For Post-ac Scientists: The “Applications Scientist” Track

I don’t have a post-ac blog post this week.

So, I’ll share this link sent to me by a client.  It is from the Science Careers blog of the journal Science, and it describes the career track of the Applications Scientist.

Applications scientists provide support to customers of companies in the laboratory equipment, reagents, or lab-services industry, and according to the author, is one of “the best stepping stones from the bench to a range of opportunities in industry.”

What do they do?

“When technical inquiries from customers can’t be met by telephone and e-mail tech-support teams, they escalate to applications scientists. “Especially when they require lab work, an applications scientist speaks with the customer and can go so far as to test samples or specific applications,” Herzer continues. Herzer has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Rutgers University; such high-level credentials are common among applications scientists, and often are necessary for dealing with the complexity of modern research tools.

Applications people, Herzer says, can be either in the lab or in the field. In the lab, applications scientists tend to have more hands-on experience and often a higher education level than the front-line technical support staff. Their training — and the labs they have at their disposal — enables them to approach customer problems in a more sophisticated way. The field applications scientist (often referred to by the acronym FAS) works in the field, helping customers do their own work and working on collaborative projects. They also provide training, set up equipment, and deliver presentations and product demonstrations at customer sites and conferences.

“Field applications scientists troubleshoot via phone and e-mail as well, but they do have a significant amount of travel expected of them because much of what they do is face-to-face with the customer,” Herzer continues, raising an aspect of the job — travel — that can be either a plus or a minus. Few people travel more than field applications scientists.”

Read more here. 

How to Apply for a Dean Position (A Guest Post in the form of an interview)

The writer of this post is dean at a public liberal-arts-and-science college in the Midwest. S/he has spent a career in public higher education at comprehensive and baccalaureate campuses in a number of instructional and administrative roles.

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Karen:  Sketch for us the Dean’s job.  How do you fill your days?  What skills and aptitudes do you need to display on a daily basis?  How do these differ from those you depended on as a faculty member?

My days are typically a combination of planned work and reaction to what comes to me (usually by e-mail, occasionally by phone or walk-in).  I’m the dean of a small college, which is part of a mid-sized organization.

In terms of planned work, it’s a combination of providing information to my college community, to the main administration (provost’s office, chief business officer’s office, chancellor’s office, etc.), and to the off-campus community, as well as working with those units that report to me to solve problems or plan for future initiatives.

As dean of this college, I have a lot of contact with the community, and so interaction with the community is a large part of my job (formal via service organizations of which I am a member, with elected officials, and with county and municipal employees; and informal through casual/occasional meetings).  Our college has its own library, IT, academic affairs, student affairs, and business offices, which report to me, so oversight of these units’ directors (various titles for each – director, asst. dean, associate dean, manager, etc.) leads to both planned and unplanned work.

Karen:  What are the most important qualities sought in an Academic Dean candidate?  How do these differ from faculty searches?

The most important qualities are really not so different for an academic dean than they are for a successful faculty member.  That is, the dean needs to be an effective communicator, needs to be an analytical thinker, needs to be diplomatic in working with a variety of colleagues, students, and community members.  Each of these qualities should define a successful faculty member (I realize I’m not referring to expertise in a particular academic field, which is a given for a faculty-position candidate).

The differences occur in areas such as budget management (most faculty candidates are not judged on this), personnel management (again, most faculty positions do not come with personnel management), and ability to raise money for the college (deans did not used to be fund raisers; in the last 15 – 20 years, though, this has become an expectation).  In each of these areas, however, the qualities I mention above are critical.

Karen:  Who reviews Dean applications and makes the final decisions?  Can you share any stories or generalizations about the politics and practices of these searches (i.e., insider knowledge)?

There will be a search committee, of course.  Some colleges and universities are now employing search firms at dean-level searches, though this is not yet as common as at the provost or president level.  In any event, the search committee or search firm will typically be the first level of review of applications (I say “typically,” because there may be cases where an HR department has a level of initial review).  Whether the committee, firm, or HR department does the initial review, the search committee will do subsequent reviews, interviews (usually first by phone or off-campus for semi-finalists – i.e., the “airport interview” – and then on campus for finalists); there will usually be anywhere from 3 to 5 finalists, though 3 is most typical.  The committee will make recommendations to the provost or president, depending on the hiring authority.  The provost or president will make the final decision.

DISCLAIMER: the above is how the institutions I’ve worked with and applied to have operated.  I can’t generalize for all, of course.

I’m going to decline to give anecdotal information.  Every institution is a bit different.  My inclination is to take at face value what is put in position notices such as seeking candidates from across ethnic, racial, and gender categories and from disciplines represented in the college doing the search.

Karen:  When search committees discuss Dean candidates, what kinds of things do they talk about?  What do they admire?  What do they dismiss or ignore?  What do they see as red flags?  What do they reject out of hand?

Search committees are looking for candidates who have strong academic and experiential credentials.  Regarding the former, a terminal degree is nearly always a necessity, as well as a record of teaching and scholarship that is comparable to a successful faculty member.  Regarding the latter, the candidate should have administrative experience that prepares him or her for a full-time administrative role in which collaboration is essential (the successful dean is more of a facilitator than a leader).  Most often, this is a term or two as department chair.  It can also be experience with administering large grants, serving as an asst. or assoc. dean, etc.  In each of these examples, the candidate will have had budget experience, personnel decision-making experience (of some kind), and – especially for chairs and asst./assoc. deans – experience working with the public and with administrators further up the organizational ladder.  It’s not a given that a committee will ignore applicants without some administrative experience, but it’s very likely to happen.

Red flags are most likely to go up if a candidate has moved from position to position in relatively short periods.  There may be good reason for this (rapid turnover in positions above, family circumstances, etc.), and so the candidate’s letter should address anything on their CV that could raise such questions.  I discuss letters more below.

For an academic dean’s position – unless there’s explicitly a decision to consider non-academics, or the college is highly specialized – it is very likely that an application from a non-academic will not go far.  There are certainly exceptions to this, however.  If the college has a specific focus (fine arts, business, health sciences, for example), it would be less likely for immediate rejection to happen.  If the college is multi-disciplinary or not a professional school (humanities, liberal arts and science, social sciences, etc.), an application from a non-academic will not go far.

An application with a poorly-written letter will not get past the first cut.  I address this below.

Karen:  How long should a Dean application cover letter be, and what should it include?  Can you give us a suggested paragraph breakdown, akin to the ones Karen provides for tenure track cover letters (her 9-paragraph model)?

Length is subjective.  Don’t try to second-guess the committee, unless the announcement is explicit (e.g., “a cover letter of no more than two pages”).  Say what you need to say, don’t be repetitive, don’t waste space with extraneous information (hobbies, for example, are irrelevant in an application letter; that’s something to mention during an interview, if it comes up).  Personally, I am put off by brief letters that say little more than “I’m applying for your position, find my vita enclosed.”  I’m exaggerating, of course, but a letter of only two or three paragraphs will simply not introduce the applicant to the committee.

I haven’t thought about the number of paragraphs, but 9 or 10 are probably about right.  Most important is to A) demonstrate why you are a good “fit” with the college; B) that you are qualified for a dean’s position – credentials and experience – and C) you fully understand the institution to which you are applying.

Somewhere in the letter, either in the introductory or summary paragraph or paragraphs, explain why you are interested in and qualified for this particular institution.  If the only reason is because you (the applicant) want to leave where you are, then you probably shouldn’t be applying for the position.

Do a thorough investigation of the institution, and especially the college within the institution before writing the letter.  After this investigation, use the position description to design the outline of the letter, focusing on how the applicant’s abilities and experience align with the requirements of the job.  If an expectation of the job will be new – in the sense of not having much or any experience; fundraising, for example – say so, but focus on analogous experience that may lead to success with the expectation.  If there’s something about your career track that you suspect will raise a “red flag,” address it.  It’s better to be proactive than to have to be explaining something later.

Finally, edit, edit, edit; proofread, proofread, proofread.  Consider that many on the search committee are likely to be faculty sensitive to spelling errors, incorrect grammar, and repetition.  Lengthy letters are not off-putting if they are informative; they are off-putting if they are filled with extraneous information, repetitive statements, etc.

Karen:  What should a Dean CV include, and (how) should it differ from a faculty CV?

A CV for an academic dean’s position need not differ greatly from a faculty CV.  I’ll admit that this is subjective.  Personally, I find resumes off-putting (goals statements like “find a leadership position in which I can inspire others to succeed” are not useful to a search committee).  The academic CV can serve to establish the candidate’s academic bona fides, which reduces the need to expand greatly on teaching and research in the cover letter.

