Interviews & Campus Visits
For some people, MLA is a ritual, part of the initiation rite that welcomes (or terrorizes) people into the profession. Much has been written about it and it is certainly worth you time to peruse this material (see below). It is also highly recommended that you attend MLA before you go on the market, just to get a sense of the conference. It is huge, requiring many hotels that are filled with job candidates waiting in hallways, rushing across packed lobbies, often decked out in blue or black suits. What you wear is of course a matter of style and it is important to be yourself. But avoid either the completely predictable conservative suit or the outlandish. You get to wear whatever you want once you get the job; express yourself but remember that in the sea of identical academic suits, it will not be hard to put a unique spin on your self-presentation.
Check out these essays:
Ball, Cheryl E. 2014. “Interview Disasters.” Inside Higher Ed.https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/01/29/essay-urges-academics-not-write-jobs-which-they-flubbed-interview.
Baron, Dennis. “The Job Interview.” The Chronicle of Higher Education Career Network (January 21, 2002): http://chronicle.com/article/The-Job-Interview/46217/
Bugliani, Ann. “The MLA Job Interview: What Candidates Should Know.” ADFL Bulletin 24.1 (1992): 38–39. http://www.mla.org/bulletin_241038
Broughton, Walter, and William Conlogue. “What Search Committees Want.” Profession 2001. New York: MLA, 2001. 39–51. http://www.mla.org/jil_jobseekers_pro
Donadey, Anne. “Interview Tips.” San Diego State University. 26 Sept. 2014.http://donadey.sdsu.edu/prep.html
Johnson, Mary Dillon. “The Academic Job Interview Revisited.” Chronicle of Higher Education (Oct 15, 2004): http://chronicle.com/article/The-Academic-Job-Interview-/44607/
Kress, Susan. “The Inappropriate Question.” ADE Bulletin 120 (1998): 36–38.http://www.mla.org/bulletin_120036
Land, Mike. “Being Yourself on the Interview Trail.” Chronicle of Higher Education (Oct 29, 2001): http://chronicle.com/article/Being-Yourself-on-the-Inter/45434/
Lederer, Herbert. “Dos and Don’ts for MLA Convention Interviews.” MLA Professional Resources website: http://www.mla.org/jil_jobseekers_dos.
Mangum, Teresa. “The Interview -- Readiness Is All.” Inside Higher Ed. 9 Dec. 2009. 26 Sept. 2014.https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/academic_career_confidential/mangum11
MLA Committee on Community Colleges. 2006. “A Community College Teaching Career.” MLA. http://www.mla.org/commcollege_teachcar.
Moore, David Chioni. “Timing a First Entry onto the Academic Job Market: Guidelines for Graduate Students Soon to Complete the PhD.” Profession 1999. New York: MLA, 1999. 268–74. http://www.duke.edu/web/polygraph/mooreTiming.pdf
—. “Should You Go on the Market This Year.” Chronicle of Higher Education(Sept 8, 2000): http://chronicle.com/article/Should-You-Go-on-the-Market/46374/
Papp, James. “The Stars and Ourselves: An Ordinary Person’s Guide to the Foreign Language Market.” ADFL Bulletin 30.1 (1998): 44–51.http://www.adfl.org/cgi-shl/docstudio/docs.pl?bulletin_301044
Pink, Steve. “A Good Search.” Chronicle of Higher Education (June 3, 2004): http://chronicle.com/article/A-Good-Search/44659/.
Schneider, Alison. “Frumpy or Chic? Tweed or Kente? Sometimes Clothes Make the Professor.” Chronicle of Higher Education (January 23, 1998): A12-14.http://chronicle.com/article/Frumpy-or-Chic-Tweed-or-Ke/99260/
Skinner, Lee. “MLA Interviews from the Candidate’s Point of View.” ADFL Bulletin 31.1 (1999): 15–18. http://www.adfl.org/cgi-shl/docstudio/docs.pl?bulletin_311015
Stivale, Charles J. “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Interviewer.” ADFL Bulletin 34.1 (Fall 2002): 41-46. http://www.mla.org/adefl_bulletin_c_adfl_34_1_41&from=adefl_bulletin_t_adfl34_1
What Happens at Interviews: Some Typical Questions
In thinking about interviews, you should always bear in mind that search committees seek to open a conversation with a prospective colleague. The forms their questions take and their style of engaging you will vary widely depending on the composition of the committee and the culture of the department they represent. So these questions are not "typical" in the sense that you can count on being asked them. But thinking about how you would answer these questions will go a long way to prepare you for answering any number of likely questions about your scholarship, teaching, and professional trajectory.
