This Christmas, Don’t Be Cheap

Regular readers of The Professor Is In know that I espouse as the cardinal rule of job document writing the rule of Show, Don’t Tell.

Job documents should not make claims about your feelings or your wants or your beliefs (“I am passionate about teaching,” “I want to do a project on declining whale populations,” “I believe in the importance of hands-on learning”) because statements such as these are unsubstantiated and unsubstantiatable.

In other words, anyone can make them.  And as such, they are empty verbiage and wasted space in your letter.  If you are, in fact, passionate about teaching, then let your substantive descriptions of your courses and teaching methods illustrate that.  In short, show.  Do not tell.

As I said, regular readers already know this.  However, what some may not realize is that adjectives play a major role in this matter.

Adjectives describing outcomes, in a job document, are almost always worthless verbiage.  I am not referring here to adjectives that describe, in a substantive way, the research subject itself (ie, “this study identifies a population of professionally-ambitious, urban Japanese women who pursue study abroad”), but rather adjectives that are meant to pump up the intensity level of candidate claims.

Here is a list of the kinds of adjectives (and their related adverbs) to which I refer:

Incredible (incredibly)

Amazing (amazingly)

Striking (strikingly)

Serious (seriously)

Intense (intensely)

Remarkable (remarkably)

Considerable (considerably)

Some of you may doubt that such adjectives would ever show up in a job letter, but alas, your doubts would be misplaced.  They turn up frequently.  I remove adjectives such as these from probably a third of the job documents on which I work.  They are most likely to show up in the teaching paragraph or teaching statement, which are always susceptible to hyper-emotionalism anyway, as I describe in the post The Dreaded Teaching Statement: Eight Pitfalls.  The typical culprit sentence is:  “This assignment produces some incredible student work!”

The fact is, adjectives like these are cheap.  They are a lazy effort to exaggerate the import or impact of the work.  And they are weak, because they always imply a comparator (the outcome that is not incredible or amazing or remarkable) that is left unstated or assumed.

As such, their use betrays a profound misunderstanding of the search process.  As I describe in this post, search committee members never simply take a candidate’s word that their work is “superior” and their candidacy “ideal” for the position.  Search committee members draw their own conclusions based on the evidence presented.  Indeed, search committee members may well take umbrage at  any writing they perceive as seeking to achieve an artificial boost in emotional impact.

It goes without saying that this applies in spades to the exclamation point, which I remove from a smaller, but still significant, portion of job documents.  The example above, “this assignment produces some incredible student work!” is again typical.  Other examples include: “My results were unexpected!” and “my students sometimes referred to me as their boot camp instructor!”  Or this one:

In teaching mathematics, flipping the class means flipping the textbook! Twisting the concept-problem approach to a problem-concept approach!”

To sum up, don’t be cheap.  Stick to the facts, and let your achievements speak for themselves.  Do the work to describe your research and teaching substantively, with evidence.  And save the adjectives, and exclamations, for Christmas morning.

How To Write a Course Proposal for a Job/Postdoc App

Today’s post is a Special Request post for a reader who wishes to know how to construct a course proposal for a job application.

This is an element of the job application that, I expect, will tolerate a lot of variability. So I offer the following thoughts as suggestions rather than dicta.

It is my view that a course proposal is best one page in length. As with all subsidiary documents to a job application, it will be very, very quickly skimmed, and you want to do everything in your power to make your materials as easily digestible for harrassed search committees as possible.

In that one page, single spaced, I suggest that you include the following:

Title of course

Your name

Approximate level of course

Envisioned approximate size or enrollment of course

A two-paragraph description of the course. Paragraph one will introduce an important phenomenon or theme or topic “in the world” that the course will address. The second paragraph will describe the broad subtopic breakdown introduced by the course, and the recent bodies of literature/trends in the field on which the course will be based, and will address one or two innovative assignments.

A brief third paragraph showing how the course fits into and advances existent initiatives and foci of the department.

A “mini-syllabus”: a 10- or 16-line week-by-week breakdown of the course topics with a reading or film.

The issues to be aware of in this course description are the following:

It should be fascinating, not boring. The course will be read with an eye to its appeal to the students. Particularly if it’s an undergraduate course, its appeal to undergraduates should be instantly apparent.

The writing should “sell.” Don’t be pedantic here. Consider starting with an intriguing question: “What do shows like CSI and Bones tell us about forensic science in America?” “Is the world running out of fresh water?” “What do Mark Twain and Danielle Steele have in common?” “150 years after the close of the Civil War, what is the status of race in America?”

