Julie Platt is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Writing at Michigan State University and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @aristotlejulep.
The academic job market is a journey. A long, complex, stressful journey. I'm in the thick of this journey right now, having just arrived back from the Modern Language Association annual conference, where hundreds of scholarly hopefuls in English studies interviewed with search committees from universities all over the United States. Generally, the next step after a phone interview is a campus visit, wherein you travel to the interested university, interact with the faculty, staff and students, give a job talk, and possibly do a teaching demonstration. What follows is a bit of advice from my job mentors about what to expect during the campus visit, and what strategies you can use to be successful during it.
Be prepared to be "on" all the time. The interview begins the moment that you get picked up at the airport and does not end until you're safely on the plane home. Even if someone says to you "the interview's over, it's just us talking as friends now," don't let it all hang out, so to speak. Everything you do will be scrutinized; there's no room to not be your best, most polished, most grown-up self in the campus visit. This is not a knock against search committees or an attempt to paint them as unforgiving. On the contrary, when they bring you to campus, they've invested a large amount of time (and money) into your success, so they'll be rooting for you (as I was once told, the best situation a search committee can be in after a campus visit is having three equally strong candidates for a job). This simply means that you'll need to be ready to talk about your research, teaching, and service at any given moment, whether it's over dinner, during a car ride, or walking across campus. You need to present yourself as a potential colleague at all times.
Be prepared to talk to the bigwigs. In addition to talking to the search committee, you'll likely be talking to the chair of the department. You'll likely be speaking with him or her about how classes in the major are taught, what the graduate program is like, et cetera. You'll also be talking to the dean because, of course, s/he has a significant say in the search committee's decision to put an offer forward and was the one who ultimately approved the search. Expect to talk with the dean about more university-level issues such as the university and/or college's mission, the university's relationship to the community, the university's vision for its future, et cetera. Questions about faith may come up here too, if the university has a religious affiliation. During these talks, you should come prepared with some smart questions of your own. For example, you might want to ask the department chair about collaboration opportunities, or what their vision is for the department's future. You might want to ask the dean about what kinds of technology facilities the university provides for teaching and research, or inquire further about the population and makeup of the university's students.
Be prepared to talk about everything and anything, especially when it comes to the job talk. The job talk is an opportunity for the committee and others to make guesses about how you are as a teacher. Engage them. Start with an anecdote or interesting tidbit that came from your work. Lead with your findings: what's your research question, and what have you found? Unless they specifically want an in-depth discussion of methods, you shouldn't fuss over your methods too much or people will think you're not done with your dissertation. You should prepare interesting slides, but speak extemporaneously. If you have handouts, make sure they're well-designed and visually pleasing (you should also make your own copies--don't assume that anyone will have the time or patience to run them off for you). You should prepare thoroughly for the job talk by presenting it to your guidance committee, or at least your chair, beforehand. Think of the job talk as an ideal conference presentation where people will actually be paying attention to you and engaging with you at the end. They'll be very interested in what you have to say.
What advice do you have about the campus visit? Let us know in the comments below.
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