Q: What makes a job candidate out of graduate school look desirable besides publications?
Author: Rory McVeigh, University of Notre Dame
Without question, the most important thing beyond the publication record is your teaching record—and that is true for research I universities as well as for liberal arts colleges. Quality teaching is valued for its own sake at many research universities. But even in universities where teaching is not valued as highly, a solid teaching record can still make you more attractive as a candidate. The reason is that those who might hire you want you don’t want you to show up and spend the first couple of years of your appointment trying to learn how to teach. The effort spent figuring out how to teach can really put the brakes on your research agenda. If you are shooting for a Research 1 university it is possible to have “too much” teaching on your record. First of all, teaching a whole bunch of classes in graduate school does cut back quite a bit on the time that you need to develop the research record that will make you attractive at an R1 university. But it may also signal that you are so focused on teaching that you would not prioritize research. Yet if you have taught a couple of times in graduate school and you have some good course evaluations to show for it, it can make your application more attractive to R1 universities than would be the case if you had no teaching experience or bad course evaluations. If you are shooting for a top liberal arts college, you will need a strong teaching record or you won’t even be given serious consideration. But you will also need a record that suggests that you can teach often and teach effectively while still finding ways to free up enough time to publish some good research.
Beyond publications and teaching, I think hiring committees are looking for signs that the candidate will be actively involved in the intellectual life of the department. All else constant, it is better to hire someone who from the beginning is active and highly visible in the department. I am not talking here about getting bogged down in departmental service (we try to protect assistant professors from that). Instead, I am thinking in terms of someone whose presence is felt in the department from day 1—rather than someone who hides in her/his office or works from home and only shows up on campus when teaching a class. One of the great benefits of hiring assistant professors is that they can bring new energy into the department through participation in department colloquia, participation in workshops, engagement with graduate students’ and undergraduate students’ development, etc. When preparing for an interview, therefore, it would be useful to spend some time learning about what is already going on in the department on a regular basis and how you might contribute to it. But you might also consider what might be missing in a department and consider whether you might be able to help provide it.