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What's the best approach for talking to faculty that are in distant/unrelated areas during a campus visit for a faculty position?

Is it preferable to show that you are interested in their research and open-minded about learning new things by asking them about their research, or to try to focus on your own research and the expertise that you offer?

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2 Answers

When you have a meeting with a "distant" potential colleague, you should let the interviewer determine the initial flow of the interview. The important thing is to not spend too much time trying to figure out if this is just for information, or if you're being "tested" in some way. (The answer is, yes, you're probably being tested.)

Sometimes, the interviewer will want to talk about his research, to see if you are willing to think about new ideas, and how to fit them into your work. Sometimes, they will want to talk about your research, to see how well you can explain your ideas and work to people outside of your field. And other times it will fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

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And sometimes the conversation will turn to other things: teaching, student mentoring, funding opportunities, department/university politics, the local real estate market, hobbies, etc. They're interviewing you as a potential member of their community, not just as a fellow researcher. You're interviewing them as a place to work and live, not just as a place to do research. –  JeffE Mar 30 '12 at 8:24
    
@JeffE: You're right; the external interviewer may want to talk about other things beyond the scope of merely research (or teaching). –  aeismail Mar 30 '12 at 13:01
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To add to this, sometimes asking about the non-research aspects sends signals about interest level, which can be very important. If I get the impression that an interview candidate is "going through the motions" I might be inclined to support making an offer to someone who I think might actually be interested in coming. –  Suresh Mar 30 '12 at 16:26
    
I guess it depends on context. On my academic and industry interviews, I tended to save the more "social" questions for mealtimes. There it seemed like a more appropriate time to talk about non-work-related activities! –  aeismail Mar 30 '12 at 19:06
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You'll typically have between a half-hour and an hour to talk with them. In that time, you should be able to cover a number of different topics:

  1. Your background (briefly)
  2. Your academic experience, if any
  3. Why you're interested in working in their department
  4. Their research focus
  5. Their ideas for future research focuses
  6. Ways you could fit into their department

Of all those, the only ones you could probably skip is 1. Everything else is pretty crucial to getting a good idea of what the department's research agenda (if they have one) is.

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Not sure it's necessary to do (3) or (6) for a faculty position. –  Suresh Mar 29 '12 at 20:01
    
@Suresh - I completely misread the question. Thanks for pointing that out. –  eykanal Mar 29 '12 at 20:07
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Usually the interviewing faculty have already seen the candidate's CV, so (1) and (2) are also not necessary. (But be prepared anyway.) –  JeffE Mar 30 '12 at 8:19
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