1. Tell us about your dissertation. (This can take a more pointed form, as in "What is the argument of your dissertation?")
2. How would you situate your work in the field of [postcolonial / comparative literature / China Studies] studies?
3. What is the most important contribution of your dissertation to the field of X studies?
4. What do you think of so-and-so’s earlier landmark study on your topic?
5. Who are your primary interlocutors in the dissertation?
6. What do you need to do to make your dissertation into a book?
7. What was the basic argument of the article you’ve had accepted by [Critical Inquiry]? If this essay isn’t part of your dissertation, what’s the connection between it and your larger project?
8. What do you think are the 3 most important critical works published in your field during the past few years?
9. What do you plan to work on next?
10. What’s the connection between your research and what you do in the classroom?
11. How would you teach the sophomore Introduction to Literature course at our college?
12. How would you introduce students to contemporary critical theory?
13. What survey courses are you prepared to teach and how would you go about it?
14. What’s your dream course and how would you organize it?
15. Would you be prepared to teach immediately in our graduate program? If so, how do you understand the difference between undergraduate and graduate instruction?
16. What kinds of assignments do you give in your courses?
17. How many [19th century] novels would you assign in a semester to our undergraduates?
18. What do undergraduates need to know about “theory?” Conversely, why does the study of literature still matter?
19. Are you interested in different theories of composition pedagogy?
20. What’s the most important thing you want students to learn in your courses?
21. How would you organize your courses and teaching differently in a quarter system?
22. How would you adjust to a different student population?
23. How do you teach [title of a frequently taught text in your field]? How would you teach if differently to graduate students?
24. Why do you want to move to the Midwest/South?
25. Why did you apply for this job?
26. What do you read/do when you’re not doing research or grading papers?
27. What questions do you have for us?
Questions You Might Ask (and Those You Shouldn’t)
1. Can you tell me a little about the student body at X – especially the majors and non-majors who take Literature courses?
2. (Assuming this isn’t sufficiently clear from earlier portions of the interview:) What are some of the courses you hope your new hire will cover? What would be a typical distribution of courses (lower division/upper division/graduate; topical/survey; literature/composition; lecture/discussion) for a faculty member in your department in any given year? (This can be useful way of finding out about teaching load, without asking directly.)
3. (If applicable): Are there opportunities for interdisciplinary and/or for cross-listing courses?
4. In what forms of service do junior faculty typically participate? Do they have the opportunity to serve on department committees?
5. In what directions do you see your department moving over the next several years in terms of curriculum or research initiatives? (Or if your web research has brought to your attention some specific curricular or research endeavor already underway, then ask about it.)
6. What do you appreciate most about working in X department or at X university or in X city?
7. Could you tell me the time line for your decision on campus visits?
Don’t Ask About:
- salary, moving expenses, parental leave, partner hiring, benefits, etc. These are premature questions.
- where faculty spend their summers
- course reductions
- anyone’s personal life
The Broad Perspective: Challenges of the Campus Visit, from the Academic Job Search Handbook
(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002; pp. 154-60)
By the time a department invites three to five candidates for an all-day visit, it has determined that all are in some sense competent. During the interview day the search committee tries to assess such intangibles as "potential," "fit," and "tenurability." On campus, it is as important to be prepared to be convincing and concise as it is at a conference. In addition, the abilities to respond flexibly to the requirements of unpredictable situations, to talk comfortably with others in informal, unstructured meetings, and to convey interest in the institution to which you're applying will help you land the job.
As institutions increasingly view tenure-track hires as major financial investments, campus visits for these positions have become longer, sometimes extending to three days. While the minimum requirements of a campus interview are usually a presentation to faculty and an interview with several faculty members, a visit might also involve teaching at least one class, one to several group faculty interviews, meetings with graduate and undergraduate students, several individual meetings, meals, a reception, and entertainment.
You may meet individuals ranging from a dean to a junior representing the departmental majors club, from genuinely stimulating potential colleagues to the curmudgeon who makes it his or her business to ask all speakers to relate their presentations to the curmudgeon's own field of thirty-year-old research. Flexibility and a sense of humor will serve you well. Be prepared for potentially problematic aspects of the visit.
