Monday, February 4, 2008

Observations from recent job interviews

0. For some reason, the only seats available when I select seats after buying tickets or when checking into a flight are middle ones. When I actually get on the plane, there are plenty of aisle and window seats. What's the deal?

1. I had a dual interview with another candidate --- the two of us met with the fellowship director and had lunch together with the faculty. Surprisingly, it was not even slightly awkward.

2. I've been interviewing for postdocs at the top top places in my field, but my current institution is middle-ranked. I can tell how seriously based on how people inflect their voices while talking about my current affiliation. versus

At the top school in my field, they seemed to take it seriously as an institution: "So, you're at Mediocre University," they stated, and mentioned people that they knew there or asked about its exact location relative to the nearest city.

At another top school, they had a questioning attitude: "So, you're at Mediocre University? [i.e., You would be coming from there to our august institution?]", seemingly relieved when I explained it as "a project that came up while I am finishing and publishing my dissertation," and didn't mention any features of the university such as people that they might condescend to know there. Only one faculty member there seemed open to the school, and asked about a faculty ; unsurprisingly, she was the one who attended less prestigious schools than the others (but was doing absolutely brilliant work.) These reactions were virtually uniform across the schools, and unrelated to any other aspect of the school. The faculty at the more status-obsessed school were at least as friendly and open, and I'm guessing they had at least as much funding as the top place.

3. One of the positions was a politically-motivated postdoc funded by a private donor. I was a little worried about that because I'm solidly behind the cause, but uncomfortable with mixing politics and academia, and wondered if it meant that 100% of my research agenda had to be in line with the cause. It turns out no, and even the interviews with people who I suspect that I would disagree with their political approach turned out well.

4. I was visiting the institution of someone doing almost exactly what I'd like to, so asked to meet them in person before my interview. They weren't connected with the position. They mentioned two traits they look for in a postdoc:

(a) Productivity: the postdoc is supposed to do what the faculty member is unable to do because of their administrative responsibilities. Three papers a year is the ideal.

(b) Potential to learn from the postdoc, rather than just to continue what they were doing before. She wants to make a difference by her mentorship.

5. The Murphy Brown alternative. This deserves its own post.

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