A caveat I would add is that a faculty CV may or may not include much information on community interaction/outreach.  If the candidate has been active in his or her community through service organizations, church/mosque/synagogue activity, occasional volunteer work, this should be listed.  It will show the search committee that the candidate is ready to take on the public, off-campus work that most deans need to do today.

Karen:  What mistakes do you see Dean candidates making?  Can you identify the places where candidates routinely THINK they need to show xxx, but in fact, they should really be showing yyyy?

The biggest mistake is not really knowing the institution to which candidates are applying.  I think this can happen most commonly if applicants are using a scatter-shot approach to applying.  Being selective, limiting applications to a handful of institutions each hiring “season” will give candidates the time needed to investigate fully the colleges they choose to pursue.  This investigation will also likely bring to light aspects of the searching institution that may result in an applicant not applying or at least result in the applicant being able to show that he or she knows the state of the institution (enrollment declines or spikes, budget shortfalls or recent large gifts, etc.)

Karen:  What experiences are the most valuable for Dean candidates?  What should they highlight in their application materials, what should be minimized?

It’s very important that the candidate demonstrate that he or she understands the academic culture of the institution to which he or she is applying (is there tenure or not; what level of shared governance is there, etc.).  Being able to show experience that provides this understanding is important.  Administrative experience, as I have described above, is equally important, especially experience that emphasizes collaboration with colleagues to reach a goal.

Karen:  Do Dean search committees want to know about research and teaching?

For an academic dean position (as opposed to dean of students, for example), a brief paragraph about teaching and research is OK.  The members of the search committee, many of whom will be faculty members, want to see that their incoming dean knows about their professional lives.  However, the committee members are not looking for a discussion of teaching philosophy or method or a discussion of the candidate’s research agenda (past or present).  If a letter were to dwell on these areas, it may lead some on the committee to wonder if the candidate was really interested in long-term administration, as opposed to a means to gain a faculty position (most deans’ positions come with tenure).

Karen:  Any tips for Dean interviews?  Good examples?  Bad examples?

Be a good listener, really focus on what the committee members are asking and what they are saying.  Despite all of the research I did prior to my interviews for my current position, I found that I learned more about the college from listening to committee members’ questions and comments than I did from all of my reading.  For example, during the course of my on-campus interview I was able to refer during the afternoon to information I had learned at breakfast that morning.

Regarding bad examples, also related to listening, be sure to answer the questions asked.  That is, don’t come to the interview with answers to anticipated questions so well-rehearsed that you end up answering questions that were not asked, while ignoring the question.  Also, don’t bloviate.  The committee – and the rest of the college community during the on-campus interview – wants to know of your experience and successes, but don’t go on ad nauseam and don’t appear to brag (too much of “I did this” and “I did that” may cause committee and college faculty and staff to conclude that you are not collaborative).

Karen:  Anything else you want to share?

What is also important to get across in the letter, without being blatant about it, is that the applicant is a hard worker.  He or she knows that being a dean is a 7-day-a-week job (I’m always the dean, no matter where I am in town).  This means being available to everyone, on campus and off, early in the morning and late at night.  Being an administrator means you don’t get to come and go as you please anymore.  It means giving up a lot of what used to be flexible time.  The letter obviously doesn’t state all of this, but it needs to be clear from the letter and during the interview process that the applicant knows that being a “leader” means being on the job all of the time.

Finally, above I referred to successful deans being those who are collaborative and facilitate solutions to problems.  Ultimately, there will come a time when the dean has to make the final decision (usually on budget or personnel or a student issue).  However to the extent that this decision can be made after thorough consultation and discussion, the more acceptable the outcome will be.  Dean candidates need to demonstrate that they have this collaborative and consultative approach.  If they are perceived as a “top-down” or “my-way-or-the-highway” style of administrator, they will either not get an offer or, having received the appointment, will not last long.

EnGendering Confidence: Part 3 (Cardozo #Postac Post)

by Karen Carodozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

My last post discussed the socially constructed and gendered Confidence Trouble that many women experience, largely from a disinclination to take risks and a fear of being disliked.  Following on this, Kay and Shipman note the “natural result of low confidence is inaction” whereas, as psychologist Richard Petty suggests, “Confidence [is] the stuff that turns thoughts into action” (a process that might also require a bit of courage).

Lesson 3: Action breeds confidence.  K and S suggest that the daily practice of even small-stakes decisions, even if mistakes are made, is preferable to inaction. Acting decisively helps you turn thoughts into practice, to learn from experience, and to move on with less self-recrimination over time.  There is no substitute for having done a thing often enough that its familiarity cannot help but engender confidence (or at least, quell the worst of your doubts). Public speaking (or related aspects you may have experienced as a teacher or presenter) is a familiar case in point.  At some point you stop questioning whether you can pull it off – your track record simply plays too loudly.

From my unscientific perspective, but one based on decades of teaching and advising, another sure way to forget one’s fears is to be too consumed by a real interest to heed them. This brings us to the importance of finding inner conviction in your Alt/Post-Ac transition. There’s simply no shortcut for the self-assessment process, which uncovers and reveals what’s most genuine about your vocational desires as well as what you may be best suited to do.  Unfortunately, along with killing confidence, academic training often leads us to replace our true interests with those most likely to please our evaluators.

Lesson 4:  Pursue Your Convictions.  Over the years I’ve marveled at how otherwise painfully shy students can write brilliantly argued papers or deliver engaging talks when they really care about the subject. That’s why one pillar of my teaching philosophy is to allow self-selected topics whenever possible (this is the core of career counseling as well!).  While passion may be too cliché or strong a word in an academic context, when one is intrinsically motivated by any pursuit, confidence tends to become a non-issue.  You simply do what must be done. Way leads on to way.

When you are convinced you’re on the right path, you don’t need confidence. That conviction (although you may call it confidence) is what enables you to convince and inspire others. The odds of landing a great new Alt/Post-Ac situation increase exponentially if you can identify a niche that represents the unique convergence of your particular experiences and interests. By definition, a niche implies a smaller applicant pool, in which you are more likely to rise to the top.

Finally, Kay and Shipman offer a few other practical nuggets:

Sleep, move, share – This is a maxim based on research which finds that lack of sleep and exercise produces an anxious brain, while socialization among trusted friends has a relaxing influence (Really? How fortunate that we have such grant-funded studies to probe life’s deepest mysteries!). Since being an academic does not lend itself organically to exercising, sleeping or socializing among cherished friends, it’s no wonder that many PhDs lack confidence.  Do some self-care, people!

Focus on others – not only can supporting others build THEIR confidence (pay it forward, sister) but there’s been a plethora of research showing that civic or social engagement boosts endorphins and happiness levels by taking the focus off the brooding self.

All of this adds up to the realization that confidence isn’t something you have: it’s something you do, and by doing it often enough, come to internalize as a familiar way of being.  In other words: you CAN fake it till you make it.  But that requires action on your part.  In short, building confidence is antithetical to the academic privileging of thinking over doing.  Don’t deliberate until you feel confident enough to act; as the philosopher Nike once said:  just do it.

The Job Offer Digest

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that last week a little debate arose there about whether it was good to anonymously post all the job (and postdoc) offers received by my clients, or if that practice had the effect of making less successful readers feel bad.  While the overwhelming majority of commenters voted to keep the offers coming, a few did observe that perhaps presenting them in a weekly digest form might be better.  And so, that is what I now do.  Last Friday and this Friday, I posted the week’s Job Offer Digest.

I find that I really like giving the week’s offers this way!  It gives me a chance to share the news of each person who writes to share it with me, without feeling like I’m indulging in endless daily bragging or self-promotion.

To launch this new feature officially, I’m devoting this week’s post here on the blog to the Digest.  Read on for the offers shared by clients and readers, and their thoughts.*

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Feb. 27

TT job offer, client, Ph.D., Education, R1. “I can’t tell how much I needed your support.   It changed my perspective on the job search and has kept me focused over the past month an a half as our family has weathered a series of losses.   The PhD journey is not for the faint of heart and it makes a world of difference to know that  you and Kellee are there cheering me on….     I’ve been recommending your site to a number of my colleagues whoa re finishing up right now so you and Kellee may have a whole new bunch of Canadians following you into the next year.”

TT offer, client, PhD., Critical Sociology, R1 “I truly cannot thank you enough for all of the services you provide. Your online guides have been absolutely invaluable, and working with you (even briefly) did wonders for my CV, cover letter, and confidence. Even beyond providing clear instruction on how to prepare for and approach the job search, your blog has gone a long way towards soothing the tremendous anxieties and heartbreaks that often accompany it. Many of my colleagues have succeeded on the job market with your guidance and I cannot imagine how much more difficult it would have been for me without it. Really – thanks.

