Thursday, January 3, 2008

Old Woman, Old Woman, You Treat Me So Mean

In comments, Anon. raises a version of a question I've been rolling around in the back of my head since the APA.
I wonder how often people felt that their APA interviewers were trying to haze them, meaning that they were acting hostile or adversarial in order to test a candidate's ability to stand up for him or herself. I got this only once, but it was very surreal. One member of the committee was *very* hostile, while everyone else seemed sweet, seemingly ignoring the rude and absurd insults hemorrhaging forth from the one hostile committee member. The hostile SC member did things like 1. refuse to shake my hand, 2. leave the room in a huff in the middle of the interview. (This kind of behavior didn't affect me at all, since I recognized how absurd and inappropriate it was from the beginning.) Anyhow, just wondering about other people's interviewing experiences. Did anyone else feel that they were getting hazed, or was it just me?

Happily, I didn't get anything as bad as that. But I did get the sense, in more than one interview, that I was getting a good cop/bad cop routine from a department. Anyone else feel like they were getting that? Any search committee members willing to 'fess up to it?

17 comments:

Prof. J. said...

That's absurd.
Maybe if you were interviewing for a position as a spy it would be a good idea.

I think you (or the Anon. commenter) are giving the interviewer too much credit. He's just a jerk.

A prof who interviewed people at APA said...

Ditto to prof J....I think it's all in your head.

Anonymous said...

You mean like meanings?

Anonymous said...

That person sounds like a major asshole. Just feel sorry for him or her.

I have had about 15 interviews over two years, and no one was a jerk. One guy obviously didn't like my project, but he wasn't a jerk...it was just obvious.

I have actually been surprised that people have been, to the person, so non-assholeish, given the stories I've heard.

Anonymous said...

As the Anon. commenter, I wanted to mention that the experience I reported on above was *completely isolated* and people shouldn't in general have anxiety about APA interviews b/c they think this sort of thing is common (of course, I did mention it in the first place in order to probe its frequency). I had 11 interviews and only this one was bad (from the point of view of hazing).

In general, APA interviewing was a great experience and I learned *a lot* from the many very polite and intelligent SC members I spoke with; I think that my philosophical work will substantially improve as a result. The great thing about APA interviews is that you tend to be asked a lot of foundational questions about the presuppositions of your work, or how your work relates to larger debates, which you might have spent less time thinking about because you were worried about the small-scale structure of your arguments. I learned that a big challenge in APA interviews (which might apply to all sorts of philosophical presentations) is to have good ways of motivating the positions your are arguing against. It is easy to be *too* convincing in your presentation of your own arguments, leading people to ask you why anyone would have possibly disagreed with your position in the first place. If you don't have anything great to say to motivate the other side then it looks like you've managed a rather hollow victory.

Anonymous said...

I had seven interviews this year and one that felt like I was being hazed. As the 'research discussion' portion of the interview began, one of the search committee highlighted the thesis of one of my 'papers in progress' (not my writing sample, dissertation, published work, or even submitted work), aggressively stated his disagreement, and slammed his hand down on the table saying that he was 'ready to fight about it'. This felt surreal. I was completely unprepared for the intensity of his attack and the unfairness of the challenge (should I have reviewed all of my presentation topics and papers in progress for the interview? I was ready for discussion of my writing sample or dissertation, but I wasn't prepared for this)
In any case. I didn't get to discuss my dissertation topic and I don't think the interview really recovered from this exchange. I bet I don't get that job. But, what was I supposed to do.... highlight the absurdidty of his attack? Challenge him to a duel with pistols at dawn? Was this some sort of test to see if I would 'take the bait' by engaging in an unfair debate? Was I supposed to 'call his bluff' and ask him why he so intensely disagreed with a paper that he hadn't even read an abstract for? I sense that I failed this test, whatever it was supposed to measure.

Philosopher for hire said...

Anon 6:15 above. What was your response to his outburst?

That guy said...

I went too hard after one candidate. He was billed as a star in my area. I loved his writing sample but had one reservation about it. I ended up grilling him on it for 20 minutes. I thought I was "testing" him. I also thought he could take it. It turns out that he couldn't. (We subsequently figured out what our disagreement was.) I haven't been out of grad school too long, and I didn't mean to be mean, but it's really easy to forget how grueling interviews are under the best of circumstances, and it's also easy to forget how easy it is for faculty members to buffalo grad students. (We don't want to think we have that much power. We like to think that we're hip, friendly, and cool.) Sorry! I would like to think that I'd do things differently next time.

Anonymous said...