The Presentation And Its Question Session
The importance of an excellent seminar, also called a job talk, can hardly be overemphasized. An outstanding seminar can make up for many other shortcomings, but a poor seminar is seldom forgiven. The seminar is used as an opportunity to assess a candidate's research; how he or she handles questions and thinks on his or her feet; how he or she performs in the classroom; and even whether he or she has a sense of humor and a stage presence that suggest he or she will be successful at conferences, in the classroom, and in other professional forums. Pay particular attention to giving the context and motivation for your research. Within the first five minutes you should convince your audience that your work is important.
In the question period following a presentation, you may receive questions that leave you at a loss, point to a weakness in your work, or are challenging to the point of hostility. Stay calm and don't let yourself be put on the defensive. Be confident enough to admit that you don't know something. Respond to even unreasonable questions reasonably. Be prepared to venture reasonable hypotheses. Practice in advance how you might respond to even the most off-the-wall questions about your presentation.
The Teaching Demonstration
In many cases you will be asked either to teach an actual class or to give a teaching demonstration. This is particularly common at community colleges, but certainly not limited to them. When the interview is scheduled, find out who will be part of the teaching demonstration. If it will be stu-dents in an actual class, find out what they have been studying. If it will be a group of faculty and/or students convened to watch your demonstration, plan to treat those people exactly as you would if they were class members. Plan to stay close to the teaching style that works best for you. If you normally give dynamic lectures, don't use the campus visit to experiment with small group work. If you shine at creating class discussions, plan an interactive session. If the group is small enough and time permits, feel free to ask everyone to introduce themselves to you before you begin.
The Broken Record Syndrome
You may meet many people throughout the day without having a very clear idea of who is critical to the decision to hire you. Simultaneously you may begin to tire of hearing yourself discuss the same subjects over and over. It's extremely important that you be enthusiastic about these topics with each new person that you meet. Everyone who meets you will want to form his or her own impression of you. So tell your story again to each new person with as much zest and interest as if it were for the first time.
Social occasions are usually part of a day-long visit. Realize that they are also part of the screening process. Follow your hosts' lead in deciding how much to talk shop and how much to talk about topics of general interest. It is a good idea, however, to seize every reasonable opportunity to discuss your work and your field. You can also appropriately ask questions during these times. Your hosts will appreciate it if you make yourself good company: ask questions of others; initiate conversation; laugh at other people's jokes; and display an interest in the people you are with.
If you have no personal objection to doing so, drink if others do, but don't drink enough to affect your behavior. Alcohol and interviewing can be a risky combination. One compromise is to have a glass of what is offered, but to drink only part of it. Particularly beware of "confessional" impulses. However friendly your hosts, do not confide that you are here just for practice, that you can't wait to put distance between yourself and your advisor, or any other statement that later you are almost sure to regret having made.
It is easier to handle these occasions if you are very outgoing than if you are shy, but shy people can convey their interest and intelligence through active questioning and perceptive listening. You must push yourself to be an active participant in the occasion. It is better to risk some less-than-perfect remarks and come across as an individual rather than as a quiet, inoffensive presence, so bland that no one is sure what you are like or what you really think.
Your Opportunity To Learn About The Institution
Interviewing is a two-way process. Even as others are assessing your candidacy for the position, you have an opportunity to learn about the institution and to decide whether or not you want to work there. Both schools and departments have their own institutional cultures. You are most likely to thrive in a department and school in which there is a reasonable measure of fit between you and the others who work and study there. Take advantage of your time on campus to learn everything you can.
Location And Physical Setting
Gauge your own reaction to the appearance of the campus. Does it strike you as lively and inviting? Or do you feel that it is impersonal? In the middle of nowhere? Impossibly urban and congested? It's unlikely that you would choose a job entirely based on its physical setting and appearance, but it is important to be able to visualize yourself as at least reasonably comfortable going to work there every day. Look carefully at the physical plant itself, particularly the part of it where you would be working. Do offices and research facilities appear adequate? If laboratory or computer facilities are particularly important in your work, your hosts will be likely to offer you a tour or demonstration of them. If they do not, however, and such facilities are important to you, ask.
Probably the single most important thing you will learn on a campus visit is what the members of the department are like. These are the people with whom you will interact on a daily basis, who will be available for discussion of ideas, and who will ultimately evaluate your performance. Will you be glad to be part of this group? It is certainly important to keep an open mind and to remember that first impressions are necessarily somewhat superficial. Nevertheless, your reactions to these individuals are some of the most important data you can gather during your visit.
Pay attention to how people appear to relate to each other. Does the departmental atmosphere appear lively and collegial? Extremely hierarchical? Are there obvious divisions between competing factions? Do people appear enthusiastic about where they are and what they are doing, or is there a pervasive sense of cynicism and discouragement?
