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Author Topic: How many campus visits before you begin to suspect "it's not you, it's me"  (Read 17590 times)
carpmaster
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« on: February 22, 2012, 10:41:02 AM »

I'm in Humanities.  Five campus visits last year, two this year; given the state of the field, I've been happy to be doing that well.  I would have been pretty delighted with any of last year's, and just got a no from the one I liked from this year.  I see plenty of people who say they've done 8-10 campus visits and ended up with only one offer, the one that comprises their present job, so... Plus, I've always known that there is no guarantee of winding up employed.

Anyway, I'm a bit perplexed b/c these are mostly SLACs that don't ask for a research talk, just teaching demos and eleventeen interviews, and the dept. chairs of my present and previous VAPs have gone out of their ways to say I'm personable and a great teacher (in more emphatic terms than I would have ever expected).  I personally think my research record needs a bit more fiber, but if I'm getting onto campus, I don't see that as the problem.

At some point, have you started to ask yourself, "what am I doing wrong?" 

And since we NEVER write to SC to ask for feedback, how do you patch the leaks?

Or am I wasting valuable headspace?

As always, if this has been covered extensively, please point me to the threads--I couldn't find anything.
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marlborough
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2012, 11:09:34 AM »

Get some trustworthy (and by this I mean people who can be trusted to tell you unpleasant truths) friends together, preferably people from several stages of the search process (professors who have been on recent search committees, peers who have been on visits, senior profs) and get them to critique you.  I've been called on to do this for several people in the last year or so.  Just go into this wanting constructive criticism rather than validation for what you are already doing, or you're going to be hurt rather than helped.

And if it turns out that you are delightful and charming, then it is the horrible market, but give yourself every chance.
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shamu
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2012, 11:50:40 AM »

Congratulations on your interviews! Those are a good sign.

If you figure they interview about 4 or so candidates, then if you are a typical candidate, you could expect an offer out of every fourth or fifth interview. It is also possible that the field is so tough that only the top of the top people get offers + you add in all the applicants who already have a job but are now ready to move since the market is getting slightly better and you have a recipe for even fewer offers for starting academics. Based on all this, I would not be surprised if you could only expect an offer after every 8th or so interview. Of course, that will vary.

The question is, what can you do to increase your odds at getting a job offer? First, get some friends to give you a brutally honest assessment. What could it be that makes you less attractive as a candidate? You really need to practice your talk with an audience, maybe even do mock interviews and be REALLY prepared for every piece of the interview (have all your questions lined up and so on). I hope this is helpful.
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weathered
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« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2012, 1:52:55 PM »

I have been wondering the same thing as I prepare for another upcoming interview. My reflection still is about chemistry between interviewers and myself. It's not that I blame them. But now that I am working with wonderful colleagues (though this is not a full time job), I start to think there is some chemistry issue involved in my rejections. Frankly, I didn't like the institutions I was rejected. Not because they rejected me.

The first university was too cliquish, it was like interviewing for a mafia gang membership--they were talking among themselves and seemed to be looking for another frat bro. The second had awful departmental politics with bitter faculty members looking for potential allies. The third arranged poor campus visit--no one was around for two days--and almost everyone in the department was either retired or of retirement age. The fourth was at a suicidal institution (they just had a faculty suicide and an accidental death) and everyone was very cold and cynical. The fifth was at a completely different discipline than my own. Obviously, I didn't fit into any. Now that I am at a much healthier department with a great leadership, I can see that fit matters. Of course, I should try hard to get in somewhere else.


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msparticularity
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« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2012, 2:35:44 PM »


Anyway, I'm a bit perplexed b/c these are mostly SLACs that don't ask for a research talk, just teaching demos and eleventeen interviews, and the dept. chairs of my present and previous VAPs have gone out of their ways to say I'm personable and a great teacher (in more emphatic terms than I would have ever expected).  I personally think my research record needs a bit more fiber, but if I'm getting onto campus, I don't see that as the problem.



Actually, the fact that this is getting an emphasis that is striking to you suggests to me that perhaps the research really is part of the issue. If SCs are seeing a group of candidates that they very much like, and who are all strong teachers and likeable people, then even at a SLAC the strength of research may end up becoming a deciding factor. SCs, and especially deans, worry about whether a person shows clear signs of being tenurable; it's possible that, while you look appealing to them in an overall sense, there is a hint of concern about whether you will have enough research to make tenure.