The course should be innovative, and reflect new trends in your field/s. They already have old faculty doing old stuff. Your job is to do the new.

It should capitalize on new technology and social media. These are transforming university pedagogy, and your job is to “handle” that for the other faculty who are too old and behind the times to figure it out.

It should be feasible. You may be tempted to use this to show your mastery of a scholarly field. Don’t do it. It’s a course and must look like a course. They are examining it to see if you really get what are “reasonable” expectations for their classroom.

It should be tailored to their department and campus. If it’s a regional teaching college, be aware that intensive reading loads will not be appropriate. If it’s an Ivy League, be aware that intensive reading loads are required. If one of their departmental foci is transnational literature, then make sure that the course incorporates literature that crosses borders.

It should be tailored to the job. If the job is for contemporary East Asia, don’t submit your fabulous “gender studies seminar,” unless it is primarily East Asia based. If it is a gender studies job, don’t submit your East Asia seminar unless it is primarily about gender.

It should not duplicate what is already there. They are hiring you to expand their coverage, not duplicate it.

A final note on course proposals for postdoc apps. It is critical that this course proposal speak directly and specifically to the mission of the postdoc, and how the course advances it. This cannot be simply left implicit—ie, “the postdoc is about food, and my course is about food, so…duh, OBVIOUSLY….” No, it must include verbiage like, “By focusing on contemporary discourses of food purity and food threat, this course introduces students to new and emergent literature in the fields of food studies and related social science disciplines. Bridging scientific and media material, and capitalizing fully on the vibrant internet world of food blogs, this course will advance the mission of the XXXX postdoc by inquiring critically into the ways that science and popular culture collide in our contemporary understandings of food.”

 

 

The #Facepalm Fails of the Academic Interview

It’s crazy, crazy times around here at The Professor Is In just now. I (oh so foolishly) thought we were through the crush as of Nov. 15, only to find that Dec. 1 looms even larger….. I’m racing like a busy little hamster to get final comments and edits back to everyone in time…. but I never want to miss a blog post, so here, today, I offer to you a quick and dirty list of “Facepalm Fails” of the academic interview. These are the questions that are SO EASY and SO OBVIOUS that nobody ever remembers to prepare for them.

And then, encountering them, you fall flat on your face, in a particularly humiliating way (because they’re so obvious), and get shunted out the door.

I have bombed more interviews than I care to remember because of these things.

And now as The Professor, I can effortlessly trip up one Interview Bootcamp client after another with the same set of questions.

The awful thing about the Facepalm Fails is that they are generally among the very first questions that are asked in an interview, and so their failure derails the entire thing, and sometimes your entire candidacy.

So, without further ado, here they are, The Facepalm Fails.

Tell us about your dissertation.

Yeah, I’m serious. I am constantly amazed at how many of you do not know how to simply and clearly and concisely describe your dissertation in a way that makes us understand why we should care about it, and how it intervenes and advances your field, in 3 minutes or less. Figure it out.

How would you teach our Intro class?

People. When you get a t-t job, you aren’t suddenly elevated into a magical sphere in which you spend all day stroking your beard and thinking profound thoughts about arcane subjects! You become a harrassed and overworked junior faculty member. One of the duties that may well fall to you is to teach the Intro class, enrollment ten thousand! Get a plan for that, stat! With textbook, please. Do NOT, whatever you do, start waxing nostalgic about your own halcyon days as an undergraduate in such a class. Nothing screams “Not Ready for Prime Time” more than that. They’re not hiring an undergraduate. They’re hiring the Prof.

How would you teach our Methods course?

Even at the graduate level, you are NOT going to be able to spend your time pontificating endlessly on the minutiae of your project. You will have to serve the needs of all (or many) of the students in the program. Many/most of them will not be working on your area of specialization, but you will still have to show that you can add value for them through the work of several core seminars. One of these is the Methods seminar. Have a plan!

How would you teach our Core Theory Seminar?

Ditto from above. This one is ROUGH! Be prepared. If they’re mean, they’ll quiz you! I lost a very good job on this question once. Know your shit. In Anthro, for example, this means speaking knowledgably about Marx, Weber and Durkheim and then moving up through people such as Freud, Adorno, Levi-Strauss, and Foucault, while also giving honor to Anthro standbys such as Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Radcliffe- Brown, Boas, Marvin Harris, and the other old white dudes. Sure, you can complicate things by bringing in race and gender and sexuality but NEVER, EVER think that you can fudge a P.C.-lite answer to this without knowing your ancient foundations.

