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I have attended a few panels on applying to post-doctoral/junior faculty positions, and the topic of authorship and research direction always came up. All of the faculty on these panels noted that successful applicants needed to distinguish their research from their PI's by pursuing novel questions and publishing first-author papers.

But the women faculty also noted that regardless of the novelty of a question, a woman coauthoring a paper with her PI (even if she is a first author) is seen as less independent than a man coauthoring a paper with his PI. Consequently, the suggestion was that women should pursue sole-author publications or publications with colleagues at similar or earlier stages of their career.

These panels included faculty from physics, chemistry, and anthropology, but I want to focus on the natural sciences.

There are a few questions I have related to this advice.

  1. Does it happen? Is what these women faculty describe true? For those of you who have served on faculty/post-doc selection committees, have you seen the evaluations of comparative candidates differ according to their gender?

  2. Latino and Black applicants: There were no Latino or African-American faculty on these panels, but the reasons the women faculty gave for why women should go the extra mile in establishing independence seem to also apply to candidates from underrepresented groups. Have you seen evaluations differ according to whether candidates were from such groups?

  3. Establishing Independence without Sole-Authorship: Supposing at least one of the answers to the previous questions is in the affirmative: It is not always possible for young scientists to develop sufficiently independent projects that lead to sole-authorships. How else might a candidate demonstrate sufficient independence from her PI? Recommendation letters can conceivably convey the quality and independence of a candidate, but are there things the candidate can do herself?

I recognize that the answers to these questions are likely opinion-based, but I am primarily looking for the opinions of stackexchange members in order to gauge whether the issue the women faculty cite is unique to my university.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Elizabeth Henning, corey979, Richard Erickson, Dmitry Savostyanov, user3209815 Jan 31 at 8:00

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    For as liberal and as open as most universities claim to be, it is rather ironic that they often times also prop up some amount of bias and incongruence in their hiring and promotion practices. – Vladhagen Jan 30 at 18:23
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    The effect you describe almost certainly exists and is worse in some places than others, both for race/ethnicity and gender. But I think that the solution involves long-term, collective action on the one hand and personal action on the other. Advisors, can and, in my view, should, encourage their students to write sole-authorship papers even when joint might be appropriate. Some joint authorship can boost a student and others, as you note, can inhibit. But a lot of minds need to be changed. Working groups at conferences can be formed to address the issue within a given field, perhaps. – Buffy Jan 30 at 18:30
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    You might be able to get your questions answered if you separate them out and make them more objective. – Azor Ahai Jan 30 at 19:11
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    "Establishing Independence without Sole-Authorship" is a good thing even independently of the bias concerns (which, I'm afraid, you'll never get a good answer for -- at least not from real-name poster --, because any admission of seeing these things happen will be piled on by "why didn't you do anything, enabler of sexism?" comments). But I'm afraid the answer will depend heavily on the field. In mathematics, it is fairly easy to get your own research projects started that have little to do with your supervisor; but in lab-based sciences? Suggest re-asking that question for specific fields. – darij grinberg Jan 30 at 19:14
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    Point 1 is persuasively documented in economics: aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.p20171126 – Dawn Jan 30 at 22:25
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Does it happen? Is what these women faculty describe true? For those of you who have served on faculty/post-doc selection committees, have you seen the evaluations of comparative candidates differ according to their gender?

Yes. This does happen. It is often hard to recognize - there's a degree of implicit bias at work all the time that's difficult to detect, because rare are applicants with genuinely comparative applications. It's easy to write off something one way or another - the prestige of the journals in question, the conclusions of the paper, etc. But I have, at times, seen it.

Latino and Black applicants: There were no Latino or African-American faculty on these panels, but the reasons the women faculty gave for why women should go the extra mile in establishing independence seem to also apply to candidates from underrepresented groups. Have you seen evaluations differ according to whether candidates were from such groups?

While I encounter this less commonly because of the wide underrepresentation of these (and other) minoritized groups generally, I have seen it happen.

