Tea Canister Paraphenalia

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Adagio Tea Canisters

'Love me some tea and tea paraphenalia. In this case, these UV-blocking glass canisters from Adagio so I can actually see my tea. No more plastic bags and mismatched tins, they've been retired. I think the above photo shows a selection of jasmine tea, a caramel rooibos, matcha iri sencha, chrysanthemum, and white monkey paw. Not the whole selection yet, I'm still building up my glass jar collection.

Adagio Tea Canisters
Tea Collection

Faculty Jobs: On-Campus Interview Lessons Learned

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I'm not an expert on campus visit interviews, but I've been reasonably successful with my on-campus interview-to-offer ratio and learned a few things in the process. This is just a brain dump of things I've learned.

As always, The Professor Is In has some nice resources: (1) Rules of the Campus Visit, (2) Search Committee Interview, (3) Rules of the Job Talk, (4) Stop Acting Like a Grad Student, (5) The Be Yourself Myth, (6) How To Talk To a Dean, and many more. Just scrounge the website for 'campus visit'.

These are all great resources, but as a general guideline I would say the keys are:

  1. The three most important things you need to find out, for yourself, are Do I like these people?, Does the department want every hire to receive tenure?, and Can I see myself happy here in 7 years?
  2. The Campus Visit is 50% about your job talk and 50% about personality fit (both you-to-colleagues and colleagues-to-you). Mess up either one, and there's no recovery.
    1. Make them laugh
    2. Small talk
    3. Be the nicest, most optimistic version of yourself
    4. Don't put down anyone or anything.
  3. Don't do anything that makes you look like a grad student rather than a colleague.
  4. Play it cool.
  5. Have something to ask/say when people always ask you if you have any questions for them.
  6. Ask for bathroom breaks. Once there, eat a snack, file your nails, take notes on the day's conversations so far, whatever you need to do.
  7. Take ~10 word notes on conversations you've had with each person throughout the day. Do not wait until the end of the day. Do not wait until you're in the airport. You will not remember anything, and you need these notes for a quick amount of personalization in the thank you notes.

In the lecture hall

Most on-campus interviews seem to consist of the following:
  1. (optional) Arrival night dinner
  2. Breakfast with a search committee member at 8am
  3. A multitude of 30-minute meetings with various faculty in the department
  4. Lunch or separate meeting with students
  5. One-hour slot for your job talk later in the day (45 minute talk + 15 minutes of questions)
  6. One-hour meeting with the Dean
  7. Very limited breaks, if any at all
  8. Lots of asking people where the restroom is
  9. Dinner with the search committee that runs until ~8pm
  10. (liberal arts colleges, optional) 20-40 minute teaching demo
  11. (optional) Non-evaluative external faculty meeting
  12. (optional) Realtor tour of the surrounding area
  13. (optional) Second day of interviewing, including more meetings

"Interview" Meetings

At the end of a two-day interview I wrote 22 thank you emails, which implies that I spoke with about 22 people. Not all of these were 30 minute one-on-one meetings (some were a group lunch), but most were. For a one-day interview at a liberal arts college, I wrote 12 thank you emails. So. There's a lot of talking to people, and not actually a lot of grilling. A 12-hour interview sounds daunting, but if you think of it as 12-hours of discussing potential collaborations, it's actually pretty fun.

Tiring, but fun.
Both sides want the other to like them, so this leads to some really great conversations. You talk about your work a lot and their work occasionally, but maybe also side topics like spatial reasoning skills-computer science-gender (one of my favorites), politics (to make sure you fit), the importance of communication in research, etc. etc.

So, you don't tend to get asked tricky human-resources-type questions, just more things like:
  • Summarize your research.
  • Give an introduction to your sub-domain.
  • How would being at ____ Institution impact your research? Would you keep external collaborations? (the answer at liberal arts colleges is yes)
  • Would you have enough resources here to do your work? (Be able to list the resources you need)
  • Do you have any grant-writing experience?
  • Where do you plan to get funding?

