Tag Archives: academia

The Faculty Interview

Sometimes you can feel like you are lost in the desert.

I have been putting off writing this post for a while because it’s just so overwhelming.  All of your application materials have one job: to get you the interview. The interview is the high-stakes encounter when you are applying for a faculty job.  The decision by the search committee is largely based on your performance during the interview. In addition to general interview advice and preparatory research, we have to talk about what to say, how do to a great presentation, and what to ask.  I have a separate post planned for the presentation, so let’s focus on the other two domains.

What to say

In general, you want answers to be meaningful but not expansive.  If you are giving an answer longer than 2 minutes, it’s probably too long.  You can leave them wanting more and allow them to ask follow-up questions. For example, you will always get the question, “Why this institution?”  You should be prepared for this. Instead of giving an in-depth analysis based on your extensive research which touches on all the things you know about it, you can start with a highlights reel.  “Well the faculty all seem to have a good quality of life, I hear the students are keen and engaged, and the work done in my discipline by the folks here has been notable.” Now they can ask follow-up questions if they like.

Do not give excessively short, clipped answers which leave the questioner with nowhere to go.  Faculty interviews are almost never a series-of-question rapid-fire sort of affair. They are usually casual and conversational.  If you approach it like a conversation- they ask a question, you answer, you ask a question, they answer, it will be a more natural flow.

Be positive.  For god’s sake don’t say you want the job because your current job sucks.  You must maintain a positive approach throughout. I don’t care if you are being bullied in your current position- you want to go to this new job because it is great, not because your old job is terrible.  Avoid this temptation. I understand it can be hard- I have faced it myself- but you must remain positive.

Be specific.  This is up to your preparatory research and conversations you have throughout the interview.  If you meet with someone at the beginning of day one who says something which intrigues you, such as “It’s easy to do research with undergrads here because of our undergrad research office,” bring that up in subsequent discussions.  “Well, Dr. Jones mentioned your undergrad research office, and that is a distinct interest of mine as well.” Speaking in generalities will not convince the committee that you want THIS job, just A job. You have to be SPECIFIC.

You do I do.  An easy and effective formula for any interaction is: “You do this thing well.  It matches what I do well.” For example, if they have an active learning approach (or want to start one), you can say, “I understand you are encouraging faculty to engage in active learning modalities.  I taught a course last year which was primarily a flipped classroom, from which I gained a lot of experience in how to do active learning.” Take what they give you- what are they excited about- and reflect it back with how you can enhance that.

What to ask

Remember, you are interviewing this institution as much as they are interviewing you.  The goal is to find the best fit, not necessarily the objectively “best” institution. So you need to ask some serious, incisive questions which will help you get a real sense for the place.

What are your challenges?  This can be framed a variety of ways, such as “What don’t you like about working here” and “What would you change about the job”.  The point is you want to find out what existing faculty members believe the current problems are. EVERY institution has its problems. The question isn’t “Do you have problems?”, the question is, “Are the problems you have ones I can cope with or not?”  Hopefully, you know this about yourself. If not, reflect on it more.

What do you like about working here?  This is the flip side of the first question, and hopefully elucidates the strengths of the institution.  Again, the goal isn’t to hear, “Everything is perfect!” but rather to hear what specific things the current faculty and administration like about the institution.  Do these things align with what you think is important in a job?

What is your ideal candidate?  This will help you determine if what they are looking for is what you want to do.  If they say, “Someone who will really engage with the students on a personal level” and you struggle to learn students’ names and want to spend time on research, maybe this isn’t the best fit.  Follow up/alternative: What do you want this candidate to bring to the program/institution?

What is the next step of the process?  You need to know the timeline for decision-making.  They may also tell you how many other candidates there are and where you are in the order of interviews.  This is essential information if you are interviewing at multiple institutions in the same span of time. If your top pick isn’t making a choice for 3 more months, and you get an offer before then, will you be willing to wait?

The scope of the information about the faculty interview cannot be covered in a single post or even several.  I will dedicate other posts to this topic, but I wanted to get the most important elements written before drilling down on some details or expanding on what is covered here.  What do you think needs to be brought up during the faculty interview?

