Job market season is here! If you haven’t already checked out the Ultimate Job Market Guide or my syllabus for the PhD Job Market Course, now is the time to do it. On that topic, I thought you might all like to see a list of questions I would ask on a campus interview. These questions are geared towards a research intensive university, but could be used for all kinds of institutions.
I have divided the questions up into sections, but you might want to ask multiple people some of the questions to get a sense of how much consensus there is around topics. Also, don’t forget, for everyone (including graduate students, faculty, and administrators) you meet – do your homework!!
Finally, you might not understand why to ask some of these questions. If you have questions about this list, ask your advisor or other trusted mentor about the question. Hopefully, they will explain some of the nuances and motivations behind it.
For interdisciplinary departments
1. Where do you see someone in this position publishing?
Department Chair questions/Questions about the department
2. How does departmental governance work? Is there an executive committee?
3. What sort of things are brought to the faculty for consideration? For example, in a faculty meeting.
4. How often does the faculty meet?
For many years now, basically since I was in charge of my own hair, I have had long hair. Before that (circa 1984) my mom always told her friend Sandy who cut my hair to leave it no longer than shoulder length; I have three sisters and my mom did not want to mess with that much hair. I longed for long flowing locks, preferably straight and blond. Thus, ever since I have been in charge of my own hair, I have had long, wavy/straight hair, though I have not gotten around to the blond. I never thought much about my long hair, at least in terms of my career, until I went on the job market.
In 2004-2005, I went on the market for the first time. I was also pregnant that year, and I am not one of those women who can hide a pregnancy. I had my son in May, so at the time of my interviews in January and February, I was pretty pregnant. I ended up going on four on-campus interviews, but did not receive any of the tenure-track offers. What happened I wondered? One university in particular stood out to me. The department chair had told me several times – “you are clearly our first choice”. The chair could not have been more complimentary to me, as were others in the department. But when the chair called to tell me I didn’t get the job, the chair said the faculty vote split between me and another candidate, so they hired no one.
The next year at my annual conference, I saw the chair, whom I had really liked. I asked “what happened?” The chair proceeded to tell me about the faculty meeting where the decision was made. The chair said, in all seriousness, that one of the faculty had said “she flipped her hair too much during her job talk”, and basically implied that I was “flighty”. I do not remember if the chair used the exact word “flighty”, but basically the chair implied that several faculty members thought that I was ditzy. Reeling, I expressed shock, and the chair followed-up with “Well, I just said ‘she’s pregnant’, you need to cut her a break.”
The final tool that graduate students need for success is presentation/teaching skills. This topic is often ignored in graduate programs – grad students are rarely taught how to teach before they are thrust in the classroom, and likewise, grad students are rarely taught how to make a good presentation, or practice presentations in front of others. I think that at this point, most universities with graduate programs have something like the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching that we have here at OSU. And, most of these centers have training programs for teaching assistants and graduate student teachers – I took the Penn State Course in College Teaching when I was in grad school. Overall though, most graduate students are given very little guidance on how to become a great, or even adequate instructor. We have added professional development requirements to our graduate program, and one of the offerings was a course in college teaching. The course filled, and the students got a lot out of it. Why don’t more grad programs offer these courses, or require their students to take these kind of courses prior to graduation? Even for students who are more research focused and do not want to go on to academia, teaching training would help them in the long term as they will inevitably have to make presentations as part of their work.
Speaking of presentations, you can immediately tell at any academic conference that academics have not been trained how to do compelling presentations. For that matter, very few people have been. Someone in my social network runs a TEDx event, and from what I can see, she spends hours with people trying to help them make excellent, compelling presentations. So, I think that graduate programs could really benefit from having presentation training for graduate students. Perhaps these should be part of what is offered by teaching centers, but, tips could be given during brownbag presentations or during seminars that introduce students to graduate school. Even having a one hour meeting around conference season could be incredibly helpful for students. And, these presentation skill trainings could come back to really benefit the graduate program – if students give better presentations, they will craft more compelling job talks, and perhaps ultimately end up landing a better job, or at this point, any job. Because one metric by which graduate programs are evaluated is by whether, and where, they place their graduate students, the graduate program would benefit if more student landed any, and better, jobs.
My final year of graduate school, I went on the academic job market. I received four invitations for on-campus interviews [aka flyouts], and I attended each. Unfortunately, I did not receive a job offer from any of these universities. The following year, the first year of my postdoc at Cornell University, I applied for only two jobs, received a campus interview for one of the jobs (Ohio State), and I landed the job. Very little changed on my CV in terms of publication and presentations between those two years. I had the postdoc and had finished my dissertation the second year, and the first year I was pregnant, so those things could have made a difference in why I got the job offer my second year and I did not my first. But, one significant thing did change over that time – my behavior and preparation – and I believe that is why I got the job the second time around.
The first time I was on the job market, I read over the CVs of people in the department prior to the interview, and I had a generic list of questions that I asked individuals I met with based on their rank. For instance, I asked assistant professors about their experiences on the tenure track, I asked department chairs about their vision of the department, etc. I felt pretty confident going into these interviews – they wanted me! Yet, just because you are a department’s first choice (I was told this by one of the departments) does not mean you are going to get the job. Our job when we are interviewing you is to flatter you and sell ourselves and our location. We are going to make you feel special. However, we are evaluating you from the time you step off of the plane.
As I was preparing for my interview at Ohio State, a colleague of mine who had recently moved from a small liberal arts college to Cornell gave me this advice. Do your homework. Read the scholarly publications of everyone that you are meeting with. Really get to know what they work on, and show genuine interest. When you meet with them, engage in some small talk, but then ask them about their research. Share your thoughts on their research, and show how it connects to your own research. He shared with me how he had meetings with faculty members, and they would say “Ithaca is a great place to live” and he would respond with “that is great, but actually, I read your paper, and I was really fascinated by XX, and I wanted to ask you about YY.”
Going on the job market is stressful and confusing. I have been working on a new course here at OSU called The PhD Job Market – the syllabus draft can be seen here. It is going up through the levels in terms of approvals; it should be offered in Spring 2014. But with all of the recent controversy about W and the rescinded job offer (see Inside Higher Ed, Slate, and the original post), I decided to post my suggested Job Market reading list here. Check it out – and let me know if you have any suggestions.
Books referred to below:
- The Academic Job Search Handbook (AJSH), 4th Edition by Julia Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong
- “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia (SW) by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius
I also include presentations from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity library. You need to join NCFDD to access these resources. It is free to join if you are at a place with an institutional membership. Go to: https://facultydiversity.site-ym.com/general/register_member_type.asp and chose “Institutional Sub Account Membership”.
Reflect on what you really want for a future career
Academic jobs; Jobs at different kinds of institutions; Postdocs