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I managed to snag my first interview for a tenure-track assistant professor job. As I had heard, the itinerary seems somewhat gruelling. What caught my eye in particular are three 45min-1hr meetings with various higher-ups: The Dean of Science, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, and the Associate Vice-president (Academic).

While there is certainly no shortage of topics to discuss with people in my potential department, I have very little sense of what the above three meetings will be like. So my question is:

What kind of questions should I be thinking about asking deans/VPs during these meetings?

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You want to be friendly, of course, and make a good impression. Depending on the school, these meetings are not usually too grueling; one purpose of the meetings is just to put a face with your name. There is a good chance these meetings will end up being shorter than the scheduled time.

  • Be prepared to give a very brief "elevator style" summary of your work.

  • The deans may ask you about grant funding. You may have a good sense, depending on your field, how important grants are to you getting the position. (Andy W mentioned this in the comments).

Some particular questions I would ask include:

  • I would ask all three: Where do you see the program/college/university going in another 10 years? This can help you tell whether your vision for a school fits with theirs.

  • I would ask the Dean of Science about tenure practices in the college. Do your homework and read the tenure policies before you arrive, of course. As long as you are polite and non-pushy, you can ask for clarifications for anything that isn't clear. You can ask about tenure rates in general, but don't ask anything that would require talking about individual candidates. If you are in a field where grants are important, you should also be sure you know the weight given to grants when they make tenure decisions.

  • If you will need anything unusual (e.g. large start-up equipment costs), you should mention that to a departmental representative first, and they can advise whether it needs to be mentioned to the dean.

  • If you are trying to arrange a second hire for a spouse, the dean may be able to discuss that. Again, you can talk with the department first. CAUTION: This bullet only applies to applicants who are also interested in finding a job for their spouse, and who have decided to bring up their spouse before getting an offer. There isn't room in this answer to get into the debate about whether it is preferable to wait until you have an offer to mention that your spouse is looking for a job, which is another commonly advocated strategy for applicants looking to find a job for their spouse at the same institution.

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    In most of my interviews the deans have asked me about grant funding, sometimes extensively (e.g. specific grants, granting institutions, specific projects, how much these grants typically bring in). So that is something to be prepared for (although it is not a bad thing to be prepared for in the interview in general). – Andy W Nov 21 '14 at 14:01
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    I would also ask about the health of the university as a whole including student numbers, campus expansion, pay freezes, and hiring freezes and for US state schools past and planned work furloughs. – StrongBad Nov 21 '14 at 16:44
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    I would NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER bring up a spouse with the Dean's before getting the official offer. I would not even acknowledge the presence of a spouse. This is incredibly bad advice. – RoboKaren Nov 21 '14 at 21:18
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    @RoboKaren: I'm glad you brought up that point.. As many know, there are two approaches to looking for two-body hires: keep the spouse secret until an offer is made, or mention them from the beginning in your application cover letter. There isn't room here to open that debate, but of course my advice doesn't apply to people keeping their spouse secret until the job offer. I'll add a disclaimer to that effect. I didn't think of it immediately, probably because my spouse and I mentioned each other in our cover letters when we applied. – Oswald Veblen Nov 21 '14 at 23:08
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    @RoboKaren: I think that would be a great subject for a new question. I'd particularly be interested in seeing answers supported by data, as there seem to be a wide range of opinions, each supported by apparently convincing logical reasons and/or anecdotes. – Nate Eldredge Nov 21 '14 at 23:37
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I am the asker of this question, but now that the interview is done, I thought I might add what my experience ended up being. I guess one thing I didn't really realize before is that they've had these meetings many, many times, and so they know already what topics should be discussed and brought them up themselves. So, as Ben indicated, much of the meeting was me listening or answering questions.

  • Much of the the time, the meetings felt more like a pitch to me of how great their university is. This made me feel more confident asking them to address any specific concerns I had about the university and life in their city.

  • Most of the meetings were indeed far shorter than the allotted time. The most common topic concerned grants. Mainly the local government funding agency and requirements to get funding from them. Also, discussions concerning start-up funds, and the resources available from the university to help me secure a federal grant.

  • There was also discussion of tenure, such as what things to focus my time on in the first few years (research, shockingly). I thought a good piece of advice was to avoid service, but not too much. In particular, that I should try to get myself on the Promotion and Tenure committee for my department so that I have a sense of what is needed for when my turn comes up.

  • Discussions about moving expenses and life in the city (typical weather, recreation, schools/daycare for my kids).

  • It should be noted that in all of my meetings, the topic of a two-body problem came up, completely unprompted by myself. Although this fortunately isn't really a problem for me, if it was, I would agree with the above advice that it probably would have been a bad idea to bring it up myself, if it should be even discussed at all before an offer is made.

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My experience with these interviews is that mostly they will tell you things. For example, I have always gotten a long disquisition on tenure without making any prompts, as well as general discussion about the university. It is possible they'll ask for your thoughts on general topics in education or research (for math, I think the connection between pure and applied math is popular). Grant funding isn't an issue that's come up for me; I don't think it's what people usually have in mind for math but it certainly wouldn't be a surprising topic. Certainly it would be smart to have a few general questions (where they see the university as a whole going, how your department will fit into it) at the ready, just to fill any dead space. I suspect the main thing is to just come across as a normal person. While deans sometimes try to influence hiring based on general considerations (the direction of the department, diversity, etc.) I've never heard of them trying to use their impressions from the interview for this (with the exception of Leon Botstein).

Also, don't hesitate to ask people in the department what it would wise to discuss with the administrators. They'll know better than us yahoos on the internet what their deans' bugaboos are.

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