Friday, February 02, 2007

Thoughts on Job Talks

Ok, so my earlier post was all about me being disgruntled and stressed out, and I admit, I'm still somewhat disgruntled and stressed out, but I want to do a post that is a little less oriented toward whining and more oriented toward something productive. (Note: my greatest destressor of the day was that I left campus for a couple of hours, and I spent money I shouldn't have spent at Dillards - because apparently stress turns me into a shopaholic, but also a bargain-hunter, as it's 40%-off all already reduced merchandise this weekend, so I spent 30 bucks when I could have spent, at full price approximately $130 - and then I went to Panera Bread for lunch and I did some work there. I should always leave campus if I've got 2-3 free hours, as sitting in my office is not the ideal way to destress. I did this last semester a couple of times, too, and it was great. I must remember to do this in future.)

But so anyway, I had to attend a job talk this afternoon - my second of the week - and it's incredibly interesting to do this given my current situation. Whereas my first time on the market I only knew job talks from my R1 institution - and I wasn't in residence during my year on the market so I didn't attend any in close proximity to my own experience - now, well, I have the lay of the land a bit more as to what is required in such a talk (or so I think). Today's talk was incredibly interesting, but at the same time, I left the talk feeling like the candidate didn't really pay attention to us as much as he might have done. In contrast, the talk earlier in the week wasn't quite so interesting, but the candidate did seem to have a good sense of the needs of our institution.

Now, one thing that is true about my institution is that we require an unconventional job talk. And one is never quite sure what the candidate gets told beforehand, so the talks tend to be all over the map, from the traditional talk (which isn't really what we want) and a very loose kind of talk that doesn't really fit the bill either (an overcorrection on the part of the candidate based on really believing it when the person who tells them about the talk inadvertently says something about being "informal" and they don't further ask about what "informal" means). In other words, one might say that we set candidates up to disappoint us (which I do think that we do, incidentally). Oh, I should also say that candidates at my institution do not teach a sample class - the job talk is meant to be a two-for-one deal, in which we get a sense of their teaching while at the same time we get a sense of their research.

Now, I've got an upcoming talk to give, and I'm not claiming that I'm an expert on what that institution wants, but at the same time, I do think that my experience of having given a talk (and done very well at it) and of watching many job talks (both in grad school and at my current institution) has been valuable experience. And so, even though I may well not get the job for which I will be giving the upcoming talk, I'm going to go out a limb and give some tips about what to do in a job talk, whatever the institution.

1. The job talk is not about your research.
Not really. It's about how you fit into the institution. As such, your primary concern is in tailoring what you do to the institution at which you are giving the talk. This is true for all institutions, even R1 type places, though what it means there is something different from what it means at an institution like mine from what it means at a SLAC. The point is, your research is your research whatever way you slice it. But your presentation of that research is really the point in such a presentation. They've already seen your writing samples and stuff, or at the very least your CV. So what they're looking for is NOT to find out who you are as a researcher, not really. What they're looking to find out is whether you "fit in" with the department. It's not about whether you're interesting (though you have to be) or whether you demonstrate your knowledge of a topic (though you must). It's about how you organize that interesting knowledge into what the institution is looking for. Now, most grad students know (if only intuitively) what that means for an R1 sort of a situation. Don't bore people. Show that you've done your homework. But at my institution, it's not really about that (only). It's about how you show that you fit that into teaching. It's about being practical in your approach (talking about how things fit into specific assignments or approaches in the classroom, for example). It's about making what you do accessible, as if to students. This will be like nothing you've ever seen at your grad school when they've been hiring.

2. You can't know what the institution wants if you don't ask, especially since the talk really isn't about your research.
The thing that got me my job, aside from being my usual charming self and my cv, was, I believe, the fact that I hounded the Search Committee chair for more information about the expectations for the job talk. The first information that I got was that it "wasn't a traditional job talk" and that they wanted me to "talk about my research" but that I should also talk about how that relates to teaching. I responded with a flurry of emails requiring the chair to specify. First he said something about me avoiding the "narcotic effects" of just reading a paper. But that was not enough for me. So I asked more questions. And it was through asking those questions that I was able to come up with a talk that really did address the needs of my audience. I had a mountain of handouts - sample assingments for a range of courses, sample syllabi, sample approaches. Yes, I read for 10 minutes or so, so that they would get a sense of what I was doing in a traditional sense. But that was it. I moved on. I answered the question, "so how does this relate to you all and to the students at your institution?" I answered the question, "what will I bring to this institution, if you hire me?" And that's ultimately the question that all schools want answered. At an R1, the answer is "brilliance" and so it is about the brilliance of your work in a more conventional way. But elsewhere? It's about other things.

