Monday, December 03, 2007

2 Many

What do you think about the scenario of an interviewee being accompanied by a spouse or significant other to an interview for a faculty position?

* I am not talking about situations in which there is a clear need for such an accompanying person, e.g., someone to help with child-care. There are certainly circumstances in which an accompanying person is required or beneficial. *

The question is, what about the situation in which the accompanying person, who is not and will not be considered for a job at the university doing the interviewing, attends interview events: Goes to the interview talk(s)? Comes to ‘social’ events (e.g., dinner with the search committee)?

There may well be circumstances in which this level of involvement is necessary, but unless someone can convince me otherwise, I think that in the absence of extenuating circumstances (e.g., babies; disabilities), it is not appropriate for the accompanying person to participate in interview activities, including quasi-social events like dinner with the search committee.

At search committee-interviewee dinners, the conversation certainly need not be All Science for the entire meal, and it should also not be an extension of some of the more stressful aspects of the interview (Why is your research important? What research will you be doing in 10 years?). However, it should be possible to talk with the candidate about Science and other issues relevant to the interview without their spouse/partner getting upset about being left out of the conversation and/or getting anxious when questions get too interview-like.

Memo to accompanied interviewees and/or to those accompanying interviewees:

- Don’t kiss each other during dinner. Professors, especially those on search committees, cannot handle public displays of affection during meals.

- Don’t feed each other. Professors, especially those on search committees, prefer to think that candidates can feed themselves.

- Don’t tell cute stories about each other, including revealing affectionate nicknames and embarrassing childhood episodes. Professors, especially those on search committees, prefer not to know any of this until after an interviewee becomes an actual colleague. Then we definitely want to know.

- For female accompaniers: don’t single out the women on the search committee for girl-talk about babies and gardens while the guys are talking about Science. In some cases, the men on the search committee may have more to say about babies and gardens.

I am not making these examples up. My observation of behavior like this has led to my negative opinion on the issue of accompanying-persons.

If anyone who is reading this is freaking out because they accompanied their Beloved to some interview events, fed him/her from their own fork, smooched at dinner, and called the interviewee “pookiebear”, all in front of the search committee, fear not. If the search committee thinks the candidate will be a great research and teacher, that’s the most important thing. Even so, it would be best to let the interviewee meet/dine alone with the search committee, however terrifying that may be.

29 comments:

ScienceGirl said...

Since my husband and I are in the same field, we sometimes end up going to the same conferences and such. When that happens, we try to go our own ways and make our own connections, and make it clear that we each have our own work and ideas (and certainly no PDA!)

My question is this: since we are in the same field and most likely will either be applying as a "package deal" or make it clear that we are looking for locations where we can both get jobs, is it appropriate to tag along for interviews? Any suggestions when and how we should communicate our two-body problem to the potential employers?

Female Science Professor said...

That's a very different situation. In some cases, a department might even want to interview you both at the same time. If only one of you has an interview, though, it's only appropriate for the other to go along if the department suggests it/agrees. Most typically, the spouse/partner visits/interviews only after the other member of the couple gets an offer.

There's no one answer to your last question. I've written about this before; it's complicated (as you know) and the best answer varies from place to place and situation to situation.

Usually non-anonymous blog commenter said...

This post gives me a hook on which to hang a Q that's bugged me for a little while now: is there any way to ask about host institution providing childcare without coming across as inherently undesirable?

I haven't figured one out; which means that trips like interviews have a huge added stressor and cost.

Hmm. I think I am going to anonymise this one. Coward :(.

Dr. Bad Ass said...

We're now in the process of running searches for several newly funded endowed positions -- looking for really great, established scholars in several different fields. After being burned a couple of times by candidates whose spouses "didn't want to move there" our dean has provided extra funds for spouses/partners of candidates to come along during the interview. Spouses will not attend lots of the interview functions, but will be wined and dined separately ....
I hope we won't be seeing the kind of "pookybear" behavior you describe!

Katie said...

Oh. If only you were making up these examples...

Anonymous said...