Will They Pull a Faculty Position Offer?

For anyone applying for a faculty position, this is probably the nightmare scenario: you interviewed, you like the position, they liked you, they offer you the position, you begin negotiating, and then they pull the offer.  What the hell just happened? This topic is difficult for me to discuss because it is so thoroughly beyond-the-pale unprofessional and unacceptable for institutions to pull an offer that I can barely wrap my head around it.  Nonetheless, it does happen in veterinary medicine, and I have personally seen it twice.

The first I heard second-hand about but did not participate in.  The small, private institution had offered a candidate the position and the candidate came back with requests.  The problem is, one of those requests was absolutely impossible for the institution. The applicant felt strongly about it, though, so contemplated it for a long time and came back with another possible solution.  There was at least one other back-and-forth like this. The candidate came back with another possible solution, and the hiring manager at the institution became frustrated and said, “Forget it.”

The second happened to a friend of mine.  They received an offer for a faculty position at an off-campus research center affiliated with a large state school.  My friend came back with a request for flexibility to allow remote work from an office on-campus (4 hours away from the research center) 4-6 days per month because of a personal family situation.  The institution pulled the offer without further negotiation or explanation.

Let me be clear: this is the fault of the institution, NOT the applicant.  I told my friend that it was probably for the best: any organization which would pull an offer during negotiations is not one you want to work for.  This happens only because individuals at the organization get ego and emotion involved, which you SHOULD NOT do during negotiations. Here’s how negotiations are supposed to work:

The institution extends an offer.  You respond with what you would like in order to accept it.  The institution responds. They may give you everything, they may give you something, or they may give you nothing of what you ask for.  If they give you everything, great, you accept the offer. If they give you something, you may be able to reply asking for a different something.  The second-to-last step in any negotiation is the institution saying: this is our final offer, take it or leave it, and we need a decision by this date.  It is then up to the candidate to decide if that is acceptable to them or not.

I can’t imagine why an institution would rescind an offer unless it is due to ego or emotion.  I have heard administrators say during a negotiation, “Well, they aren’t appreciative enough of our offer,” or “What they are asking for is unreasonable.”  The first reflects a ridiculous premise- of COURSE they appreciate the offer, but they want to do the best thing for themselves, their colleagues, and the institution.  The second is irrelevant- if the institution believes it is unreasonable, they can reply with, “We cannot do that.” That’s how negotiations work!

If you are applying for faculty positions and are concerned about the pulled offer, my advice is: Do not be concerned.  First, they are vanishingly rare. I have a personal sample of probably 50 negotiations of which I am aware enough to know if this happened. The fact that this happened in only two cases indicates a 4% incidence rate. In fact, the rate is very likely much lower than that, as there are hundreds more negotiations I do not know of that did not result in a pulled offer. Second, it is a GOOD thing if an institution pulls an offer to you.  This indicates they are immature and unprofessional and don’t know how to conduct a negotiation. You don’t want to work at an institution like that. Of the two cases I described, I believe both candidates dodged a bullet.

Any competent administrator, if faced with a situation where they can’t give a candidate what the candidate is asking for, will say so, “This is the best we can do.  Let us know by this date if you will accept or not.” When negotiating, you need to ask for what you NEED and what you WANT and offer reasonable explanations for your requests.  Don’t accept any less because you are afraid of the pulled offer. The reasonable institution will give you what they can and negotiate in good faith.

NB: All of this assume YOU dealt with the institution in good faith. If you withheld something (pending license investigation, legal trouble, accusations of academic malfeasance, etc.), you should absolutely expect this will be discovered and, no matter where you are in the process, the offer will probably be rescinded. But you wouldn’t do anything like that, would you? So does not apply to you.

You Can Live a Lavish Life on an Academic Salary

No, you can’t buy this ridiculous vehicle. You shouldn’t on ANY salary.

