Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rehash: interview questions

It's probably worth taking the lovely holiday season to actually prepare for interviews and not just think about having them. Step 1: think about possible questions..

Last Year's list:
Course content
1. What kind of intro do you teach and why? As Anon. 1:58 puts it, "What do you cover in Intro and why? Do you give a historical or problems course? Do you emphasize methods or content? Primary sources or textbook?"

2. Inside the Philosophy Factory's got a broader take on the same idea. She asks, what's your "vision for 'normal' philosophy courses and your methods for teaching logic? Here you'll want to explain the kinds of exercises you'll do to keep students engaged. You'll also want to explain your assessment methods for those courses."

Interdisciplinary and cross-department teaching

3. What would you teach if you got to design your own course integrating material from other disciplines?

4. From Sisyphus, "How would you teach our cross-listed courses with gen ed./the Core Curriculum/some other department/the writing program?"

Engaging students

5. How would you engage students that are required to take philosophy courses but who otherwise would not have?

6. Here's a variation from Anon. 1:58: "How would you get students at our school interested in your class X? Why would our students want to take it?"

7. John Turri's talking engagement too, but he's going a different direction: "What techniques would you use to engage students, in the same class, of very different levels of ability and interest?"

Diversity

8. Back to Sisyphus: "How would you work with our students as opposed to the ones at your current institution" (i.e., differences in diversity, age, college prep, money, types of feeder schools, a religious mission, they are all huge b-ball fans, etc.)"

9. Here's Inside the Philosophy Factory: What are "your methods for adjusting to different preparation levels in the classroom? Here is where you'll have to explain how you'll deal with the kid who can't read and the kid who had to come home from Princeton sitting next to one another in your freshman Ethics course."

Teaching practices

10. How does your research inform your teaching?

11. From Anon. 1:58: "What is your strength/weakness as a teacher? What is special about your classes? What do you feel you need to work on?"

12. John T again: "What incentives do you build into the course to encourage your students to actually do the reading?"

13. What technology do you use in teaching? Besides chalk, I guess.

14. From Inside the Philosophy Factory: How would you "deal with a few students who are doing badly in the class -- and how you would deal with a significant portion of the class that is doing badly? She recommends, "The key with the student is to offer more help and to understand what resources are available to help students who need more assistance. With the class who is doing badly, discuss how you'd do some review to reinforce some important concepts AND to do classroom assessment techniques like asking about the 'muddiest point' etc."

Workload

15. From Sisyphus, "what sorts of limitations do you see yourself working around in your research here (i.e., how will you deal with our heavy teaching load and research requirements at the same time?)?"

16. And Michael Cholbi underlines the point: "Be ready to talk about how you'd teach large courses (50+) on your own."

Michael C. also recommends having a handful of memorable points to make about your teaching. Now, nothing makes a talking point go down smooth like a charming little anecdote. . . .

Anecdotes

17. From Anon. 1:58: "What was your worst/best moment as a philosophy teacher and why? How did you react/respond?"

18. Sisyphus again: "Describe a time you had to deal with a problem student."

19. And back to Inside the Philosophy Factory: Describe "your most challenging teaching situation and your most rewarding experience. Here is where you tell the story about little Jimmy who was sure he couldn't do logic -- who had talked himself out of being able to pass the class and who finally ended up passing the class"

20. Anon. 1:58: "From a religious school: How would you get along with our students?"

21. Inside the Philosophy Factory Again: Talk about "your professional development. Here is where you'll want to talk about the teaching seminars you're attending via your grad university, how you are a member of APT etc... This is not where you give details about conference papers, publications etc -- unless there is a research element to your position. Then you make it about 50/50."

22. "Suppose someone (perhaps a community member, and not necessarily a student) came to you and asked how to resolve moral problem X. What would you tell them to do?"

23. Finally, "Which do you see as you primary focus--teaching or research?"
Anything to add to the list?

-- Second Suitor

Update:  Oh yea, and - 'Tell me about your research'

6 comments:

use said...

