengaluru, Aprotim Mazumder from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Hyderabad, and Uma Maheshwari Krishnan from Sastra Deemed University, Thanjavur. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience.

At the PDF Satellite Meeting in YIM 2024, IndiaBioscience initiated focused conversations around the criteria that research institutes in India prioritise when recruiting faculty members. For this, we engaged in insightful conversations with representatives from various institutions across the country. Among them were Divya Uma from Azim Premji University (APU), Bengaluru, Rajesh Singh from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uma Maheshwari Krishnan from Sastra Deemed University, Thanjavur, and Aprotim Mazumder from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Hyderabad. These institutions represent a wide spectrum, ranging from non-profit private universities to private deemed universities as well as public institutions, all of which have a strong emphasis on both research and teaching.

Let’s take a look at the responses!

1. What do you look for in a curriculum vitae (CV) and from an interview during the hiring process?

    Mazumder: When evaluating CVs and conducting interviews, we prioritise a candidate’s genuine interest in the field. We don’t focus on prestigious journals or publication numbers, but rather on the substance of their research and its alignment with our institute’s goals. TIFR Hyderabad welcomes candidates from various fields within biology and other sciences. 

    It’s a sort of cliched answer, but it is the science, which is paramount.

    Krishnan: Firstly, we assess candidates based on their sound fundamentals. Secondly, we evaluate their aptitude and attitude, particularly their ability to work well in a team setting. Lastly, we prioritise candidates who demonstrate a willingness to contribute to both research and teaching. During the interview process, we assess their teaching capabilities by having them conduct a teaching demonstration. We prefer candidates who can communicate broad-based concepts, rather than delving into their specific research.

    Uma: In our hiring process at APU, we prioritise candidates who demonstrate a strong passion for teaching alongside academic excellence. While research credentials are valued, it’s essential that applicants also show a genuine interest in education for social change, which is at the heart of our institution’s mission. In reviewing CVs, we look for evidence of teaching philosophy and research statements to gauge this commitment. 

    We encourage a balanced approach, where research complements teaching rather than overshadowing it. 

    2. Apart from the science and the technical knowledge of the candidate, are there any soft skills that you look for?

      Mazumder: While technical skills are crucial, we also value soft skills like communication and team work. However, assessing these qualities is challenging from CVs alone. We typically evaluate them during interviews or virtual discussions to ensure a well-rounded fit for our team.

      Singh: Therefore, we prioritise candidates who possess strong leadership qualities and a commitment to promoting well-being within the university community and society at large.

      Science doesn’t operate in a vacuum; it’s deeply intertwined with society.

      Uma: We value a collaborative mindset among our faculty members. Those solely focused on their own research without regard for broader community engagement may not align with our ethos. At APU, we have a supportive, healthy, and happy faculty community, and it’s important for candidates to fit into this environment. 

      Krishnan: Teaching qualities and soft skills are essential. We are not concerned about using fancy vocabulary, but rather about effectively conveying concepts to students. Soft skills, such as effective communication and interpersonal abilities, are vital in both teaching and research roles. 

      3. How much is non-publication-related experience relevant for hiring, for instance outreach, teaching etc?

        Mazumder: The relevance of non-publication-related experience, such as outreach and teaching, depends on the specific position being hired for. For science communication roles, these experiences are highly valued. 

        However, for faculty positions, while teaching and outreach are important, the primary focus remains on the candidate’s scientific expertise.

        Communication abilities are also considered, serving as a differentiating factor among applicants. While not always central, they contribute to the overall evaluation process.

        Uma: Outreach and community engagement is really valued at APU. Typically, a postdoc may not have engaged in such activities, but an interest in outreach is appreciated. Interest in teaching is required as we really value people who are enthusiastic about teaching.

        Singh: I’m not suggesting that we won’t consider publications; they are equally important as outreach activities. As I mentioned earlier, outreach groups, well-being initiatives, and social science activities hold equal significance.

        Krishnan: When evaluating candidates based on their research area, we consider factors beyond just the impact factor. If their domain aligns with areas we aim to expand into in the future, we’re particularly interested. In such cases, even if a candidate has fewer publications, we may still consider them if they offer something unique and align with our institutional goals. Publications alone may not be the decisive factor in these cases.

        4. What can one do to make themselves and their CV more attractive to employers?

          Mazumder: Attention to detail is the key. This includes ensuring there are no grammatical or spelling errors. Visual formatting also matters; organising publications and experiences clearly and prominently can make a difference. It’s essential to convey both past accomplishments and future aspirations. 

          Uma: We request a research statement and a teaching statement, which is also referred to as a teaching philosophy. These documents provide insights into how candidates approach teaching and their journey in the field. By reading these statements, we can gain a better understanding of the individual. We do encourage applicants to include their publications along with their CV. While some may include plans for the next three to five years in their research statement, it’s not mandatory, and not everyone includes them.

          Singh: It is essential to identify and align your interests and expertise with the prevailing regional and national issues. By showcasing your technical knowledge and demonstrating your commitment to addressing these challenges, you can significantly strengthen your CV.

          Krishnan: Honesty is the key in my opinion. We appreciate when candidates accurately represent their achievements and contributions. When reviewing CVs, we look beyond just a list of publications or titles. Brief descriptions of their PhD or postdoc work can provide valuable insights into their contributions and expertise. Sometimes, the titles alone may not fully convey the depth of their research. 

          A concise summary of their work can greatly enhance their application, allowing us to quickly assess their contributions and determine their suitability for our requirements.

          5.What kind of steps are recruiters taking to employ more women in Indian science?

            Mazumder: Recruiters in Indian science are actively addressing gender imbalance by implementing various strategies. While reservations or quotas for women may seem like an easy solution, in one instance, many female graduate students opposed such measures fearing it may be held against them in the long run. Instead, our efforts are focused on making workplaces more attractive and supportive for women scientists. This includes measures such as childcare leave and caregiving services, and creating systems and environments that actively support the many exceptional women scientists who apply to us.

            Uma: At APU, we’ve actively addressed gender disparities, where the ratio of women to men isn’t an issue, and in some fields like biology, there are even more women scientists. We’ve made deliberate efforts to recruit more women, particularly in areas like physics. We not only encourage diversity but also attract candidates from varied backgrounds and geographical locations. Our job advertisements explicitly state our commitment to diversity and encourage applicants from all backgrounds to apply.

            Singh: I believe the agenda of sensitisation has been quite vocal, particularly at BHU. There’s a notable emphasis on achieving equal representation for both male and female scientists, which aligns with our mandate.

            Krishnan: We maintain a gender-neutral approach in our selection process, prioritising merit above all else. Currently, we have approximately fifty percent women in our faculty, achieved solely on the basis of merit. Our focus remains on ensuring parity and providing opportunities to individuals based on their abilities.