Saturday, January 5, 2008

I've Got Someone on the Telephone Trying to Sell Me a Future in Stock

People who are better and luckier than me are starting to think about fly-backs, so here are some interesting thoughts from Prof. J:
This might be a good time to add that campus visits are quite different from convention interviews -- in all sorts of ways, obviously, but I'm thinking of the power relations. When you're invited out, there's a good chance that somebody there wants to hire you, and might be 'selling' you to her colleagues. In any case, the searchers plainly like you a lot. They're apt to be more solicitous, and if they aren't dumb they'll be starting to work on convincing you that their place would be a great place to work. It's apt to be a much cheerier event for candidates than the convention is.


tt assprof said...

What J. says is definitely on the mark.

I've said this before on this blog, and I'll say it again:

Enjoy your on-campus!

When you show up, probably most if not all the members of the dept. have read your writing sample carefully, probably discussed it on numerous occasion in their offices or out in the hallway, and more likely than not--since you made it--they probably thought it was at least some thought-provoking shit. Some of my colleagues have talked about some of the writing samples as "stimulating" their "philosophical imagination," "deep," "exciting," "original," etc. etc. And I have to agree. Some of it was some seriously hot shit.

When you show up, they've already been thinking about you, what you have had to say, and will continue thinking about you the entire day of your visit, and afterwards too.

They'll show up to your job talk, think about it, ask you questions about it, then discuss it with the rest of their colleagues afterwards.

They'll want to get to know you as much as possible as a person, ask if you need anything, or want anything.

They'll show you around campus, introduce you to new people, ask if you need some time to yourself to decompress and the like.

They've showered, brushed their teeth, checked their hair, because they're taking you out.

In the evening, they'll buy you drinks, and take you out to a real nice restaurant (perhaps the best in town) and urge you to order whatever you want. They'll say sympathetic things like, "You must be famished," "That must have been a long day for you." They'll open up a little more, crack some jokes, trade some gossip, kid you, and show you what nice people they are.

Then they'll take you back to your hotel and not even act like they expect you to ask them up to your room.

They won't even expect a kiss, not even just a little peck on the cheek.

For some of you, this may be the only time you get to enjoy what it must feel like to be a rock star in the profession. Since indeed, the only other category of people in our profession who ever get treated this way are those who belong to the same category as, like, Tyler Burge or David Chalmers.

Try to feel like a princess. You deserve it.

If you can muster that kind of attitude, you should feel more relaxed, and be able to attain that rarefied state mysteriously described as "being yourself."

that guy said...

As a candidate, you're anxious about getting a job. But, on the other side, we're anxious about hiring someone good. If we're giving you a campus visit, it's because we think you're good. And, even if we end up thinking that there's someone better than you, already before you come out chances are that we're wondering whether someplace better than us is going to scoop you up. (Okay, maybe NYU doesn't have this worry. But I know -- from second-hand experience, of course -- that even incredibly beautiful people can sometimes be insecure about their looks, too.) So we're going to be very, very nice. And we're going to tell a pack of lies about how the great the department, the university, and the city are -- I mean, do our best to sell ourselves, in an honest and responsible way.

Asstro said...

I'm totally on board with ttassprof's comments here, but I thought I'd also add that you should expect to be exhausted. You'll be shuttled from interview to interview, with very little downtime. Don't expect to have a moment to prepare for your talk beforehand, though some schools give you this opportunity. Depends how much they remember their own experience. You might also find that they almost never leave you alone. I found that the best way for me to gain my composure was to ask for the bathroom. This sometimes backfired: I was once _escorted_ to the bathroom by an oblivious chatterbox. He just kept talking to me about philosophy throughout, as if both he and I were on the same gastrointestinal schedule.

You should, however, try to enjoy yourself. Remember that everyone there pretty much wants to see you get the job. More than anything, they're looking at this point for a good fit. I think it's probably fair to say -- though simple dice odds don't reflect this -- that by the time you hit the fly-out, the job is yours to lose. That may seem like a statistical impossibility, but if you consider the number of possible ways in which one can lose a job, I think it might make sense to think of it that way.

