The annual killin’ it on the campus visit prep post

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Some tips:

•The campus visit is a gauntlet of job interviews and social calls, with some potentially harrowing, high pressure philosophy thrown in. You’ll meet with various deans, and lots of faculty, and students. You’ll be continuously shuttled from one thing to the ne.xt, with very little down time in between. You’ll be dined (sometimes wined, but many university policies don’t permit putting alcohol on the tab) more often than you can bear. If you’re not a morning person, or not at your peak before you’ve had some caffeine, use your hotel room coffee maker to fortify yourself before the breakfast meeting.

• Take portable snacks, especially if you have dietary restrictions. The days are really long, and being hungry results in brain fails.

• The campus visit is also an opportunity to learn about the school. You can get a sense of the campus culture, and of the department. Don’t think like someone who is desperate to get just any job, but rather like someone who might be sold on this particular job. Ask questions about the students, about campus life, about what it’s like to live there. You will need to exhibit at least minimal chit-chat skills, because you’ll be doing lots of it while people are walking you around campus, driving you to the airport or restaurants, etc. You’ll sometimes get a tour of the area (especially in small towns where they might think you need to be sold on the location). It’s reasonable to ask about things like the housing market.

• Ask in advance for a detailed schedule of what you’ll be doing, when, and with whom. You might give a job talk, you might be asked to do a teaching demo. Or both. Get as much info as you can about the teaching demo (will it be an actual class [with how many students], or an audience, will it be in a classroom, will there be tech available), and about the job talk (how much time will you have, who might be there), etc.

• Before you go, look up the people you’ll be meeting in the department (all of them), but also the deans and administrators. You never know when some little bit of trivial knowledge (hey, we both went to Peoria U! I also love the poetry of Robert Service! How about those Packers?) might be fodder for a good convo, or at least make you memorable (in a good way)

• Be very, very nice to the department secretary/admin assistants. They don’t work for you, so don’t act like they do. S/he is also often the person who is going to handle your travel reimbursements.

• Have at least two pairs of good pants, especially if you’re going to a wintry clime where the odds of getting mud/snow/salt on your pants are high. Take a carry-on so nothing gets lost in transit.

• If you require accommodation for particular needs (a lactating mom might need time to pump, or you might have dietary restrictions, or need time for religious observance, or whatever), you’re better off saying something in advance than trying to sneak off to TCB. You don’t really want to do anything during your visit that will give someone a reason to think you’re up to something suspicious (drugs! booze! Satanic rituals!). Better to have the awkward conversation ahead of time than to find yourself trying to compensate for unexplained behavior. Obviously, some departments will be more friendly/understanding about special needs than others, but it’s worth remembering that if you’re hired, you’ll be working with these people for a while, so maybe it’s better to know in advance if they don’t play well with others.

• You’ll sometimes meet with someone from HR to talk about benefits, so you might think about questions for them. (This might be where you want to inquire about maternity/paternity leave, childcare subsidies, etc.)

• I went to a meeting with a job candidate a while back and observed that he sometimes deflected questions about “how would you teach X?” by asking questions about whether doing Y would be of interest to the department or the students. He also asked specific questions of faculty, like “How do you integrate Z into courses?” or “Is there support for doing A?” It made him sound thoughtful and interested, rather than like someone just answering standard questions with memorized answers and trying to please. (He was offered the job, too.) On the other hand, if you’re interviewing at a place where they really need you to teach specific service courses, offering them a list of exciting new courses you’d like to develop instead of teaching Intro may not go over well. So, you wanna have a good feel for what will be expected of you.

• Take copies of your dossier, including course syllabi, just in case. They might tell you in advance what courses you’d be expected to teach if hired, and you can think about those and work up spec syllabi if you have time.

• Anything critical like your job talk or teaching demo slides should be copied onto a flash drive, copied to the Cloud, copied to Google Drive, tattooed on your hand, emailed to yourself, etc. If you’re using a Mac, convert stuff to a PC friendly format. I’m super paranoid about that kind of thing, but I’ve had TSA drop my laptop on the floor. Print your lecture notes, etc. I had a teaching demo once where all the tech failed except the document camera, but I had printed out all my Powerpoint slides. Success!

• Be ready to improvise should technology fail during a talk or teaching demo. (Hence, have printed notes.)

• If you want to have a handout or some such, ask in advance if that’s OK, and ask in advance if you can email it to them to print (or print them yourself and bring with).


Potentional pitfalls:

• When talking to deans and administrators, keep in mind that many of them are really academics, or ex-academics, and they would like you to know that. I found they often wanted to “talk shop” with me about philosophy, in addition to talking about the nuts and bolts of the school. So speak to them as you would speak to potential colleagues. This is also where you might get questions that are attempts to covertly feel you out about your commitment to the place, to teaching, whether you’re a flight risk, etc. So too many questions from you about research support, travel support, etc. might not fly in a teaching-oriented place. Keep in mind that no department makes a hire without approval from higher-ups like deans, so these are interviews you really do need to prep for.

• Since I’m already in a TT position, I asked last year about policies regarding credit towards tenure for work done (if you’ve been in a postdoc, some places will let you use that work in your tenure file too), and whether they’d require me to start the tenure clock all over again (which I don’t want to do at this point). I got the distinct sense that these questions were not at all favorably received, although I don’t really know why they were not favorably received (someone enlighten me, if you know). So, if you’re in a similar position, that’s probably a discussion to save for when you have an offer.

• I think the general consensus about spousal accommodation is that talking about it should wait until you have an offer. I suppose that might include not inquiring about policies until then as well, although some schools will volunteer that kind of info as part of their “sales pitch.” In my experience, if you want a spousal accommodation, you need to negotiate that with the initial contract. Once you’re hired, they don’t have much (any) incentive to help you out with that, regardless of how many times they tell you during interviews that they totally support spousal accommodations. (This is something to think about for non-academic spouses too, especially if you’re moving to rural or isolated college towns where there are few jobs off-campus. Many, many faculty spouses get hired into administrative positions on my campus — this is not only a substantial income benefit, but also means you’re potentially not paying for health insurance for a spouse.)

• I guess the conventional wisdom about marriage and/or children is that it is viewed as a liability for women, and a positive for men. Departments are going to vary a lot on this kind of thing, and some will be more family-friendly than others. The people interviewing you are discouraged by HR from asking about marital status or children, but if you want to ask about things like schools or childcare, or maternity/paternity leave, you might want to proceed with caution.

• Some departments ask their candidates to pay for their flights and accommodations and seek reimbursement after the campus visit. It’s a really shitty practice, but it happens. I had two fly-outs last year where I had to buy my own tickets. One reimbursed me within a week of my campus visit. One took three months, and numerous, increasingly irate emails from me to the department chair (they didn’t offer me the job, so at that point I had nothing to lose, except my thousand bucks). Some places require that you submit paper tickets for reimbursement, so you might want to get those instead of using your smartphone.

You’re one of a very select few, so try to enjoy your moment, without being a pompous jerk. Really, nobody likes a pompous jerk. You’ll have many people who are intensely paying attention to you, which is a rare thing. The job talks can be fun and lively, and a chance to have your work taken seriously and discussed at length. Savor it.

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11 comments

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