There have been a couple of times over the years when my department has looked for new hires. The interview process for academic jobs is often long and tiring – involving a bunch of small interviews and presentations over the course of a couple of days. However, in my department there are two presentations that are somewhat key.
- They give a general talk on their research. This usually sort of covers past, present and future. It’s suppose to be accessible to everyone in the department, so the jargon should be toned down (but it isn’t always). This talk gives everyone a chance to see how this persons research would or would not fit into the department and realize if there are possibilities for collaboration.
- The give a “teaching” talk. If the interview happens during the school year, they will fill in for a professor of some class (usually well within their research area) and give one of the talks. The this is suppose to allow people to judge how great of a teacher this candidate is (as if an hour teaching is enough to know that :P).
Both of the above talks are open to everyone in the department – undergrad, grad, post-doc, faculty and staff. I think there is suppose to be channels on how to provide any feedback you have on the candidates ‘performance’ but that’s not usually clearly laid out.
Even without being able to supply your opinion, it’s really worth attending these talks. For one thing, should you be possibly considering an academic job, you might as well see what the candidates who are getting interviews are like. How good are they at presenting? What types of material do they focus on? If you were in their place what would you do differently? Or the same?
Another reason to attend, is that you may just find someone worth collaborating with. Or they might have an answer to a current research problem you have that’s outside your field of expertise (but in theirs). Should this person get hired, you may end up working with him/her (TA-ing, collaborating, etc), so why not get an early look at them?
All of the people who’ve been hired (and interviewed) since I’ve been here, are not working in my area. But all of their talks have been interesting to attend. While I’ve ended up lost in some of them, I’ve always walked out having learned something. And the longer I’m here, the easier it is to follow talks that I wouldn’t have been able to only a few years ago, even though I still don’t work in that area. It goes to show how much you learn that you aren’t really aware of.
Anyway, at the very least, it’s an hour out of your day where you can focus on something else. Or daydream about your own work, which can be surprisingly effective in solving problems.