What UK/Commonwealth-Trained Candidates Are Doing Wrong on the U.S. Job Market (And some c.v. advice for everyone)

[sorry for the inconsistent fonts in this post.  I am trying to correct.  It’s really hard in the theme that I use, and involves html.]

One of the unexpected pleasures of being The Professor is the opportunity it’s given me to work closely with young scholars from all over the world. This has been illuminating, as I have gained tremendous insight into institutional and cultural practices of the academy in the UK, Canada, Australia, India, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Trinidad, and a number of the other countries of Europe, South America, and East Asia. It has also been humbling, as I have learned just how much I don’t know about “how things work” internationally, and how much I have taken for granted, and universalized, the American academic norm.

Now, I make no apology that The Professor Is In is dedicated to success in the American job market and U.S. academic settings. It is the only job market and academic setting I know intimately, from personal experience, and the only one that I am qualified to assist with.

I am always very grateful when clients and readers weigh in, however, to augment posts and advice with the “view from abroad.” I hope, as time goes by, to solicit guest posts on the contrasts and potential pitfalls of different academic job markets and work settings overseas.

For today, however, I want to share what I’ve noticed in recent weeks from working with a number of UK-trained clients. As I find myself identifying the same problems over, and over, and over, with these clients, I have come to recognize that these issues are not individual, but cultural. We’re dealing with a pattern here. And it’s a pattern that is full of danger for unsuspecting UK job candidates on the U.S. Job market.

So, for the benefit of all of you who have done your Ph.D.s in England, Ireland, Wales, and to some extent Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, or who have spent a number of years in these places and are seeking a return to the United States, the following are my observations of what you’re doing wrong, and how you need to fix it.

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The main issue is, and I’m sorry to say it, but…..you’re boring. Seriously, you’re killing us over here. Why are you so boring? Is that how you have to be in England, to be an academic?

I mean, let me clarify. You’re not boring, personally. Most of you have been an absolute delight to work with—funny, witty, mordant, devastatingly smart. But your writing? OMG—It is so boring! As I finally burst out to my latest UK-trained client (an American by birth, fyi), in the incident that prompted this blog post:

Your British training is really, really evident. You need to meditate deeply on being American and banish the dries, the dulls, the passives, the wordy, the telling, and above all, the tendentiousness.

Now, let me hasten to add that it’s not unknown for an American, or any nationality, to be dry, dull, wordy, and tendentious. Heck that universal tendency among academics of all stripes is my bread and butter as Dr. Karen, Coach to the (Academic) Stars! But it’s nowhere so consistent and so PATTERNED as it is among my dear Brits.

And let me also hasten to add that any norm of writing is not bad in and of itself. Certainly not. But to the extent that you are seeking a particular outcome of the writing—ie, success on the U.S. job market—then the writing becomes problematic in its instrumentalizing effects. Fundamentally, the writing that seems to be the default and norm for people coming out of the UK Ph.D. system is at odds with the needs and values of the U.S. academic market. So, it is to that mismatch, and nothing else, that I address myself today.

What follows is a list, in no particular order, of the primary ways that my UK- and Commonwealth-trained clients have consistently gone wrong in their job documents for the U.S. academic market.

1.  You overuse, dreadfully, painfully, the passive voice.

If there is one issue that I urge you to correct, immediately, it is your tendency to over-use, indeed to completely rely upon, the passive voice.

Passive voice is the enemy of all job and professional documents in the United States.

It sucks the energy and dynamism out of your writing, obscures your individual writing voice and intellectual impact, and saps the enthusiasm of the reader. Furthermore, it is un-American, and it bugs us. In the United States, for better or worse, we are all about speaking up, and saying your piece, and expressing yourself, and standing up for what you believe in, and anything else that Oprah has enjoined on us recently. None of that is achievable through the passive voice. There may have been a day in American academia decades ago when we too relied on the passive voice as the sign of intellectual seriousness and scholarly sobriety. But that day is long gone, and now the passive voice signals tediousness, tendentiousness, graduate student immaturity, excessive seriousness (and likely lack of a sense of humor), and a profound misunderstanding of what constitutes effective job market communication.

Job documents in the United States must be written (almost) entirely in the active voice, with an occasional passive voice sentence thrown in merely for rhythm and variety. Active voice communicates that you are a self-starter, resourceful, and confident, all qualities that are necessary to get a tenure track job in the United States. It suggests you will be an effective and engaging teacher. And it communicates that you are interested in dialogue and collegial exchange, rather than being in a self-absorbed monologue.

You probably don’t even recognize all the passive voice sentences you use, so please have a trusted advisor or colleague read for you and point them out.

(Note: Replacing the passive voice does not mean you turn to an endless stream of “I statements”: “Last year I taught xxxx….and in that class I assigned xxxx….and I had the students work on xxxx….and I was careful to encourage xxxxx…..and I got excellent evaluations.” The I statement narrative is equally deadly, as I describe here. and here.  But it is quite possible to write in the active voice without falling prey to an unimaginative I narrative).

2.  You are boring.

This follows on point #1. Your sharp wit and killer sense of comedic timing is not making it on to the page. You consistently bury your leads in quantities and quantities of verbiage. The sheer number of words you use to articulate simple ideas is mind-boggling. You sidle in to your main point in a barrage of caveats and subordinate and dependent clauses that addle and defeat your readers. You undersell, and you KNOW that’s never going to work in the States. You have an aversion to specificity and examples, and stay stubbornly at the level of generalization and abstraction, which operates as a giant snooze-fest in a job document.

Job documents in the United States work best when they move quickly and in linear fashion through ideas in relatively short and (my favorite word) punchy sentences with clear and specific examples. This is not because American academics have short attention spans, but because we like, and respond positively to, energy and dynamism. You want to give the sense that you are resourceful, dynamic, responsive, alert, energetic, and poised for the next big thing. While no search committee member would ever articulate those as qualities that they are consciously prioritizing, nevertheless, those ARE the qualities that characterize the most successful job candidates. In a drastically shrinking economy, even more so. You have to show you can do more with less, not by telling them so, but by demonstrating it in the economy and vibrancy of your prose.

3.  You are, sometimes, tendentious.

While it is true that we all need to sound smart in our job documents, there is a good way and a bad way to sound smart. The bad way is to sound tendentious. What I mean by that is verbiage that has a hectoring tone, or, more commonly, verbiage that proudly states scholarly sentiments and observations that are hackneyed, dated, or obvious, as if they were brilliantly original contributions.

I have no idea why this would be more common among British Ph.D.s, but it is. I suspect that it derives from the massive neglect by advisors that I have come to understand is the modus operandi of the Ph.D. system in England. While I rail against the systemic neglect and indifference of American Ph.D. advisors vis-a-vis their advisees in the United States, frankly they could all win humanitarian awards compared to what apparently goes on in the U.K.. I have it on excellent authority that the norm is: no professional, or job related, advising whatsoever and a general abandonment in terms of anything beyond the narrowest possible dissertation work. This includes, I understand, advising related to encouraging conference participation or publishing or networking. Consequently, it is likely, it seems, for Ph.D. students there to complete their Ph.D.s with no or few opportunities for the kind of intense and hard-hitting intellectual and scholarly challenges that come from being pushed and pressured by colleagues and peers and intimidating senior people. I speculate that this may be a reason behind the tendentiousness that I’ve seen.

Whatever the reason, it needs to stop.  It’s very difficult to identify tendentiousness in your own writing, because it tends to crop up in the scholarly claims and arguments that you fondly believe are the most brilliant and original.  So identifying tendentiousness in writing often requires identifying flabby and lazy argumentation in your work itself, and that’s painful.   This is where you have to “kill your darlings” and really listen when a sharp critical reader tells you that your dearly beloved scholarly claim is dull, circular, ineffective, or, frankly, obvious.  The trick is finding the sharp critical reader who will tell you that.  But find that reader you must.

