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Monday, May 20, 2019

Interviewing Fellowship and VAP Directors: What Do You Want to Know?

In an earlier post, I explained my plan to interview as many VAP and fellowship directors as I can this summer, with the goal of improving transparency into how these programs work and how to make the most of them.  The series itself will start in June, but first I want your input.  What do you want to know about these programs?  For those who have done a VAP or fellowship recently, what do you wish you had known before you started?  For those of you who are contemplating these programs, what are you wondering about?  I have included a draft list of questions below, but I am open to editing them or adding more.  My goal is to make this series as helpful as possible, so let me know what you want to know!  You should also feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected] if you want to share additional questions or thoughts.

Let me also acknowledge the elephant in the room.  I know a lot of people don’t like the gatekeeping nature of VAPs and fellowships or the exclusionary nature of the law teaching market more generally.  I get it.  I have very mixed views on it myself.  Following up on Paul’s very helpful post, I have included a few questions related to the broader policy implications of VAPs and fellowships, and I also hope Paul’s post sparks a broader discussion about these programs and law faculty hiring more generally.  My series of interviews feeds into this debate, to be sure, but I also recognize that, like it or not, this is the market reality for aspiring law faculty and we are all better off if people know as much as possible about how the system works now.  It doesn’t do anyone any good to debate the system among ourselves, while keeping information about how it works now under wraps.  And I am very open to expanding this series to include law faculty who have been on hiring committees, non-traditional candidates, etc. after the original round of interviews.  So let’s get more information out there, while also working to improve things as much as we can. 

Draft Questions:

Application Process

  1. When does the program start accepting applications?
  2. What is the timeline for conducting interviews?
  3. How are the interviews structured? Are there first-round and second-round interviews?
  4. When has the fellowship typically filled all of the positions?
  5. How many fellowships are available? Is there flexibility in the number of fellows each year, and if so, how does that affect future years?
  6. How many applications are typically received?
  7. Who selects the fellows? Is there a committee? Is there a chair?
  8. If the fellows have teaching responsibilities, how does the application process gauge their teaching ability?
  9. What additional criteria is used to select the fellows? What helps an applicant stand out in the application process?
  10. Which of the following do successful applicants typically have when they apply­— A research agenda? A draft of a paper?  One or more published papers (other than a student note)?
  11. Does the program have a preference for candidates in particular curricular areas?
  12. Does the program have a preference for candidates with PhDs?
  13. Do you make any special effort to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds?

Fellowship Basics

  1. How long does the fellowship last?
  2. Is the fellowship renewable? If so, under what circumstances?
  3. How much are fellows paid per year?
  4. Do fellows receive health benefits?
  5. Do fellows receive access to university or university-subsidized housing?
  6. Do fellows receive travel funding and/or other professional development funding?
  7. Do fellows receive funding to hire research assistants?
  8. Do fellows receive reimbursement for any law teaching market-related expenses?
  9. Are fellows expected to live in the same city as the law school?

Making the Most of a Fellowship

  1. Approximately how many fellows are at the law school in a given year?
  2. How often do the fellows get together and in what capacity (i.e., a regular workshop series)?
  3. Do fellows participate in the broader intellectual life of the law school (i.e., faculty workshops), and if so, how?
  4. Who supervises the fellows?
  5. Are fellows matched with an assigned mentor or guided towards faculty in their area of interest at the law school, and if so, how?
  6. Are fellows given assistance in making connections with law faculty in their area of interest at other law schools, and if so, how?
  7. Are fellows given other support related to their research?
  8. Are fellows given assistance in developing a research agenda?
  9. What role do fellowship directors or faculty at the school play in helping VAPs or fellows place their work?
  10. Are fellows given assistance in finding recommenders?
  11. Do you have any special advice for candidates with PhDs doing a VAP or fellowship? Are there special considerations they should keep in mind?
  12. Does the fellow have teaching responsibilities?
  13. If so, what courses do they teach? Do they have any input in what courses they teach?  Do they have the opportunity to teach one or more courses in their area of interest?
  14. What percentage of time should they expect to spend on teaching vs. scholarship vs. other administrative responsibilities?
  15. What training and/or mentoring do fellows receive related to their teaching?
  16. What other duties do the fellows have?
  17. What other advice do you have for fellows when it comes to making the most of the VAP or fellowship?

