Preparing for tenure track job interviews

Rafael Irizarry

Editor’s note: This is a slightly modified version of a previous post.

If you are in the job market you will soon be receiving (or already received) an invitation for an interview. So how should you prepare?  You have two goals. The first is to make a good impression. Here are some tips:

  1. During your talk, do NOT go over your allotted time. Practice your talk at least twice. Both times in front of a live audiences that asks questions.

  2. Know your audience. If it’s a “math-y” department, give a more “math-y” talk. If it’s an applied department, give a more applied talk. But (sorry for the cliché) be yourself. Don’t pretend to be interested in something you are not as this almost always backfires.

  3. Learn about the faculty’s research interests. This will help during the one-on-one meetings.

  4.  Be ready to answer the question “what do you want to teach?” and “where do you see yourself in five years?”

  5. I can’t think of any department where it is necessary to wear a suit (correct me if I’m wrong in the comments). In some places you might feel uncomfortable wearing a suit while those interviewing you are in shorts and t-shirt.

Second, and just as important, you want to figure out if you like the department you are visiting. Do you want to spend the next 5, 10, 50 years there?  Make sure to find out as much as you can to answer this question. Some questions are more appropriate for junior faculty, the more sensitive ones for the chair. Here are some example questions I would ask:

  1. What are the expectations for promotion? Would you promote someone publishing exclusively in subject matter journals such as Nature, Science, Cell, PLoS Biology, American Journal of Epidemiology ? Somebody publishing exclusively in Annals of Statistics? Is being a PI on an R01 a requirement for tenure?

  2. What are the expectations for teaching/service/collaboration? How are teaching and committee service assignments made?

  3. How did you connect with your collaborators? How are these connections made?

  4. What percent of my salary am I expected to cover? Is it possible to do this by being a co-investigator?

  5. Where do you live? How are the schools? How is the commute?

  6. How many graduate students does the department have? How are graduate students funded? If I want someone to work with me, do I have to cover their stipend/tuition?

  7. How is computing supported? This varies a lot from place to place. Some departments share amazing systems. Ask how costs are shared? How is the IT staff? Is R supported? In others you might have to buy your own hardware. Get all the details.

Specific questions for the junior Faculty:

Are the expectations for promotion made clear to you? Do you get feedback on your progress? Do the senior faculty mentor you? Do the senior faculty get along? What do you like most about the department? What can be improved? In the last 10 years, what percent of junior faculty get promoted?

Questions for the chair:

What percent of my salary am I expected to cover? How soon? Is their bridge funding? What is a standard startup package? Can you describe the promotion process in detail? What space is available for postdocs? (for hard money place) I love teaching, but can I buy out teaching with grants?

I am sure I missed stuff, so please comment away….