One of the most common complaints I hear about academia is that the salary is lower than private practice, sometimes substantially lower.  While this is factually correct, I have never understood this argument. Most academic specialists make at least $100k a year, sometimes quite a bit more, which is way more than you need.  Then there are the benefits, which are almost always better in academia than in private practice.  The opportunity to earn a PENSION? This is guaranteed money for the rest of your life once you retire.  I have never heard of anyone getting a pension from private practice, no matter how large the company.

If you calculate the value of the benefits, academia pays much more than the cash salary you earn.  I’ve heard some practices don’t chip in for health insurance or retirement- that is HUGE! So it’s hard to compare private practice apples to academia oranges. In addition, many academic institutions give you consulting time, which is time off during which you can go locum elsewhere and make more money.  Unless you have a chronic illness which continually drains your resources, academia pays enough. Even if you have huge student loans. Let’s look at how.

Let’s assume you make $100k a year as an academic- a pretty low salary for any specialist.  This puts you in the 24% marginal tax rate. With social security, health insurance, and other cuts taken out, let’s say this leaves you with $5000 a month in take-home after-tax after-benefit pay.  Now let’s break down expenses for a single person without roommates. This is a pretty free-wheeling estimate since this isn’t a personal finance blog, but it will serve as an illustration.

ExpenseAmount/Month
Mortgage ($200k house @ 4%)$950
Property taxes & insurance$200
Groceries$500
Transportation (gas, taxes, etc.)$400
Eating Out$100
Utilities (power, internet, etc.)$150
Cell Phone$50
Clothes, household items$100
Misc$200
TOTAL$2,650
SAVINGS$2,350

There are several assumptions made in these calculations.  Houses in most college towns are inexpensive (apologies if you decided to take a job at UC Davis).  Transportation is based off a 10-minute commute- college towns are usually small. You could dramatically cut your transportation costs by living in biking or walking distance to work.  You can increase your income by getting a roommate, dramatically offsetting your housing costs. Even if you have high student loans, you can pay them off in a few years and begin saving for retirement with this salary.

Maybe all of this sounds like deprivation to you.  Maybe you want to buy a huge house, drive an expensive car, and eat out every night.  But… do you really? Is that what will make you happy? Because the science for this is NOT on your side.  The science says the paths to real, meaningful happiness are through the purposeful life and the meaningful life, not the hedonic life.  And this is NOT a deprivation lifestyle. If you need more evidence, check out this blog which explains how you can have a great life without wasting tons of money.

So, there, if you want to have a nice quality of life as an educator or researcher or academic clinician, you can do so.  You have a flexible schedule, intellectual engagement, meaningful engagement (helping students AND animals AND clients), purposeful engagement (great flow during clinics or research or teaching), and you will make PLENTY OF MONEY.  OK, bring on the arguments in favor of making tons of money in private practice.

How to be Successful: Being an Introvert in an Extrovert World

The Vetducator - Quiet book cover

According to Susan Cain in her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,’ before the turn of the 20th century, our country had a culture of character.  You were trusted and people did business with you on the basis of your integrity. Around the turn of the century, though, the culture began to change to the culture of personality.  Everyone should read this book, since it’s incredible. Extroverts should read it so they understand the introverts, and introverts should read it so they understand themselves. Until you can, let’s talk about how to successfully be an introvert in this day and age.

Fortunately, you have done well with your chosen career.  Many people enter veterinary medicine believing- incorrectly- that they get to work with animals more than people.  So it seems the profession may select for more introverts than, say, business. This means there are more of Your People around, which will make things easier.  You don’t have to explain as often why you don’t want to go out after a hard week of studying and test taking. You can spend time with your small collection of close friends without much pressure to do more.  Not everyone is an introvert, but it’s not hard to find them in vetmed.

I personally think introverts have an easier time with my first rule: Aim for Zero.  Introverts take time to observe before acting, and deliberate, and therefore tend to make more thoughtful actions.  It seems that extroverts are the ones who may try to put themselves out there attempting to be a +1 and fail miserably.  I personally prefer people who are quietly competent, and this seems easier for an introvert than an extrovert.

