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How common is it, when applying for faculty positions, that the applicant is asked to give a talk as if they are teaching an undergraduate class? Does the likelihood of this being asked depend on how elite the academic institution is? What do they do in Ivy League/Oxbridge/elite European universities?

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    The practices of the universities you're specifying are likely to give you a distorted view of the entire landscape.
    – user176372
    May 16 at 20:27

7 Answers 7

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When I was still a student (in Germany) I attended several lectures given by candidates that were applying for faculty positions. This is quite normal. They even asked for feedback from us (the students) on how we perceived the quality of the lecture afterwards. This was at a regular German university, and I heard from students from other unis that the same thing happens there as well.

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    Maybe to add some information to this answer: This is called a "Lehrprobe" and is indeed quite common, though the details vary (e.g. there might be a fixed topic for all applicants or it might be a free choice). Also, while the professors usually have the majority, in Germany the appointment committee generally includes one or more students, for which this part of the application is probably much more important than any research specifics.
    – mlk
    May 15 at 11:54
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    @mlk Sounds similar to the process when I interviewed at an Austrian university. The teaching "lecture" was 15-minutes long, on a fixed topic and at a specified level.
    – Anyon
    May 15 at 11:58
  • This happens in the US as well. May 17 at 5:38
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For a T&R (as opposed to Teaching-only) position at a UK institution (I would imagine this being equally true for mid-tier and Russel group universities), this is the norm, with some minor caveats. Usually, the "lesson" should be about 15-20 minutes (so, on a fairly simple topic or concept, and best choice would be a fairly fundamental topic), but you can often pick your own topic (sometimes with limits i.e. a topic from 2nd year modules). Additionally, while the "teaching panel" will score and rank the candidates, usually it is treated more as a pass/fail criterion -- i.e. they will veto the candidates falling below an acceptable standard, but otherwise it will be the "main" interview that counts. (source: have sat in panels for mid-tier university where I work and have flirted with interviewing at better ones)

I had also once interviewed at an excellent Dutch University, where I was also required to give a public seminar at the level appropriate for an undergraduate audience. Besides the length (around 45 minutes) and the audience (advertised in the whole department), the content was the main difference. That University had a number of electoral, unique courses/modules tailored by their faculty to their research niche, so it seemed they preferred a talk that somebody with fundamentals (finishing 1st undergrad year) could follow, but on a more novel or specialised topic. I was allowed to pick any topic fitting the above description and aligned with my research interest.

I am not privy to the process in Oxbridge (if somebody wants to add a new answer with those details, please go ahead), but I am aware that they put a big emphasis on small group tutorials (1 academic to 5-6 students) in those institutions, so I'm sure the approach to teaching and students is somehow a part of the interview.

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  • I was told this is also common in Brazil. May 16 at 23:48
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At small liberal arts colleges in the USA, you can be certain that you will be asked to teach a class, usually 50 minutes. This is in addition to your research talk. Once the date is set for your on-campus visit, you'll be put in email contact with the professor whose course you'll be teaching for a day, and they will send you the syllabus, tell you what book they are using, send you a scan of the relevant section you'll be teaching, explain the room (e.g., boards, technology options), and will meet you and bring you there when it's time to teach. Other faculty will attend and take notes on your teaching skill. It's possible the class will be recorded, so faculty who can't make it can watch later.

At some small liberal arts colleges with not as much emphasis on research, I have heard that they might combine the two presentations, so you give a research talk, but it's supposed to involve some teaching at the beginning and be accessible to students.

Not every R1 university in the US and Canada has a teaching demo as part of the application process. For the handful that I know well (e.g., because of friends/coauthors who work there), it does not seem to be the norm, though meeting the grad students is expected, during the on-campus interview. The faculty at these places tend to be ok with judging your teaching skills based on your research talk, interview, teaching statement, and letters of recommendation.