TT offer, client, ABD, Economics. “You helped me perfect some of my application documents (e.g. cover letter) and I learned a ton from your blogs.  You asked during one of your webinars to let us know if we got any offers. I am delighted to have received an offer for an Assistant Professor position in Economics at R2 University. I also received a similar offer from U of X Branch Campus, but it wasn’t as attractive for many reasons (including state politics). I am quite fortunate that the job market in economics is quite a bit stronger than in other fields, and that coming from a modest program does allow a path in academia.

I look forward to recommending your services to other graduate students going forward. I think i’ll buy your book to give to one of my future students. I think you are doing an extremely important job. In appreciation of your work I have donated to your support fund.”

TT job offer, client, Ph.D., Anthropology, University in New Zealand. “your work with me certainly helped me get this job!”

TT job offer, client, ABD, Education, R2. “I want to thank you for your assistance in a successful year on the job market. I’m a long time blog reader and also made use of several of your services (cover letter review, Webinars on interviewing/campus visits/negotiation). After six campus visits (and two additional requests for visits that I had to decline), I’m happy to report that I accepted a tenure track assistant professor position at XX University. I was also able to negotiate a higher starting salary and additional start-up funds as well. :)”

TT offer, client, ABD, Romance Languages, SLAC.

TT job offer, client, Ph.D., Education, R1.

TT job offers, reader, ABD, in Asian history, SLAC. “Being a long-term reader of your articles and attending your webinar on campus visits in December, I had 8 phone/Skype/AHA interviews, 7 campus interviews and received 4 offers so far (2 TT-SLAC; 1 TT-state university; 1 non-tenure, renewable AP-SLAC). “

TT job offer, client, Ph.D., History, SLAC. “I have worked with you in the past and yesterday I “attended” your campus visit webinar. I found it very helpful because it clarified many of the questions I had even after having done a few campus visits! Your discussion of the job talk and the meetings with administrators were particularly useful for me.”

“TT offer, reader, SLAC, Economics, “I appreciated your article about going on the job market for the second time because there is very little or no information about this on other websites.”

TT job offer, client, Anthropology, R1. “I’ve read your blog for years. I’m quite happy to say that I’m moving from a small LAC to a TT position at one of the top R1 departments in my field and I leaned on Pearls of Wisdom for wisdom. What I particularly used it for was diagnosing my problems. I had been getting to the short list or campus visit stage, but not getting offers. This meant that the problem was not the CV but something(s) in person. I had to have a hard heart-to-heart with myself and, instead of being stubborn or “misunderstood,” actually change. For me, the entries on “not acting like a grad student,” the video on interview jui-jitsu, and the general posts on the job talk were the ones that made the greatest intervention.

Really glad for this opportunity and for your no-nonsense approach. I probably owe you a drink at the next AAAs.”

A mid-search update: I had 8 Skype/phone interviews and got invited to 2 campus visits, both are taking place this month.  I am nervous but working with Kellee will certainly help.  I am positive that without the guidance of TPII I would not have landed any of these because I was on the market last year and got 0 interviews.  I will keep you updated and wish me luck!

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Feb. 23

TT offer, client, Ph.D., Sociology, teaching college. “I have fabulous news! I have been offered and accepted an Asst. Professor position with XXX University. The work I did with both you and Kellee was invaluable. Thank you so much!!! I am beyond thrilled and so ready for this next chapter…”

TT job offer, client, Ph.D. American History, R1, “The position is as near a perfect fit for me as I could have imagined; certainly the best fit of the jobs I applied for this year. I also had 12 first round interviews out of 23 jobs for which I applied–by far my best success rate to date. So thanks for getting me kickstarted this cycle!”

TT job offer, client, Ph.D., Asian Studies, R2. “I am happy to say that your advice paid off, and I received and accepted an offer for a TT assistant professor position. I have been fortunate to have a great group of advisors and mentors at my institution who helped me to prepare for the job market, but, in all honesty, it was your blog, webinars, and cut-the-crap advice that really guided my preparation. You touched on every aspect of the job search, the interviews, etc. in your posts and webinars, and I followed your advice every step of the way. Thank you.”

TT offer, client, Ph.D., Education, R1. “My thanks again to Kellee for her help getting me ready for the visit!”

TT job offer, client, Ph.D., Information and Library Science, R1. “I was just offered a TT position at a Research I university after receiving excellent help from Petra in a Skype Intervention for my job talk last month!”

Multiple TT job offers, client, ABD, History, SLAC. “I ended up with 6 campus invites. I received offers from all three of the first three schools that I visited, which is nothing short of astounding as far as I’m concerned, especially in my field. The schools were all great places too. Because of this good fortune, I withdrew from the last three visits in order to give those schools enough time to invite other candidates to campus. I also received two post doc offers. Because I had multiple job offers I was able to negotiate with my top choice, a small and well funded private university in a great city that happens to also be within about an hour of one of my favorite cities in the country. … Needless to say, I’m ecstatic about all of this! Thank you so much for your help in revising my materials for the market. It was my first year job searching and I am still ABD, so this outcome seems nothing short of miraculous to me. I know the personal advice you gave me on my materials, as well as all of the great advice you have on your blog, helped me enormously.”

Postdoc offer, client, Ph.D., Asian History.

TT job offer, client, humanities. “Karen (if I may), I took your campus interview webinar last November (I believe is the date) and I must admit, I was a skeptic. What can she tell me that I haven’t learned from the past 3 years of unsuccessful campus interviews? Therein lies the answer, doesn’t it? This was a search for my second job in the humanities and I am in the final stages of negotiations (the written contract after emailed back-and-forths with dean via the chair) with a highly ranked S-STEM-C (not liberal arts) that is an excellent fit and a vast improvement in my professional life. Thank you for showing me that the devil is in the details of interpersonal communication. I will continue to testify of your good works and pass your blog and services on to folks in need.”

TT offer, reader, Ph.D. Engineering. “You do not know me, but I wanted to thank you very, very much. Your blog is, by far, the most useful resource I have found through the process of preparing my application package and preparing for the job interviews. (I will not even start comparing the usefulness of your posts to the in-person advice I have received!) I would NEVER have gotten this offer without your help. So, in case you ever wonder about the impact of your work on all these people who do not let you know how extensively they are reading your blog through the process, be assured: It is enormous!”

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*Please note that I have the outcomes ONLY of those clients and readers who write to let me know.  I don’t track them, and I don’t pursue clients after the fact to provide me with updates.  I’m hoping to do a survey this summer of all clients who have worked with TPII (about 3500 at this point) to get some systematic results, but right now I don’t have those.

Ask the Post-Acs: “What happens to my scholarly work after the transition?”

Occasionally the TPII Post-Ac Consultants put their heads together to respond to a particularly compelling question that arises in the course of their consultations with post-ac clients.  Today, they share their thoughts on the question of publishing after the post-ac transition.

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Question:

I know that I have a book in me. I’m concerned that alt-ac/post-ac employment means that I’ll never write that book because such activities aren’t prioritized there (e.g. through sabbaticals). I would like to say that I’ll write that book for free, just for the satisfaction of it, on nights and weekends but — honestly — no, I probably won’t. I value that time with my husband, daughter, and extended family, and am not willing to sacrifice it. Do there exist employers who value the dissemination of your prior research, to the point that they allow things like set-asides of a few hours per week (e.g. 4), grant paid sabbaticals for such projects, or, at the very least, grant temporary unpaid leaves for such projects that have some job security? If so, how do I find them, and negotiate this request?

—–

Replies:

We can’t imagine a scenario in which a post-ac employer would fund your scholarship. In the words of The Professor, “No, there is no post-ac support for writing a book.” Maggie notes that, if you serve in an alt-ac role with a university, your employer may allow you time for higher ed research that relates to your job; Margy, ever the optimist, wonders whether a post-ac scholar without an institutional affiliation could win a grant from, say, the NEH. What interests all of us most about this question, though, is the unspoken question beneath it: If I go post-ac, what happens to my scholarship?

Jessica L: To write and publish a book while post-ac,  I spent a lot of my own time on my book and had my parents watch my infant daughter for an entire week while I blitzed the thing. I also had publisher interest from before I even had my doctorate, and the revision process just entailed incorporating the reviewer feedback. I think this question points to the necessity of setting yourself up while still in school to continue your scholarship when you’re out, regardless of whether you’re ac or post/alt. One reason I’ve been successful in continuing my research, despite working outside of academia for a living, is that I actively went out and fostered those relationships while still a student. I spoke with my editor at Palgrave and secured interest while ABD, and got a very helpful reader’s report within a short time of submission. Having the path to publication laid out clearly in front of me made it seem more like an easy A-to-B than finding my way through the woods.

I won’t lie: it did take me a couple of years to get it together to publish the book, because I needed a bit of space from the whole thing and because of the demands of family and work life. But I graduated in 2009 with my PhD, and the book was published in December 2011; not bad, I think.