On the other hand, it’s also important to show up and smile, which may be harder for introverts.  So you may need to do something outside your comfort zone. Fortunately, this is good, because it forces you to get better at something which is difficult: a key concept embraced in Kaizen.  If it’s hard for you to go socialize with people, then work on this. Develop it like any skill, and it will pay strong dividends for you.

Give yourself permission to be an introvert.  If you are at a social function and you are Just Done, feel free to ghost.  Push yourself a bit, but in measured amounts.  Give yourself time to recharge. If you want to have quiet time to read at lunch, find a little nook on the top floor where nobody goes and curl up with your book.

Although introversion and social awkwardness and anxiety and shyness are not synonymous, they often co-exist.  If you are socially awkward, that is just fine, PARTICULARLY for academic veterinary medicine! You don’t have to be the most flamboyant, expressive, bubbly person.  None of the suggestions I give in the How to be Successful series hinge on being an extrovert. Because you don’t have to be sociable. You DO have to be pleasant to work with and hard working, but quiet people can do this easily.

Academic veterinary medicine is a great place for an introvert.  You can (generally) set your own schedule and decide how much or little you want to interact with people.  Yes, you do need to teach, but with practice you will get better and more comfortable. You can engage in highly detailed and cerebral pursuits.  You can lock your office door or go for a walk to recharge. If you’re an introvert, seriously consider a career in academia. It’s pretty great.

Guidelines for the Best Faculty CV


The Vetducator Guidelines for Best Faculty CV - Sign of what you can't do here.

Even if you have experience writing a CV for vet school, internship, residency, or grad school, you can always improve your CV-writing skills.  I see CVs from applicants all the time and think, “Who advised you to do it like this?” There aren’t many rules when it comes to faculty CVs, but you can make the most of your application with a few simple guidelines.

Length.  Make it as long as you like.  The CV is intended to be exhaustive.  Mine is 17 pages, and I trimmed a fair bit of content.

Font.  This isn’t particularly critical, as long as it is readable and not tiny.  I would keep it between 9-12 point font and have seen recommendations that Times New Roman is one of the easier-to-read fonts.

Time.  You probably don’t need to include awards you got in undergrad, or externships you did in vet school.  If you are applying for a new assistant professor position, potentially including awards from veterinary school, internship, and residency are acceptable.  After that, unless it occurred when you were on faculty, you can remove them.

Organization.  Create headlines in decreasing order of importance.  End with references. If you are applying for a clinical position and are residency trained or boarded, open with that.  Then, education and experience are up, with publications close behind. Teaching experience follows, then any other service information.  If you are applying for a non-clinical position, highlighting grant funding is important. Everything should be listed in reverse chronological order.

Headings.  You can chose many or a few, and there is no proscribed list.  Here are some examples of potential headings to get your creativity going: Diplomate Status, Education and Employment, Professional Progression, Publications, Research in Progress, Submitted Research, Research Funding, Grants, Teaching Responsibilities, Mentees, Awards, Associations, Committees, Reviewer Responsibilities, Presentations, Special Skills/Certifications, Conferences, Abstracts Presented, External Rotations, Interests and Activities.

Research.  List publications by year and highlight your position in the author order.  If you have non-peer-reviewed publications which are not obvious (book chapters are obviously non-peer-reviewed), label them appropriately with an * and indicate so at the bottom of the section.  If you have a lot of publications, you can keep a running count.

Teaching.  If you have little teaching experience, list everything and give details (number of contact hours, number of students).  If you have extensive teaching experience, you can summarize. Indicate if you were the course coordinator.

New teacher:

2016 Fall                    Lecturer, SAMS 5373 (Basic Surgical Techniques)                                      – 4 lectures, 16 lab periods (4 labs); 120 students

Experienced teacher:

Principles of Anesthesia                                                         Course Coordinator 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

The CV is a practical document, not a time to express your individuality- that comes from your letter of intent.  When in doubt, include more content rather than less. If you are an Associate Professor or full Professor, you may want to condense some material or drop whole sections which are not that relevant for a search committee.  What other guidelines do you think should be considered for the faculty CV?

