Monday, December 27, 2010

Tell Us About Your Dissertation: And Other Commonly Fumbled Interview Questions

Photo credit.
As has been frequently indicated over the four years of Tenured Radical's existence, Interviewing R Us. Why? Well, it is probably not too modest to say that over the years we have interviewed a great many people in hotel rooms, been interviewed by more than a few hiring committees ourselves, and have hung out in the bar afterward talking to other hiring committees about what they saw that day.  Over time, we have developed a perspective on what works and what doesn't.  It isn't the only perspective, but to paraphrase Monty Python, it is the perspective which is ours.

So for those of you lucky enough to have AHA or MLA interviews, here is our list of the most frequent fumbles and how to avoid them.

Know how to talk about your dissertation.  You nubies out there would be shocked to know how many of you blow it coming right out of the gate.  When you can't talk intelligently about your own work, my friend, you have a 98% chance of being absolutely dead in the water for the rest of the interview.

It is a lead-off question understood from the perspective of the hiring committee as an icebreaker.  It is a big, fat softball that we toss up there, gleaming white, intended to set you at ease as you triumphantly hit it out of the park and then relax, showing us your very best self for the rest of the interview.  And yet, so many of you -- probably half of the people I have met in a hotel room for this purpose -- get this deer in the headlights look, and before you know it I can hear my beloved Phillies announcer Harry Kalas in my mind saying:  "It's a... SWING! andamiss."   

So don't sit there with a look on your face that says, "Huh?  Dintcha read my letter?" Don't, if you are a historian, go off on a long, rambling narrative that is some combination of an extended, muddled  chapter outline and a nighty-night story that happens to be historical. Don't talk to me about the IWW as if this is something I have never heard about and you are rescuing it from the ash bin of history. Do have the following prepared:
  • A concise, five-minute statement that identifies the specifics of the topic; any interesting people who are part of the project; the archives you are using that are either new or that you are reinterpreting; why your archives are new/in need of reinterpretation; the scholarship that influenced your choice of topic; and a statement on how you are improving on or adding to that scholarship.
  • A sentence about how far along you are and when you will be finished that matches what your dissertation advisor has said. 
That's all:  five minutes, then stop. Remember, the whole interview is between half an hour and forty-five minutes, so if you ramble on about what they have already read they won't have any time to get more information about you, which is what this interview is at least partly about.

Next comes the opportunity for the committee to ask you questions about your thesis:  this is what you are leaving all that extra time for.  You have no way of anticipating what they will ask except to do your homework on the faculty in the room ahead of time and making informed guesses about what their interest in your work will be.  But as part of this phase of the interview, you should make sure you squeeze in:
  • A statement about methodology;
  • Reasons why you chose this particular topic to write about that you can link to your enthusiasm for the field more generally;
  • A reference to some feature of your research that allowed you to do something creative in the classroom;
  • A name-dropping opportunity.   Feel free to mention one scholar who doesn't work at your university, and with whom you have discussed your research or appeared on a panel, but make it substantive.  This doesn't make you look connected:  it means you are connected.  Extra points if you are a male bodied person and the scholar you name-drop is a woman.
Know how to talk about the courses you will be asked to teach.  Seems like a no-brainer, eh?  But here are the ways I have seen this portion of the interview tank:
  •  When asked about a period survey, the candidate talks about one small part of that period.  This is a particularly egregious interview flaw if you are an Americanist, because whatever else might be challenging about our field, the amount of time we must cover in a semester tends not to exceed 200 years.  There is one excellent graduate school that seems to kick out candidates who all interview as if they are prepared to teach the period of their dissertation and no more.  It is just stunningly weird to hear someone talk about the colonial history survey, for example, as if it only had to cover the years between 1688 to 1724.  But it also reveals you as narrow in your interests and knowledge -- narrower, perhaps, than you actually are.
  • A candidate being asked why s/he chose a particular book and not being able to say.  This makes us think that the syllabus you are talking about is from a course you T.A.'d for, or worse, a course you pulled off the web. Yes, I have heard of people on search committees being handed their very own syllabus by a complete stranger. This, by the way, makes you look like a psychopath.
  • A candidate saying sincerely that s/he believes in the Socratic method (which in and of itself makes it sound as though you have never actually taught at all) and not being able to say what that means in a real live 21st century classroom.
    Prepare at least two courses you would like to teach.  Common ways people screw this up?
    •  Not having thought about this at all.  True.
    • Proposing a course that is a slight variation on the survey they will be responsible for.
    • Proposing a course that someone, perhaps someone who is actually in the room, already teaches and seeming to be completely unaware of that.
    Particularly if the interview is going well, you should fall into a happy, general conversation in the last ten minutes or so, so that even if you aren't specifically asked about new courses, these are good to have in your hat to show them an aspect of yourself they might not have seen.