There is a slippery slope here - often the job involves a major relocation, which affects both halves of a couple. One could argue that being a trailing spouse may well be more stressful than moving for a new, better job.

While I agree with you in general - and on your specific points (ouch!) - I do think it's appropriate for a partner to come to dinner, and to be recognized by the search committee. I think it's an important gesture by the committee - as a candidate, I will not feel as warm and welcomed by a committee that doesn't seem to care what effect its choices has on my partner.

ScienceGirl said...

Thanks - I am always looking for advice on this looming problem...

anon said...

OH MY GOD! I can't believe that happens! I would be so embarrassed no matter which side of the conversation I was on during the dinner.

An official interview dinner with a non-science spouse!? You're making all this up. Surely...

PhD Mom said...

In our field, it is not uncommon for a spouse to accompany candidates and attend social events, but never talks or other "formal" events. I think it is important for the spouse to attend the dinners to have a chance to ask questions about the local area that they are potentially moving. I should say however, that at these dinners, the spouses of the search committee are also invited so it is not as if it is a bunch of scientists and then the spouse. That said, the kissing, food sharing, and personal stories are definitely not appropriate conversation.

Anonymous said...

At my palce we typically have two interviews: the first round, in which three-four people are interviewed (separately). Once a candidate has been chosen, the person is brought back. Usually we invite spouses etc only in the second visit, unless there are problems (like the ones you cited). The second visit also includes things like looking at places to live, etc. Some junior faculty usually takes up that tasks and takes care of practical info. We really taylor the second visit to the needs of the candidate as much as possible.
As my postdoc advisor used to say, the first interview is about the dept liking a candidate. The second visit is about convincing the candidate that it is a good place. At that point, the chair starts the process of putting together an offer. The last step in negotiation is done remote. The honeymoon ends wih the unknowing candidate signing on the dotted line, and real life begins ;-)

Anonymous said...

At my place we typically have two interviews: the first round, in which three-four people are interviewed (separately). Once a candidate has been chosen, the person is brought back. Usually we invite spouses etc only in the second visit, unless there are problems (like the ones you cited). The second visit also includes things like looking at places to live, etc. Some junior faculty usually takes up that tasks and takes care of practical info. We really taylor the second visit to the needs of the candidate as much as possible.
As my postdoc advisor used to say, the first interview is about the dept liking a candidate. The second visit is about convincing the candidate that it is a good place. At that point, the chair starts the process of putting together an offer. The last step in negotiation is done remote. The honeymoon ends wih the unknowing candidate signing on the dotted line, and real life begins ;-)

Anonymous for a day: we recently interview a nursing mom. She talked to the chair of the search committee, and explained the situation. We arranged for the spouse and child to tag along, although not at most events. The schedule included breaks for nursing every x hours.
So I would be upfront. Most hotels would arrange babysitting for you anyways.

Propter Doc said...

I like the idea of the spouse coming to visit at an interview stage - but more second interview, after an offer has been made. During the main interview, I can't see how couples can afford the time, the expense and the stress of both people attending.. It is usually a big move to a new institution and I think the spouse should check the area out as well. They shouldn't attend interview events, nor should the faculty pay for them. Dinner with the committee, well, that's a little harder. It would be difficult for some departments to refuse the spouse a meal if they were there. Call it courtesy or whatever.

Female Science Professor said...

Our department also invites the spouse/partner for the second visit, and that is totally fine of course. At that point, it is important for both members of a couple to see the place and meet people.

Female Science Professor said...

usually non-anonymous - I don't have a good answer for you about how best to arrange childcare during an interview. I don't know how most departments would handle this, but my department would certainly try to help with arrangements; i.e., we would not think that a candidate was inherently undesirable. The search committee chair would be the one to inform.

Kim said...

I brought my spouse along to the interview for my current job. He spent the visit checking out the area for his own job possibilities. I think his presence actually helped me get the job - it convinced the committee that I would come if offered the job. (We're in a place that's a difficult sell to two-career couples.)

This school does only one interview, though, so it simultaneously was supposed to sell me to the institution and sell the institution to me.

