Careers: What not to do (and the scary power of google)

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From the New York Time's ethicist's mail bag:

After I was scheduled for a job interview at a university, a member of the search committee Googled me and found my blog, where I refer to him (but not by name) as a belligerent jerk. He canceled the interview. It was impolitic to write what I did, but my believing him to be a jerk does not mean I would not be great at that job, and the rest of the committee might agree. Was it ethical of him to cancel the interview? Ciara Healy, Augusta, Ga. (read more)

All I can say is that he's an idiot. Read my notes on googling here and here. Search committees aren't only looking for the best teachers, they're also looking for the best colleagues. And they have every right to do so.


You have every right to find that out, sure. But is Google the most appropriate channel to try to find that out? It finds blogs on Blogger quite easily, it doesn't find them so easily for MySpace. Some candidates are easily Googled, while others have common names, so all aren't given a fair shake.

More importantly, the site also brings up material that has nothing to do with the person being Googled (or maybe about another person sharing your namesake--it's the case with me, and the case in question deals with my own field of study; it's not positive, either), brings up what's popular or deemed of importance to the Internet.

(Example of the latter: I have a photo out there on a popular site and discussion from six years ago that will come up with my name before any academic page like your Yale one ever would--because I'm not at Yale, for one, and the sites I posted on were popular and connected to Internet pioneers)

I don't have anything nearly so controversial on my own blog, and would never talk about work on even an anonymous blog. I don't get too stressed out either, because the only cases I've seen of people looking at blog are with schools I'd considered long shots. It was flattering to see that I'd been checked out. But come on. The Ethicist is right that SC's should be wary of Googling candidates, regardless of what this poster did (and, full disclosure, I know her and she is a great person, just cranky--yet paradoxically soft-hearted--by nature and in this case naive and working without her head on straight, just after starting a blog . . . Not that I have ever worked without my head on less than straight).

Ray -

Thanks for the comment. Just a short note: my home pages were made and pageranked well before I started teaching at Yale, so it isn't because I'm at Yale that they pop up first.

In fact, if you read the links on my OP, then you'll see that I recommend creating an academic website that isn't on your university server since you're likely to graduate and change jobs, and you want to make sure that it always stays pageranked on top. That's always been my policy. If/when I leave Yale, my site will travel with me.

It does take a lot of work (and credential management) to keep your main sites on top and not the USENET postings from 20 years ago. But how is this different from the past? Many authors wrote trashy fiction under different names (Anne Rice, e.g.) because they didn't want to taint their main trademark until they were established.

If you're going to trashtalk other academics, then use a stage name. As one of my friends puts it, don't [defecate] in your own back yard.


The USENET posts from 20 years ago are posted under a separate heading (or thingie--I believe that's the technical name for it) at Google. And there's nothing I can do about those! It's mostly blues and R&B commentary in my case, however, and one posting to a cat forum that someone flamed me for. I kid you not. I scooted out of the cat forum pretty fast. "I'll just leave y'all to yourselves."

The Internet archiving is, to a certain extent, impossibly random. I'd actually like it better if my Usenet posts were found on a regular Google search, as bizarre and silly as my posts sometimes were, as opposed to the somewhat embarassing posts to Net forums and photos I was referring to earlier. However, posts to an earlier version of my blog that I killed off are incredibly hard to find--they can't be found through Google--and some are apparently lost to the ages. For that, I am thankful. The randomness of it all, however, is nearly dizzying.

I did a search for your name later, by the way, and only came up with your blog!

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on February 26, 2006 8:36 AM.

Careers: Graduate Programs in Japan Anthropology was the previous entry in this blog.

Link: Why changing HDV workflows is a bad idea is the next entry in this blog.

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