    Don't trash a search committee that evening in the hotel bar.  Leave the hotel and go far, far away if you must trash a search committee, and even then make sure you have your back against a wall and a good view of the door. 

    Extra points if you don't go on the job wiki following the interview to leave a few observations about what $hit heads the interviewing committee was and how unappreciated you felt.  There are two good reasons you should not report on your experience, other than the fact that it is childish and you probably don't even really believe that you are giving other candidates information that they need (if you did think you were helping them, would you give it to them?  Really?) 
    • Your view of the interview could be very different from the committee's view.  Not only are academics not always aware of it when they are treating people badly (you knew that!), but the people who behaved badly may be marginal to making the decision.  Why is this important?
    • Because we read the job wikis too, and bitching out the committee could cost you your campus interview.
    On that note, good luck young folk, and I'll see you in Boston.  The Radical Panel is at 2:30 on Friday.  Be there or be square.


    Notorious Ph.D. said...

    Can I convince you to do a follow-up on how to ask an interview question? Because I once had an interview where I was asked "So, you're working on your first book... Where's that at?" And so I told them where it was in the revisions process, and there was a pause while I waited for them to ask me to talk about the book itself... and they never did. Just moved on to teaching.

    Perhaps I should have said, "Would you like to know what the book is about? Or some interesting things that I've discovered since I defended it as a dissertation?" But I just assumed that the question would be coming next, so I didn't. Hours later, I decided that "Where's that at?" was supposed to be "What's your book about?" I think. But I was so well trained to wait for "the" question that I totally missed it.

    TR, was this my fault? Should I have jumped in right then and there?

    Tenured Radical said...

    Well no, it was your interviewer's fault. But that said, I always advocate being aggressive in the interview, keeping a keen eye out for what you are *not* being asked, and getting it in there -- even though it might mean saying, "hey, you never asked me what my book is about -- I'd love to talk about it a little more if you would like."

    As we know, many academics have lousy social skills, and few are trained to interview folks.

    Comrade PhysioProf said...

    That's all: five minutes, then stop.

    At the most. This is what is referred to as the "elevator pitch", and is an absolutely essential interviewing/networking skill.

    Here are a few more thoughts:

    (1) Interviewing for jobbes has a bigger relevance than just securing a jobbe. Even in the case of all the interviews you have that *don't* lead to jobbes, they are opportunities to make yourself better known to people who control other thinges you want besides just the jobbes their departments are offering. So making a good impression is essential, and bitching about people--even if you already know you won't get/don't want their jobbe offer--is fucken stupid. Interviewing is just a special case of the general professional activity called networking.

    (2) The single most important general principle for interviewing and all other forms of networking is that people do like to feel smart, and they don't like to feel dumb. And if they are talking to you when they feel dumb/smart, they are gonna blame/credit you for how they feel, and they're gonna remember this psychosocial aspect of your interaction a bajillion motherfucken times longer than they're gonna remember the content of your disquisition on the intricacies of tavern spittoon etiquette in 17th Century Scranton.

    Shane Landrum said...

    Thanks for this and your other conference/jobs advice over the years; I recommend them frequently to other grad students.

    For the curious, TR's panel is Lesbian and Feminist Activisms in the Americas: Contested Notions of Solidarity and Citizenship in the Neo-liberal Reagan Era. I'd be there, except that it's cross-scheduled with the CLGBTH session on transgender history (Trans Formations: New Directions in Historical Research), where I'll be speaking. Luck of the draw, I guess...

    Anonymous said...

    I would add a few:
    - Be able to say more than a sentence or two about your dissertation

    - If the ad suggests you might have to teach the survey, think about how you do it.

    - If the ad describes "basket weaving in America, with a particular emphasis on basket weaving in southern North Dakota", be sure to be able to talk about basket weaving in general, and not just North Dakota. We are signaling that we are paying attention to a broad field, even though we want the research focus in a particular area

    -- Do not apply for a job in history and say "Even though I am not a historian, I can do this job". To be fair, this one didn't get to the phone interview stage.