Nervously Movin' On Up said...

This sounds great, but of course, they are still choosing from roughly 3 people, and even the best of us will only have one or two shots at this (though, I'm of course hoping I'm competing with people so much better than me that I can just wait for them to find better schools and send in their rejections to the SC).

Could I ask those on the other side for some practical advice on things like: Should we still be prepared to be quizzed on teaching questions? What do people think on the question of giving a new job talk vs. a slightly revised version of the writing sample? How much of an expectation is there at this stage that we start knowing the work of the individuals we are now meeting one on one?

Any advice here will of course be helpful to a lot of us!!!

VAP said...

Not to take any of the excitement out of fly-outs, but some are much less glamourous than the one tt assprof describes. I am sure tt ass prof is right about many places, but there is another end of the spectrum.

At my first fly-out I had to rent a car and drive two hours from the airport to the campus. That was closest airport to the campus. I stayed in a dorm. They called it a hotel, but it sure looked like a dorm. The chair met me in the afternoon. We walked around campus. I ate dinner with the religion faculty (it was a combined department) at the campus cafeteria. They had no interest in talking philosophy. That was probably good because I would not have been able to hear them over the very loud undergrads that surrounded us.

After that I gave the teaching demonstration. It was 7pm on a Thursday and none of the students wanted to be there. Of course, I sucked. After the talk, I walked back to the dorm. Stopping only briefly to pick up a pint of JIm Bean.

The next day started with breakfast again at the cafeteria with one faculty who spent most of the time trying convince me that this place wasn't that bad. He readily admitted it was bad. Just not as bad as it might seem. The rest of the day consisted of one-on-one interviews with the faculty. They were nice and intelligent, but there was no highly stipulating philosophical discussions.

I did not get the job. In retrospect, that is probably a good thing. But it sucked to find out I was not good enough for a place that pretty clearly sucked.

recent hire said...

Most of what people say here is accurate -- campus visits can be fun, because everyone is trying to be nice to you. And also, because you just can't be in Interview Mode the whole time, so you relax a bit more than in APA interviews. (But -- assume that anything you say can be used against you. Don't say dumb stuff when you're, say, at lunch with the grad students -- it will get back to the committee.)

BUT this:

They'll say sympathetic things like, "You must be famished,"

is not infallible. You may well still be talking about your work at dinner -- maybe in a more relaxed way, but still on. And, this hasn't happened to me (all my campus visits were lovely), but I've heard a story of someone being grilled so relentlessly at dinner that they never had time to eat. The only way they could stop the questions was to tell the waitron to take the food away, pretty much untouched.

This is probably a rare exception, but I don't want anyone to be unprepared.

Anonymous said...

In response to a question above, yes, you can still expect to be asked specific questions about teaching (unless the school is a top-notch research institution that only cares about research). At my school (I'm heading a SC right now) we schedule another interview with the full search committee--one that's about twice as long as the APA interview.

Having been on the market not that long ago myself, I would agree that it is a very exhausting process for the candidate. And while you will likely be wined and dined, it's not a bad idea to bring along a protein bar or something like that in case you need a quick energy snack--you may not actually have much time to eat at some of the various meetings over meals.

But do try to relax a bit (I know, easier said from the other side of things!) and let your personality come through. Especially at smaller schools, they want to see if they can work with you for the next 30 years (and you may also need to make decisions like this about them).

Anonymous said...

Tt assprof has had him/herself some charmed interviews.

I have had several on campus interviews, and my "favorite" was the one where I was asked to sleep on a cot in a faculty member's freezing unfinished basement in one of our northernmost states in mid winter.

Why no hotel? "Because this is how *Leiteriffic school which shall remain nameless* does it. We can get to know you better this way!!"

tt assprof said...

Nervous asked:

"Should we still be prepared to be quizzed on teaching questions? What do people think on the question of giving a new job talk vs. a slightly revised version of the writing sample? How much of an expectation is there at this stage that we start knowing the work of the individuals we are now meeting one on one?"