Beyond these three writing problems is another problem related to the c.v. This is one that truly mystifies me. U.K.-trained people routinely submit dreadfully cramped and squashed and over-crowded c.v.s. Is this related to frugality and a desire to not waste paper? If so, that is admirable, and I respect it. Nevertheless, for the U.S. job market, it has to stop. There are conventions for U.S. c.v.s, which your c.v.s (unintentionally) ignore. Your c.v.s make us want to cry. Be aware that there is almost never a length limit for c.v.s on the U.S. job market. For postdocs, yes, sometimes they will specify a maximum length for the version to be submitted. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GAME THIS LIMIT by manipulating margins and fonts! The margins must remain wide, and the font legible.

U.K.-trained people, please listen to me carefully. Your c.v. must:

Have full one inch/2.5 cm margins on all sides!!!!!

Be in 12 point font throughout, without exception

Have your name in larger font, possibly all caps, at the top, centered

Have the words “curriculum vitae” underneath your name, centered, in 12 pt font, with one space between name and these words

Have your personal and institutional addresses underneath, on parallel lines, right and left justified

Make use of abundant white space between Headings

Have a space between each Heading title and the first entry under that Heading

List your publications first, after Education and Professional Appointments

Not include narrative verbiage under Research or Teaching or Professional Experience or Grants

Not include the monetary amount for grants received, unless they were institutional grants above $75,000//£50,000

Finally, in terms of interviewing: Brits, please do whatever you have to to cultivate what will undoubtedly feel like an overweening sense of your own importance and excessive and unwarranted self-confidence. By doing this, you will over-correct for your training in excessive and unwarranted humility and self-abnegation, and probably land just where you need to for the U.S. job market, where confidence sells.  Also, please, get to the point.  We don’t have all day.

Good luck.

 

 

 

Dealing With the Informal Conference “Chat”

Today’s post is a Special Request Post for Cynthia, who wishes to know how she should deal with an invitation from a search committee member to meet and “chat” informally at an upcoming conference.

These invitations are evil. Search committees should interview or not interview. They should not drift around “chatting” in an exclusive and inconsistent way that ends up privileging some candidates over others. And trust me, the privilege does not necessarily accrue to the candidates who get to chat! There is far greater risk of ruining your chances during the informal chat than there is of gaining an advantage.

So what to do? Well, in general, if you are definitely going to the conference, and the inviting search committee member knows it, then you can’t really refuse to meet them without looking like a toad. And toads don’t get jobs. So, you pretty much have to go.

But beware. These may look like informal talks but let there be no mistake, they are interviews. You need to bring it.

First off, read, memorize, and meditate deeply on my post: “The Six Ways You Are Acting Like a Grad Student (And how that is killing you on the job market).” Then read and meditate on the complete series on “Working the Conference, Parts I, II, and III.” All of these rules apply, in spades, for the conference “chat.”

Be on guard, and prepared with a complete arsenal of rehearsed responses to basic interview questions. It is true that this is very much a conversation, so you must not “hold forth” at great length. You must make good eye contact, and be sure and keep the conversational ball bouncing back and forth at a good clip. Indeed, there might be small talk before and after, so think ahead about small talk themes like the weather, or better, a terrific panel you just heard.

But the bottom line is, you need to comport yourself like a candidate, and be able to: give the “elevator” version of your dissertation; briefly describe a really cool class or two that you’d teach, with texts by name; explain your immediate publishing plans, mentioning specific journals and presses; talk intelligently about your next research project and how it will be funded; and above all express familiarity with the department/ program/ faculty/job at hand.

In addition to basic interview preparation, which you can read about here, you also need to master conference status jockeying, which you can read about in the Working the Conference posts mentioned above. It is critical that you DO NOT cling! Perhaps the single most important element of the conference chat is that you look like you have somewhere else important to be/someone else important to meet immediately after the scheduled chat time.

I would hazard to say that this is where the greatest risks lie for candidates. In an interview setting you are ushered in and ushered out. But chats have no clear beginning or end, and you could find yourself succumbing to the desperate and undignified temptation to trail along with the faculty member to their next panel. Do No Do This! Cut the cord! Leave!

In fact, leave expeditiously, glancing sternly at your watch while courteously but hurriedly saying, “Oh, pardon me, this has been delightful, but I have to go—I’m meeting the editor at Duke in a few minutes….”

Remember, leave THEM wanting more! The greatest kiss of death of the conference is clinging. I can do no better than to quote Tenured Radical (not for the first time) on this subject:

Leave any and everyone before they leave you. If you see someone’s eyes drifting over your shoulder, even slightly, say warmly: ‘I’ve really got to run — so nice to have had a chance to say hello,’ then skate.”

Just today I heard from a reader that he had found himself sitting next to a Famous Professor in his field during a 5-hour flight home from a conference. This is kind of like a conference chat on steroids. Having read this blog faithfully and practiced his professional skills, this reader was ready. Instead of pretending to sleep, he pulled out his punchy dissertation shpiel and other Dr. Karen-patented professional skills. The conversation didn’t just flow; he was actually invited to visit the department and meet some other faculty members for lunch! And that, my friend, is the kind of “chat” we all want. That is “Chat-Ching”!

 

 

How To Dress for an Interview as a Butch Dyke

Today’s post is a Special Request post for Digger, who asks, “how is a butch dyke to dress for a conference or campus interview?”  She goes on, “I recently tried to girl-up my wardrobe, and it was pretty much a disaster (ranging from Oh Hell No, to my shoulders don’t fit in any of these tops, to wtf, women’s shoes [even the flats!] are dangerous). Not all was lost, but given that presenting as a “conventional” woman is pretty much out of the picture, any advice?”

I have advice.  I’m a femme dyke who has lived with my butch partner for almost 10 years.  We have raised two kids together and navigated joint university positions together, both in Oregon and the Midwest.  We are both now happily out of the academic career track, and back in our beloved Oregon, where I do The Professor, and work half time at the UO, and she has a “big” high pressure job in regional management for a high profile international internet sales start-up that is much in the news these days.

My comments are going to come from my decade of watching my partner successfully navigate the two professional realms of academia and the corporate world.

My partner is an old-school butch dyke.  She’s 50, and hasn’t worn an article of women’s clothing probably since she graduated middle school (with the exception of a bridesmaid dress for her sister’s wedding oh so long ago, which was the fulfillment of a childhood promise).   For years she had her hair cut at the barber, although now she gets a really good men’s haircut from a hip hair salon.  She had to work with them a bit to make them understand she wasn’t asking for a “pixie,” but now they’re totally on the same page.

The “lesbian,” “androgynous,” “post-butch,” “boi,” and “FTM” moments passed her by unheeded.  She wears men’s clothes exclusively but does not consciously attempt to “pass” as male.   She is a butch dyke: that’s the category.  She is, nevertheless, mistaken for a man with some regularity, especially when she’s wearing a suit, or sitting down at a restaurant, or in Japan, where there just isn’t any other cultural means to interpret her.  But people almost always realize their mistake pretty quickly, and then some awkward moments ensue before the flow of conversation resumes.

A former journalist, she has not interviewed for a job in many, many years, whether it was as the publisher at a small newspaper, a tenure-track position at an R1, or a major start-up, in which she did not arrive for the interview in a men’s suit, with men’s dress shoes, and a man’s haircut.  (She tends not to wear a tie, as these interview contexts did not demand that level of formality.)  She has gotten every job she’s interviewed for and has succeeded, and been promoted, in the institutions in which she has worked, despite the fact that in these institutions she is generally the only butch dyke, or conspicuously gay person, on the payroll.

Why?

In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to ask why, because we’d know that she was being judged on her qualifications, skills, and character.  But we know the world is not ideal, and people are judged on their appearance all the time.  Heck, one of the mantras of The Professor Is In is: attend to your clothes! You are judged and found wanting when you don’t!  So why would a sartorial profile so obviously marginal, so obviously outside the mainstream, so obviously fraught with subcultural meaning and potential controversy, have absolutely no observable impact on her level of professional success?

Well, I’m not omniscient, so I can’t say for sure, but I have a theory.  And it’s a theory my partner shares from her own subjective experience of her life.  The theory is:  she is completely and totally at ease with who she is, and so people respond with similar ease to who she is, instead of getting hung up on what she “signifies.”