Margy H: For a lot of reasons I won’t go into here–although you can read all about them in this book–my decision to go post-ac meant that I would let go of my dream of digging out and publishing the grand Herman Melville masterpiece hiding within my dissertation.  Not having an academic job means that your research, if you keep it up, becomes essentially a leisure activity. And parents of small children like myself, especially ones with full-time jobs, seem to only have time for (or let’s be honest, only want to make time for) hobbies in which said small children can fully participate. That said, I do take comfort in knowing that my published articles and my dissertation are available online, so if my work was or is all that compelling, some tenure-line soul can find and build on it.

The world could hardly care less that I’ve set aside my Melville scholarship, but it actually values the work that I do now. And maybe this is why I feel just fine about not doing scholarship of my own: because my life’s work, as I have discovered, is to support others’ research. As an academic writing consultant and editor, I’m described by clients as a sort of coach, cheerleader, pre-peer reviewer, and scholarship-midwife. Working on projects that bring urgent problems to light from a variety of disciplinary perspectives has made my own past academic research feel somehow like a faded sweater that I donated to Goodwill and replaced with a whole new wardrobe. So for me, the key to giving up my own scholarship has been to find a new way to serve the scholarly enterprise.

Karen C: The subtext of this question seems to be: Do I have to give up my scholarly interests and identity if/when I take an Alt/Post-Ac job?  That depends on what we think research or scholarship is, why we do it, and who benefits from our work. Some pursued the PhD for reasons unrelated to a burning desire to research or publish.  These folks may bliss out in teaching-intensive roles or, once landed on Alt/Post-Ac ground, never look back or miss the scholarly grind. Alternatively, for some in the tenure system orbit, writing and/or seeking publication is largely driven by the evaluation process: few really consider whether they would still write or publish if they were NOT on the tenure track or in academe.  There is of course, another subset–Ac, Alt or Post–that is so motivated by and identified with their scholarly work that they would write and do research no matter what role they were in.

This discussion reveals not only that some academics write or publish when they don’t really want to, but also that (as TPII’s own Jessica Langer attests) some Alt/Post folks do so even when it is no longer “required.” This leads to some speculation about potential forms of Alt/Post-Ac writing: it may be that you will continue to disseminate your ideas, but in less “academic” modes for different audiences – e.g. journalism and other popular press, trade publishing, blogs, etc. Not coincidentally, the question of what “counts” as scholarship is being asked in academe itself, where the most elite publication venues tend to have a tiny readership!  Whether in the context of debates around criteria for tenure, interest in community-based scholarship and/or related diversity discourses, awareness is growing that there ISN’T a one-size-fits-all notion of scholarly “excellence” and that we should value different kinds of intellectual work. In other words, it may or may not be “a book” that you need or want to write.

Joe F.  In the past year that I’ve been post-ac, I’ve reshaped the work I did when researching and teaching—perhaps as if I keep taking apart a Lego creation to build something else with the same pieces. I appreciate the wider reach and audience for the kinds of work I and many others did in academia (American literature and film). As Karen C. notes, it’s important on the alt-ac or post-ac side to think about the many possible forms such writing can take: from web articles (paid, one hopes), to book reviews in your area of expertise (ditto), to a book or cross-platform product. Heck, a series of blog posts or tweet conversations can be fruitful venues for articulating or expanding your expertise—and maybe making connections leading to publishing opportunities.

So far, I’ve been trying to not let the research, teaching, and writing I’ve done go to waste, because I enjoy reading and discussing books and films. I’ve drawn what I did as an academic in a few ways: (1) Editing: Recently, I helped a friend finalize her biography of Hemingway for submission to the press; because I knew almost all the scholarly works she cited, managing the citations was relatively easy.  (2) Writing: I practice the #ArticleRemix that Katie Pryal introduced last year: that is, revising or reshaping a scholarly work for a broader audience. I ran one on my blog last summer, and. I’ve been encouraging others to remix their work in similar ways. Explore print or online venues that appeal to non-academic audiences. This kind of work can still be valuable creative or resume experience, even if you don’t list it on your CV. (3) Consulting: I’ve reminded new or future post-ac clients that their research doesn’t necessarily have to be confined to academia. It’s liberating to know that we can explore topics in fulfilling, engaging ways and not worry about if such work will please a search or T&P committee. (4) Expanding: I remind myself often that there are more ways to bring what I learned in academia to audiences outside it. For three years, I’ve run adult-enrichment classes at a local bookstore on 19th- and 20th-century American literature. I’ve made connections with local writers and artists to explore other means of making the material I know (and have taught) accessible and engaging.

Let me again echo Karen C.: on the post- and alt-ac sides, there isn’t a single way expertise is valued. I’m glad to see some current academics exploring ways for their research to reach broader audiences, especially when what they’re doing isn’t “proper” for a line on their CVs. I wrote a book as an academic (with no institutional funding), and I might do another as a former academic, albeit a more creative one (a novel or screenplay, possibly both). Remember that you still have expertise in the areas you researched and taught, even if you’re not currently doing the work you expected when you started graduate school. Who else might care as much about the topic as you do, and how can you start—or keep—reaching them?

The last word, from Karen C.:

This question invites us to trouble the boundaries between “Ac” and “non-ac” in potentially productive ways:  by asking WHY we research or write, as well as about the potential of expanding scholarship into different vehicles and formats–within or without the academy.  Ultimately Occam’s Razor may provide the simplest explanation, especially in this age of expanded options for self-publishing: if you want to write a book (or anything else) you will: if you don’t, you won’t.

 

The Oxbridge Interview (A Guest Post)

The author is an academic in a humanities discipline who has interviewed at both Oxford and Cambridge, with previous success at the former. Currently, s/he holds a senior academic position at another Russell Group university (US:  R1 institution) in the UK and has served on a handful of search committees.

For more on the UK Interview, please see this earlier guest post.  For more on the REF, see this post.  For an overview of various anxieties about the UK search process, see this post.

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My experiences of interviewing within Oxbridge (British portmanteau for Oxford + Cambridge) were bittersweet. I have interviewed at both. At Oxford, I was successful. At Cambridge, I was not. Nevertheless, the experiences had similarities and I am happy to share these with readers, with the hope that they might benefit from my own mistakes.

The interview day, as with all British interviews, will consist of two prime components: a presentation of your research (usually in the morning) and a formal interview (in the afternoon). In between, you will often have four or more hours to kill. For this time, you are on your own. I suggest that you look online beforehand in order to locate a good coffee shop, and then try to clear out of the immediate interview area when you have downtime. You will see the other candidates as they go before and after you, and, while many enjoy scoping out the competition, others can let this interaction impact them negatively. As much as I’d love to know the competition, in reality, I know I react like the latter and so I would carry myself away (and look only when I’m entirely done!).

The morning presentation, in my experience, was a mix between a British research presentation and a longer US job talk. In fact, I was asked to give a 30-minute talk on my research, but the expectation was that it was pitched to an advanced room of academics. In both cases, there were no grad students present (at least not that I could spot!). But, at the same time, they were the largest audiences I had ever seen for a job presentation. At both universities, I was in a room with staged seating and there were approximately 40-50 people present (at Cambridge I had to speak into a microphone, which I very much disliked). No doubt the entire Department was in attendance, but the audience also included people from related faculties whose work I knew well. It immediately appeared to me that the prospect of a new addition to the group had been advertised widely, and these people took my work very seriously, more so than I had ever seen.

The name of the game at Oxbridge is ‘scholarship’, and they were going to ensure that the next to walk amongst them was a scholar. To prepare for this rather daunting experience, I would suggest presenting work you know well, and work that is on the conservative side. Obviously you must get to know your audience and present accordingly, but if you are presenting to an ancient Divinity faculty that mostly work on Greek biblical translations, then now is not the time to whip out that new Queer hermeneutical reading of Acts of the Apostles. You can do that work once you safely get the post, but for now bring out something impressive but conservative, which demonstrates your abilities to produce tight and robust scholarship. The exception to my recommendations concerning taking a conservative tone would be if the post advertised was for some type of cutting-edge (postcolonial, poststructuralist, queer, whatever) theory, but this most often is not the case with these two establishments.

The presentation will be followed by the typical Q&A. Expect good questions. Oxbridge scholars are good listeners and they’ve taken your presentation seriously.  Think of this like a conference presentation session, but all the questions come to you. Some questions might be tough, but don’t panic and DO NOT retreat to defensive-student-mode. All of Dr. Karen’s rules for handling Q&A within the USA job talk apply here also. But be prepared for really good questions, and possibly for some dumb ones, too (they’re not perfect after all)!