If you are particularly interested in teaching and your visit does not include any planned meetings with students, ask faculty members to describe both students and classes. If your visit includes any free time, you may want to spend it at the student union or other campus gathering place. Listen to what students say to each other. Introduce yourself and ask them questions. Pick up copies of the student paper and of any other student-produced publications. They will give you a feel for current campus issues.
At a university, probably you will feel you work in your department and your school more than at the institution as a whole. At a college you will probably feel that the college itself is your employer. When you visit, you will probably spend at least some time with someone who represents a unit larger than your prospective department. Use this as an opportunity to evaluate the role that the department plays in the broader picture. Is it strong and respected? Slowly eroding? The bright, brash new kid on the block?
As you learn throughout the day, feel free to comment positively on what you are learning. For example, if your first interview of the day is with someone who devotes a great deal of time to describing the school's excellent computer resources, in the next interview you can explain that you were impressed with them and go on to explain why these facilities would be particularly advantageous in your own research. If you notice an extremely collegial atmosphere throughout the day, and at the end of the day the chair asks what you think of the department, by all means say that you've observed a lively exchange of ideas and are very attracted by that kind of atmosphere. Hiring committees like to know that you have read their institution correctly and can picture yourself functioning well in it.
Before the Interview
- Get all the details straight when you arrange for the interview:
- Find out the length of the interview day and what meetings to expect during it.
- If you do not already have a complete job description, ask to have one sent to you.
- Will you be making a presentation? If so, on what? How long? To whom? How should it be delivered? What audiovisual or computer facilities will be available to you? If you want to use a particular kind of equipment, don't hesitate to inquire about it.
- Will you be expected to teach a class? If so, to whom? On what? What has been covered so far this semester? If you would like to use audio-visual materials, find out what equipment will be available.
- Confirm all travel arrangements. When planning travel, allow more than enough time to compensate for flight delays or traffic jams. Find out how reservations should be booked (if you need your tickets paid for in advance, try to negotiate that with the department). Save all receipts.
- Make sure you know the name of the person who has called you, where you are to arrive, how you will be met, the name of the person who will meet you, and all relevant phone numbers.
- If there is enough time before the interview, ask to have any materials that would help you learn more about the school and department sent to you.
- If you encounter unavoidable delays while traveling to the interview, call as soon as you can and explain why you will be delayed.
Learn about the institution and faculty
- Use Web sites. In addition to specific information, try to get a sense of the campus culture.
- If you are visiting an institution where sports are a major part of campus life, learn the names of the teams, both at the campus you are visiting and at your own institution, and how they are playing this year. Sports are sometimes used as icebreakers.
- Use Web and library searches for information on publications by members of the department. Try to learn the names of everyone in the department, so you can address them by name during your visit.
- Ask everyone who might know something about the institution to discuss it.
- Practice your presentation.
- Time your talk to ensure that it's the right length.
- Develop a "cocktail party length" brief summary to give to those out-side the department.
- Be sure your transparencies, handouts, and presentation software are ready in plenty of time. If you are planning a computer presentation, bring backup transparencies in case there's an unexpected computer glitch.
- Extra copies of your vita.
- Copies of your dissertation abstract.
- Copies of your statement of research interests.
- More than enough handouts. Make sure they look good.
- Samples of syllabi for courses you designed, reprints, abstracts of articles. You will not necessarily distribute all of these during the day but you'll be prepared with them if you need them.
- Something to do during delays in traveling.
- Whatever you need (running clothes, escapist novels) if you'll be nervous the night before the interview.
- Don't check anything important through on the airplane. Bring all the essentials in carry-on luggage.
During the Interview
- Remember that each new person you meet hasn't heard your story yet. Be prepared to tell it again and again with enthusiasm.
- If the day includes social events, follow your hosts' leads in deciding how much to talk about professional, and how much about social, topics.
- If you don't catch a name when you're introduced to someone, have it repeated, so that you know it. Shake hands when you meet someone.
- Acknowledge everyone present in a group interview, and, if possible, say goodbye to people individually when you leave.
- At the end of the day, find out when a decision will be made, and when you may call if you haven't heard anything. Find out if you should turn in receipts then or send them later.
After the Interview
- Take care of any extra receipts.
- Write a thank you note to the main person who arranged your day. You can ask that person to convey your thanks to others. Reiterate your interest in the position. It isn't necessary to write to everyone with whom you came into contact.