3. A job talk is not a conference presentation.
So this might be obvious, but it's not. One, people in the audience won't necessarily be familiar with what you're talking about. And I'm not talking just about the texts - I'm talking about even the discipline in which you situate yourself. Departments have many configurations - some are departments just of English and American Literature, but some are departments of Literature and Language (i.e., the foreign languages are grouped with English), or they are English departments but they also hire people who specialize in professional writing or creative writing or comp/rhet. In other words, if you give your talk as if you are giving a conference presentation, you're going to leave people out of the conversation. They don't catch the references. They've never even heard of some of the references. If you're not prepared for that, you're going to fail.

4. A job talk is not a conference presentation, part II.
When you read a paper for 15 minutes, people can pretty much follow it. When you are told that you will have an hour block of time, well, things change. When in doubt, go short rather than long. You can always elaborate in the Q and A. Be sure to state up front what you will talk about, and if possible give people an outline of your main points, so if they tune out they can tune back in. Aim for clarity over complexity, even when what you discuss is complex. This is true in all scenarios, because I'll tell you, even when attending job talks that were more traditional in nature at my grad institution, I valued these things. If they say that you have 30-40 minutes to speak, aim for 30. Take time of day into account - if the talk is at 3PM, that's naptime; if the talk is at 6PM, that's dinnertime. Take care of your audience by not going on and on, even if you are really interesting and engaging.

5. Technology is not always your friend.
In today's talk, the candidate used technology brilliantly. The candidate used images, and those images were essential to the candidate's presentation. The candidate did not just have main points on the screen as a power point. The candidate did not have a power point with points that didn't really add to the presentation, just looming in the background. The candidate did not have a picture of a labial flower on the screen to remind us of the candidate's personal sexual orientation (as a candidate in the past did). The candidate did not keep the images on the screen after they were no longer pertinent. I'd much rather see a presentation with no use of anything on a screen, particularly if things on a screen are not essential, than see a candidate put crap into a powerpoint that doesn't really help me as a member of the audience. Technology should be for the audience. I believe anybody can figure out how to put something up on a screen - if that's the only reason you've decided to use AV, then you should just say no. You've got (or are getting) a PhD - I believe that you can figure out a smart classroom, and I don't need to see an unnecessary demonstration of the fact that you can.

6. Don't rely on your audience to ask questions that are central to your success.
This may seem to contradict #4, in which I say that you can elaborate during the Q and A. But it really doesn't. What I'm saying is that if you know your audience is interested in X, give them X in the talk, and let them ask questions about Y, even if Y is what your private passion is. Don't make me ask you questions that will save your candidacy. Specifically, if you're interviewing at a teaching institution, and you don't have a teaching demo to show your stuff, don't make the audience ask you about how what you do translates into your work in the classroom.

7. Don't evade questions about challenges to what you do.
Let's say that an audience member asks you about students who would resist your approach. Don't just say that "this has never been an issue for me" and leave it at that. Let's say an audience member challenges your theory in a section of your talk. Don't just say that what they have to say isn't really pertinent to your approach. ENGAGE. Give a REAL response. A CONCRETE response. Obviously, you need to be polite, and you may need to stall a bit if you've not thought the question through, but you shouldn't pussy-foot around a question and fail to answer it.

8. Don't expect the audience to connect the dots.
Make the trajectory of your talk clear. Make it clear where your ideas come from and why you move from point A to point B (or C or D or E). Make it clear how your ideas in the talk fit into your broader identity as a scholar. Make it clear how everything comes together. If you expect your audience to connect the dots, they may just not do that. They may just not see how it all fits together.

So these are my thoughts on job talks. We'll see how I do in my upcoming one, but the point here, is this is all I've learned from attending many of them, and I suspect that this information may be helpful to others.


BBound said...

This is extraordinarily useful. Thank you!

The Constructivist said...

