By Ashley Delamater
While the number of PhDs awarded to underrepresented students (non-white students) has increased over the last two decades, their overall share among doctoral graduates remains small. As a result, underrepresented PhD candidates are the subject of hiring competition. At the same time, underrepresented PhDs and post-docs are often widely dispersed across institutions, making it difficult to truly improve diversity anywhere.
Number of PhDs Awarded by Race
NSF/NIH/USED/USDA/NEH/NASA, Survey of Earned Doctorates 1993, 2003, 2013
Source: Finkelstein, Conley, and Schuster, The Faculty Factor, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016
These challenges are magnified when academic leaders are under pressure to quickly fill an open position. Outreach easily devolves into a series of brief and largely one-sided requests for candidate recommendations, and departments receive applications from candidates with whom they have little connection.
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Instead of casting a wide net at the eleventh hour, institutions should focus on building long-term, substantive relationships with potential candidates and referral sources. The following three approaches highlight the most effective ways to build a strong pipeline of diverse faculty candidates.
1. Develop relationships with a small number of faculty and students at other institutions
Provosts, department chairs, and faculty can maintain relationships with a wide range of departments and individual students at other institutions, but this can be time consuming and often results in little affinity between the home institution and prospects. Instead of pursuing connections with as many programs as possible, focus on developing deep and long-standing relationships with a small number of departments at other institutions with high levels of diversity among undergraduate and graduate students.
Faculty members with existing connections to other departments (or institutions) are ideal individuals to act as main points of contact. They should visit selected departments to simultaneously present graduate program offerings to undergraduate students and network with current graduate students and faculty. Their visits will help institutions create deeper relationships with diverse students earlier and help create a longer-term pipeline of underrepresented minority academics.
Presentations to undergraduates should include:
- Courses of study available in the graduate program
- Areas of faculty research expertise
- Scholarship and research funding opportunities
- Information on the admissions process
The primary faculty contact should maintain open communication with the selected departments throughout the year, following up with interested undergraduates and maintaining relationships with graduate students and faculty. This deeper relationship will yield more and stronger candidate recommendations when faculty searches arise later.
Adopting Feeder Departments in Action
- Faculty make annual visits to inform students of graduate study opportunities
- Visits allow institution to develop relationships with host faculty, graduate students
- Communication with faculty, students continues throughout the year
- Colleagues at visited institution recommend candidates when faculty searches arise
Ultimately, successful recruitment through campus networking visits depends on the quality of follow-up that takes place after the visit.
2. Build affinity with promising young scholars by hosting symposia
Organize the one- or two-day symposia around the prospects’ areas of research and hold a reception or dinner to encourage informal exchange and relationship building. Symposia demonstrate your institution’s sincere interest in the presenters’ research and also create opportunities for faculty to interact and form long-lasting connections with young scholars who may be good candidates for faculty positions.
Institutions should follow up with presenters whenever faculty positions become available. Even if the open position(s) don’t align with a presenter’s research area, they may be able to connect the department with other strong candidates that would be a better fit.
3. Reach potential candidates earlier with professional development workshops
Professional development workshops create opportunities for department leaders to build relationships with graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from around the country who are close to beginning their job search. Workshops should be tailored to graduate students' needs and include sessions on topics like life at a university, expectations of new faculty, and an outline of key resources for getting started in research. In addition to the workshop sessions, current faculty members can talk with attendees and show them the institution's research facilities and labs.
Offering professional development workshops combined with faculty networking opportunities will not only help emerging scholars prepare for academic careers but also increase the number of potential candidates with whom your institution has a strong relationship. Institutions can further ensure they are reaching a more diverse candidate pool by covering students' workshop expenses.
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Breakthrough Advances in Faculty Diversity