This post was previously published
Today’s post is another response to pleas from clients and strangers, this time to cover the proper comportment for a campus visit.
I feel like I’ve already talked about some of the nuts and bolts of the campus visit in a recent post, at least in terms of dress and food. So today, I’m going to try and attack the issue of the ETHOS of a campus visit. In other words, what is the campus visit meant to accomplish? Put another way, WHY are the elements of a campus visit as they are? Understanding this may help you to avoid the very worst missteps that plague rank beginners (and far more experienced people!) on the market and, at the minimum, avoid total humiliation. Who knows, this information could even arm you to actually prevail and score the offer! No promises, though. One thing I will say about campus visits: they’re weird, and unpredictable, and you have NO idea what the unspoken agendas are as you feel them swirling closely around your head.
So what follows, in no particular order, are Dr. Karen’s recommendations for proper comportment during the different elements of a campus visit.
The deciding of the date: When you decide the date, be aware that you do not have to slavishly accept the first date or dates they offer. They have a schedule, but you have a life. If you have a legitimate reason for needing other dates, you may say so. In all things be courteous and flexible but not obsequious. This correspondence establishes the tenor of your relationship with the department! You also may well have other campus visits. If you do have other campus visits, be sure to drop that into the conversation: “oh, i’m sorry, that date is out; I’ll actually be visiting another campus that day…” Do NOT reveal the name of the other campus. The uncertainty is more effective in adding to your allure and desirability.
Do NOT attempt to piggy-back visits to any other places on the campus visit. It is tempting, if you live on one coast, and you’re invited to the other coast, near where your family lives, or some archive is located, to inquire about “tacking on” a visit. Do not do it, even at your own expense. It is unprofessional and makes you look instrumentalizing.
The email correspondence with the Head: If the Head contacts you to extend a welcome, or ask if you have any special needs, be in all things courteous and flexible but not obsequious! Do. Not. Act. Like. A. Grad. Student. Behave with dignity, professional reserve, and self respect. If you have any food allergies, etc., mention them now! One of the most appalling campus visit mishaps is the “special treat” of dinner at the Italian restaurant when you have a wheat allergy, or the Middle Eastern restaurant when you are allergic to nuts… I was once invited to an in-home breakfast (totally bizarre in itself) in which the department head served, with a flourish, a gourmet nut-filled granola. I had to decline, having an anaphylactic allergy to nuts. He was offended. I was mortified. He had nothing else to serve. I left hungry.
Don’t let this happen to you.
The 30 minute visits with random faculty in the dept: This is one of the most intense elements of the campus visit. Ideally you will have received a schedule ahead of time. It will likely contain back to back meetings with some 10-15 faculty members. When you get your schedule, make a cheat sheet on the people you’ll be meeting, and do your best to commit it to memory, while you also carry it in your briefcase during the visit. The cheat sheet will have their area and specialization, and a recent publication, award, or achievement.
The point here is: they are human beings! Do not pontificate! These are not a series of oral exams! Be pleasant. Conversational. Be ready for them to ask you a hard question or two about your work. Don’t be afraid to repeat what you’ve said to others. You’re a candidate. Don’t stray from your platform. At the same time, you can embellish based on their individual interests. They might be preoccuppied with the recent curriculum revision. Talk, then, about how you see a course of yours fitting in with that. Perhaps you share an area of geographical interest. Play that up! And always be sure and inquire what THEY are working on, and find a way to relate your interests to that.
Remember: they are PEOPLE. They already know you’re smart from your work. Now they need to know you’re fun and engaging to be around.
The visit to the Center for the Humanities/Women’s Studies Center/International Studies Center/etc.: These people have absolutely no impact on the search. These visits are about the department trying to please and impress you with the various resources available. These are great opportunities to ask how the department is involved in the Center’s activities, which gives you great insight into how the department is viewed on campus.
The campus tour: Usually led by a grad student. As such, potentially treacherous. Beware the grad students. They have sunk many a good job candidate. It depends on the department—in some departments graduate student voices are listened to very carefully indeed. In others, they’re completely ignored. Assume the former.
Never, ever, ever talk down to the graduate students!!!!
More on this below. In the meantime, for the campus tour—look impressed, but not too impressed. Don’t gush. Don’t say anything that even appears to unfavorably compare the campus with your home campus: “wow, it’s so small!!!” “wow, how does anybody find their way around here?” “wow, don’t your legs get tired?” “wow, is this all there is????” Be prepared with good questions: how is campus over summer? Are the students politically active? Are there many international students? What is the Greek system like on campus?
The campus tour is the reason that you must wear comfortable and weather appropriate shoes.