I know that’s not super precise, but it’s the closest I can come to articulating how it works.  She doesn’t hold up the dress style or the haircut or the masculine affect as any kind of barrier to other people, or to her own personality, which is very large.  When you interact with my partner, you are instantly *in* an interaction –you’re engaging with her, responding, thinking, reacting, talking, listening, joking, exchanging ideas.  There is no time or energy from her devoted to a subtext of:  “you get that I’m butch, right?”  “you know that I’m different than you, right?” “don’t just assume that I’ll share your experience…” “you probably disapprove of me,” or any other kind of unspoken judgment or assumption put up as a barrier to communication.  The substance of the communication prevails.  She’s quite charismatic, and people generally just want to keep talking.  And know more.  And get her onto their team.

Now, what does this mean for those of you who are wondering how to dress, as a butch dyke, on the job market?  Well, in a way, it is a message that applies to everyone on the market, butch or not.  The message is: you need to be comfortable with who you are.  If you’re butch, go butch.  If you’re androgynous, go androgynous.  If you’re femme, go femme.

Now, that would seem to contradict my perennial message that you need to wear potentially unfamiliar, formal clothes to interviews, clothes that might not be all that comfortable.  But I’m speaking of a deeper level of comfort.  My partner would not go to an interview in jeans and a t-shirt, even though that is her most comfortable style.  She wears interview-appropriate clothes, clothes that might chafe a bit, but that are both appropriate to the context and consistent with her larger identity.

I had a colleague years back who was a dyke.  She wasn’t butch, and she wasn’t femme, which was neither here nor there.  But she seemed to have this misguided idea that she had to “pass” as extra-feminine to be legit in the academy.  Don’t ask me why.  Day after day she’d show up in pencil skirts, and constricting tops, and little heels, and day after day she’d walk stiffly and awkwardly around the department, the strain evident on her face.  Now granted, she had a job and got tenure and promoted and so on, so this is not some morality tale of how she crashed and burned because she wasn’t “true to herself.”  But it is a tale of a colleague who was (and is) excruciatingly uncomfortable in her own skin.  No, the sky hasn’t fallen in on her.  But most of the grad students and a lot of her colleagues stand by and wonder…..”Why?”  And…. “What is UP with that?”  And…. “Really?”  And…..”hmmm.”   There is always something “not quite right.”  Intangible, yes.  But real nevertheless.  There’s a constant tension, a barrier, that emanates from her.  No, of course it’s not just from clothing.  But clothing reflects a deeper discomfort in her own skin.

I had another colleague, a butch dyke, who showed up for her campus interview in a three piece suit and wing-tips.  She got the job, and proceeded to come to work in three piece suits and wing-tips for her first couple years on campus.  Over time she got comfortable with the laid-back vibe of campus, and ratcheted down the formality level, but she never stopped dressing full-on butch.  And, as far as her career goes, it’s basically a non-issue.  Sure, she stands out.  That comes with the territory. You’re never going to be a butch dyke, or gender-variant in most ways, and not stand out.  But standing out is different than being “a problem” and “rejected,” and “unemployed.”

Let’s look at Ellen Degeneres for a moment, shall we?  She passed as femme-ish for years.  She was successful to a degree, sure.  And she came out, and it was pure hell.  She was brutalized.  But what has happened since?  Watch her over the intervening years.  She’s gotten butcher and butcher, albeit Hollywood butch.  And the butcher, and more herself she gets, the more people love her. The more comfortable she gets in her own skin, the more successful she is.

Femme-y Ellen

Ellen butching it up

Life going extraordinarily well for Ellen

Ellen is anointed

 

I get that not every campus around the country is going to be equally open to candidates showing up dressed in gender-bending ways.  I get that the South may well be more conservative than the West and Midwest, and that small schools , and certainly church-related schools, will be far harder nuts to crack in this regard than R1s and Ivy Leagues.  It’s a risk to show up for an interview, or any high stakes encounter (like meeting my mother) dressed like a guy.  But what’s the alternative?  Are you going to fake it?  Do you think you can?  I’ll bet you can’t.  And the strain is going to show, and undermine your performance in a host of overt and covert ways.

Ultimately, my advice is: if you’re a butch dyke, you damned well better go to that campus interview dressed as a butch dyke (not in your jeans and leather jacket, and not in wrinkled chinos and a short-sleeved poly blend shirt, but in a REALLY NICE suit and dress shirt, and quality shoes, and socks that match your trousers, and a fresh haircut), because you do NOT want to get offered a job under false pretenses.  They need to know who you are.  And you need to know who you are.  And then, when you get the job, your productivity, and teaching, and contributions, and collegiality, will prove your value to your colleagues and the institution.  And then you can work on aging gracefully as a butch professor, and setting an example for the baby butches finding their way.

Addendum:  here is a company that tailors suits for butch dykes: The Butch Clothing Company.   TPII is not affiliated with them in any way!

 

The Campus Visit, Part 1: Search Committee Interview

[This post is excerpted from the Professor’s Guide to Taming the Academic Job Market, available at The Prof Shop.]

I will address some specific questions to expect in the search committee interview below. Before that, however, I wish to emphasize that before you ever open your mouth, your body language and overall demeanor will make a powerful impression that may well gain or lose you the job. Your body is speaking, at all times. Control what it is saying.

 

Master the confident sitting posture. Take up all the room in the chair to which you’re entitled. Square your shoulders, and keep your arms wide apart. Do not fold or nervously twist your hands in your lap. Keep them up, visible, on the arms of the chair or on the table. Gesture visibly for emphasis. Keep your chin up, and make strong, steady, direct eye contact with each and every committee member in turn. Speak directly to the person asking each question, while also including the others in your response.

Do not laugh nervously. Do not fiddle with your hair. Do not fiddle with your jewelry. Do not let your eyes dart anxiously around the room. Do not apologize. Do not make excuses. Do not open any response, or any kind, at any time, with what you “don’t know,” or “didn’t do.” Here’s an example:

Q: Tell us about your publication plans.

A: Well, I haven’t really sent anything out to a refereed journal yet, but I am definitely planning on it. I just haven’t quite finished the essay yet.

 

Banish this! Let these words never pass your lips! Here’s what it should sound like:

 

Q: Tell us about your publication plans.

A: I have a manuscript nearly finished that I will be submitting in the Spring to the American Anthropologist.

 

Let’s try another one, a common question that easily trips up a candidate:

Q: What do you think of Nelson’s new book?

(You have not read Nelson, although Nelson is famous, so you know his general point of view)

A: (bad version): Oh, gosh, I haven’t actually read that yet. Ummm, yeah, sorry. I, um, know it’ll be good and I definitely need to read that!

A: (good version): Nelson and I agree on a lot of things, and I’ve taken many insights from his work on XXXX. But my work departs from his in its focus on XXX.

 

Get it? You use scholarly Jiu Jitsu to move the discussion away from what you don’t know and back to what your own work is and does.

In the search committee interview you should be prepared to answer all of the questions listed above under the conference interview, as well as other ones. These include:

  • We notice you were trained at a large public institution; how do you feel you’ll fit in at a small liberal arts institution like ours? (and variations on this theme)
  • What is the most significant piece of research that you have read in the last year?
  • What do you envision for creating a research program here?
  • Do you plan to apply for research funding?
  • What is the funding record of your field?
  • We have a large teaching load here – 3 classes a term. How would you manage this and still stay productive in research and writing?Your current research requires more technological support than this institution is able to provide. How will you deal with this?
  • We see that you have done a lot of conference papers and presentations; we have limited research funding here to support that kind of travel. How will you adapt to that?

(Many of the questions above I drew from a now-defunct online resource that I reproduce below).

As you can see from this selection of questions, once on the campus visit, you must be prepared to move beyond abstract discussion of your dissertation and teaching experience, to answer direct questions about your fit with that particular institution and department.

Some questions can become quite pointed (although all questions related to private issues such as marital status or children are illegal), and you must be prepared to offer thoughtful, plausible responses. How would you deal with highly limited research support? How do you feel about living in the Midwest? How will you cope with a heavy teaching load? These are questions you MUST answer satisfactorily in your own mind before you ever set foot on that campus.