See also Kimberly Delgizzo and Laura Malisheski, “Preparing for Campus Interviews,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 17, 2003
After the Offer, Before the Deal: Negotiating A First Academic Job
What is a fair salary? Can I ask for moving expenses? When can faculty members negotiate reductions in their teaching loads? These are the kinds of questions graduate faculty often hear from their students who have just been offered academic jobs. Besides training young scholars as teachers and researchers, we also mentor them in their search for jobs. As a result, we're expected to know the answers to such questions. In this article, I offer suggestions to the just-appointed faculty member who seeks to be a savvy participant in negotiating the terms of a first job. More senior faculty members can share these suggestions with their students to help them avoid feeling surprised or taken advantage of during such negotiations. Academic departments conducting job searches may also find this information useful: by thinking from the candidate's point of view, departments may be better able to help newly appointed professors make a smooth transition from graduate student to faculty member.
Navigating the Process
Once a job offer is made, one large task remains—negotiating the terms of the position. As a successful candidate, you can express enthusiasm, joy, and even gratitude. Just don't say "yes" right away. You need time to collect your thoughts, clarify the details of the offer, and gather more information. Then you must evaluate the offer in terms of your priorities, negotiate for what you want, and determine whether the final offer is acceptable.
Knowing Yourself. Most people begin by considering the two most tangible aspects of the job: salary and institutional prestige. That is the traditional, competitive view of a college or university appointment: what is the "best job"? But your day-to-day work will involve many facets. Now is the time to start thinking in terms of "best for me." At the center of your considerations should be this question: what do I need to be happy, productive, and (yes) get tenure? Try to set priorities for different aspects of your future faculty life. Figure out what you need to be maximally productive, and establish what you can get by on. Ask for the former, settle for the latter. Your ability to understand and articulate what is important to you will ease the negotiation process. Once you describe explicitly and concretely what it is you want, it becomes easier for others to work with you to satisfy your needs.
Gathering Information. Asking for information signals that you are a confident professional who does her homework. Some department chairs have little sense of what new faculty members need, and your questions can help educate the department about how to help you succeed. The answers you get will allow you to negotiate from a more informed position, and if you receive multiple offers, you will be better able to decide which one to accept.
Remember that seeking information from the department and the university is perfectly normal. The department chair is one resource. Other members of the department—particularly ones with whom you have developed a rapport—are also promising sources of information. Other untenured faculty members and graduates of your doctoral program (if there are any) may be willing to help you as well. Written policies should be available from the university's human resources department or Web page. In particular, you should secure a copy of the institution's faculty handbook and check its provisions against AAUP recommended standards.
Faculty members hired under unusual or "experimental" arrangements often discover to their dismay that little thought had been given to the details of their appointments or to mitigating predictable tension points. If your appointment is outside the norm (split across departments or involving administrative or outreach responsibilities, for example), push those making the offer to clarify (in writing) such matters as tenure home and performance criteria and expectations; mentoring structures; teaching responsibilities; and office location. With nonstandard appointments, it is advantageous to seek advice widely, particularly from others in similar situations.
Negotiating. Searching for a job (and the waiting game that follows) is unlikely to leave you feeling empowered and confident. But once an offer has been made, the power balance shifts in your favor. You will never be in a better position to get what you want than at that point. The offer means that they want you and will do what they can to get you. Your responsibility is to look out for your own interests. Above all, remember that almost everyone negotiates (although research suggests that women and people of color negotiate less frequently than white men). Many people fear that they will appear greedy and ungrateful if they ask for more money or additional perks, but that is rarely true. Offers are often constructed on the assumption that negotiation will occur.
Assume a professional demeanor, be honest, and play fair. As long as you are courteous, ethical, prompt, and willing to accept no as an answer, there's no harm in asking for the information and perks you desire. Some things you ask for may not be possible, at least not for you. (While a "star" senior hire can negotiate for a parking space, an assistant professor may not be able to do so.) But if you do not ask, you may be unwittingly putting yourself at a professional disadvantage.
Keep in mind that the department has constraints, and that you will probably not get everything you want. Some schools work with fixed salary schedules by convention or union contract. Others simply have limited resources, and principles of equity between people and departments limit the number of special arrangements that can be made. Moreover, the money to supply certain items may be controlled by different people (the department, dean, or provost), and it may be impossible to predict which terms and conditions of the appointment are negotiable. Do not assume: ask.
While no hard and fast rules for negotiating exist, it's best to limit the number of counteroffers and requests for information you make. The department chair would prefer to go to the dean once rather than to resolve each issue separately. If asking for more money and compensation is difficult for you, enlist your closest allies. Practice what you want to say. Make your phone calls with a friend present. Send a fax if you can't stand calling. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself focused and professional. Do not quail.