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    agree for US - when I was recently a grad student at an R1, there was a "research talk" that was effectively a small class for grad students and I'm not aware of taking over a regular class session. This was the same for two separate hires, if i recall correctly. Grad students also had other times to interact like a lunch. And we were invited to send feedback to the hiring committee.
    – Mike M
    May 16 at 11:28
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    I've recently attended demo lectures for finalist candidates for multiple positions at an R1 school in the US. These demo classes were taught to an actual section in place of one of their normal scheduled lectures, but faculty and students not enrolled in the section were invited to attend as well. This is likely an exception, just wanted to add a datapoint. May 17 at 5:42
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When I was first on the job market I interviewed all over, including global top 10 (got an offer), all the way down to global 700 (no offer! it's all about fit), and many places in between. All research intensive R1, Russell Group or equivalent. I would say in my case, about 75% had a teaching component, between a 15 minute snippet for teaching a concept all the way to a full 60 minute lecture. There was no systematic relationship between ranking/prestige and teaching demonstration requirement.

Even at my own institution where I am cross appointed across multiple departments, we have different conventions. In my home department we have no teaching talks, while in the others we do. It's all about what the committee/department chair wants to see.

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  • Was the 60 minute lecture in front of undergraduates or other faculty members?
    – Simd
    May 15 at 13:56
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    For the job I eventually took it was committee, faculty, graduate students, and senior undergraduates. Even though I was asked to teach at a 2000 level. There were no 2000 level students present. If I recall correctly, I think I gave a talk on quantum mechanics, which while not my area is actually a fun thing to teach. This was my choice. Other places asked me to teach a very specific concept, or gave me a short list to choose from.
    – R1NaNo
    May 15 at 13:58
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I can't speak to European institutions, but my limited experience with US universities leads me to believe that some form of demonstration, such as teaching or giving a presentation, is common practice.

A colleague recently interviewed at a small private university in the US, and their interview process required a presentation to the faculty and teaching a class. From the sounds of it, the presentation was somewhere between presenting research at a conference and giving a TED talk. This university is small, so a significant portion of the faculty attended the presentation in their theater.

I was recently hired by a private US university, and their process also required teaching a class and interacting with students. The lesson topic was the same for all candidates and was not necessarily related to the course you would be taking over. For example, the class I taught was a database course, but the topic was cloud computing and cloud technologies; so the students received a one-off lesson that day. The student interaction was supposed to involve meeting with students from various STEM societies on campus, but due to unforeseen circumstances, I ended up having more of a mentoring session with one student. Throughout the interview process, several faculty members observed, and feedback was gathered from both them and the students.

A little additional detail for anyone preparing for the hiring process: After being hired, I found out that one aspect that negatively impacted my interview was not teaching for the full allotted time and ending early. I finished about 5-10 minutes short of the allotted time. While this was a minor issue in my interview process, it made me realize that the importance of adhering to the full time may vary between universities.

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My impression is that this is fairly standard practice.

When I was a PhD student in the UK there were these generic talks every Friday for a general audience and you could see senior members of staff like the Head of Department watching what the speaker was doing and taking notes as if judging the speaker's ability to give a talk, so I am going to guess that this is standard.

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    That was a regular ~biweekly entertainment at my alma mater, 6-7 PM after the lab courses, alternating with an invited talk organised by the local chapter of the GdCh. Either by an applicant for a faculty position, or a young researcher before being allowed to give lectures on their own. venia legendi ;) High student (and faculty) attendance could be assured by giving out that there'd be beer and pretzels afterwards.
    – Karl
    May 17 at 19:39
  • In my case it was beer, cheese and bread lol.
    – Tom
    May 17 at 23:20
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How common is it, when applying for faculty positions, that the applicant is asked to give a talk as if they are teaching an undergraduate class?

At least in Central Europe, this seems to be standard practice by now. At teaching-focused universities this trial lecture may even be the only talk to you are asked to give. At more research-intensive ones it may be accompanied by a research talk. For a senior hire, there may also be a third lecture that asks you to present your plans / strategy for your position.

How much these different talks are valued is of course hard to judge or generalise, but normally a candidate cannot afford to entirely tank any of them.

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