Saturday, November 18, 2006

A primer on faculty searches, part II

Continuing my description of the faculty search process.... Candidates come in for interviews. Each interview is a two-day affair. The candidate is scheduled to meet pretty much everyone on the search committee, and maybe a couple of other people in addition if there's time. Usually at 4:00pm on the first day, we have the candidate give a departmental colloquium. We point out to them when we invite them that the audience for our colloquia is very general - it can include undergrads, and the areas of research of the faculty members in the crowd can range from astrophysics to biophysics to high energy to AMO and CM. The point is we want to see how well the candidate communicates to a general audience about their work (usually their postdoc results, with a slide or a few at the end on future directions). After the talk is dinner with a couple of members of the committee. There are more visits on the second day. In the late morning (usually), the candidate sits down with the committee and gives a shorter (say 20 minutes) research plan talk. This is where the candidate tells us what they want to do in the near and longer term, and what kind of resources they think they'll need to do it (e.g. a big laser system, or a dilution refrigerator, or access to fab and microscopy tools, etc.). This is generally less formal than the colloquium, but it needs to be taken seriously, since this is really where the committee gets a sense of how the candidate approaches planning research. This is also where discussions about teaching happen. Depending on travel plans, there either is a second dinner, or the candidate heads out at the end of day 2.

Once the candidates have all visited, the committee sits down, compares notes, and comes up with a recommendation for the department to vote on. Once the department has made a decision, the department chair is the one who talks with the candidate about offer details. An unofficial offer letter is then prepared and sent out by the dean. Those in the game know what I mean by "unofficial": full-on offer letters come from the office of the president or the board of trustees, depending on the institution, and are essentially only prepared at the very last minute. The candidate is invited to come for a second visit - to look at lab and office space, meet the dean, bring the spouse or significant other if that's relevant, get a look at real estate, etc.

I'll write a third post about faculty searches with a few generic tips for candidates sometime soon.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for this post and the other one about the faculty search process. One thing I have been wondering about is the research talk on the 2nd day, sometimes referred to as the "chalk talk." I've been wondering, optimistically, about how to properly balance the content of that talk. Do you focus more on the short term work you want to do, the kind of work that may stand the most chance of success or do you focus more on the long term research you'd like to do which may be more risky? Is a typical search committee looking for more of one aspect that the other or equal time for everything? Thanks!

Douglas Natelson said...

Hey Jason. Well, annoying as this is going to sound, I think you need to hit both. Not that I did this particularly well, mind you. It's good to start with a slide or two on what your general area is and why it's important and interesting. Then some discussion of your short-term interests, which are presumably at least somewhat related to your previous day's job talk topic. Follow that up with your mid- to long-term plans, with a reasonable assessment of risk vs. reward. If part of the plan is some work that's better suited for undergrads, or postdocs, say so. Remember that the committee has broad membership, so while you want there to be detail in there for the experts, you want the others to come away with the sense that you've thought about what you're doing, why you're doing it, how hard it's going to be, and what you'll need to get the job done.

Anonymous said...

...and why it is the most important thing they'll be hearing about from any of their interview candidates. Don't forget that.

Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for these precious information. As the time for on-site interview is approching, many people are looking forward to your faculty search series part III, tips. Hope you have time to make it soon.

Jackson said...

Thank you..