Friday, March 20, 2009

Endurance Trial - Campus Visit

I wrote this a while back, when searches were on. But now that they're not, it might still be interesting in the future.

It occurs to me that it might be good to talk about what a campus visit for our department is likely to look like.

So here goes.

First, we're not easy to get to, so usually candidates get into town the day before formal stuff begins. Someone is assigned to put together a low key dinner at the hotel restaurant.

5:30-8:30pm - dinner (person in charge makes sure the candidate has a copy of the schedule, phone numbers, etc)

8am - breakfast, pick up at hotel, take to campus, to first meetings

9am - first meeting (dean, perhaps)

10am - second meeting (research support office, perhaps) (someone will guide the candidate, and that may mean waiting at the first meeting space because it's impossible to repark and that means that you have a 10-15 minute walk, and you don't want anyone getting lost without winter clothes! Make sure the candidate can get a snack, water, whatever along the way.)

11am - get to department (again, someone's guiding the candidate), intro around.

11:30 or so - a small group of faculty takes the candidate to lunch (at least one lunch is just "probationary" faculty)

1pm - teaching presentation (because we're a teaching school)

2:30pm - interview with chair, chair drives candidate around town, talks about housing, etc

4pm - candidate back to hotel, down time

6-8:30pm - dinner with small group of faculty

8am - breakfast, someone takes candidate to first meeting

9am - first meeting (provost, perhaps)

10am - second meeting (search committee, perhaps)

11am - down time, maybe campus tour with student

noon - lunch with faculty

1pm - down time

2pm - research presentation (because we also require research, and we can't decide what we're doing)

3pm - campus tour, time with students, whatever

5:30 - 7pm - dinner with faculty group

7:30 - 9pm - reception for candidate, back to hotel

next morning - candidate escapes, vows never to come to our frozen hell.

Typically, our candidates have sit down meetings with the college dean, someone from the provost's office, the head of research support, the chair, and the search committee. The big shot meetings are usually 20-30 minutes. Sometimes candidates do one presentation, sometimes also teach a class. Yes, we don't do that part well because we have a research requirement, and think that's important, but we also know we all teach a lot, and we want candidates to be good teachers from the get go.

Typically, the candidate walks around campus a bit, but... here's the thing, we have a really beautiful campus; it's a selling point. BUT, you don't want to freeze the candidate too much. You also don't want someone feeling lost when it's 5F with a bad wind chill, because that's just miserable. So someone guides the candidate, at least the first day (and yes, every office is spread out among weird buildings). Our typical candidate has been in five campus buildings by the end of the visit.

Typically, the chair takes the candidate around town a bit, talks about housing prices and stuff. Housing is fairly cheap, and that's good. But the cheap houses are generally not all that nice looking, or in charming neighborhoods. (Okay, even our pricy houses are cheap compared to most areas, but so are our salaries.)

The best thing we do, probably, is have the candidate eat with "probationary" faculty. That's the time for folks to talk candidly. You might be surprised that everyone in the department so far as I've seen (from all three angles now) considers that really private. No one asks and no one talks outside their lunch group about the questions or what's said.

We know that the job market sucks for candidates. But we also know that top candidates are likely to have other interviews and other campus visits, so we know we're also competing at this point.

And it's tough competition.

We're not a research I school, and it shows. It shows in the teaching schedules posted on doors, shows in the library, shows in the hallways of classroom areas, which are narrower than in R1s. Most candidates want the lower teaching load and high value research opportunities at an R1, and we can't offer those. In the English department, we all teach comp. Period. I know we don't get applications from lots of folks who don't want to do that. (And far better that they not apply, really, because it's a fact of life here.)

We're far from easy access or many city conveniences. Most people coming here have to take at least one connecting flight and a long shuttle drive. Same for leaving. We don't have some city amenities, even the ones you might not think twice about: Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Ikea, etc. Nope. Art museums, more than local history museums, museums of technology, science, etc. Nope. (We do have a children's museum celebrating the same mythic figure as every other small town in the upper midwest.) Other colleges/universities where spouses might teach? Nope. If you get slightly sick, we have decent health care, but if you get really sick, you go to another state. We have meth houses, areas of deep poverty, homeless folks, hungry folks.

