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Author Topic: Preparing for interviews for VAP positions at SLACs  (Read 4508 times)
lowerninthward
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« on: May 03, 2012, 5:36:29 PM »

Greetings forumites:

Though I have used the search function on these topics as VAP interview season picks up pace I was hoping to get better informed about the ins and outs of hiring VAPs

A one hour phone interview - would that be similar to a one hour conference interview?

The hiring calendar - who does campus visits? Do these positions primarily skip the visit?

Now... what do you look for in a VAP that you do not look for in a TT candidate?

If you are in a VAP position now, I'd like to hear about it:
How productive have you been able to be with the nomadic lifestyle?
Did you get benefits/research or travel funding/ summer stipend?

If you are an SC member with VAP hiring experience:
What knocked your socks off and what foibles have you seen?

Thanks! ~lnw
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2012, 6:01:23 PM »

Yes, we have had about a zillion threads on this.

A one hour phone interview - would that be similar to a one hour conference interview?

Depends.  Most conference interviews--in my field--are 30 minutes, not an hour, which suggests something in between a conference interview and a campus interview.

If it were in the humanities, at my previous or current institution, it would work a little differently from the usual job search protocol.  For VAPs, we interview 3-4 finalists by telephone--usually in February, although it could be March--and then we invite the top candidate to campus.  So, only one candidate comes to campus (unless s/he performs so terribly that we feel forced to regroup).

Quote
The hiring calendar - who does campus visits? Do these positions primarily skip the visit?

See above.  Most VAPs are hired in the spring, or even early summer, once a given institution knows its needs and has approved the hire.  My understanding is that many schools hire VAPs without any campus visit at all, although, as I said, my present and previous school (both selective SLACs) do fly in the top candidate.

Quote
Now... what do you look for in a VAP that you do not look for in a TT candidate?

Again, we've had a zillion threads on this.  The primary difference for a VAP is that we want someone we can immediately plug into our teaching regimen.  Yes, we read your scholarship, and yes, we appreciate any service credentials we see on your CV.  But mostly we need a teacher, and we need him or her RIGHT NOW.

Applicants with the threshold level of scholarly performance (varies from school to school) will be evaluated based on what short-term benefits they can bring to the institution.  As in:  teaching, for the most part.

Quote
If you are in a VAP position now, I'd like to hear about it:
How productive have you been able to be with the nomadic lifestyle?
Did you get benefits/research or travel funding/ summer stipend?

I had two VAPs before I landed my current t.t. position.  One was at a scary, far-away school whose lack of resources and location severely impeded my progress as a professional and scholar.  The other was at a fantastic school that offered me, as a VAP, better benefits (including salary, travel funding, summer stipend, etc.) than most of my friends in t.t. positions.

So, YMMV.

Quote
If you are an SC member with VAP hiring experience:
What knocked your socks off and what foibles have you seen?

I was on a VAP SC two years ago.  We were most impressed with candidates who (a) bridged their research interests and achievements with their teaching in their cover letter; (b) described, more or less precisely, how they might teach certain courses our dept. offers; and (c) suggested, with a slight degree of deference (but again with specificity), a course or two they might offer that we do NOT currently offer.  It also helped quite a bit if the candidate seemed familiar with our program, either in his or her letter of application or (especially) in the phone interview.

Candidates who did less well were those who emphasized research and publishing at the expense of teaching (or appeared to do so) or whose questions to the SC were all about what the institution could do for them.  Candidates who clearly knew nothing about our program ("Where are you located again?"  "Does your school have a dept. X?") also put themselves at a disadvantage, as did those who seemed to condescend to us, as a SLAC.  (My favorite:  "I just want to make sure I'm not going to jeopardize my future options at top-tier R1's by having your school on my resume."  Uh, sure.  Next candidate!)
« Last Edit: May 03, 2012, 6:04:48 PM by yellowtractor » Logged

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lowerninthward
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« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2012, 6:14:17 PM »

You rock yellowtractor! I find your answers to be indeed quite useful and I thank you for your generosity in providing them! My secret fantasy is the second VAP scenario that you describe - music to my eyes!
 ~lnw
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2012, 6:58:02 PM »

