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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Advice for Visitors

Visits are a kind of unexplored territory on law blogs and so I thought it might be useful to open up a thread for people to share their visit horror-(or happy) stories as well as any cautionary advice they might want to share. A successful visit is a genuine challenge, particularly for more junior faculty members, who may not know that many people at the school that has invited them in and who are just starting to learn the intricate norms on their own faculty.  I've only done one full-length visit -- my three weeks teaching in the January term at Harvard was just too short and hectic to really count as a visit in the meaningful sense.  On the other hand, I've seen a number of visitors come through Cornell, and so I have more data points than just my own thin visiting experience.  I'm not sure I can put my finger on what has made for successful visits I've observed, but it seems to me that the best visitors are those who somehow manage to integrate themselves into the life of the law school without coming off as excessively eager or aggressive.  That strikes me as a very hard balance to achieve.  In any event, I'm eager to learn from your collective wisdom.  

Posted by Eduardo Penalver on September 14, 2011 at 04:11 PM | Permalink


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CORRECTION: I meant Kennedy School not Kennedy Center! (that was subliminal as I was just trying to buy some opera tickets...)

Posted by: Rob Howse | Sep 15, 2011 11:40:48 AM

I've done several visits, 2 of which led to permanent appointments (Michigan, NYU), 2 others (Fordham, Harvard), and numerous short visits in various places (Tel Aviv, Hebrew U., Paris (Pantheon-Sorbonne). Here are my thoughts, at least with respect to the full semester or year visits at US institutions:

1) one great thing about most visits is that they are pretty flexible about teaching load. Often one can negotiate to teach just one course, or two if it is a yearlong visit, and there is no administrative burden. Therefore (unless you are still doing admin stuff from your home institution) a visit is like a semi-sabbatical. I've always gotten a lot of writing done during visits.

2) do not try and be loved by everybody. Sustained interaction with the people with whom you share common interests, research agenda etc. is a great goal for a visit. But do not take indifference by others as a slight; there could be many reasons why some people are distant, including personality traits, other things going on in their lives, etc.

3) if you would like the visit to lead to consideration for a permanent appointment, make sure that you have very explicit discussions with the responsible person who invites you-dean, chair of laterals ctte etc.-about that. Some institutions are not necessarily very good at setting out clearly the path involved in the visit leading to consideration for a permanent appointment. (NYU was great about that every step of the way but experiences of friends with many other institutions have been very mixed). If there is not an explicit understanding at the outset, talk to the responsible person asap. Do not wait around wondering whether something will happen. If you are invited to give a talk, find out whether the talk is or is not intended as a job talk. Also be clear on timing: some institutions will not consider visitors for permanent appointments until they have left, and in some cases the committee is so backed up that a visit may not result in the file being considered fully until a year later or more. So explicit conversations with the committee chair or dean all along the way can avoid many misunderstandings and prevent unneeded anxiety from building up. Being open about your interest in being considered for a permanent appointment and your need to now how the process will work in your case is not being pushy or aggressive-it is being professional.

4) Try and do things that will make you feel the visit is still worthwhile even if things aren't unfolding the way you had hoped. When I visited at Harvard almost all the people I would have normally wanted to engage with at the law school were elsewhere that semester. So I spent some time at the Kennedy Center, ended up co-organizing a conference and developing a relationship with someone who would prove to be a very important collaborator and co-author for me over the years, very much expanding my interdisciplinary range.

Posted by: Rob Howse | Sep 15, 2011 11:38:55 AM

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