Saturday, December 22, 2007

Forever in Debt to Your Priceless Advice

In comments, A Prof Who is Interviewing at the APA offers this charming advice about interview prep:
If you had yourself organized properly, the researching and writing of your dissertation would be a fluid process which would end naturally and prepping for your interviews should be not that hard, since all the work you have been doing all these years is leading up to this moment – get your act together. It’s candidates like you [i.e., who actually prep for interviews] who just BORE me to death at APA.

Interesting. "Organizing myself properly" would make my dissertation work itself prepare me for talking about, say, how I'd teach classes I've never been allowed to teach as a grad student. Also, it would prepare me for asking a department well-informed questions about interesting things they have going on that I see myself contributing to. Well, that's one perspective.

Via Henry Farrell, we get another perspective from Ari Kelman, a historian giving advice to history grad students about how to prep for their conference interviews. You should definitely read the whole thing, but let me give you a taste:

5: Figure out as much as you can about the composition of the interview committee. No, this does not mean reading everything they’ve ever written. But you might want to know the arguments of their major works. And, at the very least, you should know what they’ve written about. . . .

6: . . . Know what your work is about, focusing on the so-what question. . . . It’s your responsibility, then, to tell the rest of the committee why your scholarship is important. . . .

7: You should also have a polished response explaining what you’d like to teach (recognizing that their needs not your desires should inform your answer), how you teach (methods and the difference between your introductory, intermediate, and advanced undergraduate courses, as well as, if relevant, your graduate courses), and what courses you’ve taught in the past. You should prepare an answer in which you detail how both your research and your teaching will complement what [the prospective employer’s] department already has on the books.

And at the terrible risk of BORING a Prof Who is Interviewing, Kelman adds:

8: Practice your answers. Which is to say, find a friend, have them ask you a series of questions that are likely to come up at the AHA interview, and make sure that you have replies that are both true and plausible.

Gosh, what different advice these two profs are giving about conference interviews! What could possibly explain the contrast? Well, one hypotheses is, the disciplinary differences between philosophy and history mean historians have to prepare for presentations of various kinds, whereas philosophers have the power to magically "organize themselves properly" so they never need to bother prepping for anything. Another hypothesis is, A Prof Who is Interviewing at the APA has his* head so far up his ass he has no fucking clue he's giving the Worst Advice Ever.

You know, I'm going to go with hypothesis number two. Not least of all because A Prof Who is Interviewing's advice is pretty much the exact opposite of what people in my program get told by the best senior profs in the department--that is, all of them except Evil Columbo. But also because it's the exact opposite of what all the junior profs tell us, who've all done this themselves in the pretty recent past. In fact, I'd say is just about the exact opposite of everything I've ever heard about interview prep from anyone who wasn't a complete know-nothing asshole.

*Yeah, I'm assuming a gender here, which I don't usually like to do. But come one, this is philosophy, and you know this asshole's a guy. If I'm wrong I'm wrong. Fallibilism!


James said...

Damn, why didn't I think of pretending to be a professor on a search committee that gives "quality" advice to other job candidates!

Hey everyone, I'm...ummm... on a search committee myself, and I want you to....uhhh....remember to always hit on people (and in really explicit and demeaning ways --they, no I mean, we members of SC's love that!) of both sexes (at the same time!) during the smoker! Yeah, that's it! That's the ticket! They'll be so impressed at your "commitment to diversity" that you're sure to get the job!

Dr. Killjoy said...

I second the Sham Hypothesis. Whole thing smacks of lil' junior having fun playing professor. The Prof-Who-is-Interviewing is a nice touch too, sorta like titling your post Not-A-Liar-or-Dipshit,-I-Swear.

One point we can tease out of Dr. Liar McFalsity's post though: you need to know your shit backward and forward. If you get hit with a question about your dissertation and/or writing sample for which you don't already have an awesome answer, then you are under-prepared and will get eaten alive. Absolutely no specfic question about your work should come as a shock.

Also, give it up for James and his wonderfully dating Jon Lovitz SNL Lying Guy impression circa 1986. Yeah, that's the ticket. Morgan Fairchild.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has been on SCs before, and who will be interviewing again next week, I may be of some use in noting that it usually just creeps me out when a job candidate tries to draw links between his or her work and mine at the interview. I know candidates think they're supposed to do this, so I try not to hold it against them. But it is very creepy to think that someone would think I'd welcome having my work engaged in this way. I'm happy when someone reads my work out of actual interest, but we all know that that's not what's going on here.

So I say don't 'research' us beyond acquiring an ability to remember who we are. If you're already dealing with my work in your writing sample or your diss, great -- I'd love to talk about that. But be wary of how suck-ups can backfire.

P.S. I also think that 'outrageous' comment is a sham: a non-prof's attempt to mimic a species of professorial evil.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that Prof-Who... is one of those baby-boomer academics who smoked pot at his smoker when he and everyone else had at least 25 interviews.

Anonymous said...

I put this on the previous thread. Seems more appropriate here:

Old Fart here again.

Interviews are mostly noisy not informational. Mostly the interview committee -- especially if it has any degree of non-overlap with the search committee, which is sometimes the case at larger places- will not have read closely your writing sample or your dissertation abstract. That will often lead to their asking many not very deep questions about your work, on the basis of the little spiel you give them in the beginning. There will also often be interesting group dynamics within the interviewing group about which you will be clueless, but they may not be.