These statements are of course followed by follow-up questions that naturally occur as part of a conversation. It is very important that you ask questions of your interviewers as well. Have some prepared. You can reuse some of the Institution-Specific Questions from your remote interviews, but hopefully your interest in the place will inspire further relevant questions. Remember, you're trying to make sure that you will be productive and happy at this place. Get the information you need to make that decision. People love talking about their work/students/campus/town/etc.

A couple rules in your question-asking:
  1. You're trying to convince them you're a peer, not a PhD student.
  2. Don't be too enthusiastic about inquiring about sabbaticals/maternity leave/pay.
  3. These meetings are where your sense of humor and personality are allowed to come through. If hired, these people have to work with you for decades.
  4. Where opportunities for [tenure-related] feedback occur is a safe/intelligent question.
  5. When my brain blanks on creating a question, I tend to fall back on "I find that people give great insights when allowed to just talk, so maybe you can tell me a bit more about ___?" Alternatively, ask what campus is like during the summer - who's around, can you leave for a bit to meet with external collaborators, etc.
  6. For research institutions it's good to have one or two questions about your interviewer's research. It's not absolutely necessary, but lends you an air of thoroughness.
  7. Be careful asking about the biggest negatives/obstacles to being at ___ Institution. This question is best saved for external faculty meetings. Alternatively, pair it with a "best/worst aspects of living/working here?" question.

The Job Talk

I generally agree with the wisdom of The Professor Is In: Rules of the Job Talk, but would add the following tips:
  • For liberal arts colleges, start with a 10 minute overview of your sub-domain. Motivate why it's important, maybe go a bit in-depth into a method and a student project from a class you taught. Be sure this ties in with your research somehow.
  • Have a big finish.
  • The question-session at the end is way less stressful than anything I endured at my PhD granting institution. It's actually fun/productive/interesting. Minimal terror.
  • I always feel like I could've done better in my job talk. There is always room for improvement, but I'm apparently a bit hard on myself.
  • 'Pretty sure everyone always looks bored to tears during job talks. Don't sweat it too much.
  • You can reuse some of your dissertation defense content, but really only about a third of it is particularly useful. My talk includes:
    1. an introduction to human-centered design/HCI
    2. one of the three experiments from my dissertation defense
    3. in-depth explanation of some current/future work
    4. a list of future research questions
    5. a grande finale that unites all this under an umbrella big-research-goal

Scheduling the Interviews

I dislike flying across the country, and have found that combining interview trips on the east coast helps reduce this. I have saved myself days of being suspended in air and boredom this way. But in the month of December this also meant that I had 4 full days of interviewing (12 hours each), in a 7 day period. It is very tiring to do this. Despite my exhaustion, I was pretty successful. So, tiring, but certainly possible.

I think it's fairly more common to have one interview per week, as I did in January. Still exhausting, but at least there's a half week break in-between each. I also combined the blue and magenta trips in January, with a stopover at my parents' house for the half week. It really does help to have an East Coast base of operations for such coordination tasks.

If you're interviewing in the same general locale as where you live, then you probably don't need to combine interviews as much. HOWEVER, do not schedule yourself on the last flight of the day, or airplane issues may cause you to miss your interview! Earlier is better, trust me!!!

Timezone Adjustments

If you are on the west coast and doing interviews on the east coast, it is absolutely necessary that you adjust your sleep/food schedule to the East Coast time prior to your (undoubtedly, early) flight out there. I start the process about a week prior where I wake up 30-60 minutes earlier each day until I'm waking up at 4am and going to bed around 8pm. The early wake up is necessary so that you'll be tired enough to sleep at 8pm.

This is a self-induced one week of jet lag and it makes me completely exhausted and useless for the entire week. However, it also makes me fully functioning during my interviews, for which I usually wake up at 6am to get a bit of a job talk practice in prior to 8am breakfast. I have now been on east coast time for about 2 months, despite a couple stop overs in the California apartment. With an 8pm bedtime, I haven't seen much of Jim considering he gets home from work 30 minutes prior, lol.

Also, book the 7am cross-country flight so you arrive at your destination before 6pm (helps reduce the devastation of delayed flights). You're already waking up at 4am, what effect will a 7am flight have on that?!