These are excellent questions. So if you hold them, wait to get as much input as possible from senior people on the site. But here's what I think:

(1) If the place does not require your taking over a session of someone's class, and it's not a research-intensive place--yes, expect questions about teaching. Even if a research place, at least one faculty member will care about undergrad teaching, and will ask about your methods, or ask an opinion on something she's been trying out, etc. Quite likely, she will be the Undergrad program director or something like it, so probably someone senior with muscle.

Remember, don't underestimate anyone. I once had someone who looked like a caricature of a Norman Rockwell grandma with blue hair, flower-pattern dress, and orthopedic shoes, who started off with a Thanksgiving smile before she proceeded to beat the philosophical living shit out of me. I was dumbfounded, then dazzled, as my eyes pleaded: "Please... no more."

(2) My view is it's always better to deliver a new paper--though obviously one in your advertised area.

First, they've already read your writing sample--and probably asked you about it at the APA. Second, you want to show off how productive you are, that you have multiple projects ready to go, etc.

But also, regardless of the job, this is an opportunity for you to get feedback on your work from--hopefully--some smart philosophers. Standard job talks are just like conference presentations in this sense.

(3) You should at least know what they work in, what their areas are, etc.

Especially if one of them's, like, Fodor or something. Then you don't want to be like, "So, what do you work on?"

As for reading their articles, I don't think there's any such expectation. If they have someone there who is prominent, and works in an area somewhat close to yours, then you probably will be up on them anyway.

Prof. J. said...

Should we still be prepared to be quizzed on teaching questions?

If the department has a PhD program, there will be less discussion of teaching at the campus interview, but even then it's quite possible that somebody will have looked at your file and be wondering whether you can take over a course he's been teaching and is dying to dump on someone, for instance. And if there is no PhD program, there is apt to be quite a lot of discussion of teaching. (I seriously blew this part at a very good place with no grad program but incredibly good faculty.)

What do people think on the question of giving a new job talk vs. a slightly revised version of the writing sample?

New is better. But if your writing sample is much higher quality, or if your alternatives are unpolished, then the writing sample is probably okay. If you're in doubt, there's no reason not to ask, they'll tell you if giving the writing sample would count against you.

How much of an expectation is there at this stage that we start knowing the work of the individuals we are now meeting one on one?

I'd say it would be a bit of a faux pas to be ignorant of the work of someone you'd have a special reason to know (famous, thinks he's famous, or has stuff in or close to your field).

Anonymous said...

As someone who's interviewed many a grad student, I can tell you that the ones with personality do better than others, ceteris paribus.

So here's one tip: go find the (fairly new) book "Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar" about philosophy jokes, and then tell one appropriate for the department or specific person (e.g., Hume joke for a Hume scholar) to break the ice at an interview.

Anonymous said...

In the best cases, the campus visits go well, and are thoroughly enjoyable. A good department knows the game is just as much about recruiting a good hire as learning more about candidates. But there are plenty of exceptions -- especially at schools with intradepartmental divisions. The best (or is it the worst?) story I've heard: candidate was housed in a faculty member's house. Said faculty member's cat(s) pissed all over candidate's suitcase and contents thereof.

Anonymous said...

I've never been in a department whose members were divided amongst themselves. Granted, I've only been in three. But what is it like? What happens on a day-to-day basis? Is it like siblings fighting?

Sadpunk said...

As a grad student in an almost Leiteriffic university who has been around for a couple of years of the department performing searches, I want to add to what recent higher @3:31 said concerning meeting with grad students. We brought to campus someone who was supposed to be really hot shit. Unfortunately he also thought of himself in this way. The professors in the department didn't seem to see it entirely, but the grad students did. He inserted his head in his ass foot in mouth during lunch with the grad students. When one of us asked about his thoughts on teaching he said, quote, "I try to act like I give a damn." He then laughed like he had just made a great joke, but we were all stunned. We were sure to let the search committee know the kind of asshole he was.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know said...