    --doing two searches this year

    Anonymous said...

    Oh man. The smug managerialism is suffocating.

    Posts like this make think I should get out of the academic racket and go become a shill for the coal industry or something. Cuz, I hear in the industries, you're allowed to be an actual human being, rather than a CV-droid.

    Comrade PhysioProf said...

    Cuz, I hear in the industries, you're allowed to be an actual human being, rather than a CV-droid.

    Yeah, it's only in academia that it matters how you comport yourself and interact with people who control the resources you require to engage your scholarship. I'm sure you're an unfettered iconoclast like Basquiat or whothefuckever who can just act like a self-absorbed asshole all the time and people just give you what you need because your CREATIVE GENIUS is so UNDENIABLY MASSIVE!


    Science Lurker said...

    I heartily concur with Comrade PhysioProf's second point, and will extend it a little.

    1. Start where your audience is, not where you might want them to be. The whole department will probably have some say in the decision, not just the specialists in your field. So your long talk must start with the generalists, and only later get to the obscure bits you love so much but only the specialists can appreciate. If you can swing it so that the generalists feel they understand your talk, they'll think you are brilliant.

    2. Whether you are or are not brilliant, NEVER CONDESCEND. Even if you are coming from Top Ivy Snoot, and interviewing at Armpit, North Dakota, these people will be your colleagues -- if you make them think they would like you as a colleague. If you show yourself to be an ass, they'll go on to the next candidate, and chit chat with their friends at your next interview site about what a jerk you are. (The clerical staff will, too.)

    3. Practice, practice, practice. In front of your peers in your field, in front of friends in other fields, in front of your gerbils or in-laws. Not so as to get stale, but to be comfortable with questions from experts and from left field. If you don't appear comfortable talking about the subject you know best, who could imagine you teaching well in a course outside your expertise?

    4. Appear to enjoy your subject. Let your passion shine through. Even on the phone, smile before you answer a question. It makes your voice warmer and more confident.

    E Woolf said...

    This is great advice. I am a postdoc, and hence several years past the dissertation phase, and must admit I was thrown off a bit when asked "tell us about your dissertation" by a search committee at an AHA interview.
    I was geared up to talk about my current book project, which is loosely based on the dissertation, rather than the diss itself. And I naively assumed that the committee would be more interested in hearing about the current state of the project.
    Now I know better and have learned that I need to be able to briefly describe the diss and then move into "and now, with the help of numerous fellowships, I have transformed the project into XYZ . . ." There is nothing more embarassing than feeling tongue tied when asked about one's own dissertation. I guess my problem is that I feel like I've moved on and am no longer wrapped up in the diss research since I've been doing additional research and reconceptualizing the project for several years now.

    Anonymous said...

    TR, can we convince you, when your current project is done, to produce a book on the academic hiring process?

    Anonymous said...

    I have been forwarding the Radical's excellent advice on job-searching to my graduate students for some time now. Thank you for another excellent post!

    As a former chair of a big department who has personally interviewed approximately, oh, six bazillion candidates for faculty positions, I can confirm that even a research-university department will worry about Ivy League Ivan/a if s/he seems able to teach only a tiny slice of the period s/he'll be asked to cover. The candidate who has actually looked at the university's course catalog and knows what our department teaches -- or, even better, some basics about how our major is structured -- gets lots of extra points.

    And hear, hear to not trashing the search committee in any public setting, electronic or physical. Even if they don't hire you, a member or members of the committee might review your conference abstract, your article manuscript, or your book someday. You don't want the first thought in an evaluator's head to be "oh, THAT nasty person!"

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you for this, and for all of your job advice posts, because I've found them really helpful.

    But - do you have any advice on those of us poor schmucks who are on the market, attending AHA (presenting or whatever reason), and did NOT get any interviews? And/or how to talk to book editors who have expressed interest in your project (although I imagine what you've recommended for talking about the dissertation here might be a good starting point).

    life_of_a_fool said...

    And in that 5 minute diss spiel, make sure you talk about your *findings.* Not just why it's an interesting project or the questions you had. What are your conclusions?? Or one key finding?

    (I admit, this is something I need to work on as well, but I am amazed how many job candidates do not talk about what they found in their dissertation research. They describe what they did, but not what the end result was. Maybe because they don't yet know -- but even so I'd rather hear "I'm still figuring this part out," than not addressing it at all (though others may differ??).