In the air

Stuff to Keep in your Briefcase

My post on packing for the campus visit covers this, but here it goes again:
  1. A good quality, professional briefcase (leather)
  2. Laptop + Charger
  3. Cell phone + Charger
  4. Notebook/Print-outs with names of everyone you're meeting with and one line about their research (this is not critical at liberal arts colleges). Something you can memorize, or at the very least, read during a bathroom break.
  5. Projector dongle that converts whatever you have to VGA (you will need it)
  6. USB Drive with a copy of your talk (and teaching demo, if needed)
  7. Physiological sustenance: Water bottle, Granola bar, Chocolate bar
  8. Business cards (although I've never used them)
  9. "Emergency" 3"X4" Zipper Pouch with things you might need in the middle of the day:
    1. Tide stain stick mini
    2. Eye glass cleaner
    3. Tweezers
    4. Mini Emery Board
    5. Chapstick (or Shea Butter for lips + cuticles)
    6. Advil/Tylenol
    7. Blister moleskins
    8. Floss
This is just stuff I've needed through 12-hours of talking to people. Your list of necessities might change, but these are pretty solid must-haves for myself.

Faculty Interview Packing List (clothing, day-of items)

Semi-Success: Yummy Potato Casserole

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Yummy Potatoes - with cream of chicken
'Not so sure how I feel about this Cooks.com: Yummy Potato Casserole Recipe. I've had the version without the cream of chicken soup, and I think that's a bit tastier. It's hard to go wrong with potatoes, cheese, and sour cream.

Yummy Potatoes - with cream of chicken
Yummy Potatoes - with cream of chicken
Yummy Potatoes - with cream of chicken

Faculty Jobs: Packing for On-Campus Interviews

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

If your Application Materials get you the remote interview, then the Remote Interview gets you the on-campus interview. Which means that the on-campus interview gets you the job. So. Here we are. High pressure. At the 12-20 hour on-campus interview. Smaller schools only do a 12-hour (one day) interview, often including an 8am breakfast, dinner with the search committee, and no breaks. The longer two-day long interviews often have some breaks built in, but may also build in three dinners with various faculty.

So, how does one survive 12-20 hours of interviews?
By packing very carefully.

As always, The Professor Is In has a special post on How To Pack and Dress For Your Campus Visit, which is useful. As is the whole book...

Faculty Interview Packing List (clothing, day-of items)

Above is the interview-specific things you need, from the female perspective. I've done a handful of interview trips now, and this is pretty close to my final list.


  1. A suit
    • Dress professionally, preferably involving a blazer. I've also been successful with the green blazer + ankle pants separates on the right...and also done a successful job talk in the ankle pants plus a ruffle-front black plaid button-down blouse, no blazer.
    • Doesn't have to be expensive, but get that ish tailored (campus visits tend to occur the month after the application deadline).
    • I generally avoid skirts during the interview process, because I really don't care to other myself any more than absolutely necessary.
    • If there's a second day of interviewing, I pack an entirely different second outfit. If it's just a second dinner meeting, I only pack an extra blouse.
  2. Button-down shirt to go with the suit
  3. Nice wool coat
  4. Reserved jewelry
  5. La Canadienne Boots (they're waterproof and lined, perfect for walking around New England campuses in January while still looking good).
    • The shoes don't have to cost $200, but you get what you pay for. I got a good eBay deal on a pair because they had an unnoticeable blemish.
  6. Wool Socks (once again, New England winters).
  7. A clean shirt to wear on the return flight home (may be a back-up button-down shirt)
  8. A reusable grocery bag
    • No, this is not clothing, but it is useful for not being separated from your interview clothing.
  9. Weather specific items: an umbrella?
  10. Mini lint roller
  11. Travel/Entertainment items:
    • Kindle, mp3 player, earbuds, knitting, eye mask, scarf, neck pillow, etc.
    • Whatever you need to get you through days and days of airports.
  12. Basic toiletries:
    • Face products, Hair products, Teeth products, Nail products, Pharmaceutical products, and whatever else you can fit in two toiletries bags.
    • Melatonin and Tylenol PM, if you tend to suffer from poor sleep / anxiety the night before the interview.
    • Especially important to bring soap/shampoo if the school is putting you up in a non-hotel, such as a campus guesthouse.
Faculty Interview Packing List (toiletries, travel items)
For my interview pack list, I like to pack high quality shampoo/conditioner, like the Le Labo Rose 31 travel-sizes I borrowed from our honeymoon hotel. Taking a rose-scented shower while cheapo-steaming my suit in the bathroom is the loveliest little pick-me-up.
Le Labo: Rose 31 Travel-Sized Shampoos/Soaps

