Advise me about academic job interviews

Not being really happy with my current job, I decided to try again for an academic position. My old Uni is hiring a bunch of Computer Science lecturers and my profile roughly fits one of the positions they want to fill, so I decided to give it a try.

I don’t actually hold much hope, tho - I gathered that for this kind of position they look for someone that successfully applied for research grants, already supervised a few PhD students and had at least a few articles on scientific journals. And I fail all three criteria - no supervisions, no successful research grants, only one article (but a bunch of conference papers). However, no mention of these requirements is made in the vacancy description.

My old supervisor encouraged me to try anyway, as he reckons that there might not be too many people in my particular specialized area that both experienced and willing to up sticks and move somewhere else. He said that if there’s someone they might have enough stuff already started that they might stay put. Furthermore, he said, I’m at a level where I am getting overqualified to be a research associate, the grade immediately below lecturer.

So I crossed my fingers, put in my application, and settled to see what’s going to happen. Supposing I make it to the shortlist, and supposing there’s no internal candidate (quite possible, I reckon), do you guys have any advice about job interviews in an academic setting?

Lecturers are usually hired to teach entry-level courses so that the ladder faculty can later be evaluated in their ability to have … “successfully applied for research grants, already supervised a few PhD students and had at least a few articles on scientific journals”

So your job would (I assume) be to teach large lecture halls of undergrads with minimal TA support (those TAs being allocated to the ladder faculty). So show that you can teach a course, answer student emails, and keep students happy, entertained, and hopefully edumacated.

Well, my experience is a little different, because I don’t have a doctorate (just an MA) and I didn’t hire on at a university (community college.)

You probably know all the basics–if you get an interview with the search committee, make sure that you dress appropriately, make good eye contact, be honest, etc.

What I probably should have done is checked out my college’s website, specifically deep within the HR section. All of the major documents that govern practices are online, including the one that governs interviews–with the full list of potential questions to ask the applicant. I had done enough research to have a general idea, and had rehearsed my answers appropriately, but I was still caught off guard by one prompt in particular (Name a time you have implemented a policy that you have disagreed with.) Had I looked at the list ahead of time, I’d have at least seen that question and considered an answer.

As it was, I couldn’t think of a time that such a thing had happened. I hedged a bit, thought it through, and replied honestly.

Exactly. If you think about it, faculty have to deal with the advanced undergrads once they’re through the intro classes. Its in their best interest that students show up prepared, they’ll take care of the ones who are ready for research.

I had an interview this spring with the dean of academics at a local college. It went swimmingly well. We talked about teaching, my field, my related personal work, my past experience, joked around, it was a great interview and we really connected.

He offered me the opportunity to teach three classes this summer, of course I accepted. Did all the paperwork, orientation, department meetings, wrote up syllabuses, etc.

By the time classes were about to start, he informed me that only one student had signed up for all of the three classes. So no teaching for me.

Even if you do get the job, don’t quit your day job. Trust me. Wait and see what happens.

Thanks for the advice. Uh, after reading Algher’s post I think I should have mentioned that the University is based in UK and not in America. That is important because, according to my old supervisor, here in UK a lecturer’s job is research-driven and lecturers should prove they are able to publish a lot, bring in funding and create large scale plans autonomously, so that the Uni becomes more and more visible and prestigious. And in this bunch of hirings in particular, he said, they were definitely looking for big researchers rather than good teachers.

I do have quite a lot of experience in teaching, both academic and non-academic - I did training courses in programming for private companies at various levels of skills - but it’s my research competence I will have to defend harder.

I have a few publications, but not as many as desirable, and I have no successful grant.
The job description and the Uni website make it clear that these attributes are desirable, very much so, but not mandatory, and they can be waived in case the proposed research is interesting and promising. So I have to convince the interviewers that this is the case.

In that case it’s probably largely dependent on the uni in question. I work at a ‘teaching-led’ uni so research background is less important. Other places will emphasise research. Drop me a pm and I might be able to help more depending on where it is…

A lecturer in the UK is roughly equivalent to an assistant professor in the US - it’s the first rung on the ladder of independent research faculty.

Things will differ between fields,** Lars** - I’m currently a reader in chemistry in the UK and no one interviewing for a lectureship out of their postdoc, say, would be expected to have raised grant income. How could they be?

They will expected to have a little teaching experience but nothing major. The teaching question is a critical, but low, bar to surmount for a research-led university. If the interviewers think ‘this guy looks like he’ll make a bad teacher’ then you’re sunk, likewise if you display the wrong attitude to teaching at interview. Anything above that though and you’re fine. There’s no practical difference to being a ‘not bad’ teacher and teaching like Jesus Christ from the faculty’s point of view.

The research is what it’s all about. If the panel don’t rate your publications then at least you’ll get a quick answer to your application. If you do get shortlisted then you’ve got an opportunity to shine. A big difference-maker IME is the research talk that candidates give - I’ve seen plenty of exceptional CV’d folks give flat and underwhelming talks. Ambition in your research proposals is another major factor - the EPSRC is a bloodbath at the moment, proposals that are merely excellent stand no chance of funding. Appointing someone who’s not going to be doing serious, fundable research would be a waste of time. So be ambitious and ask big questions in your proposed research.

It sounds like it’s definitely worth going for, though. I’ve seen time and again candidates with weaker CVs beat out those with glorious resumes - I did this myself when I was first appointed. THere’s a lot more to it than just who has the best list of publications. The interviewers are trying to see who has the potential to make the step up to leading a research goup - not who is currently the best postdoc. The best postdoc is frequently the guy who will be the best PI, tbh, but not always. Also, it’s an excellent sign that your old boss is giving you encouragement - he’d hardly be wasting your time if he didn’t think you had a shot at it.

I’m a graduate student in a different field and in the US, but I served on a hiring committee last year. Our interview process is lengthy. Candidates were all from out of town, so there was generally a dinner with a few faculty members the night before, then a full day of interviews. Candidates met individually with the department chair, faculty members with related interests, and someone in the dean’s office. Candidates met with the hiring committee as a group. Candidates also gave a job talk - an approximately 45 minute talk with a 15-20 minute Q&A session. The job talk is very much the most important part.

After all of the candidates came in, the full faculty voted on whether each candidate was deemed “acceptable.” A faculty meeting was called to decided the order in which to extend offers to candidates. Offers were made, and because the candidates in question were all quite senior, negotiations and university approval of the hires was a very lengthy process.

From my perspective, the job talk is far and away the most important part of the interview. However, quality written work is necessary to get the interview in the first place. The hiring committee read the work of maybe a dozen and a half candidates whose CVs looked promising before deciding who to bring in for interviews.

Re: the research grants - have you done any other sort of proposal writing?

Good luck!

My advice would be to get up to date on the academic literature that has been published in your specialty area recently. Go to a university library and look through the most relevant journals. Also, learn who funds research in your area and something about how the application process goes. Then, write up a research agenda–what research would you do, what grants would you apply for?

Also, look up what the faculty in that department have been publishing lately–maybe not all of them, but the ones in your specialty area and the big names.