Name two courses you would develop for our department.

Have one undergrad and one graduate course always in your pocket. If the job is a SLAC, then have two undergrad, one lower level and one upper level.  It goes without saying that these should be tailored according to the campus, department and job at hand.

You’re young. How would you mentor graduate students?

This one’s tough when you’re just a newbie. Don’t default to the “I’m so young; I don’t have experience!” excuse making mode. The best approach: “I received excellent mentorship from a variety of formal and informal advisors. They taught me xxx and yyy and zzz. I feel well prepared to pass on this knowledge to the next generation, and I’m eager to do so.”

You come from an xxxx kind of school. How would you adapt to a campus like ours?

Be prepared to speak of fit. When you visit an urban school, have some thoughts prepared on how much you love working with urban/returning students. When you visit a rural comprehensive, speak to the appeal of the size and scope of campus. When you visit a SLAC, be prepared to have a shpiel on the classic liberal arts education and wanting small classes and to mentor undergraduates. When you visit a lower ranking school, speak to the gratification of working with less-privileged students. Etc. Etc. Remember that most campuses feel insecure about something. They are always testing to make sure you really like what they are.

Do you have any questions for us?

You must have at least one good question to ask.  The question you’re currently planning to ask is most likely NOT good.  The vast majority of the questions clients share with me  are inappropriate and potentially harmful to their candidacy.  Why?  Because they put the search committee on the spot, and potentially make them lose face.  You must never ask a question that causes an interviewer to lose face.  This includes anything that has a simple yes/no answer, anything that is political, anything that hinges on resources, and anything that implies judgment.  Thus, “Is there a lot of collaboration in the department?” is bad, because it’s a yes/no question, and if the truthful answer is no, your interviewers will feel embarassed.  “What is the plan for the department in the next five years?” is bad, because it is political and probably quite contested, and also implies judgment about what the right answer should be.  “Is there automatic junior sabbatical after the third year review?” is bad because it reflects the resource base/financial status of the institution, and the answer could well be no, making the interviewers feel awkward.   “You seem to be lacking classes in xxxx; are you looking to increase that coverage area?” is bad, because it is all judgment.

What are good questions?  Questions that communicate, once again, that you’re a great fit for the department, and a great potential colleague.  Ie, “Tell me about the undergraduates.  What do the majors do after graduation?.”  Or “What kind of research are the graduate students working on?”  Or “I noticed the XXX initiative on the website.  Can you tell me more about that?”  Get it?  Enthusiastic and eager to be involved.

Tell us about your second project.

This one is critical to the tenure track interview!!  Read a full blog post on it here. ]

There are undoubtedly more Facepalm Fails, but these are the ones that got me at different moments, and that get the majority of my clients. If you have others, please list them (and the best way to answer!) below.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re From Penn State. Now What? (A Special Request Post)

Today’s post is a Special Request post for a grad student (ABD) from Penn State who wrote on email to say:   “I went to a small conference last weekend and as soon as people found out I was from Penn State the conversation was redirected to the scandal….It’s a minefield as it relates to views on administration, the role of athletics at the university, and often overshadows the tragedy of the victims of the abuse. The last thing I want to do this weekend, as I head to our big national conference, is keep talking about this—-especially to potential employers/future tenure letter writers—but I know it will come up.”

He goes on: “I would love to think that people are more professional than to bring scandalous details up, but conference chat is an informal venue. Do you think you could do a blog post on how conference goers/job candidates can effectively deal with these situations?  is there a correct way to acknowledge the tragedy/scandal while distancing yourself from your school’s recently tarnished (understatement) reputation?”

I cannot imagine the impact that the sex abuse scandal is going to have on graduate students affiliated with Penn State. Obviously, it goes without saying, such problems are small compared to the suffering of victims and the crisis of the campus as a whole. Nevertheless, as this scandal impacts the lives of graduate students seeking to find their way in professional venues and on the job market, it is a worthy topic for consideration. How do you deal with being from a campus whose infamy has overshadowed its scholarly reputation, and tarnished everything associated with it?

There are undoubtedly many ways to approach this question, and I welcome reader comments below. My thoughts are rather confused at present, and I am far from the (delusional?) level of conviction I normally bring to these posts.