During the Interview

Stuff you need to carry around with you for the 9-20 hours.
  1. A good quality, professional briefcase (leather)
  2. Laptop + Charger
  3. Cell phone + Charger
  4. Notebook/Print-outs with names of everyone you're meeting with and one line about their research (this is not critical at liberal arts colleges). Something you can memorize, or at the very least, read during a bathroom break.
  5. Projector dongle that converts whatever you have to VGA (you will need it)
  6. USB Drive with a copy of your talk (and teaching demo, if needed)
  7. Physiological sustenance: Water bottle, Granola bar, Chocolate bar
  8. Business cards (although I've never used them)
  9. "Emergency" 3"X4" Zipper Pouch with things you might need in the middle of the day:
    1. Tide stain stick mini
    2. Eye glass cleaner
    3. Tweezers
    4. Mini Emery Board
    5. Chapstick (or Shea Butter for lips + cuticles)
    6. Advil/Tylenol
    7. Blister moleskins
    8. Floss

Transporting a Suit

There's many ways recommended by the Internet about how to do this to prevent wrinkling your suit. I've had decent success with just:
  1. Transport suit on hanger with dry cleaner plastic bag over it.
  2. Fold suit in half (if your suitcase has a special padded insert for suits, like my goofy one does, then fold it over the padded edge of the insert).
  3. Place suit in suitcase.
  4. Upon arrival, hang suit in bathroom and take a steamy shower with the door closed (free suit-steaming!)
This works okay.
1 Packing a Suit: Lay flat 2 Packing a Suit: Place insert on top, with padded edge in middle 3 Packing a Suit: Fold Suit in Half 4 Packing a Suit: Place Suit in Roller Bag 5 Packing a Suit: Zipper Up Suitcase

Do Not Get Separated From Your Interview Outfit

There is a green reusable shopping bag included in the pack list, not just because it makes a convenient laundry bag, but also because it helps prevent you from being separated from your suit. Do not let yourself be separated from your interview outfit. Gate-checking your carry-on (where they do not check-through to your final destination, you pick it up at the gate) is fine, and unavoidable with small airplanes. There's a lot of small airplanes involved in this process. Use packing cubes, if possible. When you're boarding a full airplane and they tell you your roller-bag won't fit in the overhead, and it must be checked to the final destination, you:
  1. Take out your reusable grocery bag.
  2. Remove interview clothing from roller-bag (this is where packing cubes are handy).
  3. Place clothing/toiletries in reusable grocery bag.
  4. Check your now-empty roller-bag to its final destination.
It's best to do this slightly out of the sight of the staff, as you are basically now making it so you have 3 carry-on pieces of luggage. Hide your briefcase in the reusable shopping bag, too, as needed for this part.
Packing for Interviews

Success: Kahlua Pecan Cake

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Jim fell in love with his aunt's kahlua pecan cake a few months back, when there was some leftover coffee booze from a party. And here we are now with a repeat of the same, but with a typed-up recipe to accompany it. It's suuuuuper sweet, but quite tasty.

