November 25, 2018 by Amanda Visconti

Notes: DH hiring ads & HR policy (Purdue version)

Part of my meta-DH series documenting DH/DS infrastructure: the hows & whys of treating a project team, lab, department, or campus as itself a DH project.

Caveat: This post consists of notes taken during my former DH Librarian role at Purdue (2015-2017), rather than my latest thinking at Scholars’ Lab. I’ll be sharing that updated thinking here soon!

Notes from back when I was designing a DH initiative at Purdue Libraries; not my latest thinking, but still worth sharing. See also the Scholars’ Lab DH Developer and User Advocate job posts for which I was one of the authors. The Scholars’ Lab job ads were created after the notes in this post, and better represent my current thinking about digital humanities HR and hiring.

Job ad wording

  • Job ad wording should allow for latent interests that the candidates’ current positions or formal academic coursework may not have allowed them to demonstrate or explore.
  • Job ads should make clear that candidates need not have all mentioned attributes to apply, but more importantly not ask for characteristics that are not needed to fulfill the job satisfactorily.
  • Job ads should highlight benefits of the position, such as personal research time and/or tenure-track role
  • See Angela Pashia’s post analyzing hiring, e.g. “Being willing to consider experience in other areas for transferrable skills seems like a really important factor in diversifying our field.”
  • List a likely salary range using numbers (no vague “salary is competitive/will match hiree’s experience” language, no reference to arcance institutional wage structures such as “Pay Grade J”). If there’s a cost of living difference that means a position’s salary may look small but stretch farther, include that info in the ad (and perhaps a link to a calculator letting candidates compare to their current cost of living).
  • Use candidates’ time well. Give as much info up front as possible (see last point: state the salary range!) and don’t ask for special work beyond a cover letter and resume during the initial application. For roles requiring previous experience, asking for e.g. a GitHub repo or link to a past project website may be appropriate (but consider e.g. who may fit your needs but not use GitHub/have an active repo), but save anything requiring new work or significant labor to curate for later stages in the interviewing process (and give candidates adequate time to prepare these when you do).
  • Use references’ time well. Don’t ask for references during the initial application process, if your department allows you to do this; many folks are skittish about search committees contacting references who may not know you’re on the job market, and would appreciate knowing beforehand if you’re at the point where references will decide the hiring (give candidates time to let their bosses know first). Do let candidates know if letters will be required later in the process, and only require letters rather than a phone call or email if these are judged to somehow be necessary or more fair.

What skills are we seeking?

More important than specific skills or content expertise are:

  • Interest in learning to publicly speak about the digital humanities to diverse audiences through diverse means such as Twitter, blogging, GitHub, and public speaking both on campus and at external opportunities such as conferences
  • Interest in making the humanities more public
  • Interest in critical thinking about the digital humanities, including areas like diversity, inclusion, ethics, and mentorship
  • Interest in learning new things, and the demonstrated ability of the curiosity and ability to teach oneself new skills
  • Interest in mentoring and teaching others what you’ve learned
  • Interest in pursuing a personal research agenda in the digital humanities
  • Interest in balancing the excitement of innovation with work that makes the digital humanities more caring about its community and projects, more productive and generative, better at long-term thinking and planning (link Nowviskie “Capacity and Care” talk)
  • Ability to discuss how your research interests either extend current Purdue DH or Libraries expertise, or add new areas of expertise
  • Vision for what the digital humanities could ideally be
  • Interest in working with diverse colleagues and demonstrated experience contributing to an inclusive environment

Try to build these into the job description (or practices/policy of their organizational unit)

  • Funds for professional development
  • Mentorship
  • Collaborative model that will always publicly credit their contributions
  • Ability to shape DH Center and campus community
  • Ability to experiment and learn in their chosen areas of research
  • Flexible work schedules, commitment to work-life balance, spousal placement help, childcare, and other benefits that increase access to and wellbeing in the job
  • What formal (e.g. brownbag talks on what staff have been working on) and informal (water cooler) ways does your department encourage and reward collegiality?
  • All staff should be able to PI; if they are not faculty and faculty status is required to PI, we should try to obtain the ability for them to PI across the board rather than per project.
  • Ideally, hires should have a reasonable expectation that they can build a career here if they move here. If the work need is truly short-term (are you sure it is?) or (more likely) you’re only able to secure funding for a contract/short-term/grant-funded position, be extra diligent in including professional development opportunities and mentorship throughout the contract, and schedule work to allow the staffer to be on the job market during the final three months (including interview travel, reference requests, and time to practice job talks).
  • Each role should have a clear path for promotion, increased autonomy, and other types of development (as preferred by the staffer).
  • 20% personal research & professionalism time, in-house, on projects chosen in agreement with director/supervisor.
  • The shape of the DH Lab will be determined by the individual skills, interests, and experience of the staff.
  • Weekly standup meeting, monthly issues discussion lunch, regular scheduled participation in DH community (to be set with staff, e.g. Wikipedia editing, Programming Historian tutorial creation, Slack/Twitter focused chats and tech support hangouts, DH Q&A answers, work on open-source coding projects including documentation and usertesting)?
  • Develop a charter (mission, values) that whole team develops and agrees to (e.g. Scholars’ Lab charter).