I think a rite of passage for any graduate student aiming for eventual employment in the Academy is to be asked, “Why don’t you just get a job where you did your graduate work?” Ah, if it were only that easy!
Between budget cuts and an already small pool of positions, we aren’t in a position to be picky when considering employment. I needed the advice I got from mentors, to “be willing to go wherever the job is,” early on in my doctoral program. It can take a couple of years to adopt a perspective of being open to major change if it is possible for you.
And so it’s important to start looking around early. Look at job ads and what they require. Talk to colleagues and your supervising team about your plans so they can keep an ear to the ground for you. And consider applying for a position before your final year. If you’re honest about your anticipated completion date, you never know when you’re going to get that email.
Getting That Email
When you’re shortlisted (congrats, by the way!), you may have a month (give or take) to prepare for your job talk and interview. You may not get your itinerary right away, but eventually you’ll get a guide of what you’ll be doing and when. While there will be variation among institutions, in my experience, the candidate flies in the day before, has a full day (yes, FULL day) interview, and flies out the following day. Yeah, it’s exhausting. So how do you prepare for something like that?
My buddy Jeffrey MacCormack and I have been talking through this stuff for years. A year ahead of me, he was also hired a year before me and so I had a steady stream of advice from him. One of the best pieces of advice he gave me related to Darwin’s concept of survival of the fittest. We tend to think that when Darwin said “survival of the fittest” he meant that the most fit creatures survive. But that is a misinterpretation of what Darwin meant. Apparently, Darwin wasn’t suggesting that only the strongest survive. Instead, Darwin was saying that survival comes for the creature with the best fit for the environment. Puffins aren’t the strongest creature, but they fit their environment really well. So, be a puffin! In the same way, getting a job isn’t about having the most publications, the greatest amount of service work, or even the best teaching evaluations. Getting a job means that you are the best fit for the needs of the work environment. Focus your preparations on demonstrating your fit for the school.
The Job Talk
While not all interviews involve a formal teaching component, you should treat the job talk as a chance to showcase your teaching. Quick advice: don’t read your job talk. (Like, any of it.) And, for your own sake, don’t be boring. Take some time to think about how to engage them, how to pace your presentation, and ideally, how you might actually teach them something.
Again, go in as informed as you can. You need to know how the program works and who makes it work if you are going to make a strong case about you fit within it. Take some time to read about your potential future colleagues and what they study. Read some of their publications and be ready to talk about it. Consider the way the program is structured, and therefore, how you might fit into it in regards to the duties outlined in the call for applications. Consider who they are looking for, and how you can convince them you are that person.
The job talk is typically treated as a means to show who you are as a researcher, and so you should be as specific as you can. Try to outline what the next five years would look like in terms of your program of research. You might suggest courses you could teach given what you read about them and what skills you have. As service is typically a component, highlight your service capacities and experiences at various levels, and your willingness to continue to contribute in meaningful ways outside of teaching and research.
While you’ll almost certainly have questions about teaching, research, and service in your interview, you can touch on them all within the job talk as well. Consider how you can touch on all components of the position as outlined in the call for applications. Remember that letters from faculty can go a long way in influencing the decision by the search committee, and your job talk is the one chance you get to reach potential colleagues outside of the search committee.
I have the noun inflector in there because you’ll probably hear that “the whole day is the interview, not just your formal interview”. It’s true that outside of your formal sit-down interview, you’ll have meetings throughout the day along with your job talk. They may be labeled, “meeting with (insert faculty member or staff)”, but all of these people might notice things about you that could work in your favour. Think ahead about what kinds of questions you might ask of the dean or search committee, for example. You might wonder, “how are new faculty supported here?” If you want to be taken seriously, you need to show that you are taking the interview seriously, and asking good questions goes a long way.
Over the course of your formal interview, you’ll be asked about research, teaching, and service. The questions are prepared ahead, and therefore it is likely you’ll find yourself repeating things you may have covered in your job talk. Better to be thorough twice than to say “I spoke to that in my job talk.” For research, go in with a strong sense of what you’ll be studying over the next five years, and how you’ll study it. For teaching, take stock of how you set up your classes, including assessment, the presentation of information, and generally how you run a course. For service, think about what kinds of things you have done (and would look to do) both internal to the faculty/university and also to your field.
While it is true that you will not know the questions you’ll be asked, you can probably guess the 15-20 things you’ll be asked. So, make a list of the questions and think about all of the answers you might give. If you’re applying for a similar role, think about (or ask) what faculty members you know do in a given week. Maybe you’ll get a question about how you intend to support your graduate students. Show them you know what you would be getting yourself into, and that you have a plan for how to thrive and flourish in the role, and to be the best fit.
Dr. Ian A. Matheson, Faculty of Education, University of Regina with Dr. Jeffrey MacCormack, Faculty of Education, University of Lethbridge