Wednesday, April 21, 2004


It is interview season at the labs, and a stream of candidates flows through our corridors. You can always tell who the candidate is by picking out the person in a suit (though that can occasionally be wrong at a corporate lab; thankfully I haven't yet accidentally asked my chairman which university he's interviewing from).

Taking the measure of a candidate is a tricky business in a research lab. Having come through the university system, I feel comfortable evaluating a candidate for a university position; one can look at letters, research interest, general drive and all kinds of parameters. In a research laboratory things can get a bit trickier. One wants the stellar academic credentials of course, but one also likes to see a certain kind of "renaissance" personality; the sense that the person you are interviewing is broader than the story their resume tells.

It is hard to determine this in our modern era of specialization. A candidate usually wants to show depth and expertise in an area, but it seems to me that one of the parameters for success in a lab is the ability to be flexible; to be able to take the skills one has and apply them both in one's own work, and when lending a hand in other projects. This calls for the ability to abstract, generalize and apply, rather than to specialize and drill down. I feel that in this respect at least, labs and universities differ, and this is a more interesting distinction between the two than the standard cliches about how much freedom of choice one has, how much business-oriented work one does, etc etc.

I wonder what kinds of questions can elicit whether or not a potential new hire has this kind of sensibility ?
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