Saturday, February 03, 2007
No job candidates today! No driving today!
This week has been all about the job candidates, and our department is not done yet. As a member of the search committee, I've had to be there every day (which means I've put in more hours driving this week than I would in a part-time job), but it's been interesting listening to the candidates talk both in our smaller meetings and in their job talks. Some observations:
Since the entire reason we're hiring someone new is that we don't have someone who's exactly in the subspecialty for which we've advertised, it's exciting to hear someone talk about research in fields and eras that would bring a lot to the program. It's exciting to hear people talk about their research intelligently. The turnout was excellent for both candidates and included people from other (related) departments as well. That's important, since (I hope) it showed the candidates that we're interested in them as well as vice versa. It is a courtship dance on both sides, after all, and I'm assuming that as in other searches, the candidates will have other offers. The semi-formal events (lunches, cocktail parties, dinners) are fun but a little tricky. Talking too informally about family life can veer dangerously into prohibited EEOC waters, but at the same time, you don't want the dinner to be just another Q & A about research interests, which the poor candidate has by then been talking about all day. The events I attended struck a pretty good balance, although I did change the subject when someone wanted to go into enthusiastic detail about the many turbulent and terrifying flights she'd had when leaving from our airport--the one from which the candidate was scheduled to depart the next day. [A digression: What's up with people who do that, anyway? There is no circumstance, none, under which I want to hear about a bad flight, especially when I'm on a flight that isn't, shall we say, glassy smooth, and yet people in the seat behind me always feel compelled to tell horror stories to each other in a loud voice.] About the talks themselves: Dr Crazy has a good post about this, so I'll only add the following: Don't worry if you're a little nervous; we expect and allow for that. Dr. Crazy says to be sure that you identify some of your more obscure references, and that's good advice--sometimes. But if you identify someone that people ought to know, you can come across as condescending. Saying "Abraham Lincoln, who was the sixteenth president of the United States," for example, or "Shakespeare, who was quite a well-known playwright in his day" (I'm making this up) is a bit much. I'd rather look up a reference later than hear this kind of statement; it's insulting. We have advanced degrees, too, so trust me: we'll keep up. The "look up the department members to show interest" as part of doing your homework on the department can be a double-edged sword. Some candidates do it, and some don't; some of my colleagues are flattered by it, but I had one person a year or so ago say that she found it creepy. The majority wouldn't agree, probably (I don't find it creepy), but I thought I'd pass that along.