And, I want to be clear: what I offer here is not meant to be any kind of higher moral reckoning vis-a-vis the abuse. It is, rather, in the standard vein of TPII, offered as highly instrumentalizing, pragmatic advice for dealing with tricky conference/interview situations.

In that vein, here are my thoughts. I think that anyone from Penn State should respond to questions and commentary on the scandal, in academic venues where people should be focusing on their academic reputation and projects, with something along the lines of, “This is all the evidence that we should need that college sports/college football/the NCAA is a corrupt system whose influence on university life has been allowed to far exceed its value to mission of the university. It is time to (depending on your point of view) abolish/strictly control/reduce it. My graduate program had little connection to that side of campus, so I am not well-informed on the details. I’d like to focus on the academic work I’ve been engaged in in my department, which was and still is a dedicated/serious/vibrant scholarly community.”

There are other tacks to take as well. The grad student himself offered his own response to comments about the riots on the Penn State campus, which was to remark something along the lines of: “indeed, Penn State students are passionate, and while those students were misguided in their actions, it is the same passion that drives Penn State students to run the largest student-run philanthropy in the country, which raised $9.6 million for pediatric cancer research last year. In the past week, Penn State students and alumni have raised $421,000 for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. I am proud of these students.”

While this is also an excellent response, I would suggest that the former one will be more effective. There are two reasons. The first is that by and large, and certainly with some exceptions, academics dislike and resent the power that college sports have over the mission and resources of the university. Shifting attention away from the horror of Penn State, and the personalities and individuals involved, and toward the larger issue of athletics as a venue for corporate control of the university is going to be a productive and persuasive way to acknowledge the topic, while staying at a higher level of engagement more conducive to moving quickly back to academic subjects.

The second reason is that academics by and large, and certainly with some exceptions, maintain an ironic (if not hostile) distance from the boosterism and shameless pandering to student and alumni emotions that characterize so many college campuses. Linking yourself to campus “pride” (“Still Proud To Be a Penn Stater,” as the t-shirt says) even for things like student-run philanthropies, runs the risk of appearing to associate you with the same lack of critical insight into the real power structure of the university that led to mass cover-up of the abuse to begin with. I’m not saying that you do lack critical insight. You just want to avoid the appearance of lacking it. And for many of us (and I do include myself here), it is past time to stop feeling so damned “proud” to be affiliated with ANY of the institutions of this country that have sold us a bill of goods.

Keep in mind that Penn State itself, in a truly gross move, distributed a memo to students on how to properly deflect questions about the scandal in their job interviews, which basically said, “Focus on all the good work accomplished at Penn State [and never, ever criticize us]”.

In short, it is possible, as many sharp commentators have done, to interpret Penn State in the same light as the ethically bankrupt big banks and feckless corporations that have sacrificed the powerless in the interests of the few at the top. Another institution too big to fail. It is of a piece with the power structures that have come under attack by the Occupy movement, and that allow us to see it as a sign of the corporate control of campuses, and neoliberalism writ large. These are productive themes for academic discussion, that are far larger than one campus’s crisis. It is in that direction that I suggest you turn the talk.


 

 

 

 

How To Pack and Dress For Your Campus Visit (Inc. Cold-Weather Tips)

In response to pleas from clients with campus visit invitations, I am devoting the post today to a quick discussion of how to dress for campus visits , particularly in the cold weather. This post is for women (who present as women), since everyone who has written in a panic has been in that category.

The typical campus visit often involves a pick up at the airport by a faculty member, and an immediate drive to a meal with that faculty member, and possibly others. Because of that, you will need to be appropriately dressed on the airplane, in dress pants and a blouse or sweater, with a cardigan or jacket. A matching suit is unnecessary at this stage. (I will discuss shoes and outerwear below). Make sure that the clothes you are wearing are not linen or silk or any fabric that wrinkles badly on the plane. It is important that you can make the flight–>dinner transition looking as cool and collected as possible. Be sure and take a quick trip to the restroom on the flight, before arrival, to brush your hair, check your makeup and jewelry (make sure no earrings fell out), and possibly brush your teeth.

Pack your clothes for the visit in a small carry-on and do not check. Checking bags leads to awkward delays that nobody wants to deal with, and can potentially throw off dinner reservations. Carry your materials in a shoulder bag briefcase, and let that be all that you carry with you on the trip.