Weather123 raises an interesting point, too, regarding departmental morale and its effect upon candidates. Hard as this is to imagine when one is without a TT job (and I do know!), the current situation in academic hiring has been pretty demoralizing to those who have already "won." Faculty are increasingly overworked and subjected to increasing demands and a lot of blame from administrators who are ill-prepared to deal with the current challenges, and a public who have trouble sometimes figuring out why we even need a public system of higher education. Faculty members on SCs can be exhausted and kind of cynical or even outright negative. They can dislike one another, and/or have developed weird behaviors to avoid letting the crazy stuff get to them--all of which can make interviewing with these departments a truly bizarre experience.
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"Once admit that the sole verifiable or fruitful object of knowledge is the particular set of changes that generate the object of study...and no intelligible question can be asked about what, by assumption, lies outside." John Dewey

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ruralguy
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« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2012, 2:36:15 PM »

I was thinking the same thing, Msparticularity.

They may be getting so many great teachers that they are making the decisions based on other factors.

But I agree with others: Get a thick, thick skin, and ask folks, particularly those with knowledge of SLACs, and some who aren't real close to you to critique, honestly, your teaching demo, CV and other materials. I don't mean that they just correct grammar and style. They should tell which areas seem like they might be deficient.

Its hard to say whether it is "you" or "them", but I think to make some progress, its better to assume its you, and make yourself the best you that you can be.

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this_is_my_username
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« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2012, 2:45:27 PM »

 Part of this depends on where you are in your career. One of the unfortunate practices in my discipline is to invite green Ph.D.s to interview against a strong candidate (perhaps an insider, perhaps not). Invariably the new Ph.D.s lack the publication or teaching record, and the search becomes more or less 'fixed'. If you have had a number of those, the problem does not lie with you.
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ruralguy
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« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2012, 5:04:24 PM »

I wouldn't think such procedure is common enough for generalizing, especially at SLACs (for which interviewing "green" folks is VERY common, and they often get the jobs).

Although, I guess there is "green" and "extremely green" :-)

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mathy
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« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2012, 6:10:33 PM »

This may be field-dependent but when I was search committees at a SLAC, we had to reject several candidates because they had unrealistic curricular ideas.  Their teaching demonstration and research talk were good and they were personable so they may very well have left the interview thinking they had aced it when, in fact, we had determined that they were a poor fit.

Examples of such curricular issues would be suggesting courses which could never run because they required too many prerequisite courses (some of which rarely or never run) or because there is no way that a typical undergrad at our institution could cover the amount of material in a year, never mind in a quarter.  On the other end, we had candidates describe capstone seminars which weren't deep enough to be a first year seminar.

If you think this could be your problem, then try running your ideas past someone who has taught at the type of school you've been interviewing at and see what they say. 
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copper
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« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2012, 10:27:46 AM »

Shamu's the only one who answered the question in your thread title, but I think that answer is an underestimate.  I'd say a better point for concern is when a chi-square test shows that you are significantly below the chance expectation if jobs were offered to interviewed candidates randomly.  If there are 4 candidates per interview, this is NOT at 4 or 5 interviews (though that's a common statistical misconception).  With 4 candidates at each interview, it's not till you've failed 12 interviews that you're significantly (p < 0.05) below the chance expectation.  If there are 3 candidates per interview, the equivalent threshhold is failing 8 interviews.

The others who responded, though, are also right:  whether you're at the threshhold or not, it's only to your advantage to figure out how to present yourself better and make the department's decision non-random in your favor.

--Cu
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"The most exciting things in life require more courage than we currently have." -- Jack McPhee, or whoever wrote the 4th season of Dawson's.
pink_
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« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2012, 10:48:07 AM »

Chiming in to say that if you have friends from grad school who now work at the kind of institution you are pursuing, ask them to review your materials (and your typical responses to on-campus questions) and give you an honest assessment. I teach at an SLAC, and I made a point of talking to two friends at similar teaching-intensive schools before my campus interview, and it really helped me, especially because I only ever had attended and worked at huge, public universities before.

