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Complementary research meaning
February 26, 2012 6:47 PM   Subscribe

What does a candidate having a research program "that complements the department's existing strengths" really mean in a job announcement?

I see this and similar phrases in job announcements for STEM area academic positions and wonder if there is an agreed-upon meaning of "complement". Does it mean they are looking for someone who works in the same area as several other researchers to form a 'center of excellence'? Do they want someone who can do something they don't do, who will collaborate with them on projects (like a mathematical modeler in a chemistry department)? Do they want someone who does something different, but within the field, so they can attract a broader selection of students? Or is this just a nice catch phrase that means nothing in particular?
posted by SandiBeech to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
In my experience, it's a nice catch phrase that means nothing in particular. If they're looking for something specific, they'll say what that specific thing is.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:53 PM on February 26, 2012


I don't think it means anything in particular. My guess is that it's a phrase they refer back to when they want to reject an applicant. They're going to get a lot of stellar applicants and, to justify hiring who they want, they can argue that the other great candidates didn't do research that complement's the department's strengths as well.
posted by eisenkr at 6:55 PM on February 26, 2012


In my experience, it means "your research interests are close enough to at least some people in the department that it is useful for you to talk to them, but they aren't so close that we'd be essentially duplicating another researcher if we hired you."

In other words, different but not TOO different; similar but not TOO similar. And, yeah, it's exactly as vague as that, in practice.
posted by forza at 6:59 PM on February 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Agreed that it's standard verbiage, but the point is hardly trivial. My advice to recent PhDs seeking junior positions is very much to conceptualize *how* your research complements any department to which you apply, say so in your cover letter, hope your recommendation letters say so, and definitely emphasize it throughout the job interview. Nearly anyone could complement nearly any department. The thing is to help them see how you would do so.
posted by spitbull at 7:04 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree with forza. As a student who's been attending the job search screening lectures of would-be faculty at my grad school, it sounds to me as though they want a clear, articulated connection between current faculty's interests and yours, without too-close of an overlap. If your interests are quite different, then make it a point to show how yours might combine to create some new project that supplements the field in a couple of different ways. For example, my school's faculty has a strong theoretical focus. Although they might not know it, they desperately need more professors with a more technical expertise to keep our program competitive.
posted by smirkette at 7:05 PM on February 26, 2012


Think about it this way -- if your work doesn't fit in with the department somehow, how will you serve on graduate committees?
posted by k8t at 7:32 PM on February 26, 2012


I have been on many faculty hiring committees in a STEM field. The language in the ad means nothing. Most members of the hiring committee very likely don't even know what the ad says. If it sounds like a good job, you apply for it.
posted by escabeche at 8:24 PM on February 26, 2012


I'd agree with smirkette. I've also been on quite a few hiring committees, and regardless of whether faculty know what the ad says, when you get to the phone or in-person interview stage, people will want to know how your research fits in with the rest of the department. Ideally you don't completely overlap with someone else there, but you're not so insanely different that you'll be totally on your own. They're definitely looking to fill some sort of hole in their expertise, but ideally that hole is not on the other side of the planet from where the other members of the department are.
posted by chbrooks at 8:57 PM on February 26, 2012


This is stuff HR people get paid to put in job announcements.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 PM on February 26, 2012


Most members of the hiring committee very likely don't even know what the ad says.

This is totally true. They're too busy to read the ad.

This is stuff HR people get paid to put in job announcements.

The ad is usually written by the department chair, the hiring committee chair, or some combination thereof in consultation with the dean's office. HR is usually just involved to the extent of drafting the equal opportunity boilerplate at the end of the ad.

Of course your research should "fit in" with the rest of the department. If you do the exact same thing that a famous dude in the department does, they probably won't hire you. Unless they know he's leaving in the next year. But you wouldn't know that they know that, would you?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:42 PM on February 26, 2012


> conceptualize *how* your research complements any department to which you apply, say so in your cover letter, hope your recommendation letters say so, and definitely emphasize it throughout the job interview. Nearly anyone could complement nearly any department. The thing is to help them see how you would do so.

This is what I came here to say. It's a big, fat, gift of a clue about how to prepare for your job interview. Good luck!
posted by desuetude at 10:48 PM on February 26, 2012


In the UK it would mean: should be in roughly the right area of STEM (but this might be interpreted pretty libeally) but more importantly has enough good quality papers to be submittable for the REF now, and preferably some research funding also. Must sound like they have a clue about getting more money at interview.

It doesn't really matter what they say in the ad, as this is what they will always mean.
posted by biffa at 1:51 AM on February 27, 2012


It means "to go well with"

To me it means "to be opposite of our strengths, and yet go well with" AKA complementary colors.
posted by roboton666 at 3:03 PM on February 27, 2012


http://www.worqx.com/color/complements.htm
posted by roboton666 at 3:04 PM on February 27, 2012


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