Winter. It's effing cold, and lots of people don't want to live far from family in the cold.

We have budget problems. Those show in our salaries and in our infrastructure, not only on campus, but across town, when we negotiate ever-growing potholes on the main streets.

The area is pretty conservative. People have weaponry, not only in their cars but in their basements and gun lockers. Blaze orange is not just a fashion statement.

On the other hand, we have some positives.

First, we offer a low salary, but decent benefits.

We have a pretty good department. Yeah, I complain about the sexism, but I've been in far worse places, and I have friends in far worse places. If you get sick here, people will bring you hot soup and make sure your classes are covered.

We have pretty good students. Yeah, they're often first generation college students and don't "know the rules" the way more elite students do. But they don't pull some of the stunts and excuses I read about other students on the web. They're mostly pretty decent people who are scared about how they'll make a living and such. And mostly, they want to get an education. They're more likely to miss a day of class for a band tour or family hunting day than for a trip to the Bahamas.

And while our infrastructure sucks, when you look up, even in the middle of campus, you'll see trees, and you may see a bald eagle flying by. And we'll tell you about the trails (biking, walking, running, skiing). And just the beauty. Winter has it's own beauty, but when you see our campus in spring, summer, or fall, it really can take your breath away.

Our housing is cheap, and traffic jams are more likely to be momentarily caused by wild turkeys crossing the road than by too many cars.

The difficulty is in giving candidates a balanced view, making sure they realize we're not someplace where they'll teach six hours a week, have TAs to do the grading, and a research assistant, but that we are a place where people try to be humane and do a good job educating our students.


  1. Anonymous6:52 AM

    What a thoughtful and helpful post!

    The last paragraph describes my school as well, and I love how you articulated the mission.

  2. I think the area sounds lovely! Of course, I grew up in the rural Midwest (but have also lived in large cities). It amazes me how much snobbery about certain regions of the country, particularly the rural sections, I've encountered since I entered grad school. I've had people tell me that they feel sorry for me because of where I am from. Sometimes I have a little fun with people and play up some story that makes us really sound like hicks.

    If people go into these places with a bad attitude, they aren't going to see the good things. That's really too bad - and really close-minded for an academic.

    The schedule and reasons behind it were great to see!

  3. This is a really thoughtful and helpful post. Frankly, your little town is lovely. Faculty could do much, much worse. (For example, my college town is 2.5 hours from the closest airport. I can't buy clothes here, get a haircut, go to Target, or get my Subaru fixed.)

    While you DO have to compete against the R1 schools, the odds seem to be on your side, don't they? (My English prof friends tell me of applying to 50 or even 100 schools and getting 1-2 interviews.)

    I have to admit I'd have a hard time with the cold where you are. (I grew up in that kind of cold, and I don't really miss it.) On the other hand, I'd have taken a job there in a heartbeat.

  4. Wow, that campus interview schedule sounds like a marathon. Luckily, I don't think any of mine lasted anywhere near as long (except for the one that was on another continent, an interesting story that I'll have to blog about one of these days).

    I love the idea of a private lunch with the untenured folks, though I never experienced anything like that, either.

  5. Thanks for the informative post! As a newcomer to this process (I'm planning on entering the job market this year or next), I was wondering if you could describe the teaching segment a bit more.

    I can understand how a math candidate, say, should be prepared to teach "introduction to integrals" without much prep time. But it seems like a different situation for humanities folks. For instance, is an English candidate expected to jump into a survey course from their field? What sort of information do they have in advance about the class and its reading? Are they permitted or expected to connect the day's reading or theme to their own research/specialty? I'm just curious because I've never heard too much about this part of the campus visit. Any information would be much appreciated!

  6. How many candidates do oyou loose to exhaustion along the way? ;)