    I also want some sign that it's occurred to candidates that their dissertation is the start of a career, not the end of one. Have some idea of where you might go next -- it may never come to pass, it doesn't need to be fully developed, but it should give some sign that you realize you'll be expected to do research beyond your dissertation.

    And to add to Science Lurker's comment about condescension -- not only might we be your colleagues, but we also may have come from equally fancy-pants universities (and some may be insecure about their place in the world, which will make the condescension that much worse for you).

    Brian W. Ogilvie said...

    Anonymous@10:24: I'm not TR, but my advice if you don't have interviews is to use the meeting to network. Go to panels by scholars whose work interests you, to find out what they're doing now. If you have a chance to introduce yourself afterwards, do so. If you don't, introduce yourself to someone else there--perhaps someone who asked a good question. In the long run, it will be more helpful to make contacts with fellow grad students and early-career faculty than with the grand old lion(esse)s of your field.

    Bring business cards; if you don't have any, you can get blank cards at an office supply store that you can print off on your printer. (Keep it simple--name, affiliation, contact information; no goofy graphics or weird fonts.)

    Talking to editors at the meeting: I haven't done this, so my advice is based on what wise colleagues have told me. Prepare a 1-minute pitch, and be ready to move into the 5-minute pitch if you get interest. Look for presses whose lists are strong in your field. Think about the potential audiences for your book, and about courses where your book might be assigned (even as supplementary reading). And, advice from an acquaintance who used to staff a booth but had no decision-making authority: make sure that the person you're talking to is actually an editor, not a flunky.

    If there's a series in which your book might fit well, you can also contact the series editor(s) to find out whether they'll be at the meeting.

    And finally, don't spend all your time at the meeting. Take a few hours to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or the Science Museum. Follow the Freedom Trail. Go window shopping in the Back Bay. Or do something else that is fun and non-academic. Try not to let the angst and stress of the convention rub off too much on you.

    Northern Barbarian said...

    YES! If you are interviewing with a SLAC, make sure that you thoroughly read through the college's website and course offerings and can coherently explain what new topics/methods/ideas you can bring to their program. If you have instructions in your invitation letter, (i.e., be able to discuss a specific teaching topic), FOLLOW THEM. In a recent search I was left heartbroken by candidates who were brilliant on paper but utterly unprepared to answer even questions we had given them ahead of time. I felt furious with graduate advisers who served their students so poorly.

    ajnabieh said...

    As someone who has a phone interview next week, this is perfectly timed. Thank you.

    A question, if I may ask. My dissertation topic is weirdly positioned across subfields; I'm a political scientist, and think of myself as a 'comparativist' (which basically means I don't study American politics and I don't do international relations; I have my doubts about the whole subfield as an intellectual entity, but it is what it is), but my dissertation is actually an American case. I often get mistaken/miscategorized as an Americanist, and I know it's been hurting me in my job search. What do I do in order to position myself better?

    My plan has been to talk about how the dissertation is the first half of a two-part project, where part 2 is unequivocally a "comparative politics" project, but the data from part 1 is necessary to create part 2. But I don't think that's working. Is the solution to be clear about how my data "compares" to other cases transnationally? Or point, repeatedly and enthusiastically, to my one article under consideration that's not on my dissertation project, or my teaching, which has been clearly in the "comparative" field? Or something else? What would you want a candidate to do, if s/he presented as an odd case w/r/t subdisciplinary boundaries?

    Comrade PhysioProf said...

    What would you want a candidate to do, if s/he presented as an odd case w/r/t subdisciplinary boundaries?

    I'll take a stabbe at this, but be aware that I am not a humanist/social scientist, but a natural scientist. In my experience what interdisciplinarians need to do is to convince traditional disciplinarians that having the interdisciplinarian around is going to inure to the benefit of the traditional disciplinarians. This could be by way of taking over certain needed teaching responsibilities, by attracting a new range of grad students to the program, and/or by providing novel research expertise/perspective that could fertilize the research of the traditional disciplinarians.

    Conversely, if you come across as thinking that the traditional disciplinarians are superannuated fossils with nothing new to contribute and who are going to be left behind by your new magical wagical interdisciplinary approach, you're fucked.

    Dr. Koshary said...

    Many thanks as always to TR, CPP, and the other wiseheads who post and elaborate on these matters. My stomach kind of curls into a knot thinking about preparing all of this, even though I've already dived into the process. Job hunting will always be nerve-wracking, I guess.