Very good. The description of the kind of talks your department asks for and looks for is eerily like mine. Does "midwest" include western NY? No, wait, don't answer that. In fact, I shouldn't even be asking that. Anyway, my department always asks people to "talk about the relation between their research and their teaching." The theory being that how they interpret that enigmatic request will give us insight into how they think. Many of the younger faculty want it less enigmatic, but the chair of the personnel committee is pretty adamant about this, and we've been on a string of great hires since the late '90s.

gwinne said...

And there are schools, like my former institution, where the job talk will be attended by everyone from undergrads to administrators, and faculty from all disciplines (like a biologist attending a job for a candidate in twentieth-century fiction). So I heartily concur.

I think the point about "fit" is right on the mark, but sometimes there's nothing you can do to prepare for that because it touches on all kinds of personal quirks. Pronouncing a theorist's name in particular way. Using a laser pointer. Wearing a suit that's a little too nice. And I found, at the SLAC anyway, that student input was given a whole lot of weight, at times more than the administrators.

Best wishes on the interview!

saxifraga said...

This is an excellent post. It touches on many issues I think will be helpful to many. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Dr. Crazy said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I've got to say, part of what inspired me to write it is that it made me feel better about my own situation as a talk-giver to put it all down in concrete terms.

And Gwinne, you're right that some "fit" issues are unpredictable, but what I'd say is that at least in my experience, those things are less important (like say, the slightly too-nice suit) than the stuff that I outline here. At my VERY casual institution, we're much more likely to give Too-Nice-Suit the benefit of the doubt, even if we think the person is a bit slick. In contrast, if the person fits some of the quirky fit things but gives a crap presentation, well, we feel sorry for the person, but they don't get hired on the quirky fit things alone.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and Constructivist: I would say that "midwest" can include Western NY, but that is not where I'm located :) But yes, it sounds like our institutions ask for EXACTLY the same thing out of candidates for the talk, and you know, it's resulted in good hires here, too. Maybe the enigmatic request is the way to go?

Dr. Virago said...

Oh man, where were you when I was on the market! I totally *blew* one of those weird, enigmatic talk requests that asked me to be "informal" and "connect it to teaching" and "assume students will be in the audience." They also said to do something *other* than my recent research, since they'd read my writing sample, etc., and knew about that. (Frankly, I think that's asking a freakin' lot of a stressed out first-timer, but whatever.) Anwyay, I dug up some piece o' crap on Chaucer, genre, and science fiction, pitched it at a senior seminar/MA level, read a lot of Middle English aloud (with facing-page translation handouts) and explained it on a rather literal level -- all of which might have been good if my entire audience didn't consist of my potential colleagues, all of whom clearly (from their crestfallen faces) were expecting a more traditional research job talk. I'd had a great visit up to that point -- the talk came close to the end -- and the disappointment in the room was palpable. I said something to the chair about not having known what to do with the talk, given what I'd been told (which I repeated) and he seemed to be hearing such directions for the first time. Sigh.

All of which is to say: I wish, Dr. Crazy, I'd had you as a model back then because then I, too, would have pestered the committee with questions and known not to take "informal" too literally.

The good news is that job wasn't as good as the one I got, but it was the first of my campus visits and could have thrown me for a loop on the others. But I'm a get-back-in the-saddle kind o' gal and wowed my current colleagues on my visit here. As a final note, that talk was a little more like an R1 talk in that I read a paper -- my institution fancies itself a research intstitution -- but even medievalists don't know jack about my topic, so I'm used to writing general, framing intros. And since my subject matter lends itself to melodramatic, entertaining performance, I do a lot of that in the presentation.

So other readers might want to ask committees point-blank: do you want a formal paper or something else? That is, don't assume that because the place isn't an R1 that they don't expect a formal talk. But also, per your suggestions, Crazy, don't assume that they do!

undine said...

Great advice, Dr. Crazy. It sounds as though the advice for job talks is like the advice for dress codes: they may say "informal" dress (or an informal talk) is what they want, but they don't really mean it. They want the suit, and they want the research talk, whether they know it or not.

k8 said...

