Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interviews with small departments

Small departments are probably looking for someone with your AOS because they don't already have somebody who can plausibly teach an upper division class on that topic. So you can be pretty confident that your interviewers don't know much (and perhaps shockingly little) about your AOS. When discussing your research, then, should you be careful to define the basic terms and concepts in your area (even those that any 3rd year grad student should be familiar with), thus risking seeming pedantic and condescending, or should you operate under the assumption that your interviewers are familiar with the basics, and risk alienating them very quickly while coming off as a bad fit in a small, teaching-oriented department?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

You should be able to pitch your dissertation/research to a general audience no matter what -- small department or large.

I interviewed last year with a few smallish places. I tried to avoid technicalities, and gave very brief clarifications of the few more specialized terms I did use. You don't want it sound like you're offering a definition -- more like a reminder.

If you give a general account of your work, you can always end your response by saying something like "I can go into more detail if you like" and then see how they respond.

(btw, I ended up with a job)

Anonymous said...

I know that in my mock interview I was scolded for not defining terms/concepts/etc. enough. I was told to be careful to not assume that those interviewing me know about my topic/field, while also not talking down to them. Now I am going to try to give short definitions/explanations of everything people might not know about and offer to go into more detail.

Anonymous said...

I've been told repeatedly to assume that I'm speaking to a general audience, and that they will not be familiar with the jargon. When I interviewed last week (small dept) they explicitly told me to discuss my diss as if I were speaking to an audience unfamiliar with my research.

Amy said...

I think it depends on what level of jargon you're talking about here. But I think one guiding principle to keep in mind as you're preparing whatever you're preparing is that you want the people interviewing you to feel smart -- so you need to navigate a difficult terrain between using terms they won't understand (which makes them feel stupid) and explicitly defining terms they do understand (which makes them feel that you think they're stupid). I think there's a way to always cash out what you're saying when you do use jargon so that it doesn't sound like you're explicitly giving definitions, but you can make sure that people are following you.

I would recommend trying out your initial spiel on a friend who's in a distinct AOS from you and see what they think. It can never hurt to practice your initial spiel more, anyhow.

Anonymous said...

I'll second Amy's comment -- practice the spiel over and over and over. Practice it way more than you think you need to. And practice your answers for all the standard questions, too. You can take your time with the non-standard questions, but you shouldn't hesitate over "where do you see your research in five years?".

Anonymous said...

I work in philosophy of physics, which is about as unfamiliar to many people as it comes, and my (sucessful) approach was simply to avoid jargon as far as possible, sticking to one or two key new concepts that I'd explain. This went against the grain, because my original instincts were to try and use the mathematical concepts I'd use in my papers, but when they called to offer me the job, they particularly praised my ability to make a technical subject comprehensible. My advice is to assume that you are explaining your research to extremely bright non-philosophers, or perhaps undergrads, and see how much of the jargon is actually necessary. If you don't use the jargon, you won't have to condescend by explaining it, and you'll get the added benefit of showing what a fabulous teacher you are.

Anonymous said...

This might be a handy phrase for explaining jargon without offending: "I understand [piece of jargon] to be...." Maybe I'm explaining this piece of jargon because I don't think you have any idea what I'm talking about; but maybe I'm explaining my use of it because I assume that you're about to ask which of several interpretations of it I prefer.