And we certainly didn't do any kind of PDA at dinner!

Anonymous said...

Most hotels provide child care or can help you arrange it with a local agency (see concierge). I think it is unreasonable to expect the interviewers to provide it. Yes, I do think it would make someone undesirable as a candidate -- not because they have children but because they cannot arrange logistics for something as important as a job interview without help. Our department would consider someone bringing a spouse along to have similar dependency issues. We are already leery of hiring "high maintenance" newcomers and are perhaps hyperalert to signs of neuroticism or immaturity.

Female Science Professor said...

I don't think being a single parent or needing to travel with an infant for other reasons is a sign of neuroticism or immaturity.

Dr. Lisa said...

While in the interview process for my current position, my significant other accompanied me on the trips, but not any of the interview activities. The fact that he came along on the trips to investigate the area seemed to reassure the committee that I'd take the job if offered. (I was leaving a good position.)

Anonymous said...

When I was offered an Assistant Prof job at Big$U seven years ago, they paid for my entire family (myself, non-science spouse, and two kids) to travel on the 2nd visit. Actually, even better, they paid to fly us all to the grandparents' home, drop off the kids and then have the two of us come for the visit. It was such a treat (the kids were 3 and 6 at the time) and I ended up taking the job at Big$U. Unfortunately, Big$U had other problems and I left there after a few years.

Female Science Professor said...

That's great -- the post-offer second visit is definitely a time for the entire family to visit, be wined and dined, and see if they want to move.

sandy shoes said...

It amazes me that people are so clueless they need to be advised against behaviour like that.

On interview trips where I've accompanied my spouse, he did the interview thing, and I explored the area on my own.

Otherwise he's gone on the interview, and we made a second trip together if it looked like a move to seriously consider.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

I can understand a spouse coming along to see the area, to research possible jobs, and/or to care for children etc. However, I absolutely don't understand a spouse being present for any interviews or dinners (since, at least in my experience, the dinners often involve interview-type discussions on research and potential collaborations).

With academic job competition as fierce as it is, I would assume that all candidates want as much time as possible with the committee to "sell" themselves... I don't see how a spouse is relevant to this endeavor.

Are there any professions in which a spouse would accompany an interviewee to the actual interviews???

As for the dual-hire, surely committees want at least some interviews to be conducted individually? Even though two people are married, they still have to be independently productive and impressive, no?

Anonymous said...

Each search and each university is slightly different so there is no one size fits all set of rules, but the behavior you are describing is simply unprofessional and does not bode well for professional behavior later.

I think most R1 unversities in my field, like ours, have a two step interview process as described by others above, in which the first visit is focused on evaluating the several candidates and the second visit is focused on recruiting. If the person is in a committed relationship, it is entirely appropriate for the second visit to include the whole family, as that is the "unit" making the decision. I certainly know the decision my wife and I made was influenced by how she was treated at the different place son the second visit--this place actively made an effort to help her explore job possibilities here and that was one major selling point. On second visits we have also made arrangments for child-care etc. The issue of mothers with small children is also a reasonable one. Further, one of our faculty (perhaps the single best scientist in the Department) is disabled and can't ravel without his spouse, and anyone who objected to that would have missed out on someone ultimately elected to the National Academy. Also, double hires also fall into a different category, though then each person usually has such a full schedule that it is moot. I would, however, be asonished if someone invited their spouse on a first visit.

Senior searches can sometimes be different, as then they are oftne ttargeted to a particular candidate. However, even ther inappropriate behavior would be just that--unprofessional--and it would be hard not to factor that into the decision. In the last such search one of the candidates made such unreasonable demands for the expenss of his accomodations and his and his spouses perosnal needs that we were all relieved when he pulled out before the interview.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

Two visits? I'm in a social science field and have never heard of that. I'm not at an R1, but have many friends who are. I think my PhD school (top 10) went through a some multi-visit dances with senior candidates, but I've never heard of a school doing a second visit at the assistant level. Usually they want you to make a quick decision and let them move on to the next candidate if it's not a yes.

Anonymous said...

