The People You Meet During a Campus Interview

The following is contributed by Sharon Garthwaite, another member of the Joint Committee on Employment Opportunities.

Congratulations! You’ve been invited for an on campus interview at an academic institution. This is both an exciting and terrifying prospect, as this is now your chance to show the department in person what makes you a top candidate. So just who is going to determine whether or not you are a good fit? Here is a list of people you might meet during a campus interview. Note that the specific subset varies depending on the type of institute and position. Most importantly, note that every single person on this list may have a say in the decision to make you an offer, whether it be passing along comments, a direct vote, or a veto. Every interaction you have from the moment you arrive on campus (or even meet a representative at the airport) to the moment you leave is part of the interview.

This includes the Dean, the Provost, and the President, or representatives from their offices. They will be interested in your background, your research, your teaching philosophy, your ability to contribute to campus life, and your general collegiality. Be prepared to describe your research to someone who is knowledgeable and from an academic background, but possibly not in your area or even in mathematics. Also be prepared to explain why you think you are a good fit for the students, and why you are interested in this particular campus. You may be asked about the resources you would need to continue your scholarship. Additionally, you may be asked if there are any obstacles to you taking the position should an offer be made. You can decide how comfortable you are discussing issues such as a two body problem. Keep in mind that these are the offices that will ultimately address some of these obstacles during negotiations should you receive an offer. They will also discuss you with the department, so assume these concerns will be passed along unless explicitly stated.

The Chair of the Department:
The chair may explain the timeline of the search, such as when he or she expects to make the first offer, how long you have to consider it. If you choose, you may share information about other interviews or offers that you have, especially if you have a deadline looming. You can choose to discuss any obstacles, such as a two body problem. You may choose not to if you feel that it will affect your chances of an offer; on the other hand, if you mention it when an offer is made, it may be difficult to find a solution during the short window you have to accept or decline the offer.

At some institutes it is the chair that determines starting salary, whereas at others this is determined by administration. The same is true of other resources, such as a start-up fund for research and travel.

Faculty in the Department:
You may meet every tenure or tenure-track member, depending on the size of the department. Some meetings take place one-on-one. Additional meetings may take place in small groups during seemingly informal interactions, such as dinner. (Remember that any interaction, including meals, is part of the interview.) Some members are interested in your teaching and general collegiality. Others want to talk to you specifically about your research or collaboration potential. This is your chance to get know your potential colleagues and gauge their particular balance of teaching, research, and committee work. This is also your opportunity to ask newer members of the department about the resources they have found usual at the university while assuming their new role. Many candidates will choose to research members of the department ahead of time, such as visiting department web pages to learn names and research interests. Keep in mind that many faculty members will do the same research about you prior to your visit, and easily stumble across personal pages, such as Facebook, twitter, blogs, and even comments on other people’s blogs.

You may be asked to give a research colloquium. If so, remember that most, if not all, of your audience are not specialists in your field. A good rule of thumb is that the first 15 minutes should be accessible to a first year graduate student, then next 15 minutes to any professional mathematician in any field, and only the last 20 minutes for people in your field. Be sure to practice your talk at your home institution and incorporate feedback before you go to your first interview and to revise your talk from the reactions before the next interview.

Faculty outside of the department:
Some universities may include a faculty member outside of the department on the hiring committee. This might be because your position has an aspect that ties to another department. For example, the department may be hiring an applied mathematician to teach classes aimed at biology students. This could also be because the university mandates it for all searches. If you do have such a meeting, this person can offer a different perspective on the department with which you are interviewing, and a look into how other departments on campus view it.

Some department may arrange for you to meet with a small group of students or have students lead the campus tour. This is your chance to see what the students at the institution are like. It is also their chance to learn who you are, what you research, and your teaching interests. The students may give feedback to the department, including whether or not they would sign up for your class next Fall. There may also be more formal interactions with students, such as teaching a sample class or presenting a colloquium.

Support staff:
These might be very brief, such as an academic assistant escorting you to an administrative office. Keep in mind that these staff members may report to the hiring committee on your personality and level of collegiality.

Human Resources:
You might meet a member of HR to discuss benefits and policies, such as maternity leave. Some schools may do this through other means, such as during the meeting with the Dean or the chair.

Real Estate Agents:
Some schools schedule an appointment with a real estate agent so that you can gain a better sense of the realities of moving to take the position, such as the housing costs and availability in the area, school districts, and shopping. Some schools may opt to have a faculty member take you on a tour of the surrounding area. Members may also ask you about personal interests, such as hiking, to highlight what the area has to offer. Some schools may be trying to determine if you are not only a good fit for the position, but also a good fit for the area, meaning if you would be content living in the location and climate where the school is located.

So many people in such a short time! Remember, every interaction is part of the interview. Also remember that interactions are not one way: this is your chance to learn as much as about these people, the position, the school, and the surrounding area as they learn about you.


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