    On a completely different note, I second the idea to take a little time out to enjoy the city during the conference. I'm not going to shill for anyone in a public forum, but those interested are welcome to email me for my recommendation for a fantastic oyster bar.

    And back I go to obsessing over my apps.

    JoVE said...

    Brilliant advice.

    This statement in particular, "There is one excellent graduate school that seems to kick out candidates who all interview as if they are prepared to teach the period of their dissertation and no more.", is one reason I object to the assertion that graduate programs are only preparing people for academic jobs. On this evidence, clearly they aren't even doing that.

    Another Damned Medievalist said...

    I think a lot of this boils down to applying and interviewing for the job that's advertised (and asking if there is more to the job than is advertised). This means looking at the department, finding out what is offered and what isn't (this is sometimes a good way of coming up with one's own questions), being able to talk to the search committee about how your work might fit into theirs and into the department as a whole...

    Um ... I have to admit that I always used the "Socratic method" line, until I heard a colleague who has a classroom style diametrically opposed to mine (zie is proud to call hirself a 'sage on the stage') say that ZIE used the Socratic method. The thing is, I DO use what might be called a Socratic method, in that I question and push and provoke -- but I also see myself as a facilitator, and expect discussion to happen between students in a many-to-many relationship, rather than to focus on me in a one-to-many relationship.

    Which means, I expect, that one should be careful to explain what one actually DOES.


    Also, and I say this as someone who has now sat on the other side of the interview a couple of times:


    This is especially true when asked a hypothetical question about dealing with classroom issues, balancing service, scholarship, teaching, and anything else that is thrown out there. We ask these questions to get an idea of what you are like as a person and what you might be like as a colleague. It's less important, I think, to give a *right* answer than to give a truthful one. If you haven't ever been faced with X, you can say so, but it doesn't mean you can't think about it then.

    Not answering such questions (especially when it's a woman asking them and you are male) comes off as dismissive and makes you look like someone who isn't particularly introspective. At a SLAC like mine, we want to see people who are interested in problem-solving and constant improvement. Answering with some sort of tangentially related stock answer, or "that doesn't happen to me," will lose you votes.

    Perpetua said...

    Great advice, everyone. I haven't sat on the interviewer side of the table, but I have gone to a handful of AHAs. I've never been in the Pit, but one of the things that really surprised me about the hotel-room interviews is how many people were in the room. Sometimes there was a manageable 3-4, but sometimes there were 7 or 8. It's really important to ASK the chair who will be there, but don't be surprised if there is an extra person or two. I had 4 or 5 interviews (this was a while ago, before the major meltdown and precious few jobs in my field), so there was no way I could keep everyone's name, area of specialty, courses taught straight. I just tried to remember the people in the fields closest to my own. But my main point is: don't be disconcerted if the room seems crowded. Try to make brief eye contact with everyone often. Don't feel self-conscious about asking someone to speak more loudly (I was really surprised by how many soft-talkers there were, and I don't hear well), or to repeat a question you didn't understand. Sometimes people don't express themselves clearly.

    In several interviews, I was asked about teaching dream courses. These were research-1 jobs not SLAC and they didn't seem that interested in specific course content for things like surveys. But they asked about my dream course to teach - I think they just took it for granted that I was qualified to teach the basic courses needed (sometimes they asked, do you think you could teach x? The right answer is always Yes!). They wanted to know how my mind worked, pedagogically, rather than trying to pin me down for real courses I would definitely teach. It's difficult to design a curriculum for a theoretical job at a university you don't work for.

    And it cannot be overemphasized: DO NOT TALK ON AND ON. I don't mean to sound gender-essentialist, but I've noticed this can particularly be a problem for male candidates. If you don't know if you have a tendency to run-on, ASK someone before your interview, and then be very conscious about stopping yourself. If the committee wants to hear more, they'll ask a follow-up.

    Tenured Radical said...


    Just chiming in because I checked in on the blog today. Yes, much good advice here, and to add to yours:

    *Always* come in with a dream course -- it is a route to telling them something about yourself that is special. The field courses can be too, but there may be something you can do that really appeals to them and that they haven't thought of.

    *Yes* to don't go on and on. I think most people do this from nerves, but it makes you look clueless. Also, the fewer questions they get to ask, actually, the more you narrow what they know about you.

