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Academic Job Search: Lessons from the IP tracker

October 27, 2018

In addition to formal communication, I maintained a simple professional website with an IP tracker.  The my professional site came up on the first page of results for a search on my name and I included the web address in my application materials.  I checked the hits at least a few times a week and in the case where the IP address mapped to a university, I recorded the first and second visit dates.  If I applied to multiple positions at a university, I assigned the hit to the earliest application date unless there was a good indication of department in the IP (e.g. genetics.yale.edu).  For large geographical areas with only one university, I counted hits from the city where the university was located even if it wasn’t through a university assigned IP address (e.g. for University of Utah, also hits from Salt Lake City).  I did not do this for cities with multiple universities.  Thus, IP tracking data is much more robust for large state universities than it is for universities in areas like Boston, New York and San Francisco.  It is likewise more accurate for universities with one open position than with multiple open positions.  Finally, it is much more accurate for applications with earlier due dates (say August through November) because later on there started to be too many hits to parse with as much granularity.   The data set suffered a bit because the task grew in complexity as other demands on my time increased and my anxiety over finding a position diminished.  For more details, see the Materials and Methods section.

IP tracker data analysis: Given the above caveats that indicated that false negatives were much more likely in this dataset than false positives, I found that over a third of the places I applied viewed my professional website.  The actual percentage was likely to be higher.

Range: 0 to 84 days
Average: 17 (+/- 21) days
Median: 9 days.

IP_tracker_delay

Hits from university IP’s, though informal, were easily the first indication of interest with a median delay between application to the first IP hit of 9 days.  Queries for letters of recommendation had a median delay of 21 days while invitations for interviews had a median delay of 32 days.  Many more places visited my website than invited me for interviews. Website visits are therefore most useful as an indicator of a competitive application package.

Take away lessons:

  1. They are going to google you.  I got hits from every single university where I had an interview and many universities that I never heard back from.  Legal or not, someone on the committee will google you.
  2. Many committees get to work right away, although you will not hear from them for another couple of weeks.
  3. Most googlers simply want to know what you look like.  The page with the picture was the page that got the most hits – roughly 60%.  It was often the only hit from an IP.  The second most popular page was “publications” at another 15%.  While my “outreach” page did garner hits, they mostly came through topical searches, not searches on my name.  People who visited my outreach page usually did not look at the other pages (> 10% clicked through to other pages).  In my experience looking for an academic research job, there was no evidence to support the idea that search committees were interested in anything other than what I looked like and my publication record.
  4. They will google you again.  In as much as I kept track, over a quarter of the places that looked at my website visited at least one more time within three weeks of their initial visit, before I was contacted about interviews.
  5. They will google you again.  I could make a pretty accurate guess about when my seminar was announced at the universities that I visited.

Advice:  Control the narrative.  If you’re on the job market, make a simple website that includes a photo.

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