Thursday, September 15, 2011


Please don't hesitate to ask a question! Because comments are moderated, your comment comes to my email and I have to click "publish" before it's published, so if you're worried that maybe it's a "stupid" question, just ask me not to publish your identity. Then I won't publish your name, I'll just answer your question in the blog. And no one will ever know.


  1. I'd like to know more about the job search from the faculty/department end. How are candidates chosen from the giant pool of applicants for a phone interview? How is that narrowed down to on-campus invitations? What do departments want to see from on-campus interviewees other than that they can tie their own shoes and form complete sentences? I'm guessing every department is different, but job-seekers tend to view the entire process as shrouded in mystery. (In my graduate department there was stiff competition to be on the few faculty search committees we had, so I never got that experience.)

  2. How many times do you have to go through your lectures before they start to become akin to second nature?

  3. And the answer is....never. The only lectures that are "akin to second nature" are on topics I'm currently working on research-wise. My rule of thumb is that you need to prep for 3 hours for every 1 hour of lecture that you've given before; 3 days to 3 weeks for every 1 hour of lecture that you've never given before.

  4. Re the job search:

    The giant pool of applicants will be narrowed down, initially, by de-listing those whose application is 1) clearly premature (they are ABD and have not said, for example, that a draft of their complete dissertation is in the hands of their supervisor and thus they fully expect to complete before next July 1st; or 2) not relevant to the position description.

    In order to form a long-list of applicants that warrant closer inspection, the search committee usually looks for evidence of research productivity (i.e., peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, etc.), teaching experience, success in scholarship competitions, and an indication that the applicant has given careful thought to their future research plans beyond their dissertation. Whether the peer-reviewed publications need to be in print, in press, or in submission will depend upon how long ago the applicant completed their degree.

    In addition, applicants are expected to have done their homework and know something about the department to which they've applied; typically a department doesn't want to hire someone whose research and teaching interests duplicate those of a continuing faculty member, no matter how good the applicant might be.

    Requests for letters of reference are sometimes made up-front, or sometimes once the long-list has been established. In any event, letters that point to the applicant's independence, initiative, industry, originality, etc., are very helpful. The committee would like to be reassured that the applicant is going to be able to get things done without any hand-holding so that the tenure process won't be difficult.

    At that point, applicants may be interviewed by phone, or invited to campus. It depends on the nature of the position being advertised. Tenure-track positions usually involve the top three applicants coming to campus for interviews, but budgets often determine how many can make the trip. Aside from ensuring that you can tie your shoelaces, the committee will be looking for a really impressive job talk, where the applicant shows clear mastery of the topic, can handle questions adroitly, is focused, and quietly confident. Sometimes applicants try to be too many things to too many people and cover too much in their talk. It's usually better to explain your breadth or discuss collaborative opportunities during the interview itself.

    Depending on the institution, close attention may be paid to teaching, and having examples of course syllabi and other aspects of a teaching dossier can be helpful. It's far better to be prepared, whether for a telephone or campus interview, with concrete examples than to try to get by on what is often a long-winded and vague teaching philosophy.

    Finally, during the interview the applicant should have some questions -- not "what's the salary?", but questions about how they would go about getting seed money for research, whether there is a research grants facilitation office to assist new grant applicants, whether there's a teaching services program that provides support for new faculty, etc., etc. It's important to interact professionally; some applicants tend to act like they're still students.

  5. I read somewhere that you should only spend as much time on preparing a lecture as you spend giving it. It was the most ridiculous academic-teaching-related suggestion I'd ever seen. But hey, if I followed that advice, I'd have much more time to devote to research and writing... and really horrible teaching evaluations.

  6. Kristina, I agree, that's ridiculous. By contrast, I once read that the instructor usually spends twice as much time prepping lectures for a course than the average student spends studying for it.

  7. I totally believe that. I care deeply about the subjects I'm teaching, so I read a wide variety of sources when creating a lecture and search through hundreds of images. Students have various reasons for taking a class, though, so they tend to read what's assigned and study notes and slides, not go beyond that.