So helpful to hear this! I'll be on the market next year, and the job talk is one of the things that has me the most nervous. I've witnessed fabulous ones and some that completely bombed. I'm hoping not to fall in the latter category. It is especially good to here that it is a good thing to ask for more information regarding the nature of the expected talk/presentation.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ah, but Undine, not all places DO want the research talk, even if they don't want the "informal" thing that they *say* they want. In other words, they may not want "formal" in the sense of "traditional 40 minute talk about your research," but they don't want "informal" in the sense of chatty overview of research with some anecdotes about teaching thrown in either. What they want is a *professional* talk that *meets their needs* - if you go ahead and give a traditional research talk at my current institution, it is *very* unlikely that you will be hired, because we're not looking for somebody who is "too focused on research" because "what counts here is teaching." If you did very well at the traditional research talk in my current context, that would be used as evidence to say that you didn't fit the institution.

That said, if, like Dr. V., the institution fancies itself a research university and puts a high value on research, they may expect a more traditional talk, in spite of what their website says about student-centered-ness or whatever. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is that it's better to go more traditional if the university has a graduate program? Or if you've learned about their tenure requirements and the word "book" is mentioned, even if in passing?

undine said...

That's true, Dr. C. I think what I'd intended to say was that given directions like the ones you'd received, and absent answers to the questions that you asked, the safest bet might be to kick everything up a notch, so that their insistence that they want an "informal talk" becomes the candidate's cue to prepare a semi-formal *professional* talk, however that would be defined.

It would be easier, of course, if teaching institutions would require a teaching demo instead of the research talk; in that way, the expectations would be clearer.

Second Line said...

I think your best piece of advice is the one about asking the chair questions. The problem, of course, is that the chair or whoever you're writing to, may simply respond with brief, one liners like 'just do whatever you want' or other similarly vague statements.

I experienced this disconnect several times when I was looking for work. I was willing, genuinely, to do and be whatever the institution wanted. I didn't see this as a compromise so much as a realistic response to the variety of jobs and institutions. I wanted and needed a job, first and foremost. And I wasn't particularly egotistical about it. Tell me what you want, and if I can do it, I will. Unfortunately, departments don't view it this way, or they refuse to, and they refuse to offer any concrete or useful information about what kind of presentation they want. And so, in many instances, they set candidates up to fail.

Still, your advice is good because you advocate tenacity. If the answers are vague, ask the questions(s) again in a differnt way, and keep doing so until you get some morsel of useable info.

The only risk is that by asking too much, you may alienate them. A friend had this happen and they actually retracted the invite!

Dr. Crazy said...

Yes, SL, it's a very difficult line that the candidate has to walk. What I've found useful is to be apologetic if one needs to go back for more information, and to frame any follow-ups as, "this is what I'm planning on doing, and I just want to be sure that it's appropriate." Also, this is after the initial questions. So let's say this is a sample exchange:

Search Committee Contact (SCC): We'd like you to come for a campus visit. As part of that visit, you'll give a job talk.

Me: I have a few questions about the job talk, and I was hoping you might be able to answer them so that I can best meet the needs of the committee and department. Who will be in the audience for the talk? About how long will I be expected to speak? Are you expecting a traditional talk about my research or would you like for me to do something different?

SCC: You'll have about 40 minutes, and the audience will be made up of faculty from the department. (They don't answer the question about specific needs.)

(Now, I'll give the follow-up for a variety of institutions)

Me (research university): I am thinking that it would be most effective for me to present a version of an article that has been accepted for publication but that has not yet come out. Will this be appropriate for the committee's needs, or would it be more appropriate for me to present newer work that is not yet in the pipeline for publication? Also, will I be expected to speak for 40 minutes with a Q and A to follow, or does the 40 minutes include the time for questions from the audience? I'm sorry to be a bother! I know that you are very busy with your research and teaching as well as with lining up candidate visits. Thanks in advance for your help!

Me (SLAC): Thanks for your quick reply. I want to be sure that I address the needs of the committee and the department, and so I do have a couple of other questions. First, will I be giving a teaching demonstration as well as a job talk? If not, would you like me explicitly to address teaching in the talk, or should I frame the talk as a traditional presentation of my research? If you would like the talk to be framed in a traditional way, [continue as above in the sample from the research institution].

