Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Hard decisions

I have frequently served as a referee for promotions and appointments all over the world. Promotions are easy: you warmly recommend a colleague, and someone else makes a decision. With appointments, you have to rank the applicants, and at least in Sweden you have to read all their scholarly production, and it takes literally months!

But so far I have never been in a position to actually hire someone. We are hiring a research assistant or associate for a project. We have received an internal research grant which, like so many grants, cannot be used for anything sensible. I once had a grant for "preparatory research activitites" which in practice could only be used to pay for people's lunches. I've had several proper grants which meant that I did my research full-time for three years with generous travel and expenses allowance. In this case, we cannot do that. We have some money for lunches and travel, but the bulk is to hire a research assistant who will do all the work while we go on with our teaching and routine tasks. Such is academic life. Imagine, to have someone you can tell to search for sources or describe the methods or do footnotes and all the boring bits. (No, there are no boring bits in research. I would never trust anyone to search for sources).

Anyway, we have advertised for a position and received 29 applications. It's horrible to have all these people's lives in my hands. For them, it's a bifurcation point. A lifetime opportunity. For me, just someone to do my footnotes.

I have looked through the applications, and I have a favourite. But we will have to go through the whole procedure: shortlist, request references, interview. See Mary Beard again. (She has become an academic beacon for me).

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