Kahlua Cake

Kahlua Pecan Cake Recipe

By Jodi Goldblatt (Beth El Nursery School)
  • 1 package Golden Butter Duncan Hines Cake Mix (not yellow)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 [3 3/4oz] package instant vanilla pudding
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup Kahlua
  • Greased and floured bundt pan
  1. To cake mix, add eggs one at a time, and beat well.
  2. Mix in sour cream, pudding, oil, and vanilla.
  3. Separate batter in half.
  4. Stir brown sugar, Kahlua, and pecans into 1/2 the batter.
  5. Pour half of the plain batter into a greased and floured bundt pan.
  6. Spoon in all the Kahlua batter; then top with remaining plain batter and swirl with a knife.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 hours, but check at 55 minutes for doneness.
  8. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Kahlua Cake
Kahlua Cake

Faculty Jobs: Remote Interviews

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Remote Interview - Web Video Set-up

As of writing, I've done 11 remote interviews (out of ~30 applications), turned into ~8 on-campus interview invitations, as part of the faculty job search. I've learned some things about myself. (1) I do terribly at phone interviews, but not so bad when video's involved, and (2) 15 minute time limits to the interview really messes with the conversational flow. If anyone has figured out how to do well on a 15 minute phone interview, please let me know, because they're rough.

The Professor Is In has a post on rocking the phone/Skype interview. That's a good place to start. Also, this Chronicle of Higher Ed article on Skype/Video interviews specifically. Or, do a Google search?

Anyways. If your application materials pass muster, you may be invited to do a remote interview. On a phone. On Skype. On some other web video platform, who knows! Once you get the remote interview, your application materials no longer matter and then all the pressure is on your live-interview performance. Not every school does a remote interview, some skip straight to the on-campus. Although, pretty much every liberal arts college does a remote interview.

Some key tips to handle this remote interview:
  1. My goal in every remote interview is to get them to laugh. Remote interviewing can be painful for a search committee with a bunch of them in a row.
  2. Wear a button-down (i.e., look presentable).
  3. Have some institution-specific questions to ask. Two should be enough, do some homework!
  4. Prepare answers to a bunch of different potential interview questions.
  5. Set-up your physical space for success (i.e., eye contact).
  6. Think about how to wrap up your questions.
  7. Write thank you emails to everyone on the call afterward.

Institution-Specific Questions

As far as questions to ask the search committee I tended to veer towards:
  • Look up something unique to the school, and generate a couple different questions prior to the interview. Start with senior projects, independent study, winter term, common course all students take, etc. and ask a question about it. Aim for 2 institution-specific questions, at least.
  • Is there a grants office? A teaching & learning center? Do faculty use it? What's it like to work with them? (Shows interest in teaching/research)
  • What does collaboration look like at ____? Mostly external? Does the school fund internal projects? Who do you collaborate with?
  • Teaching load? Research expectations for tenure? (Be careful with these).
  • What role are you looking to fill with this position? How does this fit in with longer term departmental goals?
  • (liberal arts)What do you think drives students at _____ to pursue computer science? Where do they end up afterwards?
  • (liberal arts)What would you say is the most distinguishing feature of your institution that sets you apart from your peer institutions? (be careful with this one!)
Just keep in mind...you don't really get a feel for the school from a phone interview. So just make sure to ask questions to cover the basics of will I be happy & productive here? The on-campus interview is where you start to get a feel for what it would actually be like to live and work with these colleagues for the rest of your life.

Think about how you'll finish with your questions. "I have no more questions" isn't going to cut it. Something along the lines of "I could ask questions all day, but I don't want to take up any more of your time. Who should I direct future questions to?" may work. Plan it out in advance.

Prepare Your Answers to Interview Questions

I've gathered a bunch of sample interview questions at the bottom of this post, from all over the Internets. But here's a few questions I was asked repeatedly.
  1. Summarize your research.
  2. What classes are you willing/able/excited to teach?
  3. (liberal arts) Why would you be a good fit for a liberal arts college?
  4. Why are you a good fit for this department?
In the beginning, it helped to actually type up my answers and read them aloud, prior to the interview. Not during the interview.

Remote Interview - Web Video Set-up

Setting Up The Physical Space

  • You want to look your interviewers in the eye. Set your web camera to eye-level. I often use a cardboard box, or if I'm in a hotel room I might use a trashcan buoyed by hotel Bibles.
  • Also on looking your interviewers in the eye: Look at the webcam. I use a post-it note with arrow pointing to camera. Does this mean you actually don't see the people on your monitor? Yes, it does, but the sacrifice is worth it.
  • Earbuds for better hearing, I only use one earbud so I can modulate the volume of my voice better
  • Paper & pen to record who is in the interview, for thank you emails later.
  • Your list of researched questions (and general ones) to ask the committee.
  • Try to ensure you're in a quiet space with a reasonable background, and no one walking around behind you!!! I have, however, had conversations about my cat making an appearance on the couch behind me and been given an on-campus interview anyways!