Thanks for this discussion, which is both heartening and informative. Another couple of questions for those in the know:

(1) What the heck does one discuss with a dean/provost at this stage?

(2) Are there topics (e.g. salary, retirement system) that one should avoid with faculty while on a visit?


Tenured Philosophy Girl said...

Hi folks - FWIW, I weigh it very heavily against a candidate if she/he gives her/his writing sample as the job talk. Presumably we have all read the writing sample so why would we want to have it read at us? Plus it definitely gives the impression that you've got nothing else going on.

I think that the Q&A after the job talk is the true dealbreaker. A candidate who can't hear what people are asking, or can't defend her position when it's pushed, or who gets inarticulate and unclear, or is disrespectful or snarky to the question-asker, is dead in the water. Candidates who seem to enjoy the Q&A, get excited talking about their own work, listen well to questions and figure out how they are (or can be made) actually interesting and good, and make the questioner feel interesting, interested, engaged, and respected get offers.

The more fun you have at your interview, the more excited and enthusiastic you seem (short of mania, of course), the better you'll do. The on campus interview is all about people deciding how much they want to have one another as colleagues. Be respectful of *everyone* and upbeat, and don't ever assume that the folks on campus will appreciate cynicism or biting critique of anything. No matter how biting-critique-worthy you think something obviously is, you may find yourself talking to someone who values that thing/writer/political position/crappy faculty club/crappy city etc. Plus upbeat people are just nicer to be around.

Anonymous said...

Philosophy girl,

Great comments both about research talk and the Q&A. To add, one of my weaknesses last year was not taking everyone seriously. For some stupid reason I let my hair down with one of the new faculty and didn't try to impress him. What an idiot! Live and learn and hope for a next time.

Anonymous said...

Philosophy girl is right on the money. I posted on another thread that the most successful applicants we've seen at my university are the ones who are truly nice and easy to get along with. So it's not enough to _act_ like you care, etc.; what's needed is for you to _actually_ care about teaching, students, Q&A, and so on. And the way to do this is to get in the habit of being that kind of person.

Look at our job as interviewers this way: If you were to buy a car or house, how much time would you spend researching your options and purchase? Likely a lot. The same is largely true with academic hiring. Over 5 years, a new hire costs more than $250,000, so why would we spend less time doing our due diligence here than with, say, a $20,000 car or $200,000 condo? And a new hire is one that we potentially have to live with for ALL OUR LIVES, as opposed to a physical asset we can sell off.

We really don't want to be in the business of denying tenure and having to subject ourselves to this hiring cycle all over again. Some departments may seem like they don't evaluate candidates carefully, and that may be true, given the usual lack of enthusiasm at departmental meetings. But the better-ranked schools tend to be much more careful. A candidate's personality is a big key to that puzzle. Imagine being a department chair: Be the kind of person YOU would want to work with for decades, and you'll do ok.

Anonymous said...

...the better-ranked schools tend to be much more careful.

I realize that this was an off-the-cuff remark to which I shouldn't take offense. And yet, after putting in many late nights reading files in my office at Utterly Unranked University, and then carefully re-reading writing samples for our APA interviews over "break", I can't help but be annoyed.

Anonymous said...

Apologies to 9:55a for any offense I caused with the "better-ranked" comment. You're right, it was an off-the-cuff remark, and I even paused as I typed those words. I personally don't put a lot of stock in those rankings. There are plenty of unranked departments and individuals within those departments that I like a great deal.

What I meant was more that some "better-ranked" departments want to desperately protect their position or climb up the rankings. So they approach hiring with an eye on how a candidate might improve their standing. I don't think this is a good way to hire, but to each her or his own. We like to take a more holistic approach of evaluating both the person as well as the person's credentials and potential.

Anyway, thank you for calling me out on that remark. It was elitist and not what I meant.

tt assprof said...

To the last post, let me just add this:

The dept. I was in prior to my current appointment, was a part of the state's second-tier state system. Since they had to take anyone with a high school diploma, the students ranged from utterly unprepared to mediocre, with very few stand-outs.

