Suggestions for campus visits
A student asked me for suggestions on how to do research-oriented campus visits, so I thought I’d write them up in a blog post to share publicly.
- Be prepared to talk about your other research. New PhDs are hired based on expected research productivity, which is partly but not completely reflected in their job market paper. Some people you’re meeting with will want to know about other projects you have in the pipeline. Here, the more specific you can be, the better. To prepare, list your non-job-market-paper projects from most to least complete and think about how you might discuss them in a meeting. Prioritize discussing the 2-3 most complete ones and leave the least developed ones as a backup. It’s fine to briefly state a broad area of research you’re interested in, but that interest does not equal a specific executable project. You should also not talk about projects where you haven’t figured out the identification strategy unless you have specific, promising possibilities. We all have project ideas that would be great if only we could get exogenous variation in X. They are gathering virtual dust on our virtual bookshelves. A good rule is that you should be prepared to discuss anything that’s on your CV.
- Let the person you’re meeting lead the discussion but be prepared to take the lead if they don’t. Some people will want to ask you questions about your job market paper. Some people are NOT going to want to hear about your job market paper because that’s what the seminar is for. Some people have specific questions they want to ask you and others may start with “Do you have any questions about the college/university?” Some people will start with the very generic “How is your visit going so far?” Be prepared for all the possibilities. If the person doesn’t seem interested in taking the lead, you can steer the conversation into the direction you want. But you shouldn’t talk about your job market paper unless they ask (because that’s what the seminar is for). The “How is your visit going so far?” question could potentially lead to a meeting where many pleasantries are exchanged but nothing interesting is said. If it seems like this is the way the meeting is progressing, my suggestion would be to veer away from that path by talking about your other research or asking the person you’re meeting with about theirs. That said…
- Don’t feel like you have to talk about the research of the person you’re meeting with. The visit is about YOU, and it’s perfectly fine if you end up talking about yourself the whole time. That said, you can of course ask what the person you’re meeting with is working on.
- If you are naturally talkative, take deliberate pauses when you talk. It’s a lot harder to politely interject on Zoom than in real life when the other person is talking. If you’re someone who can easily talk without stopping (like me!), make sure you periodically stop to assess whether the person you’re meeting with wants to say something. Instead of saying, “Do you have any questions?”, which may not work for all pauses, you can simply be silent for a few seconds to see if the other person says something or ask “Does that make sense?” to make sure you’re giving them an opportunity to speak up.
- Do some research about each department/university and person you’re meeting with so that you can ask specific questions that aren’t obvious. Don’t ask questions if you can easily find the answers online (e.g., “Is there a business school?”). Don’t ask the person you’re meeting with, “What kind of research do you do?” (if it comes down to it, you can ask, “What are you working on right now?”) You don’t need to come up with a long list of questions, just a few that you can ask throughout the day. And if a meeting is really lively, you may not have time to ask any of these questions. That’s ok – if a place makes you an offer, you will have time to ask questions later.
- Don’t ask the person you’re meeting with personal questions. While it’s perfectly legal to ask people you’re meeting with if they are married or have kids, the virtual visit is a professional setting, and personal questions could be off-putting to some people. Keep it professional. If you want to talk to some people who have kids to learn about childcare or to find out what non-work activities are available in the area, wait until you have an offer. Then tell the department chair or your main recruiting contact that you want to learn more about X and let them decide how to handle your request.
- Frame all your questions positively and leave the difficult questions for later. If there’s anything you’re worried about regarding the place you’re visiting, don’t bring it up at this point. For example, asking what the teaching is like is totally fine, but not in a way that indicates concern (e.g., “Are the students really demanding?”) You will have an opportunity to ask questions about potential problems after you have an offer. Before that, act as enthusiastic as you can about each place to maximize the chance that the offer materializes.
- There’s no specific format for campus visit meetings. While many are extended discussions about your research plus an opportunity to ask questions, you may end up discussing a variety of other topics, including ones not related to academia. So don’t obsess too much about what did or did not get covered in a given meeting. It should not be you, however, who steers the conversation away from research. And it’s probably a good idea to try to stay away from controversial topics like politics or topics the person you’re meeting with is likely to have had 10 discussions about already. Yes, I’m talking about the pandemic.
- If you have a non-virtual flyout and go to dinner, limit your alcohol consumption to where you’re still 100% in control of yourself. Yes, dinners are meant to be more fun and less formal, but you’re still being evaluated. Let yourself relax but go easy on the booze. If you rarely drink and aren’t sure how alcohol affects you, skipping alcoholic drinks entirely may be the best bet.
- Most importantly, remember that you’re being asked to do a longer visit because you and your research made a positive impression in the initial interview/application. Go into your meetings with the attitude that you are good enough for the job and that people are excited to have a longer chat with you. The people you’re meeting with may be your colleagues for years to come. Even if you don’t get an offer, you may see them at conferences. While the process of getting a job is undoubtedly stressful, try to focus on the positive aspects, and you will be much better off.
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