Me (Teaching-Focused State U): I'm very excited for my visit, and I just wanted to follow up with a few more brief questions about the talk that I will give. I notice that I will not do a teaching presentation as part of my visit. I'm wondering, since teaching is such an important part of what faculty does at TFSU, if my talk should be oriented around how my research and teaching intersect. If so, to what extent should I take a practical approach in presenting that intersection (providing sample assignments, syllabi, etc.)? If not, is a traditional presentation of research more of what the audience will expect to see from me in the talk that I give? [include parts of responses above as necessary].

Good strategies:
1) be sure not to send a flurry of emails. One or two questioning emails is more than enough for a busy contact.
2) I like the "thanks in advance" line, as it lets them know that you don't expect to be corresponding with them daily about these matters - that this will be the end of your questioning.
3) I think it's good to offer them concrete things to which to respond - I'm planning on doing X, so let me know if that's not what you're looking for. All you might get back is a "sounds good," but even that is a help. If you're really running off the rails, I think most SCCs would tell you that.

Things not to do:
1) Send email after email, each with individual questions. It makes you look needy rather than accommodating.
2) Send a follow-up email if the SCC doesn't respond right away. Sometimes they take as long as a week to get back to you, especially if they're trying to finalize more interview details before they reply.
3) Ask open-ended questions that require a lengthy response. Make it easy for the SCC to reply, and you'll have much better luck with getting the answers that you need.

At least these strategies have worked for me, but again, it's a fine line one has to walk.

Michael Elliott said...

This has a lot of really good advice in it: particularly vis-a-vis asking a lot of specific questions about the talk/presentation (what exactly is expected, who will be there). I think you are also absolutely right about the need to produce a trajectory that everyone can follow. (This is true of the "standard" R1 research talk as well.) In fact, many of the things that you say here apply to every job talk. I'm going to endorse this advice for the graduate students I know who are thinking about the market.

However, as shrewd as your advice might be, don't you think that there's something unreasonable in what your institution is demanding? Basically, you are asking a job candidate (who is probably teaching and trying to prepare for other campus visits) to entirely tailor a talk to your institution and department; moreover, it does not sound like your colleagues do a very good job in explaining what is expected. I guess this bothers me in the same way that people who have been on search committees complain that too few of the application letters were tailored specifically to their school. (I find this unreasonable when you expect applicants to be writing 40-50 cover letters.)

I think you would be doing the candidates and yourselves a big favor if you would simplify what you ask of them: Say, we want a 20 minute conference paper and then a 20 minute discussion of your teaching. Or maybe you want an overview of the dissertation, followed by an explanation of specific syllabi. Or maybe you should recognize that candidates (especially good ones) have to prepare 2-3 of these things, and let them do the standard job talk, and then create a separate forum for the discussion of teaching. Given what you are asking here, it's hardly surprising that so few people do well at this.

Don't get me wrong: I don't think the "standard" job talk is very good genre. (If I had my way, I think I'd replace it with a discussion of pre-circulated paper.) However, it is a genre that allows candidates to give the same talk at multiple institutions. Moreover, one can find out a good deal about teaching from the talk -- by asking questions about pedagogy, and by observing how the candidate presents his or her research. My point is mostly that I think we need to take a hard look at what we ask applicants to endure for a tenure-track job.

Dr. Crazy said...

I think that you're probably right about the demands of my institution being potentially unreasonable (and a lot really depends on the individual search - some colleagues do a better job of articulating what we're looking for than others), though I will say that I don't think expecting a certain level of tailoring of the talk is identical to the demand that candidates do a lot of tailoring of cover letters, in that if a candidate gets to the point of a campus visit, I do think that he or she should be fairly committed to knowing about the needs of the institution and should be prepared to meet those needs.

One thing that puts candidates at a disadvantage is that I don't think very many are mentored in the range of kinds of talks that are expected - if one knows up front that not all "job talks" are identical, one could prepare two versions - one for teaching universities, one for research universities, that with a minimum of tweaking could fit whatever campus visit scenarios come up. (This is not unlike having two versions of the cv - one for teaching institutions and one for research.) If you know about this as part of the 6-months-out preparation for going on the market, it shouldn't be a tremendous burden for the candidate, to my mind. At least in my experience, I never knew there was another genre of job talk until I encountered it my first time on the market - that was the thing that caused me the most stress and not, ultimately, the preparation of a different kind of talk.

