Monday, December 6, 2010

Interview Rehash3

I'm moving this to the front from 11/19, in honor of "if we're lucky we'll get interviews this week" week.

I thought we could do this a little earlier than usual this year, since there seems to be a not-insignificant number of search committees scheduling first-round interviews already. So let's start thinking about what questions interviewers will be asking at the APA, should you be so fortunate.

Here's the list from three years ago, with some additions from comment threads from last year and the year before:

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?"


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."


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. . . .

Regarding Faculty Interaction (from "Use"; in comments 2 years ago.)

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

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

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

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


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

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

23. 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"

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

25. 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."

26. "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?"

27. "Which do you see as you primary focus--teaching or research?"


28. As far as research questions go, be prepared to discuss the most basic, foundational issues related to your work. You have probably spent 90% of your recent efforts defending what to those outside of your specialty may look like very minor points. Be prepared to engage in the big picture stuff. (From anon 12:46 in comments last year.)


29 What is philosophy? (from R. Kevin Hill, in comments 2 years ago)

30 Prepare for questions about grants and other outside funding. It's not something that philosophers usually consider, but it is becoming an important factor at some institutions. (from anon 2:20, in comments last year.)

31 “In these financially challenging times what skills or talents can contribute to the university as a whole?” (from anon 2:02, in comments last year.)

You might also want to read the comments on this post, this post, this post, this post, and also this, this, and this article in IHE.

Any additions? Any resources I've overlooked?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I teach at a Jesuit Catholic institution and we ask every candidate a stock question about how they can relate to our "mission". I am pretty sure all Catholic schools will ask the same thing (other religious schools might as well). Some such schools will send interviewees a copy of their mission statement, but even if they don't you should look it up on their website (if, of course, you have an interview with a Catholic school).

This is a tricky question. Most of us hate asking it. Many of us are not religious, and some of us might not actually care one bit about our supposed "mission." On the other hand, though, some interviewees might care about it a lot. So interviewees need to steer through a kind of scylla and charibdis situation. If you come across as too enthusiastically religious, that might actually be a negative (just a statement of fact, folks--I make no normative claims here). But you still have to deal seriously with the question.

You can never really go wrong with the following sort of stock answer (just in case I am interviewing you in a few weeks, don't repeat this verbatim)--say something like "I respect the Jesuit tradition of higher education, and I appreciate the fact that an emphasis on learning and scholarship is tied to respect for and care of the whole person." You might need to flesh that out a bit, but that gives the makings of a decent answer. However, you might score a couple points if you give a unique answer to the question (that doesn't make you look like too much of a bible-thumper). I can't tell you exactly how to do that, though.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:48 here--the first instance of "interviewees" in my second paragraph is supposed to read "interviewers." This should make more sense of the "scylla and charibdis" reference...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr Zero - and anonymous above - that's very helpful. :-)

zombie said...

A few years ago, I was asked what philosopher (other than the ones I taught at the time) I would add to a Social/Pol Phil class. I'm applying to the same place this year -- this time I'm ready!

I was asked last year about my plans for publishing a book, and was informed that it was a tenure requirement.

zombie said...

So, Anon 1:48, I have a question (a sincere question). If you were a pro-choice atheist bioethicist applying for a job at your Jesuit institution, how would you answer that "mission" question? I ask b/c I've applied to some Jesuit schools despite my obvious handicaps. Hey, you can't win if you don't play.

BunnyHugger said...

This is along the lines of the "What is philosophy?" question: my department interview during a campus visit a couple of years ago ended with the question, "Is there progress in philosophy?"

Anonymous said...

Zombie -

This is a different anon, but I teach at a Catholic school. The answer to your question will depend on the school to which you were applying. At my school, an atheist pro-choicer could get a job in soc/pol, analytic, or what have you, as long as she didn't flaunt her atheism (and it would be best not to mention it at all). An atheist pro-choicer could get a job in bioethics IF she did not work on abortion. If she worked on abortion there is no way in hell that she would get a bioethics job. (In fact, it would be her stance on her abortion, more than her atheism, that would disqualify her.) At least in my "moderate" department, bioethics seems to be the area where Catholic moral teaching trumps all. In more liberal departments this may not be the case. In more conservative departments an atheist obviously would not be competitive for any position.