The job talk: It goes without saying that this is the highlight of the visit. You cannot bomb it and still get the job. The most important single aspect of the job talk is that it must be 40-50 minutes (unless they’ve given you another time frame) and no more. Whatever time frame they have given you, do not go over time. Exceeding your allotted time is fiercely resented and despised. It signals a lack of respect for your audience.
Furthermore, many people will have to leave for class at some point. The most important part of the job talk performance is the Q and A after. You must ensure that every audience member gets to hear some part of the Q and A. Thus you must start it within the expected time.
In terms of the content of the job talk—well, read my post on it here, and my Chronicle Vitae post on it here. Make it interesting. Pitch it high; don’t dumb things down. But at the same time, make it engaging to a non-specialized audience. Remember to DESCRIBE your topic before you launch into analyzing it (I’m always amazed at how many forget this). We are not inside your brains. We are hearing about this thing for the first time. You must spend about ¼ of the talk introducing the topic and themes, and getting us intrigued. Then move into your analysis. Show that you have good material/data as well as a familiarity with current theory. Use plenty of visuals. And conclude strong. Never fizzle out.
The Q and A after the job talk (yes, this deserves its own heading): This is the downfall of many, many job candidates. First off, be prepared for this. Above all, schedule a mock job talk with Q and A before you ever go to a campus visit. You must get used to random, odd, and potentially hostile questions.
Be aware of department culture—do they wish to have your introducer mediate questions, or have you do it yourself? Follow the custom.
Never forget that senior people should be called on first. Call on the greybeard first, because God knows he’s going to talk….so get it out of the way right away.
Do not call on a grad student first, or possibly, at all. No, you may not know who is a grad student…..but usually, you can tell. Why not call on a grad student? Two reasons: first, grad student questions are at least 50% of the time off point, inappropriate, or self-serving. Grad students do not always know how to handle themselves correctly, and thus waste valuable time for both you and the search committee, who both need to hone in quickly on core candidate strengths (and weaknesses). Second, grad students in many departments are supposed to keep their mouths shut and listen. Mistakenly (or intentionally) calling on grad students runs the risk of irritating the senior faculty who have pressing questions that they want to ask. Sorry, grad students, but this was really a thing at a lot of job talks I attended.
Always respond positively to begin, ie: “that’s an excellent question; thank you for that question; you raise an important point; I’m glad you brought that up,” etc. etc. Then, regardless of what the question actually is, turn the answer to something in which you have strength. That does NOT mean to simply repeat, over and over, your thesis. Be lively and dynamic and engaged with different ideas and challenges. It just means to learn the art of academic Jiu Jitsu. I demonstrate this in this blog post.
Here is an example:
Q: Doesn’t your conclusion contradict what Nelson has proven with regard to xxxx?
A: I’m glad you brought that up. Nelson DOES address a similar theme in his research. However, Nelson’s question is really a different one than mine. While he focuses on xxxx, I actually begin from the perspective of yyyy. A perspective on yyyy helps us to keep the focus on qqqq, which is critical in light of recent changes….
Et voila, you are talking about YOUR research, and not Nelson. Nobody needs to hear about Nelson. They need to hear that you’ve read Nelson, know Nelson, possibly respect Nelson, but firmly stand up to Nelson in your own work.
And always finish strong: NOT, feebly, “did that answer your question….??” but with firm, healthy boundaries: “Next Question?”
[The teaching demonstration: Either a visit to an existent classroom (borrowed from a colleague’s regular teaching) or a “class” conducted with students assembled for the purpose with the departmental faculty or the search committee watching from the back, the sample class can be the single most important part of a campus visit to a small liberal arts college.
Quick advice: if you are asked to teach a specific text/topic, prep that, but prep a back-up lesson plan in case the students haven’t done the reading. “Why would that matter,” you might wonder “if I have a lecture prepared?” Because you will not make the mistake of lecturing. You’ll be using your Socratic questioning, quick-and-dirty exercises (such as fast free-writes), and superior discussion leadership skills.
Your goal is draw the students out and interact with them like a real professor. (Sometimes you’ll be asked to suggest a text or topic. Keep any assigned reading short. The students may not do it. Plan on some back-up close reading passages.) Don’t be afraid to: define terms; correct student errors; introduce some of your work in a brief riff if it fits naturally; politely but firmly shut-down a student who is monopolizing the conversation.