The Job Market

  1. What type of mentoring do fellows receive related to the hiring process?
  2. Do you have faculty or staff who are responsible for shepherding fellows through the market?
  3. Do fellows have an opportunity to do a mock screening interview?
  4. Do fellows have an opportunity to moot their job talk in front of faculty and/or other fellows?
  5. Does the school run a moot camp for fellows and alums?
  6. Do fellows have the opportunity to receive feedback on their application materials from faculty or others at the school?
  7. What percentage of your fellows over the past 5 or 10 years have landed in tenure-track positions at law schools? Is there a list of these fellows and their positions available online?
  8. Do you support fellows who need to go on the teaching market more than once? If so, how? Is the fellowship renewable for another year?

Broader Questions

  1. What do you think are the benefits of the rise of fellowships and VAPs as an entry point for so many law faculty positions? What do you think are the costs?
  2. Do you think that fellowship and VAP programs have any responsibility for helping to open up law faculty positions to people from diverse or non-traditional backgrounds? How does your program help to do that, if at all?
  3. How do you respond to the criticism that VAPs and fellows may get too much help on their scholarship from you or others on the faculty and that therefore it is hard for hiring committees to know how much of the work and ideas comes from the VAPs or fellows themselves?
  4. What do you want hiring committees to know about your fellowship? Any other thoughts you’d like to pass on to them about the state of law faculty hiring?

Posted by Jessica Erickson on May 20, 2019 at 04:12 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, VAPS & Fellowships | Permalink


One glaring problem that is partially addressed by these questions is timing. Programs should set up a definite schedule that people can depend on. There should be an open date (if rolling, say so), a short list date, and a close date. Many people are in positions where they have to make last minute-plans if they manage to land a position. Others are left wondering about a process that could be much more transparent. Programs should be more forthcoming with this information. Then there is the issue of communication with those who do interview. Often radio silence is a bad thing, but not always. Hiring committees should keep the interviewees apprised of what is happening, not leave them hanging for months at a time.

Posted by: anon | May 23, 2019 10:03:33 PM

The number of new hires with PhDs/VAPs/fellowships and no practice experience should tell you all you need to know about the value schools place on your ability to train future lawyers.

Posted by: Anonon | May 22, 2019 10:27:07 PM

And there are few law schools where scholarship is a “distant second.” In most it’s a distant first and the job is primarily research not teaching. In some schools it’s equal but I don’t know of any where it’s a distant second when you have top fellows being hired at unranked schools.

Maybe it should not be that way and there should be two tracks. Not sure why universities are reluctant to have two tracks but I don’t think the legal field will be the innovator here and do what is not otherwise done in most of academia. Fellows programs want to place their students as high as possible so I doubt they are in any position to have the tools necessary to rock the boat and change incentives

Posted by: Anon | May 22, 2019 3:04:36 PM

Different law schools have different priorities. Lower ranked schools care more about teaching and they are often the only ones that ask for teaching evaluations. Many other schools do not. I don’t see the fellowship programs as changing the teaching v scholarship debate. For all intents and purposes research matters much more than teaching in terms of getting a job. The fellowship programs can’t be faulted in preparing students for what the market wants. The market itself needs to change and I don’t see that happening anytime soon until tenure standards change which is highly unlikely.

Posted by: Anon | May 22, 2019 2:58:07 PM

I would like more information on teaching.

How do they gauge teaching ability prior to hiring? Job talk? Mock class? Simple interview?

What percentage of candidates have teaching experience prior to becoming a VAP What kind of teaching experience?

What training is given to the VAPs in terms of teaching?

What type of feedback is given?

How much of this feedback is available for schools when the candidate goes on the market?

Our job is to teach. Scholarship is a distant second, and yet these positions and the market in general seem to care only about scholarship. For those of us who lament this fact, the VAP programs are a way to change things.

Posted by: anon | May 22, 2019 1:47:16 PM

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