When you return later in the day you will have your formal interview, usually scheduled for 1 hour. The membership of the interview panel you will probably not know before you walk into the room. You will be able to guess some, but others will be a complete mystery (like the random scientist, appointed as an external member to your humanities interview committee – he’ll probably make a joke about how he is present to ensure everyone behaves and this will be followed by group laughter…that one never gets old, apparently). First, be prepared for the audience and do not be age-intimidated. Not always, but often your Oxbridge interviewers will be much older than you would encounter elsewhere. I’m not sure what it is about these two academic environments, but people don’t tend to retire at the UK-government age of 65.

This can, no doubt, be very intimidating for a young or newly minted PhD, who looks upon these senior scholars with awe. And respecting them is a must, but treating them like your doctoral supervisor must be stopped. You do deserve to be there, or you wouldn’t be present, so keep your head high and hold your own weight. With this being said, never at these institutions be too bold and make broad, sweeping statements about the crimes of your academic predecessors. Odds are, at least one, possibly four, of them is at Oxbridge.  You toe the line of respecting the past while progressing the discipline.  In short, get to know the department research culture and complement it.

Second, be prepared for larger-than-usual interview panels if you are interviewing for a permanent (tenure-track) post. In my experience at Cambridge, every established ‘Professor’ in the Department was invited to sit on the interview panel, but this might not be the case always. If the university post also comes with college affiliation, then that college will have separate representation on the panel. There can often be quite a few hands in the pot (or faces in the room), which can be confusing if you are unprepared. In one of my cases, I walked into a room with a long conference table, which had 12 seats on each side. On their side, all 12 seats were filled (in fact, there was a 13th member perched on the end – interestingly one of the only two women included, but that’s another story). On my side of the table, I saw only 12 empty chairs and a small glass of water.

To draw a parallel to the plot of a famous Oxfordian, I felt like a miniature Alice after stepping into the looking glass. My other Oxbridge interview panel was smaller, but still the membership was larger than the typical four members that you would find elsewhere. As Dr. Karen writes about body language, take up the full space of your chair, sit up straight, and occupy. DO NOT look like the student who they too often see in their offices. Remember: you deserve to be at this tea party, or you wouldn’t have received the invite. As a gender scholar I particularly noticed the gender, race and age demographics of the room in both of my interview experiences (i.e., it was mostly old white men), but this may not faze many people. This is a known issue at these institutions, the minority of female Professorial appointments, and this matter might be reflected with an imbalance on the panel. They will all introduce themselves to you at the beginning, and they’re typically very nice.

The interview questions will primarily be about research, with only a few exceptions. Expect the first question to be a typical one: why have you applied for this post? Please don’t say ‘because it’s Oxford?!’. Think of something better beforehand. They’re looking for a colleague, not a grad student and most definitely not a fan club member. You will next be asked to speak about your research. See Dr. Karen’s rules about being able to recite an elevator version of your expertise and how it links to the job ad and complements the departmental programme. Leading off of your response, they may have follow-up questions about publications (your previous ones or your future plans).

It is important to remember that we live in an REF-world here and these two universities compete to be the best. They don’t so much need to worry about doing well on the REF for further government funding, like many smaller UK schools; they want to be the best because it is history and tradition. You absolutely must have a solid five-year plan. This should include more than five peer-reviewed publications (they will only officially enter four, but they love having choice!), preferably one of which is a book with a reputable publisher in mind. The entries into the past REF were measured on ‘impact’, so the press/journal does matter. It is also good here to show that you won’t depend upon the University’s money and have plans to apply for external grants (AHRC, British Academy, whatever), with a precise project in mind. If you don’t have any sort of plan that fits this brief and you hope to interview here, then it is time to step up your game! You will look like a gamble next to someone who has this research agenda sorted, and this group ain’t the betting type.

The middle of the interview will include more questions about your work, possibly as it develops into a programme (not just a project!) or perhaps specific questions about the publications you submitted beforehand. In one of my cases, I had a book out before the interview and I was asked to send a copy one month beforehand. To my surprise, some read it, although some clearly did not. I was very intimidated when I sat down and saw my book, front and centre, with post-it notes sticking out. I absolutely dreaded this man’s questions, but I knew I could not avoid it. He began to speak, and I tensed – and then I became defensive even before he finished speaking. I failed the test because I treated it like a doctoral defense, but a doctoral defense it was not. In hindsight, he was treating me like a grown-up and asking me tough questions in order to have an intelligent, philosophical, and professional exchange. He wanted to see if I could think beyond the text, to the bigger issues facing the field – the very issues impacting his own work. This is how they operate and push each other to be their best. Just imagine getting the job, wearing tweed, and doing this over a pint of ale in some ancient pub. He wasn’t ‘out to get me’, but I didn’t see that at the time. Be cool and professional, but confident in your ideas. Rise to the occasion and be collegial and intelligent.

The end of the interview will have obligatory questions about admin and, perhaps, teaching. The admin question will come from the Head of Department and s/he will ask something broad and maybe even nonsensical to the effect of ‘what admin would you see yourself doing?’. You think they want to know how much you love committees, holding office hours, getting involved, attending sports games, eating pizza with students. They don’t want to hear any of that. They simply want you to say you will pull your weight, just like everyone else (if you offer to do more than everybody else, then you look pathetic, so please refrain).

Here is a good time to mention some admin experience you may already have, like committees on which you have served. At Cambridge, the Head of Department followed up my response with the further question, ‘but WHICH admin role would you choose? If you could only do ONE?’ (i.e., we each only do one so mark your territory). If you get this one, again know your audience. If you were interviewing at a smaller UK school facing recruitment issues, then they’d be thrilled to hear you say you would serve on any recruitment task force, to help promote the programme and explore ways to boost recruitment figures (the job we all need done, but which absolutely nobody wants to do). Oxbridge programmes do not really face these same recruitment crises, so you would be safe here to talk about running a research seminar, which you would publicize to all academics in the local area, to draw attention to the exciting work being done in that college/school/faculty/department. If you have experience doing this already and you can point to your previous success (even having organized a conference), then that will be a form of interview gold.

At the end of the hour, of course, you will be asked if you have any questions for them, and this is a way to elicit information about you. Ask about the research environment, ongoing research seminars, doctoral student support (i.e., training researchers). Do not ask anything about teaching undergraduates (although I think it is OK to ask advanced questions related to training postgraduates, i.e., ‘do you provide doctoral students with teaching experience?; ‘is there a doctoral student research seminar series?’; ‘do you run a dissertation writing workshop to help the doctoral or masters candidates turn their theses into published peer-review articles?’). They want to know your priorities are in the right place, and that is strictly in the research world.

Coincidentally, in both cases I was asked to submit beforehand a sample undergraduate syllabus but in neither case was I once asked about it. At one of my two Oxbridge interviews, when asked if I had any questions for them, I asked, bewildered, ‘but what about my syllabus?’. The panel then turned to the man apparently appointed syllabus-guardian who just confusingly looked down at his papers and, in less than a hot minute, looked up and said ‘no, no questions’. The room then fell silent. That’s as far as the undergraduate teaching conversation ever got in my two experiences, but, of course, be prepared just in case you do get a teaching question. But the main focus here is, undoubtedly, research.

 

EnGendering Confidence: Part 2 – Cardozo

by Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

Karen Cardozo

In my last post I talked about an endemic lack of confidence as the structured byproduct of academic training – one that reveals itself most clearly at the point when PhDs contemplate changing careers.

In an interdisciplinary approach best be described as “against the grain,” I teach leadership studies—a business and male-dominated field that tends to view leadership as a top-down enterprise and confidence as an intrinsic trait. Yet while there is clearly some inherent basis for the confident outlook that some people seem to have “naturally,” I think confidence is behavioral and discursive, akin to Judith Butler’s performance theory of gender – a matter of Confidence Trouble, if you will.

As the recent publication of Kay and Shipman’s The Confidence Code suggests, confidence tends to be gendered male in this society. Following on the heels of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, this self-help manifesto folds into a larger trend that tends to privatize the structures of sexism (and racism and all the other “isms” without which global capitalism could not function) as the personal ailments of the under-ambitious and under-confident (a trend no doubt allied with the rise of “femvertizing” bent upon “turning oppression into opportunity,” to borrow a cringe-worthy phrase from Kristof and WuDunn’s Half the Sky.  The solution: buck up and spend, ladies!).

Yet as Jessica Valenti suggests in her spirited rebuttal, “if you’re not insecure, you’re not paying attention. Women’s lack of confidence could just be a keen understanding of just how little American society values them.” We could say the same for PhDs. So what’s an under-confident academic to do – especially if you are also a woman and/or in a feminized field? The odds seem stacked against cracking the confidence code.

Obviously, as Valenti argues, we need to engage on the terrain of politics (including academic activism) to enact structural changes that create more opportunities for women’s careers over a lifetime, and less bias in the process of hiring and evaluation. Meantime, whatever the dubious nature of Kay and Shipman’s intervention, they DO uncover some potentially useful insights.

