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Selection Pool

November 21, 2011

Up to now, I’ve not advertised projects on the university UROP website and have taken undergrads that contact the lab directly.  It occurs to me, however, that in doing so I am not selecting from the entire pool of undergraduate talent.  In practice, I don’t mind.  Enough CV’s come through the direct contact route that I have no trouble filling a position.  In theory at least, this selects for the motivated students who are really interested in the work the lab is doing. However, I’m beginning to suspect that many of these direct contact people are not any more interested in the research here than any place else, but rather they are super-confident or have just benefited from better advising.  This is manifest in the recent increase in the number of applicants who have found other positions in the day or so it takes for their e-mail to make it to my inbox.

Now, I’ve heard that actually advertising a position results in a deluge of applicants and my selection system and my bench aren’t optimized for such high throughput.  But it got me thinking about who I may be missing by not advertising.  When I hoping to find my first UROP lab, there was the list of faculty, period.  I was forced to directly contact a lab.  It’s been a while now, but I’m sure it took me a long time to write those couple of sentences and then work up the nerve to actually send them to a real professor.  If there had been a list of projects from professors that I knew were interested in actually taking on an undergrads, I totally would have limited myself to that list and picked one of those.  By not advertising, I’m effectively selecting against someone like my undergraduate self.

The question is, do I care?  The people contacting me are certainly excellent.  They are self-confident, motivated and well-spoken.  My time is limited and I’m loath to do any more work than necessary.  Advising a UROP is a lot of work and involves a longish-term commitment to a particular person, but the payoff has so far been high enough to continue to do it (although sometimes it’s a close call).  Do I want to add to the work by writing an advertisement, interviewing more than one person and then perhaps investing in someone who is a little less confident, or less savvy?  Now consider that although we’re in the regime of small numbers, recently, all of the people that have contacted the lab directly have been male.  And, while none of them have worked out yet, presumably they would not have been deterred by an advertisement.

Which is stronger?  The many and varied limitations on my time or my comittment to equal opportunity and diversity?  Which is more important?  When it comes down to it, I don’t care who I’m advising (as long as they do what I want them to).  I talk big, but I’m low throughput.   Even assuming a UROP is going to benefit more from working for me rather than someone else, my impact, numbers-wise, will be effectively zero.  There is no particular professional benefit derived by advising undergrads that fill out some of the under-represented minority in science catagories while you’re a post-doc (no Broader Impact section in anything I’ve had to write for recently) and, indeed, advertising may alert my PI to the growing size of my scientific army.  Do I sit back and wait for the excellent CV’s to fall into my hands or do I actively solicit, possibly increasing the number of CVs from under-represented minorities, but definately increasing my administrative burden.

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