Note: This post is centered around a list of questions that political science PhDs can use on the academic job market.
Another start of the semester means another start to the academic job market. The job market can be incredibly overwhelming. In addition to the strenuous process of filling out applications, job candidates have to learn how to fit a mold. In a typical academic year, this means attempting to reconcile your own personal teaching and scholarship goals into multiple university settings.
However, being on the market is an opportunity to be incredibly reflective. The market forces scholars to consider choices that can strongly influence the direction of their lives in the next five to ten years. Maybe more so than any other point in an academic career, the market allows for a meaningful reflection of one’s own goals and objectives.
Part of this reflection process is evaluating your strengths and weaknesses as an academic. Like any other interview, this evaluation requires a substantial amount of preparation. Candidates should do their best to anticipate the questions that may arise during an interview. In an academic job interview, which can last from one to three days, the variety of these questions can be daunting and somewhat overwhelming.
While on the job market, I found that my own greatest asset was preparation. The market is a low-information environment. In most cases, you have little to no knowledge about what a search committee is looking for, when the decisions are made, and who is actually on the search committee. Even if you are fortunate enough to make it to a campus visit, you are still operating with an information deficit. You have no idea what a faculty member may be looking for. In fact, the questions and approaches during one-on-one conversations tend to dramatically differ between faculty members.
While your mentors and colleagues can provide advice, they are limited by the view of their own institutions. The types of concerns and questions you get during a campus visit are typically aimed towards assessing your potential fit at that particular institution. As such, you are largely on your own in your search for an academic job. This makes preparation absolutely essential to the campus visit.
During my own time on the market, I spent a significant amount of time brainstorming questions that could potentially come up during an interview. Throughout the year, I started to develop a running list. Most of these came from through the help of my mentors and colleagues. However, I also updated the list as I went on interviews. As I added questions to the list, I would also make sure to add brief notes about how to answer the questions.
Days before a campus visit, I would revisit the list by answering the questions with far more detail. At that point, since I had been regularly taking notes on the questions, this process was fairly streamlined. I would only slightly alter my answers based on the institution I was interviewing for. At the end of my time of my market, I had amassed an extensive library of questions. I’ve included this list of questions in this article, organized in four sections: research, teaching, university life, and questions to ask.
While this process definitely helped on individual visits, this process actually gave me a far better sense of self. I found that I could speak much more confidently about my own research trajectory and pedagogy. While I was prepared to answer specific questions, I had developed a systemic way of thinking by incorporating the answers to these questions into a larger theoretical framework. This framework gave me a strong command and ease in answering questions that came up, even if they were not on my list. In addition, I used this framework to sell myself to the institution I was applying to. I was able to tailor my answers using this framework to each university. And the ability to do so, came from these questions.
Also, be sure to check out my job market page for more links to helpful posts and information I’ve encountered over the years.