Assessing Multiple Offers. Multiple offers are both a luxury and a source of considerable tension. Offers rarely come in together, leaving the candidate holding an offer from one institution while waiting for a second institution to decide whether to make an offer. Candor is your best ally: departments understand about negotiating multiple offers and will often extend the deadline for deciding on a position. If you request an extension, however, you should be genuinely willing to accept the offer. Once you decide to turn down an offer, inform the institution immediately. Remember, other candidates are waiting.
Identifying which parts of each job best suit you simplifies the task of choosing between institutions and offers that are structured differently. Multiple offers strengthen your ability to bargain with your first-choice school. You can ask that institution to match an offer from another school. (Do this only if you are serious about the first school and only if you have such an offer from a second institution.)
Salary is an important part of your job offer, although a low salary can be balanced by other things. Whatever you are offered, ask for more. Remember, an institution's lifetime investment in one professor's salary and equipment will probably exceed a million dollars. So a few thousand dollars may be trivial to the institution, even though it's critical to you.
Difference in initial base salary is a big contributor to the earnings gap between men and women in academia. This difference stems partly from the fact that many men negotiate more aggressively than many women do. Moreover, disciplines that are overwhelmingly male—science and engineering, for example—are compensated at higher rates than those that include many academic women—such as education and the humanities.
Salary matters not just for the present, but also for the future. Pay increases are usually a percentage of prior salary. A faculty member earning $60,000 gets twice as much from a 2 percent across-the-board pay raise as a professor earning $30,000 ($1,200 compared with $600). Besides the salary amount, you also want to ask about the length of the contract. Is it for nine, ten, eleven, or twelve months? Can the paychecks be spread over twelve months? What is the recent history of annual salary increases?
When negotiating for salary, it helps to understand the context of the offer. Smaller, less prestigious institutions, for example, generally offer smaller salaries. What are the salary norms in your field? Salaries are simply higher in some fields than in others. Faculty members, recent graduates from your doctoral program, and your professional association can help you determine the salary ranges in your field. As for the salary norms in the department, the Web, a local ally, or the university library may be able to give you departmental salaries, especially for other recently hired assistant professors. Institutional salary scales can be gleaned from the AAUP's annual salary survey (published in the March-April issue of Academe) or from a database maintained on the Web by Arizona State University, which relies on data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. You can determine the cost of living in the city in which you will live using cost-of-living calculators found on the Web (the cost of housing, child care, car insurance, and the like vary). Another determinate of local cost of living is whether your partner, if you have one, will be able to find employment.
Summer support is often separate from academic-year salary, because many institutions pay on nine-month contracts. New faculty often receive one or more months of summer salary (sometimes called "additional ninths") in their first year or so until they are able to garner their own summer support. Ask whether faculty members in the department and the college earn summer salaries. If so, how? Is summer teaching available? Could research support for one or more summers be part of the start-up package? Does the institution offer competitive grants for summer support? Can faculty members spread their nine-month salary over the summer months?
Negotiating Other Forms of Compensation
Moving expenses. Institutions can pay all, some, or none of your moving expenses. Get estimates for packing and moving your possessions. Determine the cost of moving yourself. These figures will help to inform your negotiation. Find out whether the institution will pay for your move directly or how quickly you will be reimbursed if you pay for the move yourself. Save all of your receipts—unreimbursed expenses are likely to be tax deductible.
Housing. If you are moving to a new city, particularly one that is far away, you may want to secure a place to live before actually moving. The institution might pay for a second visit for this purpose. If you make the visit after accepting a job offer in writing, such payment will probably be considered a form of compensation, and, as such, may be taxable. On the other hand, if you visit before you sign a contract, the visit will probably be considered part of the job search process and not as compensation.1 Some couples use second visits as a chance for the partner to see the campus and the city.
Regardless of whether you plan to purchase a home or rent a place to live, it is helpful to meet with a realtor to get a tour of the town and learn about different neighborhoods and the local housing market. If you plan to buy, find out the market range for the kind of home you desire. If you plan to rent, what are common terms of leases? (Are they month-to-month or annual? Are they tied to the academic year?)
Look for an office that helps faculty or students with off-campus housing. Employees in such offices often have maps and a lot of local knowledge. Some institutions, especially those in areas with tight and expensive housing markets, have on-campus faculty housing or programs to help faculty members purchase homes. Find out whether temporary housing is available for your first week or month on campus if you need it.
