What Should Graduate Students Ask Candidates? A Special Request Post

Continuing on my theme of speaking directly to current graduate students, today’s post is a Special Request post for a graduate student reader who contacted me to ask what kinds of questions she and her peers should be asking the job candidates visiting their department.

She hastened to assure me that she and they are “nothing like” the grad students I have described in some posts (ie, potentially jealous, reactive, or even sabotaging), but rather genuinely excited to meet the candidates, and eager to do everything possible to make sure that graduate student interests are represented in the search.

“But what should we be asking??” she wondered.

This is a good question.  Many search committees attend closely indeed to the opinions of the graduate students.  You need to make sure that your opinion is an educated one.  Here is a partial list of some valuable questions that graduate students should consider asking job candidates who make campus visits to your department.

*How would you mentor graduate students?

*What graduate seminars would you like to teach?

*I work on xxxx. Are you familiar with that area of work? Do you have any brief recommendations for directions I might pursue?

*What kinds of graduate student committees do you see yourself being able to sit on/participate in?

*We are trying to get the department to develop a new certificate/program/focus in XXX. What is your experience in that area? How do you see yourself participating in it?

*Looking at the current department, what new directions do you think you’d like to see it move in in the next 5-10 years? Why?

*What is your next major project, after you finish your work on your current one?

*What do you think are the most important new developments/directions in our field?

*What is the best recent book/article in our field that you have read? Why?

*What was your graduate program like, and do you feel it was effective in training Ph.D.s for research and for jobs? Why?

*When you teach with TAs, what are the major issues and problems that you find, and how do you resolve them?

*What do you think ABDs should do to prepare for the job market? How did you prepare for the job market?

*What do you do for fun?

The point of these questions is to get the candidate to reveal how responsive he or she is to graduate student concerns, how attentive he or she is to different areas of research being pursued by the graduate students, and how much of an ally he or she will be in graduate student initiatives and goals.

Another point is to test how current the candidate is with regard to new and emergent debates in the field, and how savvy he or she is with regard to job market and professionalization, the disintegrating conditions of academic labor, and the welfare of TAs.

And the point of the last question is to check if the prospective faculty member is a balanced human being, or some kind of academic automaton.  Steer clear of those whenever possible.

Many, many times we heard from our graduate student representatives that candidates looked “bored” or “uninterested” when dealing with these queries from graduate students. It goes without saying that a bored or non-responsive candidate is a candidate that you, as a graduate student, do not want joining your department. Young and dynamic faculty are some of the best allies graduate students can have in staying current with new and emergent trends in the field, and prevailing against the dreadful conditions of the job market. Be courteous and friendly and good humored, but grill those candidates, and don’t hold back from pressing for answers. The very best candidates will come away from such encounters deeply impressed with the quality of the graduate program, and more compelled to accept the job if offered

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What Should Graduate Students Ask Candidates? A Special Request Post — 4 Comments

  1. Ask them what they think about alt-ac jobs and the role of supervisors in training students for that, too.

  2. As a grad student who has experienced 2 job searches at my program, I can say that we asked the interviewees serious questions about their research–“grilled” them you might say–not out of insecurity or another negative source of aggression, but out of a genuine interest in research, and also a concern that we hire a high-quality scholar. At least one of the prospective hires did not take this seriously, ordered extra bottles of wine, etc., pretty much ignored the serious questions, and seemed to think we were all a bunch of grad students out for a party to celebrate her intense day of faculty interviews. Not a good strategy, and most of us were horrified by the idea of having her as an advisor (!) So as a grad student, ask questions that let you know what you could learn from this person.

    • Ditto. Usually when our department brings candidates to the department, they organize a lunch with the graduate students and the candidate (and no faculty present). I’ve made an effort to go to several of these and the way candidates react to them has ranged the gamut. I always appreciate the ones who make an effort to understand what the grad students are working on and ask about our insights into the department, but some of them have treated that meeting as a break time. I mean, I hope they feel more comfortable with us than the other faculty members! But it’s irritating when they don’t take us seriously. Our faculty actually take our comments into consideration, though – they email us after each visit and ask us to give detailed comments about our interactions with the potential candidate and their job talk and lunch time with us, as well as any other interactions we’ve had. I’ve actually had a SCC email me back and confirm that they felt the same way about a candidate as I did.

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