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I am the grad student on the hiring committee, and I have been tasked with gathering feedback from grad students about our faculty candidates. All of the grad students were invited to attend each candidates job talk and an open meeting between the candidate and students.

My first attempt was to simply have the department send out a mass email telling the grad students to email me with their feedback. The next thing I tried was asking a handful of students from various labs to attend the talk and meeting then email me with feedback. So far I have received zero feedback on any of the candidates.

I believe my problem is that these talks are often sparsely attended (e.g., only people in the same field as the candidate) since many students have no motivation to attend and my feedback requests have been too open ended (e.g., feedback on what??).

How can I improve this process?

My ideas:

  • A rubric of what aspects to give feedback on
  • An organized committee of students that provide feedback and try to get other students to attend
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My previous University had a lot of luck by shaming everyone into coming or "the perspectives won't want to come here." Also, there was free food and it was dark enough you could get work done in the back. – Ric Feb 2 at 23:41
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It has been a while since I was a grad student. Do grad students still like pizza and beer? I don't remember liking rubrics or committees - I think those were the kinds of things I actively avoided. – emory Feb 3 at 1:40
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We've had luck with a strategy of scheduling lunch with the graduate students (pizza and soda) with the understanding that they'd have to give us feedback about the candidate. – Brian Borchers Feb 3 at 2:10
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@menzenski I am indeed the student on the hiring committee, which is why I was asked to do this. – Austin Henley Feb 3 at 2:13
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I think that the best feedback from students on stuff like this comes from in-person conversations. Anything else is too formal and won't effectively get honest feedback. I suggest trying to get a lunch meeting or something set up with each candidate and several students, then meet with them later (scheduled or informally) to ask them what they thought. – Roger Fan Feb 3 at 3:26

As someone who was a graduate student until recently, I would have no idea how to respond to a request like this. Even if I were qualified to judge potential faculty hires (which I very much am not, even now, as a postdoc) you've simply asked for "feedback" without giving any specifics. Do you know what kind of feedback you're looking for? You have to answer that question for yourself first.

It sounds like this task was thrust on you. Can you get anything more specific from whoever put you in charge of this?

This whole thing sounds odd to me. In fact, I suspect it's really all for appearances, to make the grad students feel included or to appease some high-level administrator who thinks it's a good idea. If you think that's the case, my advice is to provide free food for grad students after the job talks (without the free food, no one will stay) and hand out evaluation forms with a few questions about the content/style of the talk. The forms are unlikely to be read by anyone, but you'll accomplish the task you were given and the students will get free food. Everyone wins.

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Do not underestimate the power of free food – Phill Feb 3 at 3:04
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At my university, the grading/feedback form for the test lecture was handed out at the beginning of the lecture and collected at the end. It had questions such as "On a scale of 1-5 how intelligible was the lecture to you?" and "Would you sign up for a class with this professor?" and an open ended question for any other feedback. – Sumyrda Feb 3 at 6:32
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The tone of this answer makes me think that its author is not in a field where it is common to involve graduate students in the hiring process; this makes it less applicable to the current question. – Tom Church Feb 3 at 6:36
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@TomChurch I freely admit that is the case, and probably should have noted it in my answer. In fact, I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that some departments do this, and why. – user37208 Feb 3 at 17:35
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@user37208 Because graduate students are adults who can make informed opinions, and moreover are human beings who care about the quality of their environment. If a professor sucks at working with graduate students, a good department won't want to hire him, and graduate students themselves seem like a pretty good way to gauge this aspect. It's the same reason you wouldn't want an all-male committee to decide such things, lest you hire someone who doesn't work well with women. – Chris White Feb 3 at 19:45

As @user37208 says, most graduate students have no idea how to respond to a request like this. More importantly, I think expecting anyone—graduate student or faculty—to truly engage with a faculty candidate only through their talk is hopelessly naive.

In my department, all faculty interviews include a one-hour meeting with a group of PhD students in the candidate's area. No faculty are allowed in this meeting, so that the students can speak freely, without worrying about whether their advisor likes what they say. Typically the same group of students meets with all candidates in each particular subfield, so that they have some basis for comparison.

After the interview(s), someone on the recuiting committee contacts those specific students to ask for feedback, either by email or (if possible) in a face-to-face meeting, again (if possible) without the advisor present. As with faculty, it's important to ask more detailed questions than "So, what do you think?" For example: How do you think the candidate would be as an advisor? Would you consider becoming their student? How well do you think they would teach? How interesting/strong/deep is their research record? (Yes, at this point the students have read a couple of the candidate's papers.) How interesting/creative/realistic/far-reaching is their research vision? Would they bring new expertise/visibility that the department currently lacks? Did they ask you good questions? Did they seem interested in you and your work, or did they seem bored or distracted?

I almost forgot: It's vital that the recruiting committee actually take the student feedback seriously. If the students have any reason to think that their opinion doesn't actually matter, they'll check out (as they should).

Including the students as first-class participants in the interview significantly increases their engagement with the process; the feedback we get from students is surprisingly insightful. It also does a much better job of showing the faculty candidates that the students are mature, thoughtful, independent, creative, and the like—all the qualities that faculty hope for in their own students—than just taking the word of the faculty. It also provides some training for students who might be going on the academic job market themselves soon.

Yes, this system requires a significant amount of trust in the students. (But if you don't trust your students, why on earth did you admit them?) It also takes a few years to reach a steady state where the senior students understand the process and can explain it to the junior students.

[I'm the chair of the faculty recruiting committee in a top-5 American computer science department.]

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+1 for referring to graduate students as what they are, namely intelligent human beings with interesting opinions and perspective. +100 for not mentioning free pizza - I am honestly sick of this patronizing meme that treats graduate students as automatons who can be manipulated with free food. – Dan Romik Feb 3 at 16:21
    
@DanRomik Yup. If you want warm bodies, provide free food. If you actually want people to engage, treat them like first-class citizens. (The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.) – JeffE Feb 4 at 4:22

It's too late now, but briefing the students in advance on the very broad type of feedback you'd like would be helpful.

From where you are now, a questionaire approach might work best, for example:

  • Rate the candidate's lecture/seminar delivery out of 10
  • Please comment further
  • How would the candidate fit in to the social side of the group?
  • If you were assigned this candidate as your supervisor, how happy would you be (out of 10).
  • Please comment further

etc. as appropriate.

I've done a couple of things here to make it easy to get more feedback: The fairly lazy will just answer along the lines (5, they were OK, OK, 5, [blank box]), though a very good or very bad candidate will still stand out. A decent few would give you proper responses to at least some of the questions for at least some of the candidates.

I'd do this as a reply-inline email, giving a few blank lines as a gentle hint of how much to write; your admin team would probably cook up a form in word for electronic return.

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Ask Faculty in the candidate's area to task a couple of their Ph.D. students with gathering feedback from the other students in that area and then sending the summary to you sanitized/anonymized.

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Radical but very likely effective: have a grad-student representative on the search committee, non-voting if that's the only way to make it work.

It's a win-win: the committee gets at least one grad student perspective, the grad student has the job-search process demystified somewhat.

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I am the grad student on the hiring committee, which is why I was asked to do this. – Austin Henley Feb 3 at 2:17
    
Ah, that would be the problem, wouldn't it. Sorry about that. I suggest informal means, in that case: gossip in the grad lounge, coffee dates, etc. – D.Salo Feb 3 at 23:51

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