Under no circumstances should you: fill the allotted time with formal lecture or ppt (unless you have been expressly instructed to lecture); take up the Q and A period with no time for Q and A; cut a student off mid-sentence; underestimate smart undergraduates; low-ball your lesson plan; ignore participation cues because you have your face in your notes; run over time without tying up the class with a “what we learned/practiced/discussed today” summary statement. (This is from Suzanne, who took the time to add this in the comments. Thank you, Suzanne)]
The after talk reception: This is the primary opportunity for many members of the faculty to get a chance to interact with you on a more casual basis. This may be the only such opportunity, so take this seriously. This is not the time to kick back and eat some cheese and chug some wine. Stay alert. On your toes. Nurse a single glass of wine, eat something neat (cheese cubes are good; smoked salmon is bad). Mingle. Do not allow yourself to be commandeered by any one person, and definitely NOT THE GRAD STUDENTS! You need to speak most to the tenured members of the department, while certainly not neglecting the untenured. But be aware of who has the votes and the weight.
The search committee interview: This is the real deal, an actual interview. Do NOT approach this as if it’s a mere formality. Your answers will be closely examined, deconstructed, discussed, and evaluated. Do NOT, in any way shape or form, assume that because “they read my stuff” therefore you do not have to make a strong, concise, vivid, dynamic, well-paced verbal presentation of it. You do! Do not hesitate to repeat what you have already submitted in written materials. Example:
Q: What upper level course would you develop for us?
A: Well, you may have noticed the course syllabus that I submitted with my application, for a course on xxxx. [Someone pulls it out of the file, people study it]. Well, as you can see, I focus on ppp and qqq in that course. I’m excited about the course because I think it will have a lot of appeal for students, while also introducing them to some core current debates in our field. Etc.
You MUST be prepared with vivid and specific responses to all basic questions during this interview.
The meeting with the Dean/Provost: See my post, How To Talk to a Dean. In the meeting with upper administrators, you will be given a basic rundown of the tenure expectations, the salary range, the benefits offered by the university, leave policies, etc. Deans can get very very involved in searches. Beware. They sometimes throw their weight around. This interview may seem pro forma, but it isn’t. Put your game face on. What you’ll want to emphasize are:
- Your success in bringing in money with grants
- Your enthusiasm for teaching large courses
- Your commitment to mobilizing new media in your courses
- Your willingness to teach interdisciplinarily (think downsizing)
Everything with the Dean/Provost is, ultimately, about money. Never forget it.
The real estate tour: This is an odd custom that may be dying out. But some 2nd tier campuses that are in beautiful, cheap locations sometimes like to use real estate as a means of courting candidates. It’s weird and awkward to drive around in someone’s car looking at neighborhoods, but like with the campus tour, be enthusiastic and gracious, but not too enthusiastic.
The lunch with the grad students: Refer to campus tour discussion above– Grad students can be treacherous. They can be your most enthusiastic supporters, but they can also be insecure and resentful of the junior candidates who come through. Envy and anxiety and insecurity can combine to make them potentially very reactive. You must make special efforts to show that you are excited about their work and want to know more about it. Share ideas with them, suggestions for readings, and in all things, construct yourself as their ally. In all of my departments the grad students had one vote on searches, and the grad student rep on the committee worked hard to survey grad student reactions and impressions. These were shared with the faculty in a report, and were discussed seriously by the faculty. All departments might not be like this, but you probably don’t know which are and which aren’t. So assume that the grad students play a major role in your fate, and show a high level of interest in and commitment to them. We hope this is sincere.
The meeting with the Head: The meeting with the Head covers the nuts and bolts of teaching expectations, junior leave, the third year review, and tenure. Come prepared to listen and take notes, and have intelligent questions to ask. Do not act like a grad student! The Head needs to know that you are going to be a full fledged faculty member and colleague, ready to take on onerous service burdens and the tedious work of running a department. No prima donna act here, ie, “well, when will I get my RESEARCH done????” With absolutely no undignified pandering, simply demonstrate your preparedness to be a colleague, and do what it takes to get tenure (so you can keep being a colleague).
There are other elements of a campus visit, but I’m anxious to get this post up, so I’ll stop here.
Before closing, a remark on the after-visit follow-up. My readers and clients are really inordinately obsessed with the etiquette of the thank-you note. I get a question about thank you notes at least once a week and usually more. So: It is courteous and appealing to thank the department for hosting you. After all, they probably invested over a thousand dollars in your visit—not chump change for most departments. Email is fine, although a nice small card to the department secretary would also be appreciated, and will probably be displayed on her desk for a few days. You do not need to write to all 20 -50 members of the department! Write to the Head, all members of the search committee, and any other individuals with whom you feel like you established a special connection or spent extra time. Just a couple lines are fine: “I’m writing to thank you again for hosting me on my campus visit. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the search committee and the department. I remain very interested in the position. I will look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, xxxxx”
And a final note: be nice to the secretaries! They can make or break your quality of life if you get the job….AND THEY REMEMBER! Treat them with courtesy and respect. Be sure and thank them for the efforts they made to set up the visit. Take a moment to talk to them when you have a few free moments. They do the lions’ share of work in most departments and rarely are acknowledged for it. Make sure that you do.