WOC Ph.D. is back, baby, with a couple of boffo posts about 1) what to expect on a campus visit, 2) how to prepare for and deliver a successful academic job talk, and 3) how to dress for a campus interview. (There’s an extended dance mix version for the devoted fashionistas, or a hit single that will probably suit most academics.)
I especially liked the post about the job talks. I have also made colossal mistakes in my job talks, but let’s not dwell on the past, shall we? Prof. bw tells you everything you need to know. Please listen to her advice, especially the part about practicing it alone, practicing it in front of friends who can critique you, and make sure you’ve got your timing down. She offers an extremely useful model for a 30-minute talk–disciplinary conventions vary, but you can probably adapt it to your needs. (And by the way, even if they say you can have 40 or 45 minutes, aim for 30. You want them to be clamoring for more, MORE after you finish, not checking their watches and ready to bolt after a token three questions.)
Prepping the Talk:
- 5 minutes – what are you going to do and why is it important: you should outline the contribution your work makes without putting it in opposition to any major theorists. You never who is in your audience, they could be those theorists, married to/dating/partnered to or otherwise friends with those theorists or they could love their work. Best to state simply and clearly what contribution you are making to the field.
- 7-10 minutes – methods and theories: so we know who influenced you, what you are working with, and how you did your work
- 10-13 minutes – findings
- 5 minutes – state what you did again and give us a wow factor including where you are going with your work in the future and/or how your work fits into interests at our uni
Your paper should be jargon free, written for lay people not experts, be conversational in tone (not monotonous or dry), and should resonate with the areas we are looking for. If it is a R1 you should also point to places for further research as you talk or at the end, if it is a teaching college try to work in brief comments about aspects of the research that feed into teaching while you talk or at the end.
Bring useful visuals. No one wants to watch you read for 30 minutes.
I would add: visuals are nice but not essential if you’ve nailed the format, tone, and tempo of your talk. I’ve seen some job talks that had lots of great images, but weren’t coherent or well-organized. If you’re going to use images, use them (as you probably do when you lecture) to help organize the talk and facilitate your delivery. If you use images, you should analyze them and demonstrate how they work into your arguments–don’t just use them as pretty wallpaper. Also, I would urge you not to give a job talk that closely tracks the writing sample you sent. Most people in the interviewing department won’t have read your writing sample, but it’s really going to cheese off those who spent an hour on your prose to have to spend another hour listening to a re-hash of the same paper.
As my contribution to this post, I’d like to offer some advice to interviewing departments: please remember what it was like when you were the poor sucker in the black or navy blue suit, and treat hir the way you wish you had been treated at the time. Please, for God’s sake, don’t fall asleep during a job talk. The talk may not be the most exciting thing going on that afternoon, but it is the host department’s responsibility at minimum to be courteous and STAY AWAKE. Also, don’t ask basic questions about the candidate’s research that could be answered with even a cursory skim of the application letter and C.V. That is just disrespectful, and even borderline contemptuous. If you haven’t read the file, just stay quiet, stroke your beard (if you’ve got one), and nod along knowingly when the candidate answers an informed question.
Finally, job candidates should heed Prof. bw’s words here:
Remember 98% of the people in the room at either of these events is rooting for you to be competent and interesting. Nothing is more painful than watching someone you know is probably really talented come undone b/c of fear, stress, or some SC drama that has leeched out your confidence. 98% are not invested in attacking your research or your general interests and we will throw you easy questions to make you less nervous or to counter the other 2% But we are also looking for someone who can do the specific job for which we are hiring and we are going to ask questions and look for insight into whether you are that person. Stay calm, entertain, transmit the key info, and you’ll be fine.
Seriously–if you’ve been invited to campus, then the vast, vast majority of people you’ll meet will want you to knock it out of the park. We want to be impressed and bowled over. We want you to do well for selfish reasons, because we want to have three or four fantastic candidates we’d feel excited about hiring. We also want you to do well so that you feel good about us, and maybe even think that we’d make great colleagues. Believe me, if you blow it, no one wins.
Squadratomagico also weighs in today with some general advice on the campus visit. I especially liked this bit of basic job interview etiquette for job-seekers:
Show interest in others, and connect. Perhaps the single most common mistake I see campus interviewees make is forgetting to ask reciprocal questions of their interviewers. The conversations you will have on campus will chiefly be about you — your training, your research, your teaching, your path to tenure — and it is easy to be seduced by the potential narcissism of this setup. Do not fall into the gaping jaws of this trap: remember your manners and ask your interlocutors about themselves, too.Your potential colleagues are far more likely to gain a positive impression of you if you make them feel that you genuinely are interested in them as people and as academics, rather than conveying the impression that you are the sun around which they revolve. So draw them out, express interest in their work: inquire about what they are researching and writing, how they teach, and so forth. And try, to the best of your ability, to make a personal connection to their answer: suggest that your work intersects with, or parallels, theirs in some way; ask them to recommend readings on a particular topic; request advice and offer low-key (i.e. not too brown-nosy) compliments.
You don’t have to have read every book that everyone in the department has published–but you should read all of their web pages and have some clue as to who everyone is. Your obligation to know something about the people in the interviewing department increases with the proximity of their research and teaching interests to yours. If someone has published a book or won a major award recently, that’s handy information you can use to compliment someone and invite them to talk about their research. Print up their web pages and keep them handy–skim them over before you meet your potential future colleagues for lunch or dinner. It’s really, really bad form to turn to the chair of the department and a leading scholar in hir field and say, “So, Sidney, what do you do?” It’s even worse for you when Sidney is also (for example) a modern European historian, and so are you. Like the faculty member who couldn’t be bothered to read your file, that’s disrespectful, if not borderline contemptuous.
Dear readers, do you have any other advice to share with either interviewing departments or job candidates?