 

Be aware that all departments in the humanities and social sciences are facing severe budgetary crises. Many are in a chaotic state of flux. Many are confronting immediate imperatives from the Deans and upper administration to reduce costs and increase enrollments. You may be asked questions specifically about saving money. Be prepared for these.

If the search committee asks you, “how do you feel about teaching large classes?” there is only one correct answer, and that is: “I believe large classes can be a powerful and effective learning environment. I would look forward to using new technological innovations to maximize the opportunities for student discussion and participation.”

If the search committee asks you, “how would you propose increasing the undergraduate enrollment in our discipline/department?” you respond, “I would certainly welcome the opportunity to create classes that show how fascinating our discipline is to new populations of undergraduates. I am developing a class on sexuality/popular media/blogging cultures/major league baseball/reggae/slam poetry that I would be happy to open up to enrollments over 100.”

 

Be the job candidate who saves the Department Head (and Dean) money.

 

And of course, you must be prepared to ask questions of your own. One of the biggest interview pitfalls is when the candidate is asked, “do you have any questions?” and he can’t respond with a single one. To prevent that from happening, here is a selection of questions, all drawn from Tara Kuther’s About.com site, “What To Ask During an Academic Job Interview” (be aware that her list includes some absolutely inappropriate questions as well, such as “How is the university organized? What are the major units and administrators of the school and what are their responsibilities? What does the organizational flow chart look like?” You would come off as bizarre and maybe a bit paranoid if you asked anything like this on a campus visit. I have included below only those questions that I feel can be safely asked in any interview context.)

  • What’s the relative importance of teaching, research and service for tenure?
  • About what percent of faculty receive tenure?
  • Can grants be used to supplement salary?
  • What type of retirement program is there? What percentage of the salary goes to retirement? What does the school contribute?
  • What type of health program exists? What are the costs and benefits?
  • How many undergraduate and graduate students are presently in the department? How are their numbers changing?
  • Tell me about your student population.
  • Where do the undergraduate students go after graduation?
  • What kinds of technology are available in the classroom?
  • How well does the library meet departmental needs?
  • What courses are you looking to fill?
  • How does the department and university support the improvement of teaching?
  • What resources for research are available within the department (e.g., computer facilities, equipment)
  • Is there a research office on campus to help faculty write grants?
  • Is outside grant support essential for promotion and tenure?
  • How are graduate students supported?
  • How do graduate students select research advisors?
  • What kinds of financial support are available for research and supplies?

Remember, on the campus visit, you are also interviewing them. Make sure that your major questions get answered. If you’re worried you’ll forget them, write out the list ahead of time, and refer to it at the end of the interview. It’s ok to do that.

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The Academic Job Interview: Sample Academic Job Interview Questions