One issue with creating a separate forum for teaching (at least at my current institution) is that there wouldn't be time in the schedule to have that happen. We only have candidates come in for one day, and that day is packed with meetings, etc. Also, we're a big department, and even as it is it's difficult to schedule a time for the talk that most of the faculty can attend. I'm not saying that it's a good system at all - but I do think it's the reality at many institutions.

I think another issue to consider is that one reason for this weird hybrid kind of talk is that faculty are now expected to publish even at teaching institutions. One school of thought would be that a teaching institution should just ask for a teaching demo - and I know that is what happens still at some universities. The issue at my current institution is that while teaching remains important, the tenure requirements for research are increasing. One of the things we need to see from the talk, then, is whether the person will be able to get tenure - and a teaching demo alone would not show us that.

I should say this, though: at my current institution, faculty are pretty committed to asking questions to get candidates to say more about their teaching and how they plan to balance teaching and research commitments, if those things don't come through as concretely as we'd like in the talk. This is one reason,though, why it's important to go short rather than long in the talk - if one misses the mark a bit and gives too traditional of a presentation of research, the Q and A can really save a candidate, but if you don't leave enough time for Q and A, you might not be able to recover by fielding the questions we all prepare for such a circumstance.

Michael Elliott said...

Your point about leaving time for Q and A really can't be made too many times: It really is true that that is usually the most important element of the performance, and I agree that going over time is a sure way to shoot yourself in your foot every time.

However, once again I really take issue with what this kind of talk demands of the candidates. So now the candidates are supposed to prepare two different talks? When is this supposed to occur? (No one really prepares their job talks until January, alas.) Moreover, if someone did go through the time and trouble to prepare two talks, then he or she would have to prepare a THIRD talk for "hybrid" presentations of the kind you are describing. (Moreover, I would strongly discourage any graduate student of mine from spending time developing a teaching talk until he or she has received the specific parameters of a talk from a particular institution. As you have all but said, a large part of the teaching talk is about tailoring one's expertise to a particular job, so how could you do this beforehand.)

Basically, I just think the madness has to stop. Just as tenure requirements have risen and become increasingly difficult, we have increased the labor of getting a tenure-track job. Moreover, this is labor that is shared by the interviewing departments and the departments that are training graduate students. We are spending less time talking about the ideas that matter and more time in the apparatus of the job search. (Or to put it another way: I wish we could focus more on training graduate students how to teach instead of worrying about how to train them to talk about teaching.)

Why not do this: Ask the candidate to submit a couple of syllabi, invite the candidate to give a standard talk (as you say, research is important at your institution), and then make the q and a about teaching? I doubt you will really learn less about the teaching this way (of course, I'm skeptical of all kinds evaluation of teaching), and you will make the lives of your candidates easier.

Regardless, I do applaud you for giving all of this advice. One of the reason that R1 schools don't mentor graduate students in giving these talks is that institutions are constantly moving the goal posts, changing what is demanded of candidates in the face of what continues to be a buyer's market for freshly minted ph.d.'s. In the years since I've begun working with graduate students, every season brings some new version of the "required elements" of the campus visit -- some new permutation of the research/teaching/talk/presentation -- slightly different from what I've heard of before.

I also think you are really smart to forego the teaching demo -- an entirely artificial exercise that I think has little predictive value.

Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, I'm going to play devil's advocate a bit here. Why should the traditional research presentation form of job talk be the standard talk when the vast majority of jobs in this profession are at institutions that are not traditional research universities? In the totally unscientific sample presented in these comments, there are at least three institutions that are asking for the hybrid talk. I'm not entirely certain why we shouldn't be preparing grad students (who are far more likely to get interviews at these sorts of schools than at R1s) for this kind of talk as opposed to the traditional research presentation.

Again, I'm playing devil's advocate here and I'm not really committed to this view. That said, I do think it's important that we know how to talk about our teaching (as my administration cares about how I talk about it, for one thing, but also it comes into play when networking outside of one's institution), and I think it's unrealistic to think that this aspect of things isn't as much a part of this profession as being able to talk about research. I also think that one reason why mentorship about this sort of thing doesn't happen is because people in R1 departments who are mentoring grad students are incredibly unlikely to have any experience with my sort of institution and so that is what makes what my sort of institution asks seem onerous - because it's not familiar. I really don't believe that this type of institution moves the goal posts more than R1 institutions do - I just think that the goal posts are situated on a different field (one that grad students don't recognize if they are in a good PhD program, and one that their mentors have no or very little familiarity with).