The first basic finding is that women take fewer chances and risks than men. For example, in test-taking studies, researchers found that upon closer inspection, perceived gender differences in performances resulted not from wrong answers, but from women’s greater tendency to leave an answer blank when unsure about it (thus eliminating even partial odds of hitting upon the correct answer).  When the experiments were revised to insert the instruction “do not leave any answers blank,” there was no gender disparity in performance.

In addition, most women tend to wait till they meet 100 percent of any criteria before applying or seeking promotion, while more men routinely pursue opportunities for which they may not be prepared. The confidence research also finds (congruent with Sandberg’s “don’t leave before you leave” mantra) that women prematurely sidestep promotion opportunities on the grounds that advancement will be incompatible with future familial or other demands.

Lesson 1: Just go for it. Go ahead and apply for any viable possibilities without ruling yourself out prematurely. The worst that will happen is that you won’t be selected, which is the outcome you would have ensured anyway by not applying!  Likewise, ban perfectionism – aim for the good enough.

Then there is also the “likeability” bind for women. It’s part of the reason not only why women fail to negotiate their salaries and benefits to the extent that most men do, but also why women are more often rebuffed and seen as “difficult” when we DO negotiate: it’s off-putting, unladylike.  Lean In cites the infamous Heidi/Howard studies, where the simple name change of a first name on an otherwise identical business resume led focus groups to rate “Heidi” as a less appealing colleague, and one who is not leadership material. Closer to home, a recent study of student evaluations of college professors teaching online courses has reinforced such findings of gender bias in equally sobering fashion.

Lesson 2: Dare to not care.  Strategize, protest or play the damsel in distress as you must – but ultimately, understand that there is life beyond likeability.  Make the switch from internal attribution to external attribution of your difficulties:  really consider the social construction of confidence and depersonalize your lack of it.  Don’t let the fear of being judged negatively prevent you from engaging in any of the processes that will develop your repertoire of necessary skills and experiences (applying, negotiating, teaching, publishing, etc.).

As I will discuss in my next post, it’s less thinking and more DOING that will boost your confidence.

Interviewing at an HBCU: The Question is a Different Question (A Guest Post)

This post is in two parts.

Part One is by Melissa Geil

Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. She worked for five years at a public HBCU in Tennessee, where she served on multiple job search committees. She kindly responded to my request for a blog post on interviewing at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).

Part Two is by an anonymous contributor

Our contributor is an HBCU graduate with an M.S. and Ph.D. from public, southern PWIs (Predominantly white institutions). She interviewed at 2 private HBCUs before landing a tenure track position in education at a public HBCU where her senior colleagues have finally stopped calling her “Baby Doc”

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Part One

So, you’ve landed an interview with an HBCU. No problem! You have prepared for other interviews and this one is no different. Just do the same kind of research and prep you have done for your other interviews and you will be all set. Right?

Yes and no.

Yes, you will get some of the same questions that you get at any other interview. But what that question is really asking may be asking something else entirely.

Moreover, you will also get questions that you will not get anywhere else.  Below are some of the questions you might get when interviewing at an HBCU and what it is that the search committee really wants to know.

To begin with, there is ONE thing they really want to know:

WHY do you want to work here?

You will get asked this question as many times and in as many formats as you have meetings. And while this may be the opportunity for you to show that you have done your research about why a particular institution is special and unique for other institutions, this question is of VITAL importance at an HBCU.

Why is it so important? Because you are interviewing to work at an institution that has a place in history, that strives to educate and uplift African American students—often since the mid-19th century—and this identity matters to the people that work there and the students who choose to go there. This identity shapes the very fabric of the educational structure, and to work at the university is to believe in and contribute to that structure. To be a part of the university is to become a part of that history and legacy.

“Why do you want to work here” at an HBCU is not about you. It is about whether or not you believe in and want to become a part of the mission of the university. To take part in the education of students who have made a very conscious choice regarding the educational experience that they want.  It is about showing the search committee that you understand that to work at an HBCU is an enormous privilege and responsibility, one that you want to take on.

Moreover, you must understand what it means to assume this responsibility. One version of this question that I was asked was in regards to the place where I received my doctorate: an elite private university that lacked diversity (the students compared the campus environment to living in a bubble). Why did I want to leave my bubble to come work with students who may come from less privileged backgrounds and who may not possess as high a degree of academic training as my previous employer? In other words: tell me again why you want to work here?

Sample Question (actually asked at interview): You work at an elite institution right now;  the students come from the top of their high school classes. We are not an elite university. Why do you want to work here?

(Note: while this is definitely not true of all HBCUs, a number of the state schools serve urban, lower income populations with sometimes underperforming students)

Sample Answer: I think that is precisely the point. My background is in public education. Although I attended a private university for graduate school, I went to a public high school and a public university for college, a fact of which I am proud and for which I am very grateful. Working at [this HBCU] provides me with the opportunity to give back to the public education system of which I am a product.

Now, for some of other questions you might encounter.

Tell us about your research:

As Karen writes in The Question is Not the Question (if you haven’t read this yet, go read it right now and then come back to this entry)

You think they care about your research. You say way too much about narrow, narrow, oh so narrow, tediously narrow interests.

“No. They want to learn about how your expertise fits into their departmental needs as expressed by the job ad, and connects with the work of the people doing the interview (which is why your methodology and  contribution are actually the most important portion of your answer), and is quickly getting funded and published in ways that bode well for tenure.  At the same time, they observe how you express yourself, how self- absorbed you are or aren’t.”

The same goes for your HBCU interview, BUT, I want to emphasize Karen’s point about FUNDING.

An article in the New York Times last year spoke about the shrinking, sometimes mismanaged, and unstable endowments at many HBCUs. Which means that being able to find funding for your own research and, even better, for department and university programs is essential. Funding for tenure is wonderful, but HBCUs also need to know that you can find funding to help to start new programs or keep existing ones running.

Sample question: Tell me about your book project. (i.e. do you understand that you have to do research, but you are also realistic about getting that done while teaching the course load we offer)

Sample good answer: Title of Book Project is about [INSERT ELEVATOR PITCH HERE]. It is currently on its third revision and I am planning on shopping it to publishers at next year’s MLA. Moreover, I have applied for an NEH summer grant to support some additional research for the project.

A quick note about this answer: notice that it is a summer grant. You do not want to spend your time telling them about all the teaching leave you are going to need in order to publish this fantastic books. A lot of HBCUs are very teaching intensive.

 

Tell us about your plan for the next five years:

As Karen says, they are not looking for abstractions about your life; they are looking for specifics about your plans for research goals and teaching goals. With an HBCU, I also want to emphasize the point that, when describing these goals, see them in terms of how you are contributing to the department and the university.  In other words, your plan is to stay.  Your plan is to continue to help the university grow and thrive. If hired, you will be committed to the university.  Basically, even this question ultimately turns into “why do you want to work here?”.
Sample question: Where do you see yourself in five years? (i.e. why do you want to work here)

Sample “bad” answer: I’m on my third book, and I have published in all of the major journals in my field and have received a prestigious grant to work in Germany for the year.

Sample good answer: Ideally, I would like to be in my fifth year of teaching here. I’m involved in the development of our curriculum for undergraduates, I’m working with other departments on some team-taught courses, and my colleagues and I are writing an NEH Humanities Initiative HBCU grant. I’m in the final stages of revising my second book and am putting together my tenure package.

 

Tell us how you would teach our big survey course? Our first year writing course?

Again, Karen’s advice is paramount. Show that you a) are willing to teach the big survey courses or first year writing courses and that you b) understand what it means to teach these courses to non-majors and majors and not hijack it to teach your own personal agenda. However, at an HBCU, it is key that you factor in the students when talking about teaching. These students chose to attend an HBCU over other universities. Therefore, it is also important to address the fact that, when choosing readings for your survey course, you consider their choice of school.

For example, say you are asked how you would teach the giant Early American Lit survey course and you trot out your syllabus of dead white guys and start talking about how important it is for students to read the complete works of Cotton Mather. First of all, don’t do this. Second of all, tailor your sample syllabi and dream courses to reflect, at least to a degree, the interests of your students.

Sample question (actually asked): how do you get your composition students to turn in quality papers? (i.e. what do you do with students who do not write well?)

Sample “bad” answer (also actual): I heavily penalize late papers, so the students understand that there are consequences for late work.

Sample good answer: For starters, the paper is not the first thing that they turn in. We start with an introduction workshop, then have a revising workshop, and then they turn in a final draft. This takes the pressure off of the first draft, allowing the students to learn that writing is a process rather than a one-and-done event.

 

Another sample question (actually asked in a phone interview): You come to class and realize that no one has read for the day. What do you do?

