Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More on interviewing: student vs. colleague

In my last post on interviewing, I suggested that candidates should "act like a colleague, not like a student". There have been a couple of requests for clarifying what I meant, so here are some thoughts on the subject.

1. Address people by what they call themselves when they introduce themselves. Nothing says "student" to me like someone who calls me Dr. Academic after I introduce myself as Prodigal. My colleagues (and research group for that matter) call me Prodigal. My students call me Dr. Academic. If someone says "Hello, I am Dr. Pretentious", by all means call them Dr Pretentious. And definitely DON'T do the starstruck thing, even if you are meeting a personal hero or Nobel laureate.

2. When you talk about your research, own it. It is YOURS. Not your advisor's, not your program officer's, and not your university's. Also, don't refer to your advisor all the time. The interview is about you not her/him, and talking about him/her all the time will reinforce that you are a student/postdoc.

3. When you do talk about your advisor (and it will come up), don't act deferential. Be respectful, but it seems strange to me when interview candidates call their advisors "Dr. Advisor". Don't call your advisor "my boss" either.

4. When you meet with your potential colleagues one on one, and the topic turns to research, they want to have a discussion with you. Even if the person you are meeting with is a giant in your field, they do not want you to just accept their suggestions as the "word from on high". When a candidate does that instead of engaging in the conversation, it makes me feel like I am having a one on one with one of my own trainees, not discussing science with a colleague. Bonus points if you can offer something constructive about their own research!

5. When meeting with students and/or postdocs, remember that you are interviewing to be a faculty member. No matter how tempting it is to talk about stuff you got away with in grad school, or how annoying your advisor is, don't.

6. While "I don't know" is a perfectly valid response to a question (and certainly better than trying to fake it), another response is to try to think things through, or offer your thoughts about the topic (obviously, this isn't true of questions about factual things!). People who can pull this off definitely seem more scientifically mature.

I'm sure there are other things, but this is what comes to mind from my (admittedly) brief experience on the other side of the interview.


Anonymous said...

Thanks again for all of this super useful information!!

I am honestly quite surprised that #6 still comes up at this level. My advisor first started training me on this issue when I was taking my qualifier, so by the time I defended I was totally comfortable with dealing with questions that I didn't know the answer to. I guess I owe him a huge thanks!

Female Computer Scientist said...

How do you feel about saying "we" vs. "I"? For example, "One of the things we were interested in was the question of ..." vs. I.

prodigal academic said...

In my opinion, we/I doesn't matter much, as long as you consistently use one of them. As a student, I used "we", and I still do, both from force of habit and because none of my work is done by me alone.

gerty-z said...

great advice! I would say that you need to be a little careful with the "we" though. At some point you have to make it clear what YOUR LAB will be doing. If you always say "we" this can get a little confusing.

Dr Becca said...

Hmm...tried to post on this earlier, but it doesn't seem to have shown up!

Anyway, I'm with Gerty on I vs we. I almost always say "we," but I was told that for the job talk, I should say "I." It's all about you, and what your ideas are, and what a great independent scientist you're going to be, etc. Saying "we" all the time can make you sound more like a cog in a machine, rather than a team leader.

Anonymous said...

when a 40/50-something prof introduces themselves as Will Smith (more common in my experience than just saying they are 'Will'), should you start calling them Will or stick to Prof. Smith?

prodigal academic said...

Thanks for the comments!

@Anon 12:03, if someone introduces themselves without a title, I would assume they mean to be called by first name. In the case of "Will Smith", I would use "Will". You are talking to someone who will hopefully be your colleague, and most colleagues are on a first name basis.

Anonymous said...

BUT, presumably, you don't want to address your cover letter to "Dear Will," no?