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Hiring in sociology: Canadian trained candidates preferred

Panelists at Congress refute skepticism of their audience, saying they look first at Canadian PhDs.

BY TARA SIEBARTH | JUN 27 2012

Canadian candidates are the preferred choice of hiring committees in the sociology departments at some of Canada’s comprehensive universities, according to a panel hosted by the Canadian Sociological Association at this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

“When I am on a search committee, we look at all of the Canadian candidates first, and if we absolutely cannot find anyone qualified enough for the job, then we move on to the U.S. pile,” said Karen Stanbridge, an associate professor of sociology at Memorial University. Her fellow panelists, James Frideres of the University of Calgary and Lori Wilkinson of the University of Manitoba, echoed these sentiments.

“There has to be a really good reason why we are not selecting a Canadian candidate,” said Dr. Wilkinson, an associate professor of sociology at U of M.

The panelists spoke at a workshop for graduate students on how to apply for an academic position. The panelists gave advice on everything from what to wear to the interview on campus to how many slides you should include in your presentation. But it was the discussion about who gets hired that prompted the most debate.

It seemed to come as a shock to many in the audience that Canadian candidates might be preferred over U.S.-trained candidates for faculty positions. Questions flew back and forth about whether it was better for a Canadian to do a PhD in the United States and then look for a job in Canada or whether those with PhDs from Canadian institutes really stood a chance at getting hired in their home country.

“Obviously every department [and institution] is different, but in my experience, Canadian-trained PhDs are given preferential status during the hiring process,” said Dr. Frideres, also a sociology professor.

This is in sharp contrast to some of the commentary that has circulated recently in the academic community about hiring in certain disciplines, including an article that ran in University Affairs suggesting it might be better for Canadian philosophy students to get their PhD in the United States. That 2009 article by two philosophy professors (Wayne Fenske and Louis Groarke) showed that the four most prominent anglophone philosophy departments – at UBC, Toronto, Queen’s and McGill – overwhelmingly hired candidates who had earned their PhDs in the U.S. or abroad; 80 percent of their philosophy faculty members with tenured or tenure-track jobs had non-Canadian PhDs. The article prompted others that took the debate beyond philosophy departments and were based on statistics over decades.

But the sociology panelists refuted all the skepticism coming from audience members and were adamant that they looked at Canadians exclusively unless there was no appropriate candidate from Canada.

This year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences took place at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University from May 26 to June 2. More than 7,400 researchers and students attended the event.

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  1. Richard Day / June 27, 2012 at 11:24

    Sorry to say it out loud, but there is a BIG difference between the concrete and the ivy leagues in this regard. I want to be a good sociologist here, so don’t take my word for it – just go look at the c.v.s of the people hired over the past 10 years at UBC, McGill, U of T. You will see something quite interesting – though I’m sure if any of those folks had been on this panel, they would have put forth the same narrative, as that narrative is legally sanctioned.

  2. Dr.Doinglittle / June 27, 2012 at 12:19

    Well shoot – I wish I was there this year as I would have loved to ask a few questions of this panel. In all of my years of attending Congress, not once have I seen an association sponsor a session on the topic of employment, even if was only with respect for academic positions.

    That said, it doesn’t sounds like the panel got into the ugly truth of how hiring decisions are made in most depts. Anyone can go to a dept website and see the CVs of faculty to see where they hail from. My personal favourite is to visit depts that specialize in Canadian studies and see the high number of faculty from US schools. Put these people on a hiring committee and the results are predictable.

  3. J. Paul Grayson / June 27, 2012 at 16:18

    What this article leaves out is that the federal government thankfully requires Canadian candidates to be considered first. If there were an unregulated continental market in academics, given that the U.S. is nearly ten times bigger than we are, we might expect that only one out of every ten hires in Canada would be Canadian. The situation would be compounded in an unregulated global market. This would bring us back to the situation of the early seventies in which large numbers of sociologists in many Canadian departments were oblivious to their Canadian surroundings. Unfortunately, despite what people referenced in the article say, as recent events in my department show, not all sociologists would agree with the priorities articulated.

  4. Todd Dufresne / June 27, 2012 at 18:08

    I recommend colleagues look at Groarke and Fenske, in UA, on this same issue: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/phd-to-what-end.aspx . Their finding run counter to the assertions of the panelists.

    As my colleagues above say, anyone who claims that Cnd-trained Cnds are ‘favoured’ has to contend with actual hiring practices. Nice talk, but so very little action. Utterly unbelievable.

    Incidentally, where will you find the most ‘Cnd-trained Cds’? At local universities, like Laurentian and Brandon. As for the ‘first-tier’ universities, the vast number of hires are non-Cnd-trained. No secret. Everyone knows this.

  5. Gary / June 27, 2012 at 19:05

    Dr.Doinglittle —> This panel was organized by the CSA Student Concerns Subcommittee along with several others related to professional development, including one on finding jobs outside of academia. We hope to organize more of these in the future. You can follow the CSA on Twitter @csa_sociology; Facebook, or LinkedIn for updates on sessions like this in the future.

    At the panel it was raised that this is legally required for departments to examine Canadian applicants first, that is Canadian citizens, I don’t believe it requires they have been trained in Canada but I might be mistaken. Certain departments might be able to find ways around this, but for the panelists at this talk and at other talks I have attended the speakers’ experience was that Canadians were considered first and others were only considered if a qualified Canadian candidate could not be found.