Sergey Kryazhimskiy has a blog post up about getting a job. First off, congrats on getting a job. Not easy, and he seems to have done so.
Yet, as I read his post, my thought was, damn, I don't want anyone I know to think that This Is The Way It Is.
He starts with data. He says that explicitly. Yet, I suspect if these were ecology data and he tried to publish them Reviewer 3 would slap him down. He presents data for the two years he applied. In 2013 he put in 20 applications, got 1 interview and no jobs. In 2014 he put in 29 applications got 11 interviews and three offers (plus one that was too late). The difference, he says, is a Glamour Pub.
Reviewer 3 would point out that his n=2 (years) and that they are not exactly independent data points. He says its the same CV, same recommendation letters. I doubt this. When trainees I know and I care about go back for a second year of job hunting, I update and freshen up the letter and emphasize what this trainee has done in the intervening year. For postdocs this is critical, because each year needs to count for growth and development. Further, if he got a Glam paper in the extra year, I can't imagine his letter writers didn't notice this.
But most of all, there is a difference in the pool of jobs. He says that of the total applications, there were 4 departments to which he applied in both years, and got interviews at 2. He doesn't say whether it was the same job re-opened or not. But if they were different jobs, maybe he was better suited for them. In my experience (which may or may not reach statistical significance), re-opened jobs can be re-opened for a number of reasons, with very different vibes attached to them. Maybe the job was offered to someone who turned it down too late for an offer to go out to number 2 on the list. Maybe the job wasn't successful because the committee, the department, the dean, somewhere, someone had issues. Maybe the job got re-defined. Which brings us to the rest of the interviews he got. Some R1 departments put out ads for "evolutionary biology" or even "invertebrate evolutionary biology" when others put out an ad for "evolutionary endocrinology in aquatic invertebrates with an emphasis on trophic adaptations to extreme environments" although they are looking to fill the same teaching /colleague niche in a department. Sometimes "evolutionary biology" means they will consider all evolutionary biologists and sometimes not.
The bottom line on the jobs is: there is a lot of missing information. Information that he just can't know, that we just can't know. This may or may not be random. One year may be an El Nino year of jobs. One year may a bumper crop of tropical fruit.
Now, the thing I found most depressing in his post (my emphasis):
First, it appears to be very important to have a major paper from your postdoc published. Not in preparation, not on bioRxiv, not in review. Published. Preferably in Cell, Science, or Nature. I guess we all know that by now.
No, actually we all don't know that. And there have been plenty of tweets and posts from folks on R1 hiring committees that say that Glamour Pubs aren't necessary. In fact, I had two friends each of whom got hired at UCSD (where Kryazhimskiy took a position)a long time ago (yes, boomer boomer, yes a different age). Neither had glamour pubs, but both were very good, both got tenure, and each has gone somewhere else (post-tenure). But that's an aside. The committees I have sat on in the last 10 years and the ones to which I have sent trainees or others I've written letters for don't really believe that Glamour Pubs are necessary.
I do agree that pubs, a major pub, a pub demonstrating accomplishment is necessary. And if he didn't have that kind of pub (not necessarily glamour) when he first applied, no he wouldn't get an interview. What is a strong pub here? One with data, with hypotheses tested, with conclusions and an interesting discussion. One that demonstrates what the primary author is capable of doing.
I checked his pub record from his lab webpage, and it looks like he has 5 pubs in 2014, and then one in 2012 and 3 in 2011 (from an earlier postdoc). If in applying in 2014 none of the 2014 papers were out, no he wouldn't be competitive. And yes, getting a bunch out changes the story. But, what I, and most committees I am on, count as important is the science. We read at least the abstracts, and talk about the significance and innovation and potential (kinda like a grant review).
A last note about his CV is that he did two postdocs lasting over 7 years. One of the calculations I've seen done for deciding on who to bring in for an interview is publications per PD-year, not counting pubs in PhD years (although you can do it that way too). When hiring committees, departments, individual colleagues-to-be care about productivity. The whole story about Maria not getting tenure was a productivity story.