Questions about Research
• Describe your current research. Will you be continuing in this research track? Describe your future research plans.
• How would you involve graduate/undergraduate students in your research?
• Where do your research strengths lie? (Quantitative/qualitative, etc.?) Why? What are your research weaknesses? And how will you improve?
• Your current research requires more technological support than this institution is able to provide. How will you deal with this?
• We see that you have done a lot of conference papers and presentations; we have limited professional development funds. How do you feel about that as a limiting factor? (Will you continue to go and pay your own way – stop doing research? Resent the limitations?)
• Could you tell us about your dissertation?
• What audiences are you addressing, what are the other hot books or scholars in your field, and how does your work compare with theirs?
• What is the cutting edge in your field and how does your work extend it?
• How will you go about revising your dissertation for publication?
What is the broader significance of your research? How does it expand our historic understanding, literary knowledge, humanistic horizons?
• Can you explain the value of your work to an educated layperson?
• Tell us how your research has influenced your teaching. In what ways have you been able to bring the insights of your research to your courses at the undergraduate level?
• How would you balance your teaching duties and your own research plans?
• If you were organizing a special symposium or conference on your research topic, which scholars would you invite?
• In what journals do you expect to publish your research?
• Would you be able to take on a graduate student immediately?
• Tell us briefly what theoretical framework you used in developing your research?
• If you were to begin it again, are there any changes you would make in your dissertation?
• What facilities do you need to carry out your research?
• How does your research address culture, language, race, ethnicity, socio-economic factors?
• What is left out of the talk?
• What is the most significant piece of research that you have read in the last year?
• What do you envision for creating a research program here?
• Do you plan to apply for research funding?
• What is the funding record of your field?
• We have a large teaching load here – 12 hours per term; how would you manage this and still work on doing research and publishing?
• Tell us about a research project in which you’ve been involved that was successful and one that was not. Why do you think these were the outcomes?
Questions about Teaching
• What is your philosophy of teaching?
• What do you consider your teaching strengths/weaknesses?
• If you have a student who is doing poorly in your class, but has not missed classes and appears to be a good student, what would you do?
• There is a strong move to infuse interdisciplinary work into the curriculum. With what other disciplines could you work (teach/research)? Have you done such work in the past?
• What classes could you teach in our program?
• How would you plan a course in ___? What texts would you use? What topics would you cover?
• How would you evaluate student learning?
• How do you assess your students’ performances?
• Have you ever conducted formative evaluation or an SGID?
• How do you bring diversity into your day to day teaching?
• What is the difference between collaborative and cooperative learning?
• Could you tell us about your teaching experiences?
• How have you used technology in the classroom?
• How do you feel about teaching students of mixed abilities?
• If you could teach any course you wanted, what would it be? What would you teach next if you could teach two of them?
• How would you organize a freshman composition course?
• How would you organize an upper division course in your field?
• How would you organize a senior seminar in your field?
• How would you organize a graduate course in your field?
• If you could teach your dream upper level specialty course, what would that be?
• What critical approaches do you find most persuasive? How do they translate into your teaching?
• What kinds of essays do you want your students to write?
• How do reading and writing interact in your classroom?
• How do you feel about teaching ……… (composition, calculus , public speaking – substitute course from your field) ?
• How do you know you’ve been successful in teaching ….. (composition, calculus, public speaking)?
• How would you teach a major work in your field? (They may name one)
• Can you think of a specific example of when a student you were teaching really seemed to learn something that you regarded as worthwhile? Briefly describe what happened. What thing or things did you do that contributed to that student learning? Why, do you think, did these actions of yours work?
• Take course ___. As you would teach it, what three goals would the course achieve? When students had completed your course, what would they have learned that is of lasting value?
• What experience have you had teaching at (community college, private, liberal arts, faith-based) institution? How if at all do you think teaching at [type of] institution differs from teaching at a four year college or university?
• What experiences have you had teaching diverse students? (Well prepared, under prepared, first-generation, low-income, full-time, part-time, students with full-time jobs and/or family care responsibilities, students representing different ethnic groups and races, religions, ages and genders?) What teaching methods have proved effective with such students?
• How well prepared are you to teach the following 5 basic level courses? (Insert appropriate courses from your field)
• Describe your familiarity and experience with different teaching methods such as collaborative learning, learning styles adaptation, and classroom assessment.
• Tell me about your teaching techniques (e.g., group projects, case method, etc.)
• What is your favorite lecture and why?
• Tell me about your industry experience (if you have any)? How would you bring that industry experience into the classroom?
• If you have no industry experience: How do you expect to be able to teach students about the field if you have never worked in it?
• What is your favorite theory or theorist to teach?
• How do you motivate your students?
• How would you encourage your students to major in our field?
• How would you work with our students as opposed to those at your current institution?
• What would you change in an undergraduate/graduate/teacher education curriculum?
• How do you address culture, language, ethnicity, race in your courses? Give me an example or an activity that helps teachers/researchers talk about these issues.
• How should teacher education programs be set up so that prospective teachers are prepared to teach?
Questions about Department and Community Involvement
• Institution ___ is dedicated to providing a liberal arts/ spiritually based/ holistic education. How would you describe your place within that vision?
• You’ve seen our mission statement. How would you see yourself contributing to our mission and campus atmosphere?
• We have instituted a community service requirement for all undergraduates – how would you see yourself interface with such a program?
• Could you tell us about your long-range plans and commitment to this department?
• What is your opinion on single sex education? (if it is a Women’s University/ College)
• How will you fit in as a department member and what kind of contribution will you make to our community?
• Why do you especially want to teach at University ___? How do you see yourself contributing to our department?
• Apart from the obvious financial reasons, why would you like to join the Faculty of Y at University X?
• We conceive of our campus as one large community. What non- or extra -academic activities would you be interested in sponsoring or participating in?
• What is your perception of the responsibilities of a full-time faculty member in a University / College? …To the department? …To the division? …To the University / College as a whole?
Questions about Career and Personal Choices
• Describe your goals and plans for professional development as a University / College instructor?
• Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years? In 10 years?
• What are some of the specific things you would like to address/learn in your own professional development? How is this connected to your work as an academic?
• What about our position is particularly attractive to you?
• What do you do when you are not working? (Modern equivalent of “what are your hobbies?”)
• How long do you plan on staying at University ___?
• What is the last book that you read for fun?
• How do you feel about living in ___ city?
• I understand that your partner is completing his/her Ph.D. What if you receive job offers in different locations?
• What kind of salary are you looking for?
• Why have you changed jobs so frequently?
• If you get more than one job offer how will you decide between them?
• Who else is interviewing you?
• How did you go about researching / preparing for the interview for this position?
• What questions do you have for us?

~~~~~~~
Resources used in compiling this list include The Chronicle of Higher Education, Chronicle Careers Mary Dillon Johnson “The Academic Job Interview Revisited”
http://chronicle.com/jobs/2004/10/2004101501c.htm The University of Georgia, Teaching Assistant Resources “Job Search”
http://www.ctl.uga.edu/o_taresources/jobsearch.html University of Maryland College Park Department of American Studies, Mary Corbin Sies “Academic Job Interview Advice”
http://www.otal.umd.edu/~sies/jobadvice.html Michigan State University, University Teaching Assistant Programs K. M. Johnson “Talking about Teaching in the Interview”
http://tap.msu.edu/workshops/2007/oct.htm#101807 The University of Michigan, Division of Student Affairs The Career Centre “Interview Questions – Academic Job Search”
http://www.crlt.umich.edu/gsis/Interview_QAcademic_JS.pdf University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences, Department of English Michael Gamer and Anne K. Krook “Job-Interviewing Handout”
http://www.english.upenn.edu/mgamer/interview.html San Francisco State University, Department of Mathematics Julia Aguirre “Academic Interview Preparation Resource Document”
http://math.sfsu.edu/hsu/interviewprep.doc The University of Texas at Austin, Trina Sego and Jeff L. Richards “Ph.D. Interview Preparation Guide for Positions in Academia”
http://advertising.utexas.edu/JR/InterviewPrep.html The University of Western Ontario, Teaching Support Centre Graduate Career Day Handout October 2007 “Entering the Academic Profession”
http://www.uwo.ca/tsc/future_professor.2007-2008.html?id=79 University of Minnesota Centre for Teaching and Learning, Preparing Future Faculty Retreat Handouts (2001) Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning Harvard University

 

On To The Conference Interview!

(This post is an update of an earlier post, “How Not To Fuck Up Your Conference Interview.”  )

You have submitted your cover letter, your c.v., and your recommendations. And lo! You’ve been long short-listed, and invited for a conference interview!  Congratulations. Now what?

The conference interview is about speed and first impressions. Generally this interview may be only 20-30 minutes in length. The interviewers are on a tight schedule, with a large number of candidates being hustled in and out of a small, cramped interview space.  It is awkward and exhausting for everyone.

If it is a 20 minute interview, and 2 minutes are taken up in taking your seat and greetings and 2 minutes in closing and walking to the door, that leaves 16 minutes for talking.  If the search committee members talk for half of that, it leaves you a sum total of 8 minutes of speaking time.  Brevity is key.

The elite departments from well funded schools will conduct the interviews in conference hotel suites reserved for the purpose, or at one of the search committee member’s own hotel rooms.  Broke departments will be forced to use the dreaded conference careers center, with its walls of tiny cubicles and humiliating lack of privacy.

