#Dispatches: Help, My Campus Visit has Gone Online! 2/2

In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.

Continuing from last week, the question is: Help, my campus visit has switched suddenly online. Advice needed: either from candidates who have survived one, or faculty hosts who can share insights and suggestions.

We continue weekly Dispatches From the Front questions for your crowdsource responses. Scroll to the bottom for next week’s question – WHICH IS GOING TO REMAIN THE SAME, AS WE STILL NEED THE ADVICE — and the link to share your wisdom and advice.

And one explanatory note: We ask respondents to provide any personal identifying information in their own words that THEY consider pertinent to contextualize their responses. Some of them go to …. interesting places. We only lightly edit them, and I think it’s worth contemplating what people feel is important to share about their identities.

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I’m really pleased that this week are starting to collect really substantive, actionable advice for online campus visits. Let me first offer my own advice:


GET A RING LIGHT IF YOU CAN. This is just one option; there are others. They range from 8″ to 18″ and between $35 and about $80 for a setup. They are fantastic soft, easy lighting that removes the nec. of a complicated frustrating struggle with your house lights and windows, and also have the effect of hiding wrinkles, blemishes and circles. You can also hang sheets over your windows to adjust for the ambient light” [Karen K., The Professor Is In]

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Put your computer on a box or a large book so that you don’t show up in the video with a double chin. Make sure you have your phone nearby for when the internet connection is unreliable. Have another jacket/blazer that’s less formal in case you need to change. Ask everybody interviewing you if they are/can still conduct the interview even though they have scheduled it so. Always be the professional in the room by not getting into negative conversations about your current job or the hiring institution. Have a glass of water nearby. Wear contacts if you can, avoid glasses because of the glare. Most important, keep a notebook and literally take notes so you can plan questions to ask afterward.

Online interview is not much different from in-person interview is that it is about the fit. Make sure you are honest about who you are, and ask questions that show your genuine interests in building your career at the hiring institution. They are very excited to see you too. Don’t let the nervousness spoil your meetings. If you are younger, know that your energy is a strength, but also recognize that your colleagues are a resource.” [Asst Prof, Hum, Female, Brown]

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Next, don’t panic! Everyone is in the same boat, and it’s possible to come out of this just fine! Like this person:

“My first interview with a Canadian university was online (on Zoom) and I had to do a Teaching Demo and a Research Talk. I had an amazing experience and I was noticed the next morning I was moving up to the second round. Again, an online interview, but with another Research Talk, a presentation of my research plan for the next 5 years and a period of questions. Again, an amazing experience. I finally ended up in second position in this search and didn’t get the job, but here’s my thoughts on why both interviews felt amazing.

First, the set-up needs to be well-thought. I bought an HD webcam with a microphone. I was connected directly on the internet (no wi-fi, it’s unstable). I used 2 screens for both interviews: 1 for my shared visual content and 1 to see the Search committee. It allowed me to see their reactions and to interact with them easily (especially during my Teaching Demo). I did my interviews in a small meeting room I rent at a local co-working space. Finally, the university asked me to do a test with one of its IT professionals on the day before to make sure everything was working well. The same IT guy was there at the beginning of both interviews.

Second, the classic advice “PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!” is more important than ever. For most of us, it feels unnatural to look directly at the camera, so that needs to be practiced first (e.g. talking with friends & family on skype). I started practicing my talks like they were in-person, but the moment I felt good about them, I practiced them with an empty Zoom meeting. At first, it’s really weird to talk for so long while being seated and it’s hard to be energetic. However, with practice, it became natural.

One last note about doing an online Teaching demo…Don’t hesitate to interact with the Search Committee. Most candidates won’t do it in an online setting, so you will stand out for doing it. Have a back-up plan just in case the Search committee stay in silence. In my case, I organized a debate in the middle of my Teaching Demo. I asked two professors to give me their best argument for using a specific marketing strategy, and the other two for their best argument against it. It went really well. I actually had to stop the debate to finalize my Teaching demo in time. FYI, I had never teach online before these interviews. So, it’s absolutely possible to do it and have fun! Best of luck to each of you!” [Grad student, Marketing; PhD Candidate (ABD), 30, Canadian, female, married]

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And this person! People are doing it and surviving (and even thriving!)