But yes, much of the problem is mission creep, and again, I'm not really committed to the argument that I make in this comment. I do, however, get disgruntled when I see the ways in which what is defined as "the profession" excludes most of the people who actually work in the profession - whether we're talking about those in t-t or tenured positions at non-elite institutions, adjuncts, whatever.

Michael Elliott said...

Believe me, I would be perfectly happy if MLA (in lit) and the AHA, etc. all came up with guidelines on the standard talk that included teaching. The point is that in the absence of such guidelines -- and maybe you and your department should publish yours in "Profession" in order to start a push for them -- both the graduate students and their mentors are grappling in the dark. Which is why you get so many poor talks, and why you felt the need to write the post. (I disagree, by the way, that R1 institutions have moved the goal posts on the job talk: it remains a 40 minute talk on the dissertation/book research.) So, by all means, produce a set of criteria for the standard talk, but all of these hybrid entities (which I also agree are in fact becoming the norm) are creating an incredible amount of extra work for underemployed graduate students and, if those students are lucky, their faculty advisors.

Meanwhile, it has unfortunately become true that graduate students are trained to talk about their own teaching. Our graduate students actually write philosophy of teaching statements before they even begin teaching, and assemble teaching portfolios after just teaching a couple of classes. I doubt this makes them better teachers. Nor do I really think that this proliferation of discourse about teaching has actually increased the respect that teaching receives by adminstrations at any level of institution.

Finally, although this will make me sound incredibly grouchy, I do think that there is something different about hearing a presentation about research and one about teaching. The point of dissertation research is produce an original contribution to knowledge. However, I think it is unfair to expect a freshly-minted Ph.D. to have yet produced an original contribution to teaching or pedagogy. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't expect new Ph.D.'s to be good or experienced teachers, but I don't really believe that someone who has been in the classroom 2-3 years really has had yet a chance to develop something original in the way of pedagogy that I want to hear him or her talk about for 30 minutes. If that's the case, then all I am trying to do is to figure out whether the candidate is a proficient and dedicated teacher -- has the foundation and the desire to become an original teacher -- and I don't need a presentation on teaching to figure that out.

All that I am saying, really, is this: All of us who have tenure-track jobs, especially those of us who have tenure (and don't recall if you do) have an obligation to address the dysfunctions of the job market. That means a lot of things, including do a better job of training students for the jobs that are out there, but that also means trying to be as humane as possible in what we demand of new Ph.D.'s.

gwinne said...

FWIW, both my job talks were of this "hybrid" sort and written specifically for the occasion. One was a conference paper, tweaked, with another 20 minutes or so that made it relevant to teaching concerns at the SLAC. The other--for the R1--was completely invented between MLA and the campus visit. Didn't strike me as unreasonable either time. And I got both jobs, using the kind of advice that Dr. C suggests in regard to contacting the chair of the search committee for more details (I phrased it much the same--I'm planning on doing X, how does this sound? If not, I could do Y.)

Flavia said...

I'm commenting on this late, but I think your advice here is excellent. My institution has yet a different kind of presentation: present to the faculty on your research for 15-20 minutes, and on your teaching for 15 minutes, and then take questions for 30 or 45. (We also have a separate teaching demo.)

Most of the candidates we've had come through recently have done an excellent job with this format and have integrated their discussions of their scholarship and their pedagogy in really effective ways-- but we had one who took the unusual step of leading with his teaching (and doing a truly fantastic job selling himself as a great fit for our students). . . and then talking about his research for MAYBE 10 min., max, and his performance in this half was considerably less polished.

He's reasonably well-published and obviously deeply invested in his research, so what this said to many of us was that he misread the nature of our department, thinking that because our teaching load is 3/3 that we're a "teaching institution" in the traditional sense. Had he actually read the departmental bios, however, he'd have known that everyone on the t-t is a very active scholar, and everyone with tenure has multiple books.

He's still in the running as a candidate, but he's definitely no longer a front-runner.

remedios said...

It was great and illuminating to read your comments on how to give effective campus presentations. I was wondering if you could share some advice on interviewing for people like me...who have had a good number of interviews that didn't lead to campus visits. Thanks, again.