Regarding Faculty Interaction

1. How do you plan to deal/how have you dealt in the past with disagreements with other faculty members?

2. How do you think you would fit in with our current faculty?

3. If you were on a search committee within our department, what would the three most important qualities of a candidate be?

4. What is the most exciting prospect about working with our current faculty?

tithonus said...

Use's question #4 can be very hard to answer, since most, or at least many, departments don't have any information online about their faculty. There are departments with several junior people who have few or no pubs, no CV posted, no course information online, and no information on their faculty profile pages. (I wasted hours trying to dig up anything at all. It's as if there are ghosts working all over the country. . . . ) I know of at least 6 or 7 departments like this. Of course I don't expect to be asked anything like #4, but it's hard to say anything positive about the department in the cover-letter and it's hard to say if I'd even like working with these people. . . . It would be very nice if departments could make sure that they post at least some information beyond the mere AOS (which some didn't even have) if they are going to host a search. If anything, it would make writing cover letters easier. I guess this just goes to show that this is a buyer's market. Hundreds of people are asking to be hired into environments that are almost entirely unknown. . . .

tithonus said...

22. "Suppose someone (perhaps a community member, and not necessarily a student) came to you and asked how to resolve moral problem X. What would you tell them to do?"

Is this a reasonable question, even for an ethics AOS? I can't imagine anyone asking this on an interview. Are they interviewing priests or trying to flush out religious commitments? What would you say if a student came by and asked: "Hey prof. I was wondering, should I get an abortion?" . . . WTF! This can't be one of the top 23 interview questions!

. . .

Come to think of it, Use's questions are all a bit HR / business-speakish. The use of "exciting" says it all. Business-type are always saying that they are "so excited." These questions are just a step up from "What's your greatest weakness?" Please search committee members, please don't ask questions like this unless you are simply trying to see how the candidates suffer fools.

The only thing worse than this kind of stuff is teaching jargon: "teachable moments," "learning outcomes," etc. Good lord, keep these people away from me.

a158 said...

tithonus:

Question 22 is real. I was on the receiving end in Dec 2006. And I was up for a value theory position.

I don't think it ranks highly, unless you understand it in a certain way (see last paragraph). But I think it made the list because the original list compiler found it very surprising. If I recall correctly, the question was referred to originally as "a real sphincter-tightener," or something similar.

It's an odd question for some AOS's, I suppose, but I don't think it's all that strange for value theory types. I know more than one professor who has been asked to speak at local public meetings and events. One colleague speaks at a lot of environmental ethics things. Another is asked to give talks every once in a while at churches on state/church separation. Another gets out and talks about philosophy of science (especially evol. theory) once in a while. This kind of work practically invites people to come by, even if you don't explicitly make the offer.

Anyway, in some places the college is a part of the community. If there are a lot of public events on your college campus, and the public really takes advantage of them, it is not unheard of for the public to occasionally come by with questions. Sometimes college professors are regarded as community leaders, of a sort, or at least as wise or knowledgeable members of the community, at least within their AOS's. I think this is more common with public schools, but even private schools get this, if they go out of their way to be community-friendly.

One last thought. This anonymous community member may have just been a stand-in for "average reasonable person." The interviewer who asked this question may have wanted nothing more than some sense of whether I could explain my work to the average person (whoever that might be). This is a pretty common question, and it gets framed in a bunch of different ways.

R. Kevin Hill said...

My favorite deer-in-headlights question I heard more than once was "what is philosophy?"

Anonymous said...

Use's question #4 can be very hard to answer, since most, or at least many, departments don't have any information online about their faculty. There are departments with several junior people who have few or no pubs, no CV posted, no course information online, and no information on their faculty profile pages. (I wasted hours trying to dig up anything at all. It's as if there are ghosts working all over the country. . . . )

If your university has a subscription to proquest research library, you might be able to use their dissertation database to find out the topics of those mysterious faculty members. You can actually read their dissertations if you'd like. In fact, you can pretty read any dissertation in the last half century.