Campus Interview Experience, Part 1

Recently, I was lucky enough to make to the campus interview stage for a full-time, tenure-track academic job at a small university in the south-eastern region of the United States. The two days I spent at the university was a fantastic learning experience and I cannot thank the university enough for making it as pleasant, friendly, and useful as they possibly could. I ultimately did not get the job, but I hope my insight can be helpful for others.

This post is geared toward those who are seeking an academic job in the USA and although my background is humanities/social sciences, I imagine some of this could be relevant for those in other parts of the world and/or the sciences. There are other excellent blogs and articles on this subject. Inside Higher Education has some great advice about how to prep for an interview and UC Berkeley wrote a really informative article about the hiring process from the “other side“, which will give you some great insight. The Chronicle also wrote a great article about the campus interview process in a step-by-step format. I suggest you check them out before you head into the academic job season or find yourself lucky enough to make it to the campus interview. The amazing website, The Professor Is In has a whole series of blog posts about the campus visit, which I read several times before mine.

Here’s my experience from my application to the campus interview. Again, this is my experience alone and this will differ greatly at every institution. This entry will be about the lead-up to my campus interview and in my next post I’ll talk about the campus interview itself.

I arrived back home in Los Angeles on 30 January a bit shell-shocked from a tough but valuable viva just three days earlier. International PhD students, this will be largely out of your control, but try to have your viva more that just three days before your visa expires. My final two weeks in London before I had to leave were filled with viva prep (both mine and for my friend’s, who had his viva just 10 days before mine) and packing up my flat while I battled a terrible cold that lingered the entire month. To top it all off, I’d recently sustained a knee and back injury from a bad fall one rainy evening. The day before my viva I moved into my friend’s flat where I’d spend my last 4 days in London. I did what I could to recover, and aided by the pre-viva adrenaline coursing through my body, I arrived at my university feeling pretty all right. I passed my viva, had leaving drinks the next day followed by a day of watching films with my friends on the sofa, and then I had to fly to Los Angeles. It was a lot.

It would take several weeks before my examiners’ report could be processed so I decided to take the plunge into round two of the academic job market. In the States, there are two jobs rounds. The first, and biggest, takes place during the autumn when the majority of hiring universities will post their job ads with interviews to be conducted at the annual AHA meeting in January. The second round takes place after AHA has passed and this when is when the small universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges post their job ads.

I sent out a large number of applications over the next few weeks. Having no illusions about the job market, I went in with the expectation that this was probably a practice-round. So, imagine my surprise in early March while I was back in London for a few weeks to find out I had been one of eight applicants selected for a Skype interview at one of the many universities in which I had applied!

The Skype interview was scheduled on a Thursday for a 30-minute time slot at 3 PM US Central Time. At the time of my interview, I was in Tel Aviv visiting family, which meant my interview would be at 10 PM. In the days before my interview I made notes about each member of the selection committee, the history department (including activities, resources, classes, undergraduate/graduate requirements, and awards recipients), the university, and the town in which the university is based. I made notes about each member of the faculty’s research, resources at the university’s library, student life within in the department and university, and local museums and archives.

At the start of the interview, everyone introduced themselves. The vibe was very friendly, which helped me relax. During the interview, each member of the selection committee (5 professors, one MA student) took a turn to ask me questions. These ranged from “why did you apply to XX”, “what are your future research plans”, “how would you teach an undergraduate class about XX vs. an MA class on XX”, and “what challenge did you overcome while teaching?” amongst others. I expected most of these questions so I was prepared and answered the questions to the best of my ability with a smile as I tried to be as personable as I could be over the Internet. Every person on the committee was good-natured and extremely friendly, especially considering the fact that the hotel Wi-Fi cut out twice during my interview. All in all, it was a great experience.

Things happened very quickly after the Skype interview. The next day I was asked to sign a release so they could contact my references. One of my undergraduate professors, with whom I’ve remained in regular contact since 2007, said that this meant I would likely be selected for campus interview. According to him, universities don’t contact references unless they want to fly you out. Monday morning I opened my email to tell my supervisors they might get a phone call and found that out that they’d already had lovely, lengthy chats with the search committee chair. The search committee even contacted my MA thesis supervisor for a “blind” reference, which I did not expect. Then on Tuesday I received an email saying I’d been one of three candidates selected for campus interview and they gave me three slots to choose during the first week of April. Overall I was absolutely amazed, and a little overwhelmed, that I had made it this far so quickly. Over the period of 5 days I’d gone from preparing for a Skype interview to looking into flights to the Southeastern region of the United States. I had a little over a week to prepare for a 3-day campus visit.

If you’ve already scoured the department/university website and the internet for information about the campus and interview process (which you really need to do), there’s not a whole lot you can do to prepare for a campus visit. The best thing to do, therefore, is to prep your research and teaching presentation. I’d been fortunate to sit in on many job candidate presentations at King’s so I had an idea of what to do, but the US campus interview is a whole different bag. From what I observed at King’s, the candidates each had a 15-minute public presentation about their research and are given time field questions during a Q&A. Then they have a private interview with the selection committee in the afternoon and are notified almost immediately if they are selected for the job. (I haven’t had a campus interview in the UK, so this is totally based on my own observations.) Sophie Coulombeau wrote a great blog post about her experience of the UK academic job market, which you can read here. In my experience, the American campus visit is very, very different.

I had a little less than a week to prepare my research and teaching presentations, especially since at the time I was rejigging a paper for a conference. Two days after the conference I flew back to LA and two days later I headed back to the airport to take two flights to the Southeast.

About Rebecca Simon

A California-girl based in London working on a PhD in early modern Atlantic history at King's College London: piracy, executions, British law. https://twitter.com/beckalex
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