Once I went to a conference interview for an Ivy League Anthropology department.  I entered the expensive suite in the conference hotel, to be greeted by a phalanx of Famous Anthropologists, with one of them, the most famous of all, stretched full length on the sofa, hand dramatically resting over his eyes.


The interview commenced, with Famous Anthropologist sighing his questions from his supine position.   As my snarkiness overcame my desire for the job, my eyes fell on a dirty, half-empty glass of water on the table in front of me.  “Is this the water for ALL the candidates?” I inquired.  “Oh! Oh, no, uh….”  Hasty scrambling ensued. Even F.A. half-rose in consternation.  A clean glass of water made its appearance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. Needless to say, I was not invited to a campus visit.

I tell this story not as a model for emulation, but as an example for edification.  Conference interviews are bizarre and awkward.  Your task is to nevertheless appear “at ease,” to project an aura of calm and good humor in a stressful situation.

To succeed in the conference interview you must speak quickly and directly to your strengths, with no—absolutely no—digressions, and to dress and walk and talk and comport yourselfas little as possible like a graduate student, and as much as possible like a confident, experienced faculty member and future colleague.

Preparation is key. Prepare by learning who is on the search committee (it is ok to call the department secretary and ask), and checking to see if they will be in attendance at the conference.

Once you know the likely interviewers, spring into action. Research their work, and the profile of the department as a whole. Familiarize yourself with their course catalog, and review their website to see their recent accomplishments. Check on the large classes that young assistant professors are most likely to be asked to teach, and prepare ideas on how to teach them. Suss out the financial footing of the department, and the level of graduate support, and whether the department is in deep financial cutting mode.  If it is, be prepared to talk about how you will teach large classes, develop new popular ones that draw large enrollments, and seek external funding.

Be prepared, in short, to engage with those faculty as much already on their wavelength, as a potential colleague, as you can.

Do not ever forget the #1 critical rule of the job search:  They are hiring a colleague, not a graduate student.

Do. Not. Look. Or. Act. Like. A. Graduate. Student.

Be prepared to answer any of the following types of questions, in 1-2 minute responses:

  • How is your dissertation different from other work in your field?
  • What are your publication plans arising from the dissertation?
  • Who are the biggest scholarly influences on your work?
  • How would you teach a large intro class in your/our discipline?
  • Which textbook would you use for that class?
  • Can you name 3 classes that you would be interested to teach for us? Why?
  • How do you see your work fitting into our department?
  • How would you teach a foundational theory/methods graduate seminar?
  • What do you think the most important intellectual debate is in your/our field?
  • Can you envision any collaborations with faculty currently in the department?
  • What inspires your teaching?

Keep in mind the issue of time.   To reiterate, in all of these responses, you must be BRIEF and to the point. Any tendency to rambling must be eradicated.

To achieve this level of focus and brevity, practice is essential.  Write out the answers to questions like these and others, and practice them in front of a mirror and in front of friends, and at mock interviews in your department, over and over and over again, until they become second nature to you. Then and only then are you ready for the conference interview.

And because you have read the work of your interviewers, you will also be prepared to mention it in the interview. They will love you if you can respond, “I would certainly consider assigning YOUR recent article in an upper division class on political economy, because I think it provides an excellent case study from Eastern Europe.”

You have to be sincere, but if you can be, that is pure interview gold.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I cannot leave behind the conference interview without a word on clothing.I have seen unspeakable things, sartorially speaking, in the halls of the conference hotel, amongst the milling throngs of interview candidates.

Let us revisit the #1 critical rule of the job search: They are hiring a colleague, not a graduate student.

Do. Not. Look. Or. Act. Like. A. Graduate. Student.

Your task at this short interview is to give the overwhelming first impression of being a dynamic, successful young professional.

What does that mean? For MEN, this means buying a new suit fresh for the interview season, which fits you at your current weight, which buttons across your middle, and which you have tailored so that the sleeves and pants hit you at the proper spots.  And btw, blazer and jeans are not acceptable, men!  Addendum:  This suit does not have to be an ultra high-end suit that costs thousands of dollars!   A good department store suit from JCPenney’s or Macy’s that has been tailored by their in-house tailor to fit you is completely adequate.  We’re talking a cost of hundreds here, not thousands.  Just avoid the $99 suit from Men’s Wearhouse if you can.

In addition, you need a good quality, department store shirt, which you have ironed to remove the package folds! You also need  a classic tie of recent vintage (the last year or two), a new leather belt (no cracked leather), the best quality leather black oxfords you can afford, and socks that match either the shoes or the suit.

Men, you hair should be recently cut.  Facial hair continues to be acceptable in academia; just make sure you’re well-groomed.

For WOMEN (by which I mean, women who present conventionally as women [butch dykes and transgendered candidates will have other requirements]), this means you buy a new, stylish, well-cut, fitted grey or brown suit (not black, which can be too severe) fresh for the interview season.

This must fit you at your current weight! It must also fit you properly through the shoulders, across the bust, and hit you at the proper spot on your hips and wrists.  Find someone with fashion knowledge and taste to evaluate the fit of your suit.

Skirt or pants, it matters not.  You will need a stylish blouse in a not too bright color, stockings or tights in a neutral shade, good quality, stylish leather pumps with a 1-3 inch heel (for the height; less critical if you are 5’7” or above), and conservative jewelry.

Women, your hair should be cut and styled in an actual current style, not dragging or sproinging about in the stringy or unkempt clump so commonly seen in our graduate lounges. Also, no ponytails or barrettes.  You are not 9.

Neither man nor woman shall carry a backpack.

Both men and women will invest in the best quality leather or microfiber (but, emphatically, NOT fake leather) briefcase that they can manage.  Last season models are often on deep discount at office goods chain stores like OfficeMax. TJ Maxx and Ross are also excellent sources.

For both men and women, the cut and fit of the entire ensemble should be rigorously checked and rechecked by a reliable source such as your mother, or a trusted advisor who actually knows how to dress.  Suits are difficult to fit, and a poorly-fitting suit will hurt your chances on the job market!  Invest the time, and make sure your suit fits.

Why do all this?  Because these clothing rules mark you as “one of the tribe.”  In an ideal world how you look doesn’t matter.  But academia is far from an ideal world, as we know all too well.  You want to blend into the faculty “identity” as seamlessly as possible.  Yes, of course we all know that actual faculty dress like slobs. Nevertheless, interviews require interview-wear.  Marking yourself as looking like you are already employed and earning a regular income is the quickest way to do that.

One of the saddest sights in the hotel conference hall is not so much the sloppily dressed interview candidate, asthe ineptly dressed interview candidate—the one in the brand new, ill-fitting suit with too-short sleeves and too-long pants, rushing through the halls clutching a a beat-up old backpack.

That person smells of desperation. Don’t let it be you.


 

Rocking the Phone/Skype Interview

A number of clients have asked me for a post on phone and Skype interviews, and I’m happy to oblige. There are some tricks of the trade for this kind of interview that can very helpful to know.

Now, the standard preparation for interviews of course prevails in these interviews as well. You want to thoroughly investigate the campus, the department, and the specific search well before the interview. You want to know the names of the people interviewing, and can call the department secretary to inquire ahead of time.

You should thoroughly familiarize yourself with the current course catalog as well as this semester’s course offerings, and which faculty teach what. You should glance at each of the search committee members’ work, so that you can refer to it intelligently, should it arise naturally in conversation.

Have the best foundation of knowledge that you can about the ethos of the campus—-does it emphasize warm, immediate connections with undergraduates, or hard-hitting research and a competitive graduate program?

Anticipate 10-15 questions that they are likely to ask you, and write out 1-2 minute responses to these, and practice until they are second nature.

Now, in terms of preparing for a phone interview, here are some pointers:

  • Dress for the interview. Wear your interview suit with shoes and the whole nine yards. This puts you into the proper frame of mind for the interview.

  • Set up your interview space at a spacious desk or table, with plenty of privacy, and on that desk space set up your laptop or else index cards with some short mental cues that you can quickly refer to when responding. These would include: “My dissertation’s three main themes are xx, yy, and zz”; or “For the Intro course I would use xx textbook with yy supplement,” or “My methods bridge quantitative and qualitative approaches. I can teach a Methods seminar by using xx and yy projects.”

  • Make a one-page cheat sheet of the department and set it next to you, with the names of the faculty (search committee at the top), and their research foci, and the title of one publication.

  • Do NOT put any pieces of writing near you that will distract you or that require close reading. You must be prepared to speak quickly and conversationally and naturally, so the briefest sound-byte cues work here.

  • Have a tablet and pen next to you to take shorthand notes as questions are asked. You may be given a compound question, such as “Tell us about your dissertation, how you got interested in the topic, and what you see as its primary contribution.” Make a note of each part of the question to be able to address each in your response.

For Skype interviews, most of these same techniques equally apply.

Obviously you will thoroughly dress for the interview. This includes the pants, or skirt, and shoes, etc. that will be out of sight of the camera!

You may set up a few cue cards around your skype space, but be very cautious that you don’t give the impression of constantly looking off-screen before speaking. If you can control your eye movements, then the cue cards are useful. If you cannot, then skip them.

Keep the department cheat sheet, but it is even more important that you have nothing around you that will distract you from the interview.

The pen and paper is valuable here as well. It is fine, even in an in person interview, to have a pen and paper in front of you to jot a minimal note or two as questions are being asked.

Now, in terms of Basic Interview Skills.

1) Tell me, what is the most important single factor in an interview response? What? What? I can’t hear you…….

Yes. It is brevity.

