Jazz music screeched loudly for an audience of mostly University of Minnesota faculty members and graduate students as they waited patiently for musicologist Michael Gallope to explain its significance.
But Gallope, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, wasn’t the traditional lecturer.
He was trying to land a job at the University.
Many potential faculty members at higher education institutions give practice lectures as part of the hiring process. These “job talks” offer faculty and graduate students the chance to evaluate candidates’ research and teaching ability.
“I think [job talks] are absolutely essential,” said Keya Ganguly, a professor in the cultural studies and comparative literature department.
Gallope is one of four finalists applying for an assistant professor position within the CSCL department this year. The total number of applications was nearly 600.
“The academic job market is extremely tight,” Ganguly said.
The College of Science and Engineering looks both at candidates’ research and how well they can deliver clear lectures to an audience, said Wayne Gladfelter, associate dean for academic affairs.
Similarly, CSCL applicants give job talks on their research to help faculty decide how well they fit the job description, said John Archer, chair of the department.
Specific hiring procedures can vary among departments.
For example, most departments within CSE have candidates give two presentations, Gladfelter said.
One presentation is open to both students and faculty members and highlights the candidate’s previous work, Gladfelter said. The second is usually open only to faculty members and describes the work that, if hired, the candidate would like to do within the department.
Although job talks are generally open to the public, the main attendees are University faculty members and graduate students.
“I think it’d be great if undergraduates attended,” Ganguly said, but added they might not feel like the talks apply to them.
In contrast, graduate students will often go to job talks in their department, said Niels Niessen, a CSCL doctoral candidate.
He said graduate students are interested in learning about new faculty members that could potentially be their adviser or on their dissertation committee. Also, students entering the academic job market are interested in seeing the hiring process.
Although a new faculty member could play a large role in a graduate student’s education, graduate students in CSCL have little say in who’s hired.
“I’m just an audience member,” Niessen said. “Since it affects graduate students, I think it would be important if graduate students have some say.”
Archer said students can send emails, write a letter or meet personally with faculty to express their views.
In the School of Physics and Astronomy, a group of postdoctoral and graduate students went out to lunch with candidates last year before being asked for their recommendation, said Ronald Poling, head of the school.
‘Through the wringer’
Departments at the University can begin a hiring round when their college allows them to, “which isn’t often enough,” Archer said.
Ganguly said new faculty member searches don’t happen every year.
“I wish that were true,” she said, adding that she felt fortunate the department had permission to search even in a hard economic situation.
After an initial search committee — which sometimes includes graduate students — looks at the entire pool of applicants and selects candidates to interview, the pool is narrowed to a select group of finalists who are invited to campus for job talks and further interviews with faculty members.
“We really put these folks through the wringer,” Poling said.