While I am squarely in the “don’t-go” camp when it comes to graduate study and the inevitable nightmarish job search, I also recognize that I am the extremely fortunate recipient of very good professional advice all along that rocky path. Roy Rosenzweig provided some of the best such wisdom, and few days go by at CHNM when we don’t try to channel his common-sense pragmatism. Roy drew on decades of experience in the machinations of department politics and hiring, and he knew exactly where job candidates should focus their energy. In the spirit of Roy’s intellectual generosity — and perhaps in the hope that you’ll be inspired to repay it in more tangible ways — I’d like to share a bit of it here, at least as it has remained preserved in magnetic amber for the past four years. It might not look like much, but it’s pure gold — it worked for me and the only other person with whom I’ve ever shared it.
Other than very minimally expanding my original transcript into more readable prose, what follows is pure Roy, though the footnotes are mine.
The talk should not be read but should be very well mapped out. It needs to finish on time.1 It needs to be directed at people outside your field (i.e. Americanists, etc.) who have not read any of your work. The talk needs to show relevance and importance of work outside of field, i.e. “why should i care about this?” It needs to have enough substance to generate questions. How you handle questions is the real test.
The class lecture rarely sinks a candidate and is never the deciding factor in favor of one. The bar will be lower for you if you don’t have much teaching experience. You should aim to do something solid that doesn’t require too much work or preparation. It should be at an appropriate level: maybe just slightly advanced (i.e. include “something for the grown-ups”). It should involve some amount of interaction – ask questions, show an image – but do not be disappointed if students don’t get very enthusiastic. It should be the appropriate length, not run over or end terribly short.
You need to give people a narrative about yourself. You need to show your desire to be at the hiring institution.
That’s it. After you’re hired, please contribute generously.
This could scarcely sound simpler but is almost never followed. If the committee asks for a thirty-minute talk followed by an hour of questions, you not only win zero points by running over the thirty, you antagonize the few people who might have been listening and who would now like to pose a question. ↩
Referring here to the odious practice of asking job candidates to teach a sample class while on campus, cold. What a great idea! ↩