In terms of dealing with this first meal, be aware that in this meal and all others that follow, you likely will not be able to eat well or easily because of your nerves and the level of questioning. Therefore, be sure and eat well before boarding the flight, or on the flight. In addition, pack a number of protein/meal replacement bars, and make sure that you have at least one of those available at all times. If you have brief breaks in your schedule, or even bathroom breaks, you can grab a bite and keep your blood sugar level.

Do not order wine at dinner unless it is clear that “everyone” is ordering wine. Then follow suit, if you drink alcohol. If you don’t, politely decline, without explanation (or just saying that you are tired from the flight). Be sure and drink only one glass.

Don’t order dessert unless others initiate it.  People may be exhausted and anxious to get home.

When ordering a meal, be sure and order the easiest and neatest item on the menu. Risotto is an example. A piece of meat or fish that can be easily cut into pieces is another. Do not order pasta or soup or anything that drips. Beware of flaky rolls and croissants that scatter crumbs all down your front.

The next day is likely your big day on campus, going from 8 AM to at least 8 PM, with the job talk. This is the day you wear your actual interview suit. As I’ve mentioned before, the suit can be skirt or pants, it usually doesn’t matter, unless you are interviewing at an exceptionally conservative institution (check on that ahead of time as best you can). In which case you need to wear a skirt. You should wear a sober, low-maintenance blouse or top or sweater underneath the jacket, and jewelry that is not showy or loud.

If you wear heels (and you certainly can choose not to), have them be between 1 and 3 inches in height. Any higher and you’re tottering. I strongly advise against any stillettos or skinny heels.  Glamorous shoes with stiletto heels and pointed toe shoes stick out in university settings and often invite ambivalent comment from both women and men (I speak from experience). More importantly, they are treacherous to walk in, because they stick in sidewalk cracks and grates (I speak from experience). Find a shoe that has stacked heel, and preferably a rounded or squared toe, for comfort and ease of walking.   Don’t wear clogs, please.  Be sure your shoes are comfortable, and do not wear brand new shoes unless they have been thoroughly tested for comfort. At the same time, the shoes should be fresh and not worn down in the heel, the sole, or the overall appearance of the leather. Your shoes should be black or brown, matching your suit, and one color (no interesting patterns!) Shoes matter. People notice.

Tights are better than stockings because they stay up better, and don’t snag.

I recommend suits that are not black, because black is severe. I prefer greys, browns, tweeds, etc. Black is not out of the question, however; just make sure that you break it up with the top underneath and the tights.

Make sure your underwear is comfortable and fits! If you’re going to wear a Spanx (and I don’t recommend this, but want to mention it just in case), make sure that it is a style that doesn’t ride up and need tugging at!! Make sure bra straps are completely hidden. Make sure your slip doesn’t show beneath your skirt.  Test out your outfit ahead of time; actually move around, walk, and sit in it.

If you wear a skirt, make sure that it stays put and doesn’t twist around. I was once at a campus visit at Stanford and halfway through the day realized my skirt had worked its way around 180 degrees, and the zipper and kick pleat (and butt sag area) was in front….for who knows how long. (Is that why I didn’t get the job?)

Make sure your blouse does not gap, and ruthlessly reject any blouse that does (to the Goodwill it must go). Buy blouses that actually fit. If it is a tiny gap deriving from button placement only vis a vis the girls in a blouse that otherwise fits perfectly (and not an issue of incorrect size – be vigilant for that! The pounds add on when you’re writing that diss!  Buy the new blouse if you need it!)  try sewing up the placket inside, turning the blouse into a de-facto pullover. Oftentimes that will take care of the problem completely.  You can also use wardrobe tape.  (Here’s one that I use; 2016 update: buy from Target, not Amazon!) Make sure the blouse stays inside your waistband if that is where it belongs. In general, silky, slippery blouses are treacherous because it slides around, and you discover that it’s been hanging out from under your jacket. Avoid that by buying blouses in rougher fabric, or better yet, wearing knit tops. Thoroughly subject all ensembles to testing prior to the campus visit, not in your house, but rather in a full day of work/school.

Make sure that ALL your clothes are spotless and pristine (and as commenter below points out, freshly dry-cleaned and pressed). Do not wear stained or ripped or patched clothes to your campus visit, or any interview setting.