You rock yellowtractor! I find your answers to be indeed quite useful and I thank you for your generosity in providing them! My secret fantasy is the second VAP scenario that you describe - music to my eyes!
 ~lnw

It was pretty sweet.  And I landed it in mid-May.
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tuxedo_cat
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« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2012, 9:11:22 PM »

I am going to shamelessly quote my previous post about teaching at a SLAC below (you can also click on the box to take you to the original thread).  Some of it will not be as relevant to someone who is a VAP, but . . . some of it might.  When I was a VAP, e.g., I did a study abroad course.  Also some smaller schools may start with a VAP line that could convert to a TT -- it doesn't happen a lot, but that was an established practice at the college where I was a VAP (I ended up not staying, and that's another story).

YT's responses to your other questions sound just right to me, especially the idea that they want someone who can be integrated into their existing course line-up easily.  So I would not recommend eagerly proposing a special topics seminar on the topic of your dissertation! (that may differ by field).  Carefully review the requirements for their major and try to get some sense of what they will need you to cover.  Good luck!

. . . I taught at a SLAC for about 3 years.  Be aware that there are a lot of "trends" in SLAC curricula and campus culture that have probably transformed this experience since you were a student at such a school.

Here are some items that I think probably distinguish SLAC teaching culture from larger universities:

(1) creative approaches to integrating your research with undergrad education.  This obviously includes what happens in your own classes, but ideally they want students to have the opportunity to conduct research in the discipline, or have some kind of hands-on experience with what more advanced scholars do.  Many schools fund summer programs for which faculty are expected to supervise students on independent research projects and/or work very closely with faculty on their own research.

(2) experience with travel / teaching abroad:  another experience that many SLACs often promote as an important part of the undergraduate experience.  Some have January term courses focused on travel, many are interested in opportunities to travel and learn outside of European / English-speaking countries.  Very time-consuming stuff, and lots of potential exasperation.  But it is a great experience for the students.

(3) student-centered learning:  sounds like you already have some sense of that important difference between a big university and a small college.  Aside from pedagogical issues, this may extended into your willingness to participate in other student activities on campus through advising student groups, etc.  At some places (Kenyon?) some faculty actually live with the student population in some fashion.  It may not be that over-the-top at many schools, but the general idea that faculty should be much more accessible to students outside of the classroom is probably more true.

(4) Interdisciplinary / team-teaching, esp. for FYE programs:  that's "First-Year Experience" programs, which can vary quite a bit from one campus to the next, but they are seen as a very important retention tool for colleges that really do rely on all those tuition dollars from a limited student population.  And teaching collaborations across depts. can be a bit unconventional (Physics and Music, e.g.)

(5) Service learning:  this is a trend at schools more generally, but also particularly important at these smaller places, perhaps part of efforts to connect the school with the surrounding community in cooperative ways.

Whatever schools you apply to, have a look at the campus website beyond the department pages -- you may find it especially valuable to look at how they market the school to prospective parents and incoming students: "All our students travel abroad for at least one semester! . . . Our students have the opportunity to conduct original research with mentorship from top faculty!"  . . . that sort of thing.
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ruralguy
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« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2012, 5:13:55 PM »

As someone on a SLAC VAP search committee (a number of times over), I have been most impressed with folks who have taught at a similar school before and someone or something (evals?) can tell us that the person did well. This is a candidate for the "risk averse".

Frankly, about half of our "freshly minted phD" VAPs fail miserably. I mean, deplorably bad. So,we try not to do it any more, and really try to nab someone who just hasn't gotten a TT yet.

...and, we are not being exploitive, at least not in a way that doesn't also benefit the VAP: our last 3 all got permanent jobs immediately after being a VAP with us.

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lowerninthward
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« Reply #6 on: May 13, 2012, 2:14:47 PM »

Thanks everyone!

The first question was the Liberal Arts question so be ready to knock it out of the park kids!

I was offered the position a few hours after the interview via email. Offer accepted! ~lnw
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tuxedo_cat
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« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2012, 3:03:55 PM »

Thanks everyone!

The first question was the Liberal Arts question so be ready to knock it out of the park kids!

I was offered the position a few hours after the interview via email. Offer accepted! ~lnw

Congrats!  It's always nice to hear good news : )
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