Remote Interview - Web Video Set-up

Thank You Emails

There are better resources around for writing thank you notes to the people you spoke with. But in short, they don't have to be long and they won't really make or break you. Just thank them for their time, mention why you enjoyed the conversation, and maybe why you might be a good fit. End with a "I look forward to hearing from you." You can send copies of the same thank you to multiple people at multiple institutions, but I prefer to customize a tiny bit if at all possible.

Practice Questions

Here's a nice random sampling of potential interview questions to be asked and to ask yourself. Maybe you'll find some you like? I have the higher priority questions discussed above, but part of your preparation should include writing out the answers to all these questions and then reading them aloud to yourself several times.

Questions For You (be brief and to the point!!!)
1. What is your approach to teaching an introductory course in your discipline?
2. How would you aim to get students who might have no background in that discipline interested in it?
3. What text have you used in a previous course that did not work well?
4. What is the one text that you think you would nearly always want to include in an intro course?
5. What text would you nearly always include in an upper-level course in your area of specialization?
6. How do you understand the role of academic adviser?
7. How does your research inform your teaching, and vice versa?
8. What ideas do you have for generating excitement about your discipline across campus?
9. What do you think are the primary characteristics of an excellent undergraduate program in your discipline?
10. If you could teach anything, what is your dream course?
11. What is the benefit of studying your discipline even if a student decides to major in something else?
12. Tell us about your research program.
13. What classes taught or comfortable teaching, type, former responsibilities
14. Past, present, future research; know what is cutting-edge in your area of expertise
15. Why that college/university/position
16. How is your dissertation different from other work in your field?
17. What are your publication plans arising from the dissertation?
18. Who are the biggest scholarly influences on your work?
19. How would you teach a large intro class in your/our discipline?
20. Which textbook would you use for that class?
21. Can you name 3 classes that you would be interested to teach for us? Why?
22. How do you see your work fitting into our department?
23. How would you teach a foundational theory/methods graduate seminar?
24. What do you think the most important intellectual debate is in your/our field?
25. Can you envision any collaborations with faculty currently in the department?
26. What inspires your teaching?
27. We notice you were trained at a large public institution; how do you feel you'll fit in at a small liberal arts institution like ours? (and variations on this theme)
28. What is the most significant piece of research that you have read in the last year?
29. What do you envision for creating a research program here?
30. Do you plan to apply for research funding?
31. What is the funding record of your field?
32. We have a large teaching load here – 3 classes a term. How would you manage this and still stay productive in research and writing? Your current research requires more technological support than this institution is able to provide. How will you deal with this?
33. We see that you have done a lot of conference papers and presentations; we have limited research funding here to support that kind of travel. How will you adapt to that?

Questions To Ask Them
1. Departmental goals in next 3-5 years (unless on website)
2. How they see you fitting in their plans
3. Greatest strengths of this university/students/department
4. Tenure process
5. How is teaching evaluated?
6. Support for undergraduates at research conferences?
7. What's the relative importance of teaching, research and service for tenure?
8. About what percent of faculty receive tenure?
9. Tell me about your student population.
10. Where do the undergraduate students go after graduation?
11. What kinds of technology are available in the classroom?
12. How well does the library meet departmental needs?
13. What courses are you looking to fill?
14. How does the department and university support the improvement of teaching?
15. What resources for research are available within the department (e.g., computer facilities, equipment)
16. Is there a research office on campus to help faculty write grants?
17. What kinds of financial support are available for research and supplies?
18. Is outside grant support essential for promotion and tenure?
19. How are graduate students supported?
20. How do graduate students select research advisors?
21. Can grants be used to supplement salary?
22. What type of retirement program is there? What percentage of the salary goes to retirement? What does the school contribute?
23. What type of health program exists? What are the costs and benefits?
24. How many undergraduate and graduate students are presently in the department?
25. How are their numbers changing?

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