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Application Letter

The Vetducator Avoiding Mistakes in your Vet Application Letter - Slipping banana peel

There’s no “right” way to write a letter of intent.  Applicant evaluators are so widely varied, you can’t possibly write the ideal letter unless you happen to A) know the evaluators and B) apply to only one institution.  Fortunately, there are some “wrong” ways to write a letter of intent. Let’s try to avoid them.

First, think from the evaluator’s standpoint.  They have a monumental challenge- reviewing possibly several hundred applicants for a handful of positions.  It is a grueling, churning, time-sucking task that they get very little thanks for. If you give them the opportunity to rapidly assess your letter as representing someone who is not a good fit, it saves them the trouble of reading your CV and letters of recommendation and thus saves them time.

Here are my rules to keep your letter from getting tossed into the discard pile.

One page or less.  I know some evaluators read two page letters.  I know more who use this as an instant rejection.  You should be able to express yourself succinctly.

Good grammar and spelling.  This may seem obvious, but I would say a full 20% of letters I read fail this test.  Have other people go through your letter _carefully_ with a fine-toothed comb and make sure they are brutally honest.

Good use of English.  This one is hard for non-native speakers, but it is very obvious when it is present.  If your English is good but not native, find several native speakers to review and correct it.  We use language in odd ways in English.  The Japanese small old car is technically correct, but does not sound the same as the small old Japanese car.

Avoid a TOO-unique letter.  You can and should write your own letter and not a form letter, but if your letter is quirky or eccentric, this may work for some evaluators but not for others.  This is highly polarizing with people who feel very strongly on both sides. Don’t risk it.

Don’t use odd word choices, or excessive Thesaurus use.  This may not get you an instant rejection, but it can be off-putting.  Keep it simple.

Don’t be boastful or arrogant.  I think there is some advice out there on the internet that you need to be assertive and confident in your application letters.  Maybe this is true for business, but it is not true in academia. Some people may not notice or care about this, but I know many evaluators who react poorly to arrogant letter-writers and veto their application.

As noted in the introduction, evaluators are an extremely heterogeneous group, and you can’t possibly avoid all pitfalls of all evaluators.  Maybe some don’t like anything other than a five-paragraph-essay format. Maybe others will reject any letter with the word “yellow” in it. It’s impossible to predict all the things on which evaluators may reject you.  However, the tar pits listed here are the most prominent, consistent, and important. Write your letters accordingly and, if you need help, please reach out to me. What elements of letters of application have you seen or heard of which you think should be considered mistakes?

The need for this blog

Vetducator demonstrates veterinary academic professionals need help.
Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

This year, I’ve had quite a few students and interns approach me about reviewing their materials for the VIRMP, which I am more than happy to do.  I thought, instead of sending individual emails to each, I could write a single blog post and direct them to it. I could also offer my services online.  That way, others outside of my institution could also benefit.

I have seen some atrocious applications for vet school, internships, residencies, and faculty positions.  Video interviews where the interviewee was backlit. Poorly composed CVs that evaluators had to dig through until they figured “why bother” and stopped considering the applicant.  Negotiations where one side or the other acts unwisely or unprofessionally, sinking the whole deal. I have been shocked that no one has mentored students on how to structure their senior year to maximize the impact on their internship application.  There is a need for people to get help in their professional progress in veterinary academia. I want to help those people.

This blog will be about employment and professional progression in academic veterinary medicine.  The focus will be on undergrads applying to vet school, veterinary students applying to internship, residency applicants, and faculty applicants.  We will talk about cover letters, CVs, interviews, how to strategize to position yourself for the next step, who to talk to and when, and all other things related to the business of veterinary academia.

I have personally experienced this progression and the job market, have served on and chaired countless search committees, have been a hiring manager in my role as a Department Chair, have helped innumerable undergrads, vet students, interns, residents, and junior faculty get to their next step, and have published in peer-reviewed journals about post-graduate education.  I have always had an interest in the business of veterinary medicine, I stay up to date on current trends, I touch base with colleagues at other institutions to sound out the academic world. I want to share this expertise with those of you who want to make your professional progression as excellent as possible. Please follow along, comment, email me, and work together to make things better.