The Academic Interview Day 2

As I wrote in my last post, the Department of Psychology is hiring a new FSO Teaching and Learning. I described day 1 of my experience, which included giving a presentation on the state of teaching and learning in my department. Did I mention that day got off to a great start? As soon as I got home from dropping my kids off at school, the phone rang. It was the school, asking me to pick up my youngest daughter, who was sick. Argh. Arrangements were hastily made (it’s not good to show up for an interview with your sick first-grader in tow). Day 2 would be different--no hitches, glitches, or problems of any kind. Right? Just sail through meetings that went straight from 8:30 to 4:30.

I had had a busy weekend, which was probably a good thing. My elder daughter’s soccer team was in provincial finals. Thankfully, the games were held in Edmonton this year, not Calgary. Shuttling her to four games over three days kept my mind off anything to do with the job, my presentation, and everything else. Mostly. (BTW, her team didn’t get a medal this time.)

First thing on my agenda was a breakfast meeting with the Chair of the Department at 8:30 a.m. No problem, right? I left extra early, allowing myself an extra 20 minutes “just in case.” On my way to the University, I heard the traffic reporter on the radio mentioning something about “the Groat Road problem.” Huh? What problem? I knew they closed Groat Road to work on the 102 Avenue bridge overnight, but Groat Road was supposed to be open again. Was it...still closed? Since I was now one block away from Groat Road, this was a pressing concern.

Yup, I could see the taillights of all the vehicles backed up. My mind raced. How else--where else--could I cross the river to get to North Campus? If Groat bridge was still open, I could...maybe...swing through downtown. This was the same idea that hundreds of my fellow Monday-morning commuters had. Argh. I sweated through every centimeter of progress, every minutes that ticked off the clock. I got to my breakfast meeting 15 minutes late, and very stressed out. I gulped my coffee and choked down a muffin.

Next up was my “guest lecture.” This is so that the hiring committee can see for themselves what I do in a classroom and how I do it. Hilariously, I was offered the opportunity to lecture in someone else’s class, if I chose. Naw, I just went ahead and invited people to come to one of my PSYCO 104 classes. I didn’t do much different, although I spiffed my lectures up a bit and made sure to run some clicker questions at the end. Of course, I ran into technical difficulties: one video wouldn’t run so I had to fire it up manually, and then I somehow put the clicker system into numerical mode and couldn’t change it back. Argh! (Just a typical lecture for me, eh?) I don’t think my colleagues learned anything new or interesting about Pavlov, either. (Did you know that he didn’t use a bell at first? He took the metronome from his wife’s piano.)

Next: more meetings--including a lunch meeting with graduate and undergraduate students. It was very instructive to hear their concerns. Unfortunately, I didn’t spend a lot of time eating. By the time my actual interview with the hiring committee was to start, I was exhausted and hypoglycemic. I think that’s why I got a bit emotional, recounting the story of a student who chastised me a few years ago. She missed an exam because her father had died. I told her the procedure to follow, what paperwork she had to fill out, blah blah blah, so that I could transfer the weight of the midterm to her final exam--all stuff that’s in the syllabus. A few weeks later, she approached me at the end of class. She was visibly upset. When I had rattled off all the information, I had neglected to say one important thing: “I’m sorry for your loss.” She told me how disappointed she was in me that I was so unfeeling. Since that time, I have always made an effort to be sympathetic to the situations that students find themselves in.

One more meeting, and then I was able to relax in my office and process a midterm. Yup, that’s right. Instead of going home and pouring myself a nice, stiff drink, I sat in my office and worked on an exam. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as uploading marks to eClass. Of course, I had made an error in coding one question. Of course, I had to go through and manually fix everyone’s mark. THEN I went home a poured myself a nice, stiff drink.

The next day was the wrap-up dinner, with two profs and an undergraduate student. This dinner was originally scheduled for Monday, but had to be moved to Tuesday. (This, after me going through three of the choices given to me, and finding out that none of them were open on Mondays.) I was grateful for the respite, even if it did extend my “interview” by another day. And I got to go to my first choice of restaurant!

It’s a bit strange to go through this process. I’ve had the same job for 15 years, and the interview process back then was a lot less involved. There have been jobs I’ve applied for over the years, but obviously didn’t get. Even though I’ve been kicking around the Department of Psychology for so long, I finally had the opportunity to talk to some people who I’ve never talked to before. It was also intimidating to hear all the things they expect from the new FSO Teaching and Learning.