    *Yes* you can teach anything -- on my first job I was asked if I could replace Famous Founding Feminist for a year in teaching both halves of the women's history survey. Why? I am a woman, that's why. But no matter that I had no training. "Sure!" I said. And guess what? I they hired me, I did, and I've been teaching it ever since.

    And here's a hint -- take a blank pad in and take notes. It is a way of actually paying attention and making that visible, and write down all 4-8 of those names in a pattern that allows you to call people by name subsequently. It gives a little hint of how you might conscientiously learn your students' names. But it also just looks like you are working -- not getting through the interview as best you can.

    Susan said...

    @ Perpetua: there is a line between going on too much and not going on enough. It's like an essay exam: you don't have to write everything, but it can be too short as well as too long.

    @anon 7:55: If you have a conference interview, we assume you have the basic skills to do the job. The interview is entirely about what kind of person you are. Not can you do the job, but how would you do it? What kind of colleague would you be? At an interview, I use the CV so that I ask good questions, not to judge it.

    Notorious Ph.D. said...

    Re: too much/not enough --

    My approach has always been to go a bit on the short side, a 90-second precis, then finish up with a recap of what the 3-4 major areas were, and say, *sincerely*, "I'd be happy to talk about any of those in more detail if you'd like to hear more."

    But that's just my approach.

    I once heard a junior faculty member joke about his search committee experience: "We should treat them like cats who jump on the table: Shoot them with a squirt gun when they pass the three-minute mark." Again, an anecdote, not to be generalized from.

    Anonymous said...

    Look, Tenured Radical can't have it both ways. One week she's adopting the pose of an academic proletarian, claiming she's underpaid, overworked and exploited, and ought to be in some sort of professors' union (that, by the way, is the TR I like).

    But here she condescendingly mocks the -real- academic proletarians, for their failure to meet some arbitrary behavioral standard she's internalized from the institution which employs her as a manager. And just so there's no ambiguity about her real alliances, she even takes a special jab at academic proletarians who study the Wobblies. This is a fundamentally smug, managerial, anti-labor post and it's totally out of keeping with the pro-labor posts from earlier this month.

    Comrade PhysioProf said...

    But here she condescendingly mocks the -real- academic proletarians, for their failure to meet some arbitrary behavioral standard she's internalized from the institution which employs her as a manager.

    She's not mocking anyone. She's trying to help people get fucken managerial-class jobbes like the one she has. A person can simultaneously be labor in relation to her own managers and mangement in relation to others. And the "behavioral standard" she is talking about is not "arbitrary"; it is a sensible standard for enabling a group of scholars in an academic department to most effectively pursue their research and teaching goals.

    Unless and until the entire current university model is overthrown and replaced with something else, what else would you have TR do? Quit her jobbe?

    Anonymous said...

    If you get around to it, TR, can you elaborate on the problem with
    "Proposing a course that is a slight variation on the survey they will be responsible for." ?

    Surely all good professors teach the survey with their own slight variations? Is your issue with bringing in a survey proposal (rather than a fun topic class proposal)? Or with not reading the job ad (ie proposing a course about Vietnam only when they clearly need all of SE Asia)?


    Tenured Radical said...

    Anonymous 1:07-- What I mean by this is that your second course should not be an unimaginative and mild deviation from your bread and butter course. So. Let's say this is a 20th c. US history job. And let's say your dissertation is on race riots in the 1960s. Your survey would be either 1865-present, or the twentieth century. When they ask you what your second course will be, the answer "A seminar on post-1945 social and cultural history" is an acceptable answer, but a missed opportunity. How about a course on the history of urban policing? On the rise of community organizing? On violence and the state?

    In other words, you want to have invented a course that causes them to think: "Students would *love* that," and demonstrate how you would, in fact, invite students into the excitement of what we do.

    Anonymous 8:45 -- Wha-a-at? Read more of the blog, as I am sure you will find more instances of contradiction and hypocrisy, if that's what you are looking for. Do the proles never help each other find work? No wonder the revolution hasn't come!

    Anonymous said...

    Following up on Notorious Ph.D.'s question: any advice on good questions to *ask* the search committee? I assume one can't ask what one really wants to know . . .

    Tenured Radical said...

    You can ask them what you want to know, within the reason of their ability to answer. But imagine this as a way to start preparing for your fly-back. Try these as an example:

    1. Can you describe the kind of students Yahoo College draws? How about the major? How many students are in the major/the field I would be in?