Do. Not. Ramble.

Please refer to this post, “The Six Ways You’re Acting Like a Grad Student (And how that’s killing you on the job market)” and mediate on it deeply and profoundly from today until the day of your interview.

It is of paramount importance in a phone and Skype interview, which are rarely more than 20-30 minutes long, and which do not have the benefit of real human interaction and non-verbal cue-exchange, that you ALWAYS LIMIT YOUR RESPONSES to no more than one or two minutes at a time.

It is of critical importance that you give your interviewers the chance to absorb what you’ve said (remember how hard it must be for THEM to keep track of difficult academic topics on the end of a phone call!), and to have the chance to formulate a response.

Always give them the chance to say, “How fascinating, tell us more.”

The PAUSE is your friend! Do not fear The Pause!  End your sound byte on a strong falling note that signals unmistakably:  I have now finished speaking!  Then count, silently, to 5 (1-mississippi, 2-mississippi, etc.) and either allow the next question to come, or resume with something like, “In terms of FUTURE research, beyond my dissertation, I will be moving on to a major second project on xxxxx.”

2) And always think like a candidate for office.  You need a platform.  The platform has, say, five planks.  Generate those planks, memorize them, and never, ever deviate from them.    In my own former case as a young assistant professor on the market, they were:

  • Japan area specialization with current gender and race sub-specialization
  • Working at the intersection of anthropology and contemporary social theory
  • Dynamic publishing and conference program and a book manuscript under advance contract
  • Interdisciplinary and transnational, but grounded in hands-on ethnographic methods
  • Innovative and dedicated teacher with unconventional methods, especially in large classes

All of my responses would refer back to one of these five elements of my platform.  In this way, I was constantly reinforcing my legibility and memorability as a candidate.

3) Frame always in the positive, not the negative.  Banish the negative.  The negative is the graduate student’s instant default.  Take a question like this:  “Tell us about your plans to revise your dissertation into the book”  Graduate students almost invariably answer in some form of the following, “Well, the dissertation isn’t really in a publishable state yet.  My third chapter is still missing some major elements on the pre-war period that I need to add.  I will need to visit the University of Tokyo library to access some of that material.  I haven’t really submitted the manuscript to a press yet because I’m waiting to resolve issues like that before I do.”

This is one gigantic “reject me now” response.  This person is NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME.  She is talking entirely like an excuse-making subordinated graduate student.  Here is the proper answer, in the positive, not negative, mode:

“I’m planning to take the book into a couple of exciting new areas of research.  Nobody to date has explored this phenomenon in the prewar period, but I found out that there is a brand new collection at the University of Tokyo library of prewar materials that my former mentor at Tokyo has invited me to visit and use this summer.  I’ll be incorporating that material into my third chapter, and in the meantime, I’ll be drafting a proposal of the book, with a clear statement of the revision plan, to send to presses next Fall.”

Get it?  All positive and forward looking.  Never negative and backward looking.

Now, in terms of interview questions. In fact, there are some excellent resources on this topic all over the web. Here is one link to start.  I like it, by Mary Corbin Sies, because it’s both savvy and attuned to the snark-factor.

For the purposes of this post I will merely jot down a few questions that I got in interviews and that tripped me up, or that have tripped up clients:

  • How does your dissertation intervene in the field of xx?
  • What is the most influential book you’ve read in the field of xxx recently?
  • How would you teach our Introductory course? Which text would you use? What kinds of assignments would you use?
  • How would you teach our Core Theory Seminar? Who would you have them read?
  • How would you teach our Methods course?
  • How would you incorporate undergraduates into your research?
  • Name 2 specialty courses you would teach, one undergraduate and one graduate.
  • How do you see your work intersecting with the other emphases in the department?
  • We are hoping to build a strength in xxx. How would you participate in that effort?
  • We don’t have a lot of funding for the kind of equipment/travel that you require for your research. How would you work with this?
  • Our campus is very student-focused. You come from an R1. How do you see yourself fitting in?
  • Our campus has high expectations for publication for tenure. How do you see yourself handling the expectations?
  • What is your research program for the next five years?
  • What are you immediate and longer term publication plans?
  • Do you have plans to apply for any major grants? If so, which ones?
  • Have you spoken with a publisher about your book?  Where do you stand in negotiations?
  • What’s your basic teaching philosophy?
  • What you’ve said is all very interesting, but doesn’t some of the work in your field really border on the far-fetched?  (thanks to Mary Corbin Sies for this one).

Be aware that they may ask you this question: “Do you have any questions for us?”

There are good and bad responses to this. The bad responses include:

  • No.
  • Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I guess not, I can’t really think of any offhand….
  • I’d like to ask about your spousal hiring program.

***ALARM ALARM ALARM!!!! NEVER ASK ABOUT OR EVEN REFER TO THE EXISTENCE OF A SPOUSE AT THIS STAGE!***

  • Your department seems to be weak in xxxx; are you planning to hire to fill that gap?

***Very bad!   Never, ever appear to judge the department.

  • What is your department’s relationship with the Dean?
  • How is your department viewed on campus?

***These latter two are actually excellent questions to get the answers to while on the campus visit, indirectly and subtly! But they are emphatically not questions to be asked in an initial interview because you look superior, arrogant, and judgmental.

Good responses include:

  • What kind of support is there available on campus for conference travel?
  • What kind of support is available on campus for summer research?
  • What kind of graduate student support is available?
  • Is there an active undergraduate/graduate student association? What kinds of activities do they do?

These are benign questions that most departments can answer truthfully with some kind of positive response that doesn’t make them feel bad about themselves or judged.  Be sure that your questions allow the search committee to save face.  Don’t ask questions that might necessitate a negative, embarassing answer.  Ie, “Do you provide automatic junior sabbatical for assistant professors?”  “Uhhh, no.”   That leaves a bad taste in their mouths that will work against you.

In Closing, the most important thing you can do is PREPARE. Know the department inside and out. Make and study the departmental cheat sheet. Know the ad inside and out and be prepared to respond to the specializations mentioned in it. Prepare your responses ahead of time and practice them in front of harsh critics.

And remember, you are the expert in your field. That is why they are shortlisting you! Never, ever grovel, or apologize, or hedge. Speak out, audibly, with confidence and firmness.  Banish any of your graduate student behaviors, and comport yourself entirely like a young, up-and-coming professional with things to say and points to make, hotly pursued by a whole posse of top-ranked campuses, and securely confident in the impact you will make on your field.

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editing Your C.V. and Letter for Teaching/Writing Positions

Today’s post is a Special Request post for a reader who shall remain anonymous. Her question concerns how to tailor her letter and c.v. for different jobs.

Here’s the background: She is a Victorian literature specialist and on the job market in English (I know, more’s the pity). She’s applying for Victorian specialist jobs, but also writing jobs and the occasional generalist position as well.

She has experience teaching writing, and she’s heard through the grapevine that search committees are impressed with her application for writing/generalist positions, but that her c.v. is so Victorian lit-heavy, that Victorian lit colleagues have responded unfavorably, claiming that she is going to invade their turf, so to speak.

So she wants to know: how can she ethically tailor her letter and c.v. to appeal to the writing/generalist positions without frightening the Victorianists already on the faculty?

I have not actually seen her job letter and c.v., so I am not basing my response on an actual example, but on principles. And English is not my field, and at the same time it’s a highly regimented field that serves many service needs on campuses, so it’s possible that my understanding of the principles may need some amplification in the comments below. So, readers from English, please feel free to comment.

The principle is that in this kind of case, where not just the specialization, but the very nature of the job is distinct, the cover letter should be highly tailored to match the position. What that means is that if she is applying for a writing job, then her primary role in the department is to teach writing, and not to act as a period specialist. In that sense, the profile she will present to the department is a teaching profile, with some Victorian research skills thrown in as an “extra.” I would recommend that her letter put her teaching paragraphs first (after her self-introduction paragraph), and that these be the main bulk of page one.

The teaching paragraph should describe what she has taught, what she is capable of teaching, and what she envisions teaching for the department, based on the needs identified in the ad, and on their course listing (but never, ever using course numbers, which is tacky). She should give some specific teaching strategies that she uses in the basic remedial, introductory and advanced Writing classroom, and how and why they worked. These should be innovative enough to be memorable, and not just obvious things like “I encourage discussion.” She should indicate or summarize student responses or evaluations.

After these two paragraphs (I don’t normally recommend more than two paragraphs dedicated to either teaching or dissertation research in a job letter), she can move into her dissertation research, and her publications, a second project, and then her tailoring paragraph. The publications do not have to be listed in their entirety—one or two are appropriate. Her second project should be mentioned, as I am assuming that this is still a tenure track position, and tenure requires a forward-looking research trajectory. If that is not the case, and it is not a tenure track position, then a second project should not be mentioned. Her tailoring paragraph should emphasize teaching innovations and initiatives, as opposed to ones focused on research.

In terms of the c.v., again, Teaching can be listed first after Education and Professional Employment. Publications should of course be listed in their entirety; I never, ever recommend removing a publication from a c.v. for tailoring purposes. Teaching Awards and so on should be emphasized if there are enough to make a separate heading or subheading.

She should have a teaching reference, preferably a colleague from her current position if she is beyond graduate school. That reference will be a fourth reference, after three academic references, if the job is a tenure-track position. If it is not a tenure-track position, then the teaching reference can be the third of three references.