Imagine the crotchety perhaps somewhat clueless professor X who keeps pressing you on some inane point. You think to yourself "what an inane stupid point, why does X keep pushing me on this???" The others in the room are fully aware of how crotchety and clueless X is. What they're looking for from you is how you handle X, whether you can gracefully shut X up and move on, whether you can make lemonade out of the lemon that professor X is handing you.

Now suppose you do a great job handling the crotchety but clueless X. X's colleagues are impressed. They may think you are smooth and clever. They may even think you're deep.

Alternatively, imagine that you don't handle X so well that day. Maybe X gets you flustered and throws you off your game. Maybe X causes you to be distracted. Maybe X's colleagues don't really realize how clueless X is. Maybe they think X has hit on some deep point that points to some crater- sized hole in your approach. They sort of keep piling on. Now, you've blown your interview.

But now ask yourself have the committeed in the two scenarios I've imagined really gained much pertinent information about you? Is the information gained in scenario 1 more reliable information about you than the information gained in scenario 2?

My own view is that both scenarios are noisy. It's just that in the first the noise favored the candidate, while in scenario 2 the noise works against the candidate. In this connection, I should say that I tell my own students -- I have a good number on the market this year -- that they should think of the art of being a good interviewee as the art of introducing favorable noise and blocking the introduction of unfavorable noise.

That's what the professor who insisted that you shouldn't have to prepare for interviews was missing. If the interview situation wasn't simply and utterly noisy, then he would have a point. But to the extent that interviews are simply and utterly noisy, he doesn't have a point.

Is there a way to cut down on the noise?

Maybe somewhat. You could have the interview committee really read the writing sample and dissertation abstract in advance. The committee could come prepared with well thought out questions about the work. Then it would be more like a real philosophical conversation, in which the mutual background knowledge of the what's in the writing sample and abstract would make it less like that the discussion got sidetracked into stupid inane tangents.

This would be a lot more work for the committees, but it would lessen the need for the candidates to perfect the delicate art of introducing lovely noise and keeping out unlovely noise.

Short of that, I say that you should keep preparing for your interviews, keep practicing your spiel, keep repeating it to different people, let them interrupt you, tell some of them to act like clueless A-holes, etc. Learn to direct the discussion in ways that you want it to go, firmly but politely. Etc, etc.

Again, good luck to you all in these highly stressful times.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I haven't done APA interviews on either side -- but, I do think that the 'don't bore me' advise isn't bad.

The thing is, I don't think practicing your answers makes you boring. Answering some question other than the one we ask IS boring,

I'd say you need to think about a few things... 1) Construct your answers like headlines and follow-up points... The headline is a couple of sentences and the follow-ups are needed to answer questions that you hope will result from the headline. 2) Remember that the people interviewing you will only have a limited amount of informaiton about how you teach -- and that information really comes from the interview. So, if you aren't exactly sure what the question IS, make sure you clarify before you answer -- just like you would in a classroom or at a conference talk. 3) DO NOT LECTURE your committee -- that is boring. 4) Do whatever you need to do in order to be as relaxed as possible.

Also, if you have negative thoughts about the school or place, stop thinking them NOW. Especially if the school is not well-ranked compared to your grad institution. If you think for even a second that you are doing them a favor by considering teaching for them, you are done. They don't want to live with you and your Fancy Pants degree, settling for their middle of nowhere, non-ranked SLAC.

In fact, as part of your research find something, anything, positive about the area and the school -- and ask about that thing. The more they think you'd like living where they are and teaching with them, the more likely they are to bring you to campus. They aren't going to want to waste money on someone who is going to bolt after a year or two...

Mr. Zero said...

Dear Old Fart,

You are awesome.

Clayton said...

I know many of you are preparing for interviews. I'm hoping to undermine you.

Here, check out this snowball fight game. This came out my first year of grad school. Link. Play it once and try to get back to prepping.

juniorperson said...

Old Fart,

Many thanks for posting here. I think that your advice is excellent, and I know that many otehrs like myself really appreciate your taking the time to post and to help others.

Thank you.

will philosophize for food said...

Well, it looks like (saving the last-minute push) that interviews are all interviews to be had are already scheduled. Good luck, all. Happy holidays and I'll see you (anonymously) at the smoker on Friday!

will philosophize for food said...

Oooh, that was miserable syntax. Apologies.

Anonymous said...

Isn't LSU hiring this year? If so, maybe explaining the APA to their alums. could be useful practice!

Serious question, as I don't subscribe to JFP: *Is* LSU hiring, and, if so, in what area? Is Tulane hiring too?

James said...

LSU is not only hiring, but you -- surprisingly -- hasn't missed their application deadline (January 9)

Anonymous said...

Anon. 5.21 here:

Thanks, James! In what area? I'm not interested in applying--just wondering how things are post-Katrina down there. I'm wondering if they're trying to rebuild, or if this is a new hire, and so on. Is Tulane hiring too, since I guess they'd have been worse hit?

James said...

Anon 5.21

It looks like Tulane has a fellowship in the ethics field, and LSU's job is, "ethics or meta-ethics; Area of Competence: ethics in the professions (especially, biomedical ethics), environmental ethics, or philosophy of law; interest in teaching lower-level courses in Applied Ethics."

Neither seem to be jobs for experienced philosophers, so I suppose both departments are still doing well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, James! Glad to hear that Tulane seems to be doing well. Anyoen have any idea why LSU's deadline is so late? Methinks this shows a department that can't agree on what area to hire in--or maybe even can't get three people who won't fight to attend an APA!

Anonymous said...

Previous post unclear: I meant won't fight *each other* while attending an APA. Not who find interviewing so great they'll fight for it. Gah!