Sample “bad” answer: I send everyone home for the day, give them all a zero for participation, and tell them that there will be a quiz every day in class from now on.

Sample good answer: I try to figure out a way to make the class work for that day. If it is a literature class, I will select a few key paragraphs and do a close reading exercise that enables the students to participate even if they haven’t read for the day. I also like to remind the students that this is their education, and that they are the person who really being shortchanged by failing to do the work that is being asked of them.

 

Do you have any questions for us?

Another way of asking “Why do you want to work here”? Yes, it is.

Do your homework. Research the history of the university—I’m not kidding here. When was it founded? Why? This will help to inform your questions. See what kind of outreach the department and the university do. For example, NPR recently did a piece on how Drexel University (KK:  which is not an HBCU, but author included this example, and it may still be useful to readers) is working to revitalize its Philadelphia neighborhood of Mantua.

One of the best questions to ask at an HBCU—really anywhere—is to ask about the students. What do you like the best about teaching there? What are some of your recent graduates up to?

One question that I wasn’t expecting when I first interviewed at an HBCU was this:
Tell us about your community service.

There was no question of if I did community service. It was just assumed that if I was going to be a good fit for that institution, then I was community minded and actively committed to service.

This question knocked me for a bit of a loop. I was community minded and did do volunteer work, but hadn’t prepared to talk about it. Many HBCUs are extremely service-minded; at my old institution, every single member of my department did some form of volunteer or community service in addition to all of their departmental and university commitments. Thus, if you are a good fit, you understand that to work there is a privilege, one that is repaid with service and outreach.

Community service can range for a lot of things, from formalized volunteer work to campus/department programming. Volunteer for Special Olympics every year? Talk about that. You are the secretary for the Graduate Student Union? Talk about that. You work in your neighborhood community garden? Talk about that. The important thing is that you are engaged and invested in making the world around you a better place.

Lastly, let’s talk about what can be the elephant in the room when interviewing with an HBCU: race, ethnicity, and diversity. Only a couple of HBCUs have doctoral programs, so chances are if you are interviewing with one, you will be coming from a campus where African American students are a minority. If you are asked a question, as I was, about how you would go about transitioning from teaching where you are to teaching at the HBCU where you are interviewing (which, by the way, is yet another way of asking why do you want to work here), here is my advice:

Be honest. If you have some experience teaching in a diverse (racially, economically, academically) classroom, speak to that. If you do not have experience, speak to that as well. One thing not to do, however, is to assume that a classroom is a classroom and students are the same everywhere.

For example, if asked: “How might you alter your teaching approach to reach our students?” it would be a bad idea to say “I don’t think I’ll need to change my teaching at all.” Be up front about what you don’t know without being ignorant.

Sample answer: With every place that I have taught, there has been a learning curve about what works and what doesn’t with the students. When I develop new syllabi, I start by talking to my colleagues and looking at their syllabi to learn about their successful teaching strategies. I also talk to my students, and tell them if there is something about our class that isn’t working for them to come and discuss it with me. This is their class, too. In the give and take of the classroom environment, my teaching style will adapt and evolve to meet the challenges and expectations of the students at this university.”

An HBCU can be an incredible place to work, if it is the right fit for you. As I said earlier, students have deliberately chosen to learn at these storied institutions; what the search committee really wants to know is that you are consciously choosing them, too.

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Part Two:  A Different World: Interviewing at an HBCU

In many ways, interviewing at an HBCU is like interviewing at any other institution.  However, if you are unfamiliar with the unique history and culture of HBCUs, an interview at such an institution can present additional challenges.

Why are you interested in an HBCU/xxx institution?

If you are not a person of African descent, this is code for “Why do you want to come here and work with all of these Black people?” They want to know to know why you want to be at an institution where you will be racial minority (and therefore, hypervisible), working with a mostly Black student population, faculty, and administration.  They may even ask something crass like “How do you think you will work with Black people?”  That has actually happened.   Give an answer such as: I’ve researched the history of your institution and this department and I admire its legacy of preparing African-American leaders in XXX field.  I also admire Dr. XXX’s (longtime or recently retired professor) contributions to this field. I think that my teaching and research interests will continue this legacy of preparing leaders in XXX field.  This is an appropriate answer for any applicant, regardless of their background.  If you happen to have a former teacher/professor, advisor, or classmate that attended an HBCU, it is okay to mention that you learned about HBCUs from this person and developed an affinity for this institutional type through them.   If you are not Black, do not say you have always wanted to work at an HBCU. It will sound fake.

How will you balance teaching with research?

Thought most HBCUs are baccalaureate-granting institutions, this question is most relevant at larger, doctoral granting HBCUs.  HBCUs as a group tend to be more focused on teaching than comparable PWIs (predominately White institutions).  The nurturing culture of HBCUs makes teaching a priority, regardless of Carnegie designation.   You can say something like: I plan to reserve 1-2 days a week for my writing and research. Give an answer that shows you given some thought on how to get writing and research done on a campus that is research intensive on paper but teaching-oriented in action.

How are you prepared to teach the types of students our institution serves?

In addition to enrolling a primarily Black student population, HBCUs enroll larger percentages of first generation and/or low-income students than PWIs.  This is where you emphasize your experience teaching students of color, if you have such experience.  If you don’t, discuss how you’re researched culturally relevant teaching and the challenges of first-generation/low-income/students of color.  Again, HBCUs are teaching oriented.  How you will interact with and meet the needs of HBCU students, especially if you look different from most of them, is important.

How can we be convinced you will stay at an HBCU?

The search committee may not ask this question in those exact words, but they want to know that you are committed to staying at an HBCU and aren’t viewing the position as a holding place for a more elite institution. Be prepared to address how you will fit in on a HBCU campus.  Discuss how the geographical location appeals to you.  Address how you are passionate about teaching and attracted to teaching the first-generation and/or Pell-eligible population that HBCUs primarily serve. Highlight any experience you have teaching students of color.  Even if you attended an HBCU for undergrad, but earned a doctorate from a PWI, there may be concerns that you really aspire to put your doctorate to so-called better use at a more elite institution. This is an opportunity to reiterate your commitment to HBCUs as an alumnus/alumna.

A question you should ask… (Because you will definitely ask questions when given the opportunity)

What mentoring opportunities are available to help me get acclimated to the campus?

HBCUs can be very insular.  If you’re an outsider (read: not black or have no ties to the institution or HBCUs), a mentor or buddy can be helpful in getting adjusted to campus.

Some final points:

The academic dress code is more formal at HBCUs.  You may be interviewed by potential colleagues who wear suits/ties/heels/dresses every day. Even though you’re already planning to be dressed to the nines, this is something to keep in mind.

How to address search committee members? Call them Doctor. If a committee member doesn’t have a doctorate, call them Mr. or Ms. (calling them Professor sounds too grad student-ish).  HBCUs tend to be much more formal in this regard.  Unless a search committee member requests that you call them by their first name, call them Dr.

HBCUs campuses are challenged with microaggressions and incidents of discrimination just as PWIs are challenged with these unfortunate occurrences.  Don’t think that just because HBCUs were founded to educate former slaves that the campus culture is going to be all I Have a Dream-Kumbaya-We All Get Along.

Keep in mind that while there are unique traits that all HBCUs share, HBCUs are heterogeneous.   The differences are primarily based on control (public or private), religious affiliation, and location (from the Mid-Atlantic through the Deep South and Southwest).

If you need to learn more about HBCUs, check out these links

http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/whhbcu/

http://www.hbcudigest.com/

And check out a few episodes of A Different World on youtube.  Just kidding…those might not help with interviewing but you will be entertained and informed about HBCUs.

The Question Is Not The Question, Postac Version – Langer

by Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Following her (really, really important) post on the academic interview, “The Question Is Not The Question“, Karen asked me to write a version for alt/post-ac life.

Interviewing, as Karen has said many times and as I concur, is in part an information-gathering session and in part a performance. Karen’s suggestion that “‘yourself’ is the very last person you want to be” in an academic interview is similarly true in a non-academic interview, but in some ways it’s even more so. Performing the academic self is a little easier if you’re an academic by training; performing the non-academic self if you’re trained as an academic takes some doing.
You’ll need to get over whatever impostor syndrome may dog you from your years as an academic. Everyone in the non-academic world feels like an impostor, too – but the difference is that outside of academia, you really do just have to fake it til you make it, and everyone’s taught that pretty early on. (As Oliver Burkeman says, “everyone is just totally winging it, all the time.”
So this is your guide, dear reader, to “winging it” effectively in a non-academic interview when you’ve been trained as an academic. And the way I’m helping you to wing it today is by teaching you what interviewers are really asking you when they’re asking you questions in your interview.
“Hi! Welcome. How are you?”
 