Being unable to arrange someone to watch your child is a sign of dependency (immaturity) and expecting others to care for your child is a sign of neuroticism (center of the world, no ability to see what is appropriate). This person would bring the child to class on school holidays or expect grad students to babysit (majoring inappropriate). I didn't say having kids was the problem -- being unable to care for them (and foisting the responsibility onto unwilling others) is the problem.

mediamolly said...

Frankly, I would rather meet the spouse or partner of a candidate than suffer through a dinner I had as a search committee member last Spring: My Esteemed Colleague who was the head of said committee brought along his wife who 1) is not in our field, 2) made bizarrely inappropriate comments to the candidate and 3) indulged in some major PDA action as My Esteemed Colleague was paying the check -- such as hugging his entire head while standing behind him and stroking it like a cat. I wish I were exaggerating!

For totally different reasons, this candidate, to whom we offered a job, declined. But one really has to wonder...

PS - I am not in the sciences; I am at a big R1, but we definitely don't have 2nd on-campus interviews in my area!

ordinary girl said...

For female accompaniers: don’t single out the women on the search committee for girl-talk about babies and gardens while the guys are talking about Science. In some cases, the men on the search committee may have more to say about babies and gardens.

This is off-topic but it reminds me of something that happened when I visited friends this summer. I have a friend who played host this some to a gathering of good friends from across the country. I mostly know the men, though I know their spouses through message boards and occasionally meeting them over the years.

Two of us came alone without our spouses, two came with spouses and kids, and the host and his girlfriend have kids in town.

Anyway, when it came to the evenings when people would talk, play games together, etc, I somehow got sidelined to play Rummy out on the porch with the women. No strategy games for me! That's what the men were doing.

What's odd is that none of my friends seem in the least bit sexist. Maybe it just all fell out that way because other than me, that's how their interests fell, but it was irritating either way.

Massimo said...

I did take my wife with me when I was interviewing for an assistant professorship. I was lucky enough to have multiple interviews, and because conceivably I might receive more than one offer, I felt that because a major relocation was involved, one which would bring about the likely disruption of my wife's graduate studies, I owed it to her to express at least a preference.

On one occasion, I was asked ahead of time by the interviewers whether I'd be accompanied by my spouse; when I said yes, they took it upon themselves to organize a social events open to spouses. On that occasion, my wife got to visit with other spouses, most of whom not in academia, something that she found very useful, as she got to ask questions about the place, the lifestye and so on. The evening was altogether quite pleasant, and I thought an event of that type is perfectly appropriate.

In terms of discussing things ahead of time... life is often more complicated than that. Sometimes you feel that your spouse really wants that job, you think you can sacrifice and adapt to the new location and lifestyle, but then you visit it a couple times, realize that there would be absolutely nothing for you to do, see yourself bored to death... I mean, I think that if there are going to be problems of that type, they better be brought out immediately rather than one year later... running a brand new search will be much more expensive to the department and the institution, not to mention the damage in terms of image that arises from faculty leaving early.

Of course, there are also those who are simply fishing for offers elsewhere just to squeeze a promotion or a salary raise out of their present employers, are not really interested in moving elsewhere, and will use the spouse as a cheap excuse to justify their declining the offer. That is not a type of behavior to be commended, maybe, but it is not exclusive of academia... it happens all the time in all professional fields.

Yancy said...

Just a small, side comment to the anonymous poster re: "Most hotels provide child care or can help you arrange it with a local agency (see concierge). I think it is unreasonable to expect the interviewers to provide it. Yes, I do think it would make someone undesirable as a candidate -- not because they have children but because they cannot arrange logistics for something as important as a job interview without help."

I'm slightly baffled--I don't know any parent, myself included, who would leave their kids with a hotel babysitter or a sitter recommended by the hotel concierge unless it was some sort of dire "I'm bleeding and have to go to the hospital!" emergency. Honestly. With a logistic as "important" as your kids, I'd want a recommendation from a real person I know. I'd also be interested in seeing how the committee reacts to a family-related request; mightn't it tell you a lot about how they would react to family-related needs in the future?

Just a thought...