Thursday, October 28, 2010
Another AALS Post: When Do You Read?
As I am preparing to get on a plane to DC later today to interview faculty candidates, it occurs to me to ask a question that has bothered me since the last time I served on the appointments committee a few years ago: When do you sit down to read a candidate's scholarship?
In the past, my practice was to read a few pieces here and there before the AALS interviews, usually when a candidate had written something in my field and/or was particularly interesting to me on paper. I get the sense that many people don't read any scholarship until after a candidate has been scheduled for a call-back (or maybe before definitely deciding to call them back), which strikes me as pretty defensible, given that committees can see as many as 30 candidates in 2 days (or schedule as many as 30, some of whom drop out in the final days), and that many of those candidates will disqualify themselves based on the interview (which is also too brief to discuss anyone's scholarship in great detail anyway).
But I also seem to recall a friend of mine who teaches at a top-10 school saying that she had been trying to read the scholarship of everyone her committee was seeing in DC. I suspect that this latter approach may be more common at the very top schools, where presumably few candidates drop out of the mix shortly before the conference, and where candidates who are offered callbacks are pretty likely to accept.
I generally feel like I can get a better sense of a candidate and get more out of the screening interview if I have read something he or she has written, but the practical considerations I outlined above tend to militate against doing this for every candidate. What do others think? What is your practice?
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At my school, the committee divides up the candidates so each is responsible as the primary reader for some number of candidates. That person then takes the lead in the interview. That eases the burden on the committee to read ALL of the scholarship of each candidate (though we try to at least skim it), while ensuring that at least one interviewer can ask intelligent questions and assess the candidate's response.
Posted by: anon prof | Oct 28, 2010 6:16:12 PM
When I'm on the committee, usually I don't read anything before the market, unless there's someone in my field whom I'm especially interested in. I read the scholarship of those candidates we're considering bringing back, so long as it's in a field I know something about. If it's not, I don't read it, since I've found over the years that most people (including me) are entirely incapable of making competent judgments about scholarship that's outside their field.
One thing I like to do if stuff has been published is to see how it's been cited and treated by others in the field. If it seems to be treated seriously by those writing on the topic, I assume it's good.
Posted by: Frank Snyder | Oct 28, 2010 6:25:46 PM
Hi Jessie: we do what anonprof (above) does. Plus, if the person's work is related to my own, I'll try to read it even if that person is not one of "mine".
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 28, 2010 6:54:52 PM
When I'm on the committee, I try to read at least one thing by everyone the committee is interviewing in DC, sometimes more than one thing. That's been true when I've been on the committee at a top 10 school and when I've been on the committee at a tier 2 or tier 3 school. In addition, the chairs of those committees have usually parceled out candidates to ensure that everyone's work is read by at least one committee member, and those designated committee members will typically read more than one piece. Since a candidate's writing is ultimately going to be the most important factor in the committee's decision to recommend a hire, I find it most useful to know what I think about the candidate's writing going in, and it has the incidental benefit of making it easier to have intelligent conversations with the candidates. It also, I think, is good for recruiting: candidates get the (accurate) impression that we take their scholarship seriously enough to have actually read it and thought about it. I think this makes us seem like more desirable potential future colleagues than faculties that have not.
Posted by: Jessica Litman | Oct 29, 2010 10:10:05 AM
As someone who is going through this process I can say this: Within 2-3 minutes of Q&A I know if the people have read my work. If nobody on the committee read it the quality of the questions and the discussion is typically quite poor. That does not reflect well on the school.
Posted by: Ann | Oct 29, 2010 1:17:47 PM
Agreed, Ann. When at least one person had read my scholarship, the discussion tended to be quite engaging and enjoyable. Also, when no one had my scholarship but made no pretensions about doing so, it was again enjoyable. But when no one had read the piece but then tried to ask pointed questions, the conversations were generally dull or awkward.
This isn't to say that people should have to read your scholarship to engage with you. I had many good discussions about unwritten future projects (which of course no one had read), but when people tried to essentially drill me on a piece that they hadn't bothered to even look at, things were awkward and I generally formed a negative impression of the school. This only happened 2 or 3 times out of 25 schools, luckily.
Posted by: candidate | Oct 31, 2010 7:26:34 PM