Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quick tips for TT interviews

It is interview season in my fields, and we have a few searches going on here at ProdigalU (and keeping me out of trouble). I know I've blathered on about interviews here, here, and here before, but more tips can't hurt, right? Here are a few things I've been noticing this time around:

  • You MUST be able to answer questions/think on your feet. If this is a weakness, practice! When you give a practice talk, ask your colleagues, friends, or labmates to grill you. Even the best prepared talk will not erase that "deer in the headlights" look.
  • You should be able to articulate the central problem(s) your lab will working on and how many people you need to do this.
  • Both your job talk AND your chalk talk need to be accessible to people outside your sub-field. Everyone gets a say on the candidates (even if only the committee votes).
  • Your research plans should look like they will last more than then next 3-5 years.
  • Be ready to answer questions about your competitor labs--who are they? What will be special/different/better about your lab or approach? What is your edge? Do not position yourself in competition with your advisor(s) if you can avoid it.
  • You should be able to articulate clearly why you need anything on your startup list (especially the really expensive stuff and/or stuff you could potentially share) AND talk about the research significance of the resulting data.
  • You don't need to propose formal collaborations, nor do you need to know what everyone in the department is doing before you arrive. However, if after meeting with someone one-on-one, you see a new overlap possibility, it is a great idea to mention it in your chalk talk! We had someone do this to nice effect.
  • Try to behave like a colleague (but not an arrogant ass). If you feel and act like a student or postdoc, the faculty will respond to you like one. If you feel and act like a colleague, the faculty will see you as one.
  • Be nice to the students! We listen to them.
Good luck to all those on the TT job hunt this year!

8 comments:

  1. By competitor labs, do you mean labs with very similar research profiles, or labs with differing theoretical view points? My area is sparse enough that I could make the case that no one does the specific combination of things that I do. Though there's plenty of opposing viewpoints in the general area.

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  2. This is great, PA! I've added it to my advice aggregator.

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  3. I second the thing about being an arrogant ass. I've seen candidates self destruct just by being arrogant - if someone asks you a question that seems basic to you (it might not be basic to the asker in a different subfield) just answer it nicely, don't be a prick. Also, if you don't know the answer, don't make it up.

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  4. Great advice!! Really, the ability to answer questions without being an ass or looking like a deer in the headlights is SO important. I don't know I'd you can practice, but it can't hurt.

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  5. Thanks for the comments!

    @Bashir, by competitor labs, I mean people who would compete with you for funding and/or prominence when others discuss the problem you are attacking. For a very sparse field, this might be broader than in a more populated area. If you can make a legitimate case that your approach is unique, that is great! Most labs have some aspects that are unique (even in a crowded field), but sometimes our candidates can't really articulate what that is. The ones who can are in a better position.

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  6. *saves page*

    Prodigal, you're the bestest everrrrrr. You need to make an iphone app for this or something, hahaha.

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  7. Would you mind elaborate on that a little bit in a future blog post? Both positive and negative examples would be very helpful. For example, could you give a few examples you experienced in the interview process where people behaved like postdoc and students and were not perceived well.

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  8. Thanks for the nice comments. I will try to post more on being perceived as a postdoc/student vs a colleague later in the week.

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