Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Early Thirsty for Frenna

I received this message from Frenna last night:

Well, I am headed off to my first true on campus interview.  I would love any fresh advice anyone has or recent horror stories from this latest batch of interviews.

I have my lectures ready and no itinerary, which means outside of the department, I am quite unclear who I am meeting with all day.  They didn't send me an itinerary, but hell why would I care whom I am meeting?  I do know it is a day long marathon!

OK folks, let's help Frenna out. What advice do you have for candidates on their campus interview visits?

By the way, on the off chance that you are conducting an interview today, it might be Frenna.  Be pleasant.  Here's the secret code so that you know who you are dealing with:

One of you asks, "Where is the bourbon?"

The other replies, "The bourbon is in the water cooler."


  1. Long ago I interviewed for TT jobs, and the interviews included meeting with the dean (or an associate dean). I had `sound deeply interested' foremost on my mind, prepared a number of good talking points, read up on the U--and then proceeded to over-eagerly bombard the poor dean/deanlet with questions, hardly giving them a chance to get a word in edgewise. It worked in one case (apparently), but in another the dept head got back to me with the comment "the dean told me you interviewed him" . (That was the same U where the dean told me they wouldn't look at tenure before eight years, when I already had three as a postdoc behind me; I'm very bad at hiding facial expressions.)

    So--give the poor deans a chance to ask some questions (in the off chance they actually prepared for the encounter; in math the main purpose of this meeting is to check the candidate's English.) And don't forget to read up on the U, and also to check if they have graced the AAUP's shame list.

  2. Yes, read up on the U. It seems obvious, but in the last interviews I was a part of when we asked about how the candidate felt they might contribute to our programs/dept, a good number said they'd have to take a look at what we had first, before they could comment on something like that. I am at a CC, and I realize you'd have your research areas pretty well designated, but I still think it's a good idea to find some segue way between what you might bring to the department and what is already there in terms not only of content but programing, etc.

    Also, I too wish you the best of luck. Try to be relaxed (often easier said than done, I realize). I got my job after years of getting interviews, during a period when I was totally distracted (emotionally) by something else, to the point where I had absolutely no nervous feeling at all. Another friend of mine, one who attempted for years to get hired, finally decided to give it up and started his own photography business. He had even gone so far as to buy the equipment, begin advertising, etc. When the MLA conference came around, he got three interviews. (He had applied prior to deciding he was going to just stop trying and start his own business.) He decided to attend the conference anyway, and went through the interview process with such a feeling of complete relaxation and confidence. He was absolutely not worried about whether he would be hired; he even thought he wouldn't be, as he had gone through the process for many years (I believe maybe eight years).

    He was hired by an extremely prestigious university, and is there today, fully tenured, very happy.

  3. I haven't been on a campus interview in donkey's years, and never actually landed a tenure-track job, so I'm not in much of a position to offer advice. But I think the advice to research the place (while also being aware that assumptions based on experiences that you have already had may color your interpretations of the evidence you find, so you need to be ready to adjust interpretations as new evidence presents itself during the visit) is sound. There's some good recent stuff, some of it relevant to campus interviews, here: http://feruleandfescue.blogspot.com/ .

    Also, this is a bit counter-intuitive, especially in the current market, but do be on the lookout for red flags (indications that things are really messy on a particular campus; not having an itinerary does not, I think, fall in that category) and at least file them away in the back of your brain for later consideration. You want a job, of course, but you don't want to totally rearrange your life in order to take a job at a place that is severely dysfunctional, suffering from declining enrollment to a point where it might not be there in a few years, etc., etc. Basically every campus feels like it's at least a bit in crisis these days, so that's not a major issue, but don't fall into the "any job is a good job" mentality that your grad advisors are likely to advocate either. You don't need the perfect job, but you need a job that will offer some genuine support, financial and otherwise, for your ongoing professional development. This may work well with Bella's advice above: if you keep at least a bit of awareness that you're interviewing them, too (without falling into the trap of too many questions that Peter K mentions, or sounding arrogant), you'll probably feel a bit more confident. You're a smart person; there are other things you could do; do your best to get a job, academic or otherwise, that will work for you (and that will allow you to contribute in a way that matches well with your abilities and interests).

  4. Thanks gang! I actually feel pretty relaxed about it right now.

    I now have an itinerary now! Yay! Unfortunately, over the last week it seems that the college has changed their website and I can no longer find the research interests of the folks in the department. Why didn't I write that stuff down last week? The site now only lists what they teach, just last week there were research interests listed. It is like the department's page went missing (meaning not ready to be deployed). I am great at improvising and I will ask a lot about the new website!

    1. Would the wayback machine be any help? Google's cache?

    2. I also suppose you could just websearch for some original papers authored by the faculty themselves, by name and institution. The point is, you've got this; you know how to get around this temporary setback. If those now-missing faculty webages were anything like mine, they were about 6 years out of date anyway. (I send updates to some email address within my institution, which no doubt go to /dev/nul.) At the interview, you can still demonstrate familiarity with their interests and comiserate with them about how IT undoubtedly screwed up their web pages. DIE IT DIE!!!1111!!!

  5. Be on time. When a candidate doesn't make an effort to appear on time, then they lose points right off the bat.

    Secondly, if they take you to lunch, be prepared not eat much, because they will likely be asking you questions and you will need to answer. So maybe pack a protein bar just in case you need sustenance.

    Be interested and honest. Ask them what kind of needs they have. You want to further YOUR work, but you also need to be part of their team.

    Good luck!

  6. Best of luck--I am headed to a teaching demo in a mother-huge room for a TT candidate.

  7. When it comes time to discussing salary, find out on what basis the institution will be paying you. For example, I had an interview at one place where it was going to allow only for 5 or 6 years of teaching experience. There I was with around 10 years from when I was an instructor at a tech school and 1 or 2 more as a TA while I was a grad student.

    I wasn't particularly impressed by that. Fortunately, I didn't get the job.

    Also, make sure you're up to date on whatever's educationally in vogue. That means buzzwords and PowerPoint presentations all over the place. Anything less and the interviewers will think you're trying to conduct your lectures using semaphore.

  8. CC that was an awesome blog!! I found it quite useful. I suspect I am as ready as I will ever be for my upcoming marathon.

  9. Quarter Wave: An excellent point about salary. I have about 15 years (holy crap) of experience if you count my TA's one for one, which I would understand them not doing. Something to definitely think about. The last school that offered me a position (only over Skype) was going to give me 6 years experience for salary. Fair? I have no idea.