I recently had a skype interview with Monash University’s Learning with New Media Research Group for a post-doctoral fellowship. I was completely surprised by the request for an interview as I thought I was nowhere near qualified for the position on offer. They wanted an ethnographer and I’m a phenomenographer. They needed someone with NVivo experience I still use post-it notes and Excel.
I applied for the position simply for the experience, the understanding that you need to be in it to win it, and an embarrassingly gushy PhD-crush on several members of the interview panel. Professor Neil Selwyn's work helped me formulate the social media component of my method and conceptual framework, and Dr Nicola Johnson (and other's) work guided my consideration of some tricky ethical issues.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job but I got some great feedback. I thought I would use this blog to share it. Hopefully it will help someone when applying for an academic position.
Neil: We all felt that you interviewed well, and picked up on your obvious enthusiasm/spirit (which can often not come across in interviews where people will be more reserved/less expressive).
My musings: I think it helped that I was simply excited to meet the interview panel. My excitement came from reading the work of members of the LNM research group extensively, formulating opinions about it, and making connections to my own work. It also helped that the conceptual grounding of the research group is very similar to my own. You don’t really want a job where you have reservations about the ethics or vision of a company.
Neil: We were looking for potential to write, so were not concerned by the lack of publications. However, for other posts it might be good to have some specific journals that you will be submitting to (this gives a good indication that you are actually getting on with the writing/publishing process rather than just thinking about it).
My musings: This is one of the questions I knew was coming and was prepared to be defensive. The mantra is always “publish early, publish often”. I have a very limited track record. The reason for this is that I am a PhD mum. My children come before my career. I have not had time to publish, write a thesis and rear two girls. I obviously came across as regretful because…
Neil: Scott [Bulfin] picked up on the need not to apologise for family/real-life commitments.
My musings: This advice floored me because it is the exact opposite of the academic culture with which I am familiar. I have spent the last five years apologising for not being able to make HDR events because I have to pick my babies up from child care, missing out on vital HDR meetings that always seem to be during witching hour, and frankly feeling like my contribution was second to the full-time on-campus candidates. Next time I interview, I’m going to use my part-time, PhD and full-time motherhood status as a strength rather than a weakness and stuff the haters. I only want to work with people that put their families first anyway.
Neil: Also, when talking about what you've written, one obvious recent output is the thesis - not many people write an 80,000 word publication so don't be afraid to stress that as a recent piece of writing.
My musings: I think this is an important point. A PhD is individual and collegial. It shows you can work independently and as a team. I didn’t bring up my PhD because I just thought everyone had one. That’s the starting line for a post-doc. Next time I’ll be sure to mention it.
Neil: The only other piece of constructive feedback that springs to mind is that your answers were a little teacher/classroom-focused. This is *very* appropriate for most jobs in Faculties of Education - but for more sociological/social research it can help not to just think of education as teaching/teachers and students/learning.
My musings: This is the key learning I am taking away from the interview. If I want to break out of the high school teacher mould, I need to diversify. I need to start thinking like a sociologist. My PhD was in educational sociology but I still work for schools so the mould is well fitted. The step I have taken to begin the process of changing my mindset is to attend my university's educational sociology SIG meetings.
Have you got any good tips for an academic interview?