Playing the hiring game

Recruiting top researchers can become a bidding battle between institutions, Patrick Deane says

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the market for hiring top researchers and professors is competitive.
Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the market for hiring top researchers and professors is competitive.

When Queen’s nominated him for a prestigious research award, Tucker Carrington wasn’t working here. He was teaching at the University of Montreal.

Carrington said he hadn’t previously considered transferring to Queen’s. The appeal of being a Tier One Canada Research Chair—a position awarded to world-class researchers and funded by the federal government—was very attractive, he said.

The federal government gives him an annual $200,000 grant that allows him to focus primarily on his research into the behaviour of molecules.

He also teaches a chemistry course on quantum physics.

“It’s pretty close to my research,” he said.

Carrington is one of many professors the University offers added incentives to entice them to Queen’s.

“What they bring—particularly Tier One researchers—is a lot of experience and reputation, which brings reputation to Queen’s,” said Vice-Principal (Research) Kerry Rowe, adding that those researchers can also bring valuable leadership to the University.

“It allows us to broaden our experience and our research undertakings within the University. It brings in somebody with a certain set of skills not just for research, but for managing a team,” he said.

To encourage desirable applicants to choose Queen’s over other institutions, the University offers perks for senior researchers, such as funding for graduate students, conference travel, laboratory re-location and laboratory renovations and equipment, said Mary Purcell, Queen’s University Infrastructure Programs Task Force manager. She said the bill for that support is generally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and usually includes co-funding from the federal and provincial governments.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said Queen’s strong academic reputation also assists in attracting quality professors.

“Queen’s has a long-standing reputation for being a place of exceptional academic quality. That draws people to it,” Deane said.

Because a professor has to teach in addition to doing research, he said, the calibre of students is also a factor for individuals applying to university positions.

“We’re widely known for the quality of our students.”

However, Deane said, faculty members in different programs or departments have different factors to consider.

“In the sciences, there is a considerable amount of money for getting set up in a lab.”

Deane said all institutions have difficulty getting professors in certain fields. He cited the economics department as an example.

“People with the qualifications you want in economics can find more attractive positions. They have opportunities in the private sector, where the compensation is much more attractive.” In general, he said, hiring professors is most competitive in fields where the range of possible employers is widest.

Very specialized fields or fields many universities are currently developing as an area of strength, such as biotechnology, are also challenging for employers because demand is so great, Deane said.

Although it does happen that an individual is approached and advised to apply for a specific position, Deane said, those situations need to be approached very carefully.

“Everyone is mindful of the need for these processes to be fair. You have to be very cautious in approaching someone and saying, ‘Please apply,’” he said, because doing so might give that individual the false assumption they will be fast-tracked through the application and hiring process.

If a Queen’s employee meets someone at a conference, however, and suggests he or she apply for a job at the University, that’s not a problem.

“You do want the best people to be in [the applicant pool]. We do look for ways to encourage people to apply,” he said. “But you don’t want the head of a department or the chair of a hiring committee to tell someone to apply.”

Even before the Canada Research Chair position was created, Rowe said, the University would bring in senior professors to develop a particular area of research at Queen’s. One of these was Art McDonald from Princeton University, who came to Queen’s to work in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory run by the Queen’s physics department.

“He came in as a full professor and had a significant impact on the field internationally,” Rowe said, adding that McDonald’s work brought several top awards to Queen’s and attracted other outstanding researchers to the University.

The University now focuses on attracting professors with Canada Research Chair positions and rewards current professors with positions such as the Queen’s Research Chair, he said.

When all the Canada Research Chair appointments have been made—the last are expected in 2008—Queen’s will have 54 Tier One and Tier Two faculty members, Rowe said.

The federal government gives Tier One researchers such as Carrington $200,000 annually for up to seven years. Tier One researchers are “outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields,” according to the Canada Research Chair website.

It also awards Tier Two research positions to emerging researchers, giving them $100,000 per year for five years. When the Canada Research Chairs Program began in 2000, the federal government pledged to establish 2,000 positions in Canadian universities by 2008.

The Canada Research Chair is part of a program started by the government under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, Deane said.

“It began in order to protect Canada from the brain drain, not only to keep people in Canada, but to bring them to Canada,” Deane said.

He said Canada Research Chairs usually have a different workload, which varies depending on the individual. The workload is laid out in the professor’s employment contract.

“They do teach, but it’s a special kind of appointment to research.”

For standard faculty positions and Tier Two positions, Rowe said, the hiring committees are likely to get good applications through normal advertising. With more senior positions, he said, it’s a more active recruitment process.

“When you’re talking about a senior position, it’s never just a matter of opening up a position,” he said.

The individuals who would apply are generally in well-established or senior positions at other institutions and need to be contacted and encouraged to come to Queen’s.

“You have to aggressively let people know [of the position]. The people you’re trying to hire don’t read the paper looking for ads,” Rowe said.

“There is an appropriate process you go through, but you need to be in contact with them, encouraging people to put in applications and let them be aware of what they could do at Queen’s.” Although it’s still a competitive process in which many potential faculty members apply for the position, Rowe said it would be categorized as a recruitment process.

“At the more junior level, there’s still a courtship involved, but you get a number of applications,” he said. “It’s more similar to the normal hiring process.”

At the end of the day, however, even those being recruited for top research positions have to go through the same formal hiring process, Rowe said.

When a department or faculty within the university identifies a position to be filled, that position is advertised and a number of hiring committees interview the candidates.

“All hiring follows essentially the same process,” Deane said.

The committees make a recommendation to the faculty dean to appoint an applicant to the position. The dean then makes a recommendation to Deane’s office, who passes it on to Principal Karen Hitchcock.

“The principal makes the official offer,” Deane said. “That’s the practical process.”

The hiring is done according to a collective agreement between the University and the Queen’s University Faculty Association.

The application and hiring process for faculty is very competitive, Deane said.

“Advertising has to begin early enough to get people when they’re considering applying,” he said. “There are lots of universities looking for really good people. In some disciplines, the market for top faculty members is very strong.” He said the University has to work carefully to ensure they attract the best possible applicants.

“We have to be mindful of what we’re offering top professors. It can become a bidding battle, and they can usually make a choice [between top institutions],” Deane said.

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