    2. What kinds of things does the department do to cultivate a common life?

    3. How much hiring have you done recently/plan to do in the next few years?

    4. Can each of you tell me something about a class you really *like* to teach and why?

    5. How does Yahoo U. support team-teaching or interdisciplinary collaborations?

    Don't Call Me Here said...

    Does anyone have additional dos/donts for someone interviewing as an internal candidate?

    Jennifer said...

    This is incredibly helpful for my graduate students. Thank you! I just sent the web address to several who are on the job market. I am a faculty member in an interdisciplinary department - American Studies - many of my grad students find that when they interview in a regular discipline, say history, they spend most of their interview having to convince the committee that they do indeed understand how historians think and work. I suspect this is a problem for other interdisciplinary scholars. What many of them tell me is that they spend so much time in defense mode that they don't get enough time to actually talk about their research or what they can teach/have taught. Does anyone have suggestions about how to address this issue?

    Jennifer said...

    Re: internal candidate question

    Search committees are expected to treat all job candidates in the same way -- even when the candidate is known to them personally. This is obviously easier said than done, but it is the policy on most campuses. I would suggest that you treat this interview as you would any other job interview. In other words, act "as if" you are a candidate who is personally unknown to the committee. Behave professionally and don't assume too much familiarity with faculty you may know. Others who do not know well you as well may judge you for being overly familiar.

    Tenured Radical said...

    I would agree 100%.

    Anonymous said...

    How soon should I write a thank you letter? Is it too eager to put it under their door at the conference? Is it appropriate to include things in the thank you letter I wish I'd emphasized in the interview? Thank you, TR, for all this wonderfully practical help.

    Brian W. Ogilvie said...

    Anonymous @9:46: I've appreciated the thank-you notes or emails that I've received as a search committee chair or member, but I can't say that they've made any difference in my judgments about whom to invite for second-round interviews. I think sending it off a day or two after the conference is best, and I would limit it to pleasantries about meeting the committee and hopes of further discussions in the future if they wish to pursue your application. A thank-you note is not the place to pursue the interview further or to second-guess yourself, unless something dramatic has happened since your interview that the committee should know about (like a book contract, or a job offer).

    I do think it's nice to write a note, since you do run into people again and again in the profession, especially if the committee has done a good job with the search (i.e., acknowledging applications, informing interviewees as early as possible, and behaving well in the interview). Even if it doesn't make a difference in that search, it might make a difference down the road.

    Unknown said...

    I am first year on the TT, and I sat in on my first interviews as a member of a search committee yesterday. Tenure radical is dead on, you MUST have a 5 minute answer on your dissertation. Keep in mind that it must be understandable to those outside your field. Like most search committee members, I am not an expert in the applicants' field. Other thoughts: 1) Describe the main points you will make in your answer, 1, 2, 3, out of the box and then expand--rambling kills interviews. 2) Know the department; people who knew about us did better than those who did not. 3) Do not wait for follow-up questions,they may not come. In our interviews we cannot ask them. We must ask each candidate the same questions.4)Know what the department needs taught, course catalogs are on the web. A good answer to what I would like to teach would be: an upper level course (the dept. needs taught), a survey (the dept. need taught),and a grad course (the dept.needs taught), if the school has a grad program. (Note the pattern in my answer) If you have a new course related to your research, offer this up at more research-oriented schools. Above all, ALWAYS, be a good soldier. You will teach anything the department needs taught. Good luck!

    Liza David said...

    I have been luckily appointed at a job last week. The officers there have asked me about my job experience at last firm and they asked me where do I see myself in five years. :) lucky me, other questions were related to my job nature.
    I have written dissertations at graduate and masters levels.
    Thesis Papers

    Anonymous said...

    Dear TR, this post was a lifesaver. I learned a lot of things in grad school, but learning how to talk about my work on the spot, in a way that's informative and interesting but not self-absorbed or pushy, was not one of them. Your advice helped me find that happy balance, and I left my interviews feeling genuinely satisfied with how I'd represented myself and my work. (Ftr: this did not happen at last year's AHA.) I know that there are lots of factors in a search that a candidate can't account for, but I suspect that my on-campus invite had a lot to do with the fact that you showed me how not to screw things up.

    lz. said...

    Extra points if you are a male bodied person and the scholar you name-drop is a woman.

    Why do you say "male bodied" here? Are you really talking about people with certain anatomical configurations (if so how can you tell?), or do you mean "men"?

    Tenured Radical said...

    I mean anyone who presents as male.

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