“I recently did a campus interview online. We used Zoom, and I met with search committee in a conference room setting. Instead of visiting a classroom, a group of students met with me for a Q&A in the same conference room setting. My job talk was presented to a large group the same way – Zoom allowed me to see the audience, and they could also see me talking alongside my slides. Interviews with various administrators were done individually in their offices. Obviously, a campus tour wasn’t possible but the search committee provided me with many videos from their mobile phones! Honestly, it went far better than I thought it would. The interview was spread out over a couple days and there was a sense of continuity (i.e., seeing the same conference room over and over). I haven’t heard back from the hiring institution yet, but I think in uncertain times like these a remote campus interview is the best we can do.” [Tenured Prof, Hum; White female]

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As in any interview setting, PRACTICE is essential, especially with new technology. Try talking to your friends over zoom, answering Qs, and deliver bits of your talk. You’ll get used to the digital setting in a low-stress practice environment!

My advice is to practice talking (over skype / zoom / video) with people that you like, before the “visit”. One of the biggest challenges with video interviews is people appear stiff, it’s harder to emote, and so it’ll be harder for people to get a sense of what you are like. However, some of this stiffness disappears with practice, so I’d suggest you take time and do practice video interviews with people you know and like, to practice having a more present, relaxed online vibe.” [Asst Prof, Hum; WW]


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And, for more reassurance, see this note from a search committee member:

“I’m on a search committee that had to switch mid-way to virtual visits, which resulted in half of our candidates being interviewed remotely. I was very impressed with how the candidates who interviewed remotely handled the change. In fact, the search committee commented on how there ended up being virtually no difference between the in-person and remote visits and we will likely make an offer to one of the remote candidates. What impressed us from these remote visits was the candidates’ ability to think on their feet and have fluid conversations during virtual 1-on-1’s and the virtual chalk talk. They also seemed very relaxed during their presentations, which they gave via screen-sharing and sitting down. Although giving a presentation to a computer loses a lot of that audience connection you typically have, I think candidates should really take advantage of the fact that they can be way more comfortable just presenting to a computer screen and try to make the presentation more conversational that way. My advice is to embrace the changes, try to keep things as conversational as possible to project your unique personality, and don’t worry about how a remote visit is different that an in-person one. In the end, that committee will probably be more worried about being able to attract YOU to a place you’ve never visited rather than judging you poorly based on the fact that you can’t travel to visit them.” [Asst Prof, STEM; 30s, Female, Married]

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One last note:

“All searches should be moved online, if they have not already. For an online interview, committees should give a clear directive as to what they will expect (job talk, teaching demo, just chats, etc). Until candidates get any further directions, they should continue to prep as if it is an in person interview.” [Postdoc Hum; White, female, married]

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And like last week, some Questions; if you have responses, please put them in comments:

My campus interview has moved online. Luckily (?) it is just three separate interviews with administrators (chancellor, dean, and HR), and then a 30-minute teaching demo via zoom (on a topic totally outside of my field) with a “real” class. They don’t know whether I’ll be able to interact with the students in any other capacity than through the chat function. My campus is using Google Meet, so I have very low familiarity with Zoom. Advice on how to be interactive/dynamic and actually SHOW my teaching philosophy? Until last week, I’ve not taught online before! 

I’m not sure how to phrase the question, but I do very badly in online interviews primarily because of my autism. I do much better in face-to-face situations. I’m not sure if I should disclose my neurodiversity, or if there are things I could ask for in a digital campus visit that would help mitigate issues. I feel like if I should get a campus interview, my problems with digital communication would tank any chances of getting an offer.

What can you do if you are stuck abroad, and cannot source a good camera or microphone for the virtual interview. I have been trying for a week now, but to no avail. Will a sitting down job talk be terrible? Should I mention this in the interview?

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Thank you to all our respondents!

Next Question Remains: How do I prepare for a campus visit that has switched to all-online due to Coronavirus? And Search Comm members: if you’ve made the switch, what do you expect-slash-want to see from candidates?

Share Your Wisdom Here.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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