“Hi! Welcome. Let’s exchange pleasantries.” The only appropriate answer here is “Hi! It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m very well, thanks, and yourself?” or some variation of such.
You would be shocked at how many people start the interview off on the wrong foot from the first words. Please don’t tell them how you actually are. They don’t want to hear that you’re five minutes late because you got stuck in traffic or couldn’t find parking. (You should never, ever be five minutes late.) They don’t want to hear how you got there. They don’t want to hear that you’re sick but still make it in (if you’re sick with a cold, then take a gallon of Dayquil and bathe in Purell, and if you can’t, then try to reschedule the interview). Don’t tell them you’re tired or hungry. Tell them that you’re very well, thank you, and ask about them. This is pure performance. They want to know whether you’re going to be pleasant to deal with or not on a daily basis.
“Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult situation at work.”
For example: let’s say you successfully managed to help a student worker who had poor time management skills to better plan their time and improve their performance. Here’s the wrong way to explain it:
“I had a student who was really disorganized and missed a ton of deadlines, and it really held up the rest of our work. We couldn’t do anything because he couldn’t meet deadlines. Eventually I showed them how to keep a calendar effectively and it helped a lot.”
Here’s the right way to explain it:
“One of my student workers had some challenges around time management, and found it difficult to meet deadlines. I worked with the student on calendaring, prioritization and daily planning to help her use her time more effectively. This assistance has improved the department’s efficiency, and has also helped the student to be more successful in her academic work.”
See the difference in tone? It’s more positive. It’s not accusatory. It talks about poor time management as a problem in the student’s approach, not in the student’s character (“disorganized” vs “some challenges around time management”), and suggests that you see problems as solvable, not intractable.
Remember: no one wants an excuse, and no one wants negativity. No one wants to hear why you couldn’t do something. Everyone wants to hear why and how you managed to be successful in the face of difficulty.
What’s your biggest weakness?”
 
I really dislike this question, because it almost never gets the responses a company is looking for. But I understand why interviewers ask it, and if you answer well, then it can be effective in helping them screen for whether you will fit into the workplace well and can help you screen them as to whether you think the job will be a good fit for you. (Remember, you’re not just looking for any job – you’re looking for a good fit.)
The conventional wisdom is to answer with a “weakness” that’s actually a strength; i.e. “I’m a workaholic” or “I’m a perfectionist”. Most interviewers will see through this, though, and it doesn’t do anyone any favours.
The best approach with this question is to answer honestly, with a weakness that is relatively minor but real, and follow this up immediately by telling the interviewer how you mitigate this weakness.
For example:
“I find sometimes that I focus on my work so much that I’m slow to develop relationships with my colleagues. I find, though, that taking scheduled breaks and being open and friendly really helps with this, and this approach has helped me to develop great relationships with my current colleagues.”
Or:
“I struggle sometimes with organization, because my default mode is to synthesize information rather than to organize it. Organization doesn’t come naturally to me. Because of this, though, I developed a very effective system during my doctoral work that helps me to organize my tasks.”
The other benefit of this approach is that you won’t be hired for a job that you simply can’t do and/or will make you miserable. If, for instance, you’re generally disorganized and it’s a job that requires a high level of innate organization (and enjoyment of organizing things), you won’t be happy in the job anyway, and you employer won’t be happy with your work.
Where do you see yourself in five years?”
 
The unspoken end of this sentence is “…at our company?” They don’t want to hear about how you’re planning to make a career change in five years. They don’t even really want to hear about how you’re hoping to get your foot in the door at their company in Accounting so that you can move into Marketing.
This question is a question about where your interests lie and what you hope your trajectory will be at their company and in the trajectory they’re hiring you for.
To make sure you can answer this question, do some research before the interview about the company. (You should research the company anyway.) Check out the LinkedIn profiles of people at the company who are in similar roles to the one you’re interviewing for, or who are further ahead in their careers, and look at what their career paths look like. If it’s a small company, think about how you might be able to use your skills to grow the business in your area of expertise.
The fly in the ointment here is when you’re interviewing for a job that you have no intention of keeping for five years: if, for instance, you ARE planning to make a career change, or you ARE planning to get your foot in the door so you can make a move to a different department.
My advice in this case is to remember that things don’t always turn out the way we think they will: it’s very possible that you’ll take the job and end up loving it so much that you do want to stay in Accounting. It’s also very possible that the company itself will change and you’ll have opportunities you hadn’t even considered. Try thinking creatively about the best-case scenario for you in the track you’re being hired for, or about synergies between that track and the one you’re ultimately going for.
“Do you have any questions for us?”
 
My advice here is similar to the advice Karen gives to academics. This question has two purposes. First is what it says on the tin: they want to know if you have any questions that might help you make a decision. And second: they want to hear that you’ve researched the company, you know what they’re about, and that you’re intelligent and interested enough to ask good questions that will help you make a decision.
(Do not ask about salary or benefits here. It sucks, but it’s the convention. Ask about these at the offer stage.)
I hope this has been helpful. If you have any more questions about, well, questions, feel free to post them in the comments and I’m happy to address them.

Americans Don’t Brag

Americans don’t brag.  That’s not true; Americans brag all the time, about many things–money, sex,  the fish that got away.  However, we don’t brag as much as you’d expect in our job applications.  This may seem counterintuitive, considering the global American reputation for being over-confident, over-assertive, and loud.  Self-promotion, however, which IS a generally accepted American cultural practice, is not bragging.  This is a fine distinction.  And I’ve come to understand it’s one that troubles many international clients.

I’m an anthropologist. What I do at TPII is a kind of applied anthropology, although I rarely call it that, and didn’t conceive it in that way when I began the business.  Only after a bit of time passed did I begin to recognize that I was extracting the insider, taken-for-granted, unspoken cultural practices of American academic hiring, and holding them up for scrutiny and analysis, in a highly anthropological manner.

But I don’t overplay this hand.  I don’t want to exaggerate a “cultural” analysis of the American academy.  I don’t think it’s helpful.  I’m really not here to analyze.  I’m here to describe and explain.

So when I work with clients, I don’t usually spend time connecting my suggested edits to American cultural norms.  However, there are exceptions, when I come out and bluntly state: “you’re doing something culturally problematic for an American context.”   Where this happens most often: some international clients’ tendency to brag in ways that might alienate American search committees.

At issue are claims that to an American ear/eye appear wildly — even laughably — grandiose. Examples:

  • I am doing exceptional cutting-edge research that will  put your department on the map as a leader in the field.
  • My unique approach has never been seen before in the discipline and has garnered effusive praise and widespread imitation.
  • My numerous articles in the leading, highest-prestige journals have been enthusiastically received by countless colleagues in the field and prompted many requests for collaboration.
  • My pathbreaking conclusions will finally correct the persistent and tragic misunderstandings that have long plagued the study of this topic.
  • Many top-ranking presses will eagerly invite my important manuscript for publication.

To an American ear, language like this feels cheap and overblown.  One of the main culprits here are adjectives and adverbs that are hyperbolic and grandiose.  While cutting these won’t solve the whole problem, it’ll solve a large chunk of it.  Read the posts, “This Christmas, Don’t Be Cheap” and “Grad Student Grandiosity” for more on how to identify and fix these.

I note that clients from Western Europe and South Asia seem to struggle with this issue the most.  I am not an expert in these regions and I cannot speculate why my clients from these places are the most likely to depend on this kind of language in their job applications.  I only know: they do.  My American clients are by no means immune to the problem of bragging, of course.  But it’s not usually as patterned and persistent.  Which is what finally alerted me to the cultural nature of the issue.  Many of the examples that I use in the Grad Student Grandiosity post came from international clients from those two regions above.

As I said above, I think there are different causes for this phenomenon.  As an anthropologist of Japan with background in the study of East Asia more generally, I know that some of my East Asian clients turn to grandiosity in an anxious attempt to compensate for cultural norms in that region that emphasize diffidence and humility.  These clients tell me that they are painfully aware that they must “toot their own horn” in America; they just have no idea how.  They sometimes overcorrect. In other parts of the world, I surmise that it must be accepted professional behavior to make effusive claims of this kind, and they operate as effective professional communication practice.  Or maybe everybody is over-correcting based on stereotypes of Americans?  I’d be very interested to hear from readers:  is this true?  what insights can you share?

But on the American academic job market, all applicants come up against what I call the Academic Skepticism Principle.  Nobody accepts claims at face value.  If you can’t stand up at a major American conference and announce, “My perspective on Austen is pathbreaking and widely-imitated!  The field of Austen Studies will be fundamentally transformed by my conclusions, and academic presses are clamoring for my book!” then, you shouldn’t say that in a job application letter either.  Your case for yourself must be the same, in all of these American scholarly contexts. It must be based on the presentation of evidence.