Columns Indian Scenario

An idea for a new type of online dating service

Ron Vale

India has many academic jobs that it needs to fill in the next 5 – 10 years. Attracted by the availability of jobs, the improving infrastructure and funds to do research in India, and the likely stagnant research budget of the United Statues, an increasing number of Indians doing their graduate or postdoctoral work abroad are interested in returning to India. However, searching for an academic job in India is often arduous, opaque and less efficient than it could be. This blog describes a project that we would like to initiate at IndiaBioscience to create a web-based dating game”, which is designed to allow job applicants to make their interests/​credentials available to as many institutes/​universities as possible and also to allow directors/​chairs to quickly search for applicants that might suit their needs. In this blog, I will outline how this idea might work in general terms. This would not replace existing institute/​university based job searches, but it might augment local efforts and could prove valuable for India as a whole. The barriers to its implementation are not in web design- this part is easy. Rather, it would require a cultural change and an openness on the part of both directors/​chairs and postdoctoral fellows to try it. This is also a good time to get your feedback, so feel free to comment on the blog at the end.

What are the shortcomings in the current job search process in India? From the postdoc point of view, the first issue is where and how to apply. Getting such information is often non-trivial. First, many postdocs are familiar with a few of the better known institutes. However, since they have been in the US or Europe for several if not many years, they are often not up-to-date with what has and is happening in India, and might miss an appropriate opportunity (see final paragraph of this blog). As a result, they may not apply to a good place with an open job, simply because they were unaware of it or unaware of recent improvements/​changes in its research and infrastructure. Second, many of the academic institutes have standing job searches”. By this I mean that they do not have a firm deadline, followed by a quick review by a search committee who gets back to the applicant, as occurs in most US job searches. Instead, applicants send their CV, research description by email, and frequently complain that they never receive any response. Were they not interested, is this a really functional job search, are they not taking any more applicants, did my application drop into an email black hole, was it ever reviewed by anyone credible? Naturally this can be very frustrating and discouraging for a postdoc applicant. And there are problems from the other side as well. A director or chair might get hundreds of email applications with long and often poorly organized CVs and research descriptions. The majority of applicants may be not suitable, and it takes a lot of time to go through this material. 

So how could one help this process by making it easier for postdocs and chairs/​directors to get in touch (and without creating a lot of additional work)? Here is where IBS might help. The idea is to create a job search data base format, essentially allowing a postdoc to apply” or be seen by many institutes, universities at once. In your job search profile, you (the postdoc) would enter essential information such as your significant publications (no more than five), current research interest/​experiences (250 words), future research/​educational interests (250 words), up to 10 key words describing your research, any geographic preference (if any), type of job interest(s) (research institute, university, industry, and/​or other types of jobs), and approximate time in which you would be able to start a position. In addition to this searchable information, the postdoc can upload more conventional and detailed information in pdf format, such as a full CV and three page research description. This data base would be password protected, and Institutes, Universities or other establishments would have contact IBS to gain access to the site (without fee). The advantage for postdocs is that your application might be seen by a very good place to which you did not apply to or might have gotten lost in the shuffle in the standard application process. You can also put your information out early (to see if there are any nibbles) and update as your career progresses (e.g. new publications). The advantage for institutions is that they can quickly get information on applicants that might be a particularly good fit for their goals. For example, a Chair at JNU could search within one minute to see if there are any applicants interested in being considered for a University position, might have a preference for Northern India, and have a research program in ecology (perhaps the focus of a new search). He/​she could then quickly look through the brief research description, publications, and if still interested, upload the CV and research proposal. The Chair might then email the applicant, say that they are potentially interested and would the applicant be so kind as to send letters of recommendation. And so the courtship begins. Naturally, it is good for postdocs to have more than one suitor, and they might be approached by more than one institution. Also, optional information could be added to the data base which might facilitate some specific searches- I am a computational scientist working on protein structure prediction. Ideally, I would prefer to join a department that has a structural biology group or that would be interested in hiring young structural biologist in the future.”

Would this work? It naturally depends how many postdocs submit information to such a data base. What do you think? Would you? Second, once the data base has a reasonable number of entries, IBS would contact chairs and directors so that could look at this data base and use it. It is not business as usual”, so some cajoling will be in order. However, IBS is up for this challenge. Universities and Institutes are under increasing pressure to find the best people to fill their ever growing number of positions. If such a dating game helps them in this task, then I am optimistic that they will use it. Moreover, at our last YIM meeting in Orissa, both directors and postdocs seemed interested in the idea. I also would hope that there will be more search committees involving younger faculty as well (see the blog by Dr. Shashidhara called Democracy in our research organizations”) and the entire committee could make use of this data base.

Finally, I will end with a brief story from the last YIM meeting in Bhubaneswar this year, which is not unusual for the types of contacts that can be made through the YIM rather than traditional job application processes. The relatively new Institute of Life Sciences (ILS) in Bhubaneswar was looking for a faculty member in computational biology and had trouble identifying a good person. A computational biology postdoc from Stanford was coming to the YIM and interested in jobs in India, but he did not know about ILS. The director of the ILS (Dr. Ravindran) saw his CV through the YIM and invited him to come visit ILS prior to the meeting. Both postdoc and institute saw a perfect match, a job was offered, and the postdoc will become a faculty member there in 2012. This was an example of an arranged date” that turned out well. However, YIM in India or Boston can only act as a chaperone for the limited number of postdocs as well as chairs/​directors who come to these once per year events. It would be nice to extend such possibilities for courtships to more postdocs (even grad students) and institutions across India. I know of some good and long lasting marriages that started with on-line dating. Why not India life science?