How else might a candidate demonstrate sufficient independence from her PI? Recommendation letters can conceivably convey the quality and independence of a candidate, but are there things the candidate can do herself?

A couple things come to mind:

  • Being the PI on your own project. These may be small pilot grants or the like, no one expects you to land an R01 or the like. But it suggests some driving of your own research project.
  • Collaborations with not your PI. Your PI does not have to be on every paper you write, and it's possible to establish side projects etc. with other researchers. This occasionally has to be done with caution, due the the balancing of commitments, but it is possible.
  • If your job applications end up with a "Chalk Talk" where you outline your research agenda, nailing that. In my experience, this is where most candidates where I am, regardless of their gender, race or ethnicity, fail to establish their independence. You need to learn to tell the story of you the researcher, and how what you've done is, by and large, a logical arc into what you will do as an independent researcher.
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    These are good suggestions on ways to establish independence. In particular, using the "Chalk Talk" as an opportunity to tell your personal story as a researcher is something that I have never heard before. – Olukayode Jan 31 at 18:04
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  1. Does it happen?

This can be found out only in a properly randomized, double-blind experiment with a huge individual base from a variety of backgrounds. To the best of my knowledge, no really credible experiment has ever been carried out. To the best of my understanding, evaluating the paperwork incurs little to no gender issues in comparison to meetings in person. Roughly simplifying, coauthoring a publication means being more dependent than having a single-author publication publication regardless of gender.

For those of you who have served on faculty/post-doc selection committees, have you seen the evaluations of comparative candidates differ according to their gender?

The problem is that everyone is different. In my experience there were little comparative candidates, and everyone's evaluation was somewhat different. Said that, yes, they both do differ and don't differ: there was not enough data to answer.

  1. Latino and Black applicants: Have you seen evaluations differ according to whether candidates were from such groups?

Everyone is different. So, yes. But the evaluation was based purely on merit, and some correlations between background, income, education, and therefore merit exist. Black (sorry for being direct) folks in south states of the USA are more statistically likely to have low levels of all that.

For fun, we found out that people who said they ride bicycles are more likely to get the positions than those who said they go to work by car. (This is probably due to a healthier overall living style and better organization, but we have not really scientifically looked into the reason.) So, the car drivers were discriminated. If it turns out to be unversally true, we probably have to encourage the car drivers to apply if and only if we encourage women to apply...

  1. Establishing Independence without Sole-Authorship:

E.g. the candidate can get independent external funding.

  • Thanks for your response. The biker v. driver comment is interesting. (I think) You're suggesting that correlations in applicant success and applicant trait might have an underlying cause related to the quality of the applicant rather than implicit bias against the trait. I suppose this is a possibility, but it is a trickier case to make for gender unless you associate particular aptitudes for success with one gender and not the other, in which case you would have to take the extra step in showing that valuing those aptitudes rather than others does not itself constitute a form of bias. – Olukayode Jan 31 at 3:44
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    Correct me if I am wrong, but I have an impression that you aren't discussing a theoretical issue of discrimination, you are asking whether having solely-authored papers improves your future prospects. I think @darij grinberg's comment above is correct: it is a good thing regardless of your race/gender/whatever, so you should simply do it in any case. – rg_software Jan 31 at 4:26
  • @rg_software. My post included three questions, but none of them asked whether sole-authorship by itself improved an applicant's prospects. The first two questions in the post referred to the existence of bias in judging an applicant. The part of user49915's answer that I responded to was what I saw as the suggestion that simply because bias seems to exist in the outcome, it might not exist in fact. This matter is a peripheral point to the thrust of my question, so the purpose of my comment was not to negate user49915's answer but to mention a subtlety in the reasonable biker/driver example. – Olukayode Jan 31 at 17:51
  • @rg_software Having sole-author papers is good, but in some areas, it is extremely difficult to do progress alone (e.g., experimental quantum particle physics or observational astronomy) to get a publication in a good venue. – user0 Feb 1 at 20:53
  • @Olukayode Yes. It may be difficult to see what the reason for the bias is. – user0 Feb 1 at 20:54

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