Returning to an earlier point, make sure ALL your clothes fit you at your current weight. No exceptions. If you’ve put on some pounds, buy new clothes. Nothing, I repeat, nothing makes you look worse or less professional than too-tight clothes. You may not be able to trust yourself on this question (denial and wishful thinking abound), and have a trusted harsh critic review the fit of everything, including the arm-raising test, the bending over test, and the reaching test.

You may, if you know that you’re a bit of a slob, pack an extra top/shell in your briefcase against the terrible possibility of spilling pizza sauce down your front at lunch. I needed this.

If you have a break after the job talk, and before dinner, possibly back at your hotel, you are lucky and have the option of changing if you wish. You may change, but downgrade in formality only slightly. You don’t know the conventions of campus and/or the type of restaurant to which you’re being taken, and it’s better to err, for dinner, on the side of dressy.

Pack all of your regular toiletries, hair products, etc.  Do NOT depend on whatever random products you find in small travel sizes at the drug store, or, god forbid, the hotel they put you up at.  They will not perform the same!  You don’t want to end up with weird, flyaway hair or moisturizer that you find out, too late, you’re allergic to, when you’re in the high stakes environment of a campus visit.  Go to the trouble of getting travel bottles and filling them with your products.

With regard to makeup:  No need to wear if you don’t normally.  But if you do… Now is not the time to experiment with new and unfamiliar makeup.  Severely test all your makeup for smearing. I am referring particularly to mascara here.  Expensive department store products are no guarantee!  Buy products that are labeled “long-wear” or “all day,” but even then, don’t just trust the packaging–test it out on yourself.  Mascaras vary quite a bit in their “heaviness” level, and you want a type for this setting that is relatively light and natural looking, and not clumpy or “high drama.”  I have always had good luck with Revlon Colorstay products.  Lipstick is the other major problem area.  It can smear onto your teeth, so beware that.  “All day” lipsticks, unfortunately, can go on as a stain, and wear off in unusual and distracting ways. If you’re not accustomed to wearing lipstick, just skip it.  Neutral, “nude” shades of all makeup, and certainly lipstick, are probably best for relative beginners. Also thoroughly test all makeup for allergies.  As I’ve grown older I’ve developed allergies to many products I could previously wear, and my eyes tear up and my mascara runs down my cheeks. Not a good look.

OK, moving on… the next day is likely a short day, but a day still filled with meetings. Sometimes this is the day you meet the Dean (on the campuses where this still happens). You may downgrade formality slightly, but only slightly, by wearing your dress pants/skirt from the previous day with a sweater, or a different top and jacket or very dressy cardigan.

Cold Weather Adaptations:

If the weather is genuinely cold, you can switch to heavy tights, if you still plan to wear a skirt. You can certainly switch to pants, and that is my recommendation. You can wear tights under the pants to stay warm in really cold situations.

Invest in a quality, stylish quilted jacket or cold-weather dress coat, if you have a number of visits in northern climes. With advances in technology, cold weather dress coats can now be quite stylish and non-bulky (look for Thinsulate). Check out Michael by Michael Kors. While the traditional winter wool dress coat is always appropriate, you can also search “quilted parka” at Zappos, etc. and you’ll see some great options in stylish urban quilted coats that are appropriate. I suggest getting one nicely fitted at the waist, or with a belt, so that you don’t look like the Michelin Man. Coats of this type can often be found second-hand, and if you can’t afford a significant outlay for what might be only one northern campus visit, it would be worth checking at quality second hand boutiques for this piece.  Conservative East Coast campuses still apparently expect the classic woolen dress coat.

A chic scarf and nice “grown-up” leather gloves make everyone look good. Hats are trickier, because they can leave you looking disheveled. Find a style that is not a knit cap or beret, but rather a formed hat that easily pulls on and off with minimal hair disruption.

In terms of the ice and snow shoe-boot question: my advice is: buy La Canadienne boots. They are insulated and made for cold northern climes, but somehow, I don’t know how, look incredibly chic. They come in a range of heeled and flat styles, are generally in suede, which is a great subdued look for academic settings (but be sure and treat to protect the suede), and several basic colors to match any outfit. They come in ankle height, mid-calf, and full length. They have rubber soles that grip the ice, but you would never know by looking at them. They have arch support in many styles, and are exceedingly well made. I wore mine through the depths of Illinois winters for years, and my feet were always warm and I never slipped! I got endless compliments on them, and still do, because I still wear them in balmy Oregon, just because they’re some of the cutest boots I own.

Readers: Other advice? Please share below. Anything I forgot to address? Feel free to ask!

 

 

 

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.