Well, whatever happens, happens. If I get this new position, my life will change--at lot. If I don’t get it, I’ve still got a great job that I love to do. (Unfortunately, I ended up catching my daughter's cold, which also turned into a sinus infection, bronchitis, and now laryngitis. Stress will do that.)

BTW, if you ever apply for a tenure-track position, here's a great primer from University Affairs.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Academic Interview Day 1

The Department of Psychology is hiring. The position is for an FSO Teaching and Learning. “FSO” stands for Faculty Service Officer, an academic position that’s kind of a catch-all for a lot of varied things. For example, in psychology, there are currently two FSOs: one person who handles the department’s intranet, manages the psychology workshop, and deals with various research issues; the other person runs the psychology internship program.

This new position is about teaching and learning, which is right up my alley, so naturally I applied for it. It is also a tenured position. These kinds of jobs don’t come around often; I know that a lot of contract instructors with PhDs in psychology applied for it. It’s amazing that in this current budget climate, the Faculty of Science is willing and able to fund this position. I think that speaks volumes to the Faculty’s commitment to teaching and learning.

I am pleased to report that I was chosen to be interviewed (as was one other person; and there is apparently one other candidate being interviewed in a couple of weeks).

Let me step you through the application process. There are a number of documents that you have to submit. At the top of the list is your CV (“curriculum vitae,” which is basically your academic resume). You have to ensure that you CV is up to date with your most important accomplishments, publications, awards, etc. A teaching dossier is also required, which includes your philosophy of teaching, approach to pedagogy, and so on. To support this, it’s important to include some course syllabi and the results of student evaluations (USRIs: Universal Student Ratings of Instruction). Then, you have to find three people to write you academic letters of reference that speak to your ability to manage projects, teach effectively, get along with others in a team or group, and so on. Lastly, you have to write a cover letter. That’s just the paperwork.

I’ve been on screening committees before, so I know how this works. Part of it is to weed out people who can’t complete the paperwork. If you are unable to find three people willing and able to write you letters of reference and send them in by a deadline, that sends up a red flag. And if you don’t include documentation about how students view your teaching, what’s up with that? Teaching will be an important component of this position, in two ways. First, this FSO position is about leadership in teaching, which means supporting the Department of Psychology’s teaching mission. That might mean working with Contract Academic Staff: Teaching or tenured faculty to apply new teaching techniques in their classes. Or it could include training graduate students who may be teaching their very first course. Secondly, the FSO will be required to teach two courses per year. That would be a huge reduction for me, as I currently have to teach eight as a Faculty Lecturer. I had to think long and hard about applying for this position; teaching fewer courses was a big downside for me. I love teaching, and it has come to define how I think of myself. To consider changing that was very difficult. The lure of a tenured position is strong, though. Finally, there is also an administrative and service workload--which means being on a lot of committees.

The interview process is not like what you’d expect for a typical job. You don’t come in, talk to the hiring committee for an hour, and then leave. Oh no. My “interview” was a day and a half long (plus a dinner on yet another day). Two major components are an open presentation, and a guest lecture. The presentation is where you talk about your ideas for what you might do if you get the job. This lasts an hour, and includes time for questions (the scary part). I chose to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of teaching in the Department. Think about that: I’m potentially criticizing the people who are considering hiring me. Yikes. I then talked a bit about various trends and buzzwords in pedagogy (MOOCs anyone? Flipped classrooms?) and briefly evaluated them. The people at my presentation (faculty, graduate students, administrators) took it pretty easy on me. Or maybe I just rendered them comatose with my Powerpoints. Zap!

(Sorry about being circumspect in describing my presentation, but there is still one other candidate who will make a presentation in a few weeks. It’s in my own best interest to not say too much. Maybe I’ll post my presentation at some point in the future.)

A few faculty members requested meetings with me. So, after my presentation, off I went to six half-hour meetings in a row. Everyone offered me coffee, which I declined. (That’s all I need: six cups of coffee in a row. That’s enough to make me vibrate.) Everyone had different things that they wanted to discuss. Some of them were casual chats; others were serious discussions about the future of teaching and learning on campus. These meetings are not part of the formal job interview; however, after talking to me, these faculty members will generally give feedback to the hiring committee about my ideas. You have to be “on” all the time, make a good impression, and know your stuff.

That was day 1 of my interview. Well, half a day, anyway. It took place on a Friday. Now I had a whole weekend to stew about my performance, and get ready for day 2 the following Monday.

Next: Day 2, in which actual bridges play a role.

Why aren’t you studying?

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