All of these things together create an impression that the person is genuinely interested in teaching Writing, and will not be a shadow competitor to the Victorian specialists in the department.

Now, be aware that some Victorian specialists will be absolutely thrilled to get a specialist comrade in arms “for free,” as it were, through a Writing search. So this type of paranoia is not universally necessary. However, since she has received this specific feedback previously from a search, it is safe to assume that the problem does exist.

By retaining the research and publication elements of her profile (which always increase her capital on the market), while clearly demonstrating a primary interest (in the letter and c.v.) in the Writing position, she should be able to balance the two audiences for the search, and let the search committee feel that she is a “both/and” candidate, rather than an “either/or” candidate.

 

 

Job Letter Issues When You’re Beyond the Dissertation

Today’s post is a Special Request post for Amy, who wishes to know how the standard “dissertation” paragraph of the job letter should be adapted when the writer is well beyond dissertation stage.

This is a good question!  Applying for jobs mid-career is remarkably tricky. It’s hard to know how to frame your research when it has moved on from the single, discrete dissertation project.

The key here is to stay specific, and show a scholarly trajectory from the dissertation to the present.

Stay Specific:

You want to have a “current project” that you will be able to describe with the same level of care and specificity that you once used for the dissertation. Begin with this current research.  The project should be described in terms of the topic, the methods you’re using to address it, its significance, and the field-changing interventions that you are making through it.  You will then follow this paragraph with a discussion of the publications that have derived or will derive from it.

The temptation for people beyond the dissertation is to mention two or three or four new avenues that they are pursuing….but this is a mistake.  The candidate being hired as an advanced assistant professor still needs a coherent “second book project” (or series of articles) to get tenure.  The candidate being hired with tenure will still be scrutinized for promotability to Full.  These promotions hinge on the same kind of single-minded focus and productivity as the first project, under far more challenging conditions.  A discrete and specific project, with a clear publishing trajectory, communicates this productivity.

Scholarly Trajectory:

The second (or third) project should be shown to arise organically from the original dissertation project and/or other major project that preceded it.  These projects will be listed after the current research, and before the still-necessary “next project” paragraph.

It is not necessary to devote extensive verbiage in the letter itself to describing the old diss project, but it is important to reference it, in sentences like this:

“All of my work to date has been dedicated to using anthropological methods to study the impact on uranium mining on Native American populations in the U.S. southwest.  From my dissertation, which focused on cancer narratives among Navajo miners in Arizona, to my current work, in which I turn to Havasupai activism against mining in the Grand Canyon, I have used oral histories and collaborative ethnography to construct a “bottom-up” analysis of the U.S. nuclear industry.”

This trajectory shows the kind of scholarly focus and consistency that search committees want to see in mid-career hires.  This doesn’t mean you have to keep doing the same thing over and over.  But you do need to be able to show that your general scholarly profile is going to remain somewhat consistent.  In my own case I had a first project on Japanese women pursuing internationalized careers and life trajectories.  My planned second project (which I never actually brought to fruition) was on Japanese alternative, back to the land communities and their connections to a global eco-movement.  These projects are pretty different, but they are also: 1) both on Japan; 2) both on globalization; and 3) both on people who stray from the mainstream.  That is the level of consistency I’m talking about.

Think about it from the department’s point of view.  They want to know that the person they are hiring to fill a specific pedagogical and scholarly role is the scholar who will continue to do so for years into the future.  They don’t want a dilettante, or someone easily distracted, or who is going to leave a bunch of graduate students who came to work on U.S. nuclear issues in the lurch when he suddenly switches over to a major project on Pacific Islander taro farming techniques.

Trajectory shows maturity and consistency and predictability.  Again, this doesn’t mean you harp in a backward-looking way on a long-past dissertation.  And it also doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue interesting new areas of research.  Rather, you quickly and gracefully demonstrate the deep convictions and scholarly preoccupations that have continued to inspire you over many years.

The Golden Rule of the Research Statement

Today’s post is short. It’s about the Research Statement.

There’s undoubtedly a lot to say about Research Statements. But Dr. Karen doesn’t have time today, because she’s submerged in client work with looming deadlines.

So this post is simply going to introduce the Golden Rule of Research Statements. And that is:

Talk About the Research, and Not About Yourself.

What this means in practice is, beware the “I statement.” It is tempting to write a document that goes something like, “I work on transitions in the care of the elderly in Japan. I am particularly focused on the recent growth in government run care facilities. I use ethnographic methods to address the nature of the care given in these facilities, and I explore how the care is received by the patients and their families.  My dissertation explores one such facility in northern Japan.”

This would be bad, because it is entirely about you, and not about the research. Instead, write something like this:

“The rapidly aging society is one of the primary challenges facing Japan in recent decades.  Both the public and private sectors have hastened to respond to emerging needs of the elderly and their families.  Over 200 new government run elderly care centers have been built in recent years.  In my dissertation, I conduct an ethnographic study of one such facility in northern Japan, in order to explore the nature of the care provided there, as well as its reception by the elderly themselves and their family caregivers.”

I statements are not verboten.  They just need to be minimized, and carefully contextualized so that the research is always forefront, and your ego is secondary.

 

The Foolproof Grant Template–Where Did It Come From?

The fellowship season is upon us, and I’m working with clients on all sorts of grants and fellowships.

As part of that process I’m spending a lot of time talking people through the Dr. Karen Foolproof Grant Template. I won’t repeat the template here—I just direct you to this post. And if you want an even more substantial discussion of it, check out the Professor’s Guide- The Grant-Writing Handbook, in the Prof Shop.

Today I want to talk about how I ended up creating this template. Because the story is very revealing of how successful techniques circulate in quiet, backchannel ways.

When I was a brand new assistant professor, I had a senior colleague. This senior colleague had recently moved to Oregon from an elite East Coast institution. He had been successful and well liked there. He very kindly took me under his wing, and I learned a great deal from him.

One of the things that he told me in my first year was: apply for major national fellowships, and don’t stop until you get at least one full year off to write your book. I listened to him, and did as he said. He had received the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship a few years earlier, and he encouraged me to apply for it as well.

When I started work on the application, he passed on to me his own previous successful proposal. And he explained to me that this proposal was based on another proposal that had been written by one of his senior colleagues back at the elite institution. I was at least the third generation to draw from the model.

Now let me hasten to add, that we were not “re-using” a single proposal per se. Our projects were not remotely similar. Rather, we were re-using a consistent proposal STRUCTURE. The first iteration, and then my colleague’s, and then my own, all followed precisely the same organization. And, lo and behold, it worked for me just as it worked for him, and as it had worked for his senior colleague (and who knows how many before him.)

I immediately saw the utility of the proposal structure, and used it again and again. I got virtually every grant and fellowship for which I applied.

When I had graduate students of my own, I passed the model on to them. By this point, I was referring to it as the “grant template.” Each of my students structured their grant and fellowship applications according to the template, and every student got virtually every major fellowship for which they applied—over the years, some $600,000 worth of fellowships, in our modestly funded fields of Asian Studies and Cultural Anthropology.

I freely shared the template, in the form of my own NEH fellowship proposal, with anyone who asked. But not everyone was able to separate out the structure from the model. My proposal, after all, was on Japanese women who traveled abroad in search of Western men and Western careers. Not everyone could see the organization beneath the surface, and apply it to their own project.

When I left my academic career and came to the University of Oregon McNair Program, I began working with advanced undergraduate students, who are very green in the ways of the academic world, but who are ambitious and eager to apply for much-needed fellowships. I quickly saw that my template would once again be useful, but that I was going to have to help. They were much too inexperienced to be able to decipher the organization themselves. So I took the next step, and I did it for them.

I reduced my old NEH proposal into its elemental building blocks, and provided a basic explanation for its parts. I saw that the structure is, at root, a Hero Narrative, and named it as such. I came to understand that constructing this narrative is entirely formulaic, and hinges on the construction of urgency. Those grants that create a sense of legitimate and credible urgency get money. Those that don’t, don’t.

Now the template is in the form of a one-page diagram, with a brief textual accompaniment. You can see it here. I am happy to share it, although I appreciate getting credit.

The point I want you to take away from all this is not just that this template, now called the Dr. Karen Foolproof Grant Template, really works. I also want you to understand that effective grant-writing, like all other professional academic writing, is at its root completely formulaic. Your project can be creative and innovative, but your grant proposal had damned well better follow the formula. Deviation means failure.

Some of the most creative thinkers in the land are the worst grant-writers, because they can’t or won’t write according to formula. I can see that. My analytical and linear mind loves to reduce things to their component parts and find the underlying structure. But not everyone is like that.

The template does some of the work for you. Not all of it. I’m still surprised sometimes at what comes to me from clients who swear that they’ve followed it “exactly.” But it helps.

And on a larger scale, the story of the template demonstrates the ways that hidden codes and understandings operate in academia. They’re not secret, exactly. But they’re hidden, and passed along through personal connections and contacts.

Stay alert to these codes and models when they cross your path. They are the capital of an academic career. And always be ready to pass them on to others. It’s good karma.