Choose Your Own Professor: Faculty Interviews from a Student Perspective

This year, my LIS program will be losing a faculty member to another university. We are sad to see them go! Because we are a smaller department, this is a big deal for staff and students. Over this past semester, our school’s search team has brought in several faculty candidates to interview for a new position. In addition to getting interviewed and getting a tour around our campus in turn, the faculty candidates are asked to have lunch with the students, as well as to give a formal research presentation (learn more in Nisha’s recent post here), which is open to the public. As a new and enthused academic, this was an invaluable opportunity for me, not only to see how the academic job market operates but also, to have a hand in choosing our new professor, thereby personalizing our own learning. Though every school is different, I will tell you a little about what this process meant for me and some tips on how to make the most of the interview process, if you encounter it in between your studies.

  1. Interact with the candidates as much as you can. Not everyone can take time to do this but if you can, do. It is really important to represent your school in this way. Imagine if you were interviewing at a university and none of the students showed up to your scheduled events. You’d probably be wary of that school, right? Our luncheons and research presentations were spread out over the course of a few weeks, so it was easy to be able to talk to all of the candidates. Our professors let us out of class to attend the candidate’s’ research presentations, and the administration even made accommodations for distance learning students. It was helpful to talk to every candidate for the sake of consistency.
  2. Do your research. Our LIS secretary provided copies of the faculty candidate’s CVs and research abstracts for the students and staff to look over. It was not only valuable to see what a professional CV looks like in our field, but also what kind of research is being done currently. This may also prepare you to ask informed questions which brings me to my next point…
  3. Ask questions! We asked most of our questions during the lunch, and then the faculty asked questions after the presentation. Some questions that we asked the candidates were “why do you want to work at the University of Iowa specifically?” and “what courses would you like to teach if hired?” If they answered, “I don’t know, I just need a job, man…”  I would not have been very impressed (nobody actually said that, btw). The candidates had some questions for us too, like how the classes were structured and tips about living in the city.
  4. Don’t judge a candidate by their luncheon. Yes, it is important to get to know a candidate on a one-on-one casual basis (especially over delicious pizza), but if their research presentation didn’t woo me, that was a dealbreaker. I want a professor to be able to speak clearly and compellingly, and to field questions appropriately. The content of the presentation matters too, but a little less so for me, since most of the candidates presented on their dissertations and it’s really hard to “sell” a dissertation to people outside of your specialization.
  5. Think about what’s best for your program. After the faculty candidates visited, we got write a little bit about our experiences with the candidates and score them from 1-10 on overall impressions and on their research presentation. Then, the president of our student organization tallied our votes and presented an analysis of our impressions to the faculty. I found myself really liking all of the candidates, but some of them just weren’t right for what I thought my program needed. My personal set of criteria was: would I take this person’s course? If I said “no,” I would then ask myself, “would any of my classmates take this person’s course?” If I answered “yes,” I’d send them to the next round.

Again, I feel so #blessed to have been able to be involved in this process. I’m honored to be in a program that actually values student’s’ input on important issues like this. Talking to the candidates and seeing how the hiring process worked really made a difference on how I look at the academic job market, and how I think about my future career.
Have you ever participated in an academic hiring process as a student? What were your experiences?


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