The Interview in the Sciences

A faculty member shares tips for candidates for tenure-track jobs.

February 14, 2011

It is interview season in my fields, and we have a few searches going on here. I know I've blathered on about interviews here, here, and here before, but more tips can't hurt, right? Here are a few things I've been noticing this time around:

  • You MUST be able to answer questions/think on your feet. If this is a weakness, practice! When you give a practice talk, ask your colleagues, friends, or labmates to grill you. Even the best prepared talk will not erase that "deer in the headlights" look.
  • You should be able to articulate the central problem(s) your lab will working on and how many people you need to do this.
  • Both your job talk AND your chalk talk need to be accessible to people outside your sub-field. Everyone gets a say on the candidates (even if only the committee votes).
  • Your research plans should look like they will last more than then next three to five years.
  • Be ready to answer questions about your competitor labs. Who are they? What will be special/different/better about your lab or approach? What is your edge? Do not position yourself in competition with your advisor(s) if you can avoid it.
  • You should be able to articulate clearly why you need anything on your start-up list (especially the really expensive stuff and/or stuff you could potentially share) AND talk about the research significance of the resulting data.
  • You don't need to propose formal collaborations, nor do you need to know what everyone in the department is doing before you arrive. However, if after meeting with someone one-on-one, you see a new overlap possibility, it is a great idea to mention it in your chalk talk! We had someone do this to nice effect.
  • Try to behave like a colleague (but not an arrogant ass). If you feel and act like a student or postdoc, the faculty will respond to you like one. If you feel and act like a colleague, the faculty will see you as one.
  • Be nice to the students! We listen to them.

Good luck to all those on the tenure-track job hunt this year!


Prodigal Academic is the pseudonym of a scientist and blogger.


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