Something strange can happen to junior faculty at research institutions during interviews. Some of them take it that THEY and not the candidate are being tested in interviews. In fact, at some places, it might be that they ARE being tested. This makes for a VERY tense interview situation, one in which very few candidates can perform well. Be forewarned, it can also happen at fly-outs. Often times candidates are used as pawns in an internal power struggle. This happened to me twice (that I know of) at two very different sorts of institutions (I landed on my feet so I am not bitter). But it is worth reminding yourself that novels about backbiting academics have some basis in reality. If you get a flyout or two, remember to think about diplomacy in all your interactions.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:15 here again. To answer 'phil for hire's' question: I engaged in the unfair debate and wasted about 10 minutes trying to win a debate on a point that I view as relatively uncontroversial in the history of philosophy. I've thought of 5 better ways I could have handled the situation since then.

Oh, well. My other interviews went much better.

Anonymous said...

This story doesn't relate to philosophy, but it does have to do with interviewing and Baltimore, and I think it's relevant to some of the things we encounter so I'll mention it here.

The Baltimore Ravens are interviewing for a new head coach, and have told their internal candidate, who's a favorite of the players, that they want to interview him, but would rather wait until after they've met with some outsiders first.

Change the Ravens to Hopkins or UMBC, change the players to students, and the coach to a VAP or recent grad, and you've got a familiar situation. More generally, what are the advantages in not getting the first on-campus interview? Other people set the bar, and you're doing well if you rise above the standard other people established. I've got a phone interview scheduled with a school that didn't do the APA, and they've told me they've already talked with other candidates. So I'm wondering, is it a good sign _not_ to go first? I've always figured it was, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe if I could understand the dynamic then I could modify my approach accordingly (like, try to be more conservative on the assumption that I'm not setting the standard, so my biggest danger is screwing up rather than being boring). Probably not, but it makes me wonder.

that guy said...

I've been the equivalent of an internal candidate. The department flew out other people first and kept me in reserve. They then hired one of those other candidates -- and I didn't get a flyout. After that experience, I've decided that I'd rather be in the mix from the get-go.

Anonymous said...

Here's how it can look from the other side; namely, a faculty member who tries to stay out of the awfulness job hiring can involve, where people use what power they have to impose their own sense of excellence on others. The goal of hiring is not to improve the department or the university, but to make sure the department continues to have representatives of their particular slant on philosophy.

I know my department's interviewing team included one mildly autistic person, whose main social technique is to disprove what his interlocutor asserts. (You do not find him in circles of people enjoying themselves.)

His central interest is in power, and his goal is to put himself in the position of the one who knows the truth.

There really is just about nothing other faculty members can do about someone like that, except try to mitigate their effects. You make a big mistake as an interviewee in thinking it is about you. He really can't make contact with other people and instead constructs stories about what might be going on.

Jeremy Pierce said...

If it's autism causing this, I doubt it's a power trip. Power trips involve a kind of social understanding and desire that very mildly autistic people can have, but autism moves them in the opposite direction, away from this sort of thing. So if autism is the issue, it's not a power trip. It's either enjoyment of this kind of interchange without an understanding of its impact on others or simply a lack of understanding of how better to interact with people.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy,

I did say "mildly austistic." And I didn't mean to suggest he was on a power trip; having power as one's main social interest might be quite different from being on a power trip, since the former situation is compatible with preferring not to be in social situations at all. Also, perhaps I should have said "control" rather than "power." It's pretty clear that you don't have to have much sense of other people in order to see them as pieces in a social problem you want to solve.
Still, I want to recognize your starting point, and it's leading me to realize that the situations in which he has seemed to me most interested in control and being recognized as the one who knows the truth are actually ones in which I've tried to break up the order he's imposing.

So back to the topic of the blog: lots of luck, dear young people, in coping with the signs of this sort of dynamic on your visits to campuses. I think that only two out of the six departments I've been associated with have had this sort of situation, but I suspect a higher proportion have at least one well-respected faculty member who thinks there's a pretty serious problem

Maybe others will speak to this.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see responses to the question someone posted above, about being interviewed first and how it matters (or doesn't). Insight, anyone?

Anonymous said...

The poster sounds like he is describing my interview with the University of Louisville. My own take on it is that the interviewer in question was not hostile (though her behavior was) but unbalanced. Like the poster, I left feeling very confident in my performance in the interview, as the SC member's behavior was so obviously inappropriate. More disturbing than her hostile behavior was the fact that the other three SC members sat there and let the abuse occurred. As a mentor pointed out, however, better to discover this dynamic in the interview than in the tenure review.