Tuesday, 18 December 2012

season greetings to excellent people

This is the time of year — again! — when they start cleaning their desks and send holiday greetings to unsuccessful applicants. I don’t even have to open these emails anymore to know what’s there. I just got one today.

Dear Dr. Doctor,

Thank you for your recent application.

The appointing committees have now had a chance to consider your application and have on this occasion decided not to take it any further.

You were up against some outstanding candidates and the choice of the shortlist was very difficult.

On behalf of whoever it is who couldn’t bother to write himself, I should like to thank you for your interest in applying.

With best wishes,

Human Resources

The other one came last week. I don’t remember what the application was about because the letter referred to it by some number and right now I am too tired to look it up. Most probably it was regarding the position advertised last Summer. I liked the wording so much that I made a note of it:

To continue its policy of investment in excellent people, the School of Something Else at the University of Poshborough is seeking to appoint up to (some number) high calibre individuals at either high or even higher level.

But I am the excellent people! How come they don’t see that?

I know. This is all my fault, really. Instead of just sending the application off and forgetting about it, I am worrying that they will expect more of me than I can deliver. So I put all sorts of ridiculous stuff in my covering letter. For example:

As you can see from my CV, I do not have a strong record of teaching at the university.

How’s that? I bet nobody else is doing this. My goal is to convince them that I am the best candidate to fill the position, not some sort of impostor. If they can see something from my CV, then they will see. Or maybe not. The point is not to worry about that.

Another mistake I keep on repeating is to do an informal enquiry, whenever such an option exists.

Dear Professor Professor,

I would like to apply for a position of Somebody in Something as advertised somewhere. However before sending the full application, I am asking for your kind advice.

<insert a stupid bit about not having a strong record of doing Something>

I do not wish to waste the expert committee’s time. <Why?> Therefore I would greatly appreciate your frank opinion whether I should proceed with full application.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Doctor

Dear Dr. Doctor,

Thanks for the email and CV. Your career track is a bit unusual and the fact that you have not been active in science in the last three years will probably catch the attention of the assessment committee.

I can not tell you whether to apply or not, it has to be your own decision.

Kind regards,


See? Totally absurd query and deservedly useless response.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sir Patrick Moore (1923—2012)

Moore was perhaps the last in the great British tradition of significant contributions to science by distinguished amateurs, and was fiercely proud of his amateur status.

I wonder what academic bureaucrats of today would make of Sir Patrick Moore’ CV if he ever applied for professorship. Moore never went to the university (he famously refused a government grant to study at Cambridge), let alone wrote a Ph.D. thesis. So what. Dennis Barker wrote in The Guardian:

With one exception after his teaching days — his directorship of Armagh Planetarium in Northern Ireland (1965—68) — Moore was never an employee.
Even better.

I first learned about Moore from Англия, a British magazine published (in Russian) in Soviet times. I remember the black and white photo of him by the grand piano, the caption saying that Moore is an accomplished musician possessing perfect pitch. Back then, I thought he was some sort of English eccentric. Many years later, I saw him on the BBC. Yes he was an archetypal English eccentric all right, and amazingly brilliant at that. He joined the RAF during World War II; he met Yuri Gagarin and appeared in Doctor Who. He was the world’s longest-serving TV presenter — and, briefly, the finance minister for the Monster Raving Loony Party. According to Wikipedia, “as a pianist, he once accompanied Albert Einstein playing The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns on the violin”. He wrote hundreds of books, including the one called Bureaucrats: How to Annoy Them. So I think his application would not be successful.