Friday, February 11, 2011

Finding Your Champion

When preparing for the interview, it is standard practice to read the website bios for each faculty member and to see their research interests. When doing so, make sure to ask for an interview schedule and specifically prepare for those people with whom you are meeting. If necessary, read their last few papers to see what they published recently.

Aside from looking for things to jog your memory while you’re meeting with them, you’re also looking for who is going to be your best champion when the committee makes their decision. Usually, there is a senior faculty member who has research interests that align somewhat with yours and they will likely be more enthusiastic about bringing you on over someone that comes from way out in left field. Some might see this as a little internal competition but that’s why you work on explaining how you two can work together. Let’s face it, even when you’re good enough to land a tenure track position, you’ll still need mentoring and support along the way. Someone who has similar research interests will definitely make a better mentor than someone who has no idea what or why you are working on your specific research.

During my prep, I found this to be rather easy and indeed when meeting people who I targeted to be my champion(s), I definitely found it easier to talk with them because we did have more research aspects in common.

The other thing to do in this stage is figure out who you can impress the most and who is going to be the hardest to win over. For instance, if there are 10 faculty member interviews you probably want at least 2 people to be really excited to land you. For the other members, you probably need 6 to say that you have what it takes, they could certainly work with you, and that you’re willing to contribute to the faculty for teaching and academic service. There’s probably going to be 2 people that you’re not going to win over. However, the closer you can get them to feeling at least neutral about you, the better.

Usually, the faculty members that are going to be the most difficult interviews either have a candidate they’d rather see or they have a philosophical difference with your research/teaching style. In those interviews, you can usually tell that finding common ground is difficult, which immediately puts you on the defensive. For instance, when I came across that, I focused on not getting upset or defensive but rather explaining my position on why [a chalkboard lecture was better than powerpoint] and why I thought it could reach students, but that I was willing to adapt as I got more experience with [teaching]. It shows that you’re not an idealistic prick who wants everyone to learn like you learned. Aside from philosophical differences, if you get backed or back yourself into a corner on something that’s out of your area, just be honest and say you don’t know.

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