Do you have any questions for us?

Ugh. This is the part I forgot to prepare for for my first interview… really, a short preliminary tele-interview with what I’m assuming was a pretty long list. To be honest, I kinda thought this would just be a Turing test and this “questions for us” type stuff would come when they decided on their real short list. They also asked if I would need special equipment, which seemed rather forward. Plus, what’s “special”? I genuinely don’t know. I don’t need a flux capacitor. I managed to ask a few questions about the department, relative numbers of postdocs and grad students, undergrad research, teaching load, etc.

I have no idea how I did, because when presenting or discussing science in stressful situations (like talking to strangers) I tend to only notice what’s going on when I stop talking, and that is the point I realize I have no idea what I have been saying. However, people usually respond as if I’ve said something coherent and occasionally even interesting, so I just trust whatever part of my brain is doing that.

But stump me once, shame on me. Stump me twice, I’m a fucking moron. So here’s some aggregation:

From @sennoma:

1. Why does this position exist — what was the impetus for creating it?
2. What would a successful first year in the position look like? How will the success of the person in this position be measured?
3. How would you describe the culture here? What type of people tend to really thrive here, and what type don’t do as well?
4. What is your timeline for a decision, and when can I expect to hear back? What’s best way to ask for an update if there’s a delay?

And Gerty-Z:

It is appropriate, however, to ask about things like environment (Do you collaborate with anyone in the dept.? What about other depts. in the university? How are collaborations viewed wrt tenure decisions? Is there a faculty seminar series?) or shared resources (can I get access to the fancy machine? How is it maintained? Can I see it? Is is ridiculously expensive?) or grad students (are they good? Are the admitted directly to the dept. or an umbrella program? are there training grants?).

And Matt:

    • Where do you see this department/school/college in 5 years?
    • What’s the teaching load like?
    • What’s the tenure process like?
    • Which courses need teaching?
    • What kind of start-up package do you think I should negotiate? (Ask this of junior faculty.)
    • What’s the overhead on grants? (This question tends to impress deans.)
    • How much does it cost to fund a Ph.D. student for 12 months?

And at this point I’m basically cribbing from Doc Becca’s Awesome Job Search Advice Aggregator.


7 Comments on “Do you have any questions for us?”

  1. Dr Becca says:

    And for Skype/phone interviews: “Do you think I’m wearing pants right now?”

  2. rxnm says:

    Followed by text message: 😉

  3. “Special” equipment is anything expensive. That is, the department wants to know if your research program needs brand new next gen DNA sequencer that ONLY your lab can use, or a biosafety level 3 lab, or a rat colony.

    Sennoma and Matt already covered the questions I’d suggest. In particular:

    Why is this position open?
    What are the tenure expectations?
    What is the teaching load?


    What are typical class sizes?
    What lab space is available? (You’re trying to get a sense of whether it’ll have to be renovated, etc.)

  4. rxnm says:

    These are excellent, thanks!

  5. yellowfish says:

    a few more ideas…
    -how are grad students funded?
    -do they do rotations or come straight to a group?
    -has the economy affected the dept in any way? how do you think it might in the future?
    -how long has the chair been the chair? (as in, is it possible that he’ll leave soon and you’ll be dealing with someone different than the person you negotiated with?)
    -is there any particular role/niche you are hoping to fill with this position?

  6. […] that candidate anxiety is high this time of year, as examplified by Reaction Norm's posts on phone interviews and some of the questions. It's a tense time and I remember it well – sitting in the kitchen with […]

  7. […] that candidate anxiety is high this time of year, as examplified by Reaction Norm’s posts on phone interviews and some of the questions. It’s a tense time and I remember it well – sitting in the […]

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