This presumes, of course, that the candidate's atheism is known. Most mission statement responses don't ask you to identify your religious background, so you don't have to say that you're an atheist. To write a good response, you just have to display some knowledge of the goals of the college, and some enthusiasm regarding those goals. If there is _nothing_ that you can endorse in the college's mission statement, then it's going to be noticed by the committee. Also, at the on-campus interview, you may have to interview with a dean, who almost always WILL ask you why you want to teach at a Catholic school. While many in your prospective department will not care about your mission response, the dean is a different story.

Anonymous said...

I was on the Scientific Study of Religion conference last October. According to a recent study presented there, people from SCs from non-denominational departments would be less inclined to hire someone if they knew he/she were religious, especially evangelical, latter day saint or jehovah's witness (this was based on self-report, the study examined the responses from people from diverse departments, including philosophy). Perhaps in view of this it's not a good idea to mention that one is member of the Society for Christian Philosophers in the resumé?

zombie said...

Thanks Anon. I don't generally talk about being an atheist, and I don't (much) write about abortion. But my dissertation was on preimplantation genetic diagnosis. I always figure once they see that in my CV, I'll probably be written off as a candidate.
I did teach as an adjunct at a Catholic SLAC several years ago, and did teach medical ethics. But nobody was really paying attention to what I was doing, and at any rate, I don't proselytize in class.
The thing is, I did apply to some Catholic schools, because they advertise bioethics positions quite often.

Anonymous said...

"If you were a pro-choice atheist bioethicist applying for a job at your Jesuit institution, how would you answer that "mission" question?"

You wouldn't. That job is not for you and you shouldn't apply for it. It is dishonest to try to get a job at a place that puts forth values that you are diametrically opposed to.

The same goes for Christians and Universities that are explicitly anti-religious in their mission statements; if there are any.

Anonymous said...

I once got the following question in an interview:

"Why study philosophy?"

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:48 here:

First, I want to endorse what Anon 8:45 says in her/his second paragraph. One does not need to say anything about being religious (or not religious) in a proper mission question response. In fact, part of the point I was originally trying to make is that the best kind of answer (for most Jesuit schools, at least) would involve taking the basic tenets of the mission (stuff like care for the whole person) seriously without linking them to directly to religion at all.

I also think that Anon 9:48's response to Zombie is dead wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with applying to Catholic schools--those like mine, at least--when one believes and even espouses views that run counter to Catholic beliefs. We aren't talking about teaching at a seminary, after all. My university is not a mouthpiece for the church, it is an institution of higher learning where a diversity of views is welcome.

Per this point, I am confident that someone with Zombie's views could be hired by my department, assuming that such person were the top candidate. The only way this wouldn't fly is if in arguing for your favored positions in bioethics you were openly disrespectful to and dismissive of the relevant Catholic positions as positions worthy of consideration. (You might be more likely to run into problems after being hired, for example if some of our really overzealous pro-choice students catch wind of your views).

With that said, there are Catholic institutions (like Steubenville or the University of Dallas) that are much more conservative either in terms of the philosophy department or the university as a whole. You wouldn't be hired by these places, but you wouldn't want to work at them, either.

Anonymous said...

Zombie, I'm an atheist applied-ethicist, and had an on-campus at a Jesuit school last year. The part where the dean grilled me on the mission actually went very well: what philosopher cannot get on board with teaching humanities, the whole person, great books, etc? There was also a clear atheist vibe among many of the faculty, which included two faculty members who were not even Christian. So I'd say schools vary. (I also know it is not my ungodliness that did not get me the job).

Anonymous said...

"The same goes for Christians and Universities that are explicitly anti-religious in their mission statements; if there are any."

Uh... no, there aren't any. That, combined with the tensions of the job market, constitutes a large part of the reason why we atheist philosophers need to seek out jobs even in places that don't fully understand the purpose of philosophical training and inquiry.

KateNorlock said...

I was a feminist atheist who got all the way to a campus interview with a Catholic school which chose not to think of ALL my values as diametrically opposed to theirs. It's not harmful to anyone for an out-of-work atheist to apply to a Catholic school that advertises for a bioethics position and does not say, "You must believe in every Catholic Value." If they say what they usually say, which is a request that applicants be willing to understand/ respect/ contribute to the 'mission of the school,' then it is up to them to decide if it is possible for a pro-choice atheist to do these things. I think it is.