The philosophers there shared a secretary with another dept. and, were, otherwise taxed with a 4-4 teaching load.

At a lot of places, philosophers under similar circumstances would have let themselves go.

But these guys were cheerful, collegial, hardworking, impressively productive, smart and dedicated. Since it was my fourth temporary appointment, and because I was going through the same shit you guys are going through, I was the most depressed and deflated one--and, esp. in retrospect, I am a bit ashamed of myself.

Though it may make some sense to talk about "shitty" this and that, what I'm saying is that there is a lot of stellar dept.'s with excellent colleagues no matter where and under whichever circumstances. And anyone should feel pretty damn good landing a tt gig at any such place.

Prof. J. said...

Inquiring Mind:

(1) What the heck does one discuss with a dean/provost at this stage?

A common topic would be the standing of the philosophy department in the eyes of the administration. If you're interviewing at Rutgers that would be a stupid question, but in general it's something you'd want to know, and it's very safe.

(2) Are there topics (e.g. salary, retirement system) that one should avoid with faculty while on a visit?

I'd steer clear of salaries. It will make some people uncomfortable. Retirement program is safe.

Meeting with grad students:
Look, someone has to say this. A few of the grad students you meet are going to be resentful. In 95% of cases, you are now interviewing for a much better job than they are going to get, and they don't really believe that you are smarter than they are, and you'll be teaching their seminars next year??

Of course, no readers of this blog would have such thoughts, but it does happen.

anon 9:55 said...


Thank you for clarifying. Consider my annoyance defused.

will philosophize for food said...

Good luck with your on-campuses, everyone. I had one interview that just appeared on the wiki as inviting candidates. February, here I come!

Anonymous said...

sadpunk is dead right, on two points:
1) Do not assume that any group of people you talk to at an on-campus is off-record. Every interaction you have, including those with grad students, undergrads, and secretaries, will be taken seriously by the SC.

I was a UG at a SLAC that took itself seriously (way too, perhaps), sending a lot of its alums on to grad school. I remember as a sophomore or junior going out to lunch with a candidate for the Linguistics department, already tenured at a very good R1, who explained to us that she really was looking for a job at a SLAC because she was tired of the research rat-race and wanted to relax for a bit. All of us eager-beaver undergrads felt this was a slap in the face, and we reported it to the SC. You can imagine what they made of it.

2) There are true statements, that everyone knows are true, that will still be held against you if you make them.
One of them is that you sometimes masturbate.
Another is that you sometimes have trouble caring enough about teaching and mentoring your students.

Both of these statements in some sense ought to cause no surprise; everyone does it, and everyone knows that everyone does it. But--surprise!--they will both be taken the wrong way if you announce them over dinner during an on-campus interview.

Yes, in the context of solid camaraderie we can say to each other that our students are dumb as rocks and don't deserve our brilliance. We all know that we all feel this way. That's after you've been teaching with someone for a few terms. But you cannot assume that camaraderie exists with anyone on an on-campus. It does not, and this will not generate it.

Look: you're on display. Show your best side. You can be yourself without sharing your darkest secrets, or even your dingiest non-secrets. Assume a virtue if you have it not. There will be plenty of time for grittier self-revelation after you get the job.

Anonymous said...

To anon @7:25, a minor quibble:

You make a good point, but please watch your generalizations; your argument would be stronger without them.

I don't masturbate (I am happily married), and I happen to care deeply about teaching and mentoring students, at the same time that I am devoted to research (I think I have a very interesting project).

Does that mean that I don't fit as a philosopher?

Anonymous said...

anonymous 8:45

you asked:
"Does that mean that I don't fit as a philosopher?"

yeah, I think that's right; you'd be better suited to a career as a pedantic prick.

Oh, and your spouse tells me that your marriage is actually pretty wretched, too.

Anonymous said...

Being happily married is a reason not to masturbate?

Why didn't someone tell me this sooner, I've made such a mess of the computer room.

James said...

Thanks last few posts for the infusion of humor in this time of utterly horrible silence.