Also, it really is impossible to underestimate the importance of fit. I had occasion a few months ago to meet with a few job candidates who were interviewing at my institution. One candidate was fine, and I'm sure they would have made a good colleague, but another candidate was fantastic. On paper, the two were very close, but in person, one just clicked with all of us. It was kind of like a really awesome first date (without the sexual tension). I'm not sure what would have happened if that candidate hadn't wowed us all in person (I wasn't on the SC), but that s/he did made the decision an easy one, or so I'm told.

It might be that in some of these cases, you aren't actually doing a bad job or making any fatal mistakes; it might just be that another candidate hits the proverbial ball out of the park.  In the current market, once you get to the campus visit stage, all of the finalists are usually quite impressive. So talking through your campus visits with a friend who is familiar with the kind of environment where you interviewed might be helpful.
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westcoastgirl
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« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2012, 11:00:14 AM »

I wonder the same about a good friend and me. Maybe it's too early to tell for me as I'm ABD, but still. I think I may be too talkative and/or bubbly. I'm trying to tone it done. Friend has the opposite problem--too alienating. We need to mix ourselves in a blender.

But yeah, I'm beginning to think "It's not you, it's me."
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glowdart
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« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2012, 11:07:28 AM »

The green candidates can also be at a disadvantage because of their lack of experience in the profession - which is another element of the "fit" that pink_ describes.  When all other elements are equal (research, teaching, etc.), then SCs are looking at you as a potential colleague.  Someone who has been on the TT for 3-4 years simply knows more about how schools operate; they know how to have conversations about curricula, about assessment, about handling the workload.  They can speak from a different place about these issues because they've been living it in ways that a recently graduated PhD can only theorize about.  And, even if there's some intelligent theorizing going on, I've heard too many people say in meetings, "X candidate has proven himself already; he's definitely tenurable" or "X candidate has succeeded at our competitor school; she will also be able to succeed here."  Now, the flip-side of that knowledge is that candidates can ask tough questions that scare SCs who want a green candidate.  

But, at some point, it does come down to fit.  You know, OP, that you weren't a good fit at those schools you described.  They likely knew it, too.  

I would also get some friends together -- and do your teaching demo for them.  Live-action.  See what they think.  But at some point, if you aren't making huge gaffes, then you have to just assume that you interviewed opposite a bunch of other people who also rocked the interview and were simply a better fit.  

And I know we all toss "fit" around like it has some set meaning... it really doesn't.  You have to be able to walk out of an interview, knowing that you did the best you could and that you showed them a good representation of You.  After that, you cannot do anything other than wait and see if you're what they think they need.  I know this is easy advice to give from the comfort of a job, but at some point, there's nothing you can fix.  You might be at the point where there's nothing to fix, but you might not.  Talk with trusted friends, and make sure that you get your trusted friends who are capable of being brutally honest with you.  
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msparticularity
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« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2012, 1:16:59 PM »

The green candidates can also be at a disadvantage because of their lack of experience in the profession - which is another element of the "fit" that pink_ describes.  When all other elements are equal (research, teaching, etc.), then SCs are looking at you as a potential colleague.  Someone who has been on the TT for 3-4 years simply knows more about how schools operate; they know how to have conversations about curricula, about assessment, about handling the workload.  They can speak from a different place about these issues because they've been living it in ways that a recently graduated PhD can only theorize about.    

Experience as a full-time faculty member is truly a huge issue in my field. In fact, it's rather unusual for people to get hired fresh from the doctorate--and especially ABD. The norm is for people to have 1-3 years in a VAP or a clinical faculty position before they get a TT slot--and this is in a field where the job market is quite decent, as long as you're publishing.
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"Once admit that the sole verifiable or fruitful object of knowledge is the particular set of changes that generate the object of study...and no intelligible question can be asked about what, by assumption, lies outside." John Dewey

"Be particular." Jill Conner Browne
ruralguy
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« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2012, 3:18:45 PM »

Again, OP said these were mainly SLAC interviews. Though its definitely field and school dependent, its very uncommon at my SLAC to hire very many people who have extended professional experience (I am not counting the usual sort of science post-doc at a national lab kind of thing). For instance, recently, the Economics dept (under pressure to become Econ and Business) really has nobody with either entreperneurial or management experience, and most profs are hired at the "just defended this morning" level (yes, I know, many econ fields don't require this sort of experience at all--it is they and the administration and trustees that are playing that sort of thing up).
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