Health care. In this age of managed care, it's often hard to discern differences between health-care packages, so you need to ask some questions. Does the health plan cover high-cost items (such as orthodontia, eye care, or physical or psychological therapy) necessary to you? How much are insurance premiums? When does the health plan take effect—with your first paycheck, on your first day of work, or six months after you start work? Will the plan cover your partner or dependents? Is it possible to arrange for health-care coverage beginning in the summer before you arrive?
Appointments of spouses or partners. If you have a partner or dependents, you may face additional considerations. Increasingly, institutions recognize that many academics have partners who are also academics (dubbed the "two-body problem"). Some institutions have well-crafted strategies for helping the "trailing partner" secure a position through spousal hiring plans. Some even pay for career-placement assistance for a nonacademic partner. Couples who have already negotiated the system can be rich sources of advice.
Other family-related benefits. Does the institution offer college tuition support for your children? Can your family take classes or enroll in degree-granting programs at low or no cost? Will you and your family have access to facilities, such as recreation and day-care centers? Does the institution have a "domestic partner" policy? (Such policies are becoming increasingly common.) If you are planning to add to your family, ask about family-leave policies. How long is the tenure clock stopped for pregnancy and childbirth? Will you be relieved from teaching? Who will find your teaching replacement, you or the department? Does family leave apply to men? Does it cover adoption or parent care?
Other questions. Besides the issues covered above, you may want to ask the following questions. Can you arrange for an advance on your first paycheck? For many new faculty members, the months before and after starting a new job are financially draining. Do retirement and life insurance benefits begin immediately, or do you have to work for the institution for a certain time before they kick in? How are retirement plans structured? State universities are often under state plans, which may not follow you if you leave the state. Many institutions participate in TIAA/CREF, whose retirement funds are portable to all member institutions. Does the institution offer tax-deferred savings plans or pretax reimbursement accounts for health- or child-care costs?
Balancing Faculty Roles
While compensation issues loom large in most job negotiations, many new professors find, once they have started, that managing time is their main concern. Find out how you are expected to allocate your time, and whether you will be protected from some of the more time-consuming demands. The expectations placed on you are partly a function of the mission of the institution: research universities, community colleges, regional universities, and liberal arts colleges have different missions and different expectations of faculty members. The role and size of the department also shape expectations. Will you be called on to teach campuswide "service" courses? How many majors, graduate students, and faculty members (full- and parttime) does your department have?
Teaching. Teaching is probably the most time-consuming activity for new faculty. You will want to clarify your teaching load: number of classes each term, number of new course preparations you will have in the first few years, typical enrollments, types of students (undergraduate, graduate, majors, nonmajors), and freedom to develop new courses.
Teaching-related duties also consume out-of-class time. What are the departmental norms for meeting with students outside of class? How many office hours each week do faculty members hold? How many undergraduate honors theses, master's theses, and doctoral dissertations might you supervise?
Schools that stress research productivity may allow flexibility in teaching loads. If your load is relatively light, can you stack your teaching so that you have terms with no teaching? How are reductions in teaching load allocated—in the first term, the first year, any two semesters before the tenure decision, or the year before the tenure decision? Under what circumstances is teaching reduced? Today, even large research universities are paying more attention to teaching. How will your teaching be evaluated? Does the campus have resources to help improve your teaching?
Advising. Academic advising is an often-overlooked aspect of the faculty job. Yet many new faculty members commit themselves to being good advisers, either to emulate outstanding advisers they had, or to be better than bad ones they had! Advising can absorb enormous amounts of time, particularly in the first year when new faculty members must learn the requirements and bureaucratic procedures of their institutions. Initially, students awaiting your arrival may eagerly seek you out. Find out how much advising you will be expected to provide and whether training is available. Should your position involve advising doctoral students, ask how many students most faculty advise and how quickly you must reach a full load.
Service. The faculty job traditionally comprises three components—the trinity of teaching, research, and service. Service, the often-underappreciated component, includes service to the institution (committee work and participation in undergraduate student life), to the public (consulting, public speaking, and outreach), and to the profession (review of scholarly papers and leadership in your professional organization).
The importance of public and professional service to your professional identity and scholarship are easy to see. Being visible professionally helps you to make a name for yourself in your field. Campus service, on the other hand, does not improve a professional reputation. It's often dismissed and undervalued, because research and teaching usually determine tenure and promotion decisions. (Smaller institutions, however, often expect significant service.) The conventional wisdom is that untenured faculty ought to be "protected" from service. Nonetheless, for many people, campus service is important and often enjoyable.