Of course, the previous posters are right that they might look at your background and dismiss you out of hand anyway, but if they're inclined to do that, what would it take, five minutes? That's not a harm on any reasonable standard of harm.

Plus, if we ruled out every venue where we could be rejected out of hand, none of us would ever apply for anything, ha ha ha!

Last but not least, I once got the question that posed a stumper: "What is the heart of philosophy?" They must have liked my answer, gave me the on-campus interview, but to this day I don't remember what my adrenaline-flooded brain came up with.

KateNorlock said...

By the way, I first found Mary Sies' questions in the nineties, and she updated them last year. She writes well, worth looking, and appreciating the evolution of the questions:

I did quite well, after adapting these questions to philosophy.

Word verification: faudilly -- I guess because they didn't want to test me with a real humdinger.

zombie said...

"Do you have any questions for us?"

Last year, I had a surprise interview at a school I thought was quite a long shot for me (in a city I was not wildly enthusiastic about). Their AOS was in my AOC. I went to the interview figuring, if nothing else, it would be instructive for me to experience an APA interview (and it was). When they asked me if I had any questions for them, I asked them what it was about my dossier that interested them. This was probably not a great question to ask from a strategic standpoint, but I was genuinely interested to know what they perceived to be a strength of my application. It turned out to be something in my CV that had nothing to do with the job advertised. I'm not sure how generalizable that is -- will other schools also find it a plus? But it is something I highlight in my CV and my cover letters as demonstrating the breadth of my experience.
It might not be a good question to ask in general, but I got the sense that they were surprised I asked it, and I suppose it was a break from the usual "when do you expect to have a decision?" type questions.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Zombie,

At first blush, without really knowing what I'm talking about, I like the idea of asking them what it is about you that made them interested in you. It seems to me that it might force them to vividly recall the things they came up with on their own about why they liked you, and this can only be good for you. "I've been telling you why you should like me; now you tell me why you like me."

Anonymous said...

This is off-topic, but: for the love of God, if you announce a tenure-track opening in your department and invite applications, then you should freakin' say something if the search is canceled.

You know what's worse than competing with four- or five-hundred applicants for a job? Wasting time applying for a job that no longer exists. If you're a research department with a website, then there's no excuse for not posting in a timely manner an announcement that the search has been canceled.

Anonymous said...

@ the person who attended last year's Scientific Study of Religion conference:

Is this the paper to which you were referring?

“Exploring Attitudes Toward Religious Conservatism among College Faculty in the US” (Christopher G. Ellison, with Jennifer Storch, Gary Tobin, Aryeh Weinberg, and David Dutwin).

Anonymous said...

People interviewing for jobs in philosophy of law--be prepared to answer questions not just about teaching philosophy of law, but also about dealing with pre-law students (i.e. questions about advising them on getting into law school).

If this is not something you are prepared for (especially if you are one of the people who doesn't actually work on philosophy of law at all, but applied because you do social/political and think that is close enough) consider that it is likely to be a big part of your job-- if you get the job-- so you might as well prepare now.

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for a new discussion topic, as a job seeker I'm curious to know what the process of candidate selection is like for those doing the selecting. Do you focus on a few candidates or one aspect of all candidate files on a particular day? Do you spend much time looking at candidate webpages, or just examine the supplied materials? Where do you do most of your work, in the office or at home after hours? Does your department get many calls or messages from candidates begging for more news? No real point to this, other than to satiate the curiosity of a philosopher who might not ever get to see this side of the gig.

Anonymous said...

Following the point above about how to deal w/ pre-law students, bioethics folks should have an answer to how to deal with med, pre-med, nursing, etc. students who think they're doing God's work (not necessarily in a religious sense, just that they're Doing Good) and that bioethics folks (a) know nothing useful and (b) are wasting their time.

And I had a question about dealing with criminal justice majors (roughly pre-cops) who are irritated by suggestions that police get the wrong person, are constrained by, e.g., constitutional provisions, etc.

One part of my answers to these questions that seemed to work is to have an explanation why it is NOT a matter of doctor, nurse, cop, etc. against pointy-headed academics or annoying lawyers. It is often a debate AMONG doctors, cops, etc. And have some useful cases to illustrate.

Good luck!