One benefit service brings is the opportunity to meet colleagues; such connections can be personally and professionally enriching. In addition, being regarded in a positive light by colleagues across campus can help when tenure decisions are made. Service also allows faculty members to contribute meaningfully to the life of the college. But it does take time, so you should determine whether embracing (or avoiding) service responsibilities is supported or punished in the institutional culture. You should also find out how many committees and projects you are expected to be involved with, and whether you might serve on campus-wide committees. If you are a member of a historically underrepresented group on your campus, you may be sought out for advising and service more frequently than your colleagues. Will you feel comfortable turning away students who want your time? Can you get credit or relief (shift in assignments) for saying yes, or support for saying no to such requests?
Other questions. You might want to consider the following questions in addition to those posed above. Will there be an orientation for new faculty? What mechanisms exist for learning about the institution and your department? Can you get an e-mail account right away? How soon can you start to get routine departmental information forwarded to you? Will you have a formal mentor? If so, whom? If you must finish your dissertation in your first months on the job, what kind of support will you receive to ensure that you complete it? Is there a time limit for doing so? Will you have secretarial support? If so, what kinds of tasks will the secretary perform?
Finding Out About Resources
Inform yourself about the resources available to you to help you carry out your job. The norms and policies for access to supplies and equipment vary enormously between institutions and fields. Particularly in the sciences and at larger research universities, faculty members must pay for their travel, supplies, and equipment from their research grants. Faculty members who must do this usually receive start-up packages to pay for these items in their first years.
Research and teaching assistants. If you will oversee research or teaching assistants, here are some questions to ask. Will the assistants be graduate or undergraduate students? Will they be assigned, or will you select them? What responsibilities do TAs and RAs usually assume? How are salaries determined? Are graduate assistants unionized? If you are in a field in which graduate students are funded by their advisers, will you have to recruit graduate students to work with you, and does their quality affect your prospects for tenure? Will you have to compete for students with your colleagues? Will you get research assistants in your first year? Must you use grant or start-up funds to pay them?
Supplies and equipment. You will need to tell your department what supplies and equipment you will need to be productive. If the department has not hired a new faculty member for a while, you may have expectations based on your experience in graduate school that differ from what your new department imagines to be the norm. Will you need special pieces of equipment; space for your office, lab, project, or storage; or computer hardware or software? What kinds of office supplies are provided, which are restricted, and which must you pay for from grant money? Does the department limit supplies or access to photocopiers and telephones?
While research grants may eventually pay for the expense of running a lab, start-up funds are often provided to launch the research until grants come in. Your doctoral adviser should be able to help you construct a list of your needs. How many years of start-up funds are typical in your field? How soon does the institution expect you to fund your lab from outside grants? What are the consequences if tight funding precludes doing so?
Travel. Will travel to scholarly meetings, research trips, and pedagogical conferences be covered, or will you have to subsidize your travel out of your own pocket? Are funds available for your students to travel? Often, little travel money is available, and it may be allocated competitively.
Research grants. Grants are a way of life in some areas, especially in the sciences at institutions that confer doctorates, but they are relatively rare in other fields and institutional settings. Whether or not grants are the norm at the institution, will you be supported in seeking and managing them? How? Will you be allowed (or encouraged) to buy out teaching with grant funds? Is support available for undergraduate research?
Keeping Track of Deadlines
Two deadlines are important in your negotiation: the date by which you must decide whether or not to accept an offer and the date on which you must start the job. Institutions will expect you to respond to a job offer promptly, but most colleges will give a reasonable period—usually two weeks—for you to make up your mind (and to collect information). If you can conclude the negotiation earlier, do so. If you need more time, ask. Some institutions have firm decision deadlines, but others may be more flexible.
Regarding your starting date, you will want to know when your contract begins, when you should arrive, and if your office will be ready when you arrive. If you or your partner has a prior commitment, you may want to delay the start date. To make long-term plans, you'll need to ask about the schedule for the academic year. When are faculty members expected to be around and available, and when is it permissible to be off campus (such as during the summer or over winter break)?
Welcome to the Academic Profession
Gathering information and negotiating will consume your time and wrack your nerves, but you will reap the rewards for years to come. Understanding the unique culture of your new institution will help you to integrate yourself more easily into campus life, and the knowledge you gain about the job and yourself will help you to thrive professionally. Welcome to the academic profession.
1. This article should not be considered reliable tax advice. Consult an expert.
Chris Golde is assistant editor of Education Administration at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.