In August of 2005, I volunteered to be the Faculty Interview Coordinator for the EEGSA at UC Berkeley. While it is not standard practice in all departments, the EECS department brings graduate students into the faculty interview process. Student involvement consists of a time slot during which graduate students may interview each faculty candidate. One of my friends, who had co-organized the student interviews the previous year, was leaving Berkeley, so I signed up for the vacant position. Interviews started in the spring, and I would have help from the other co-organizer.
That was the plan. Near the end of January, I received an e-mail that took me by surprise. My co-organizer, who had been involved in the process the previous year, would not be actively involved with the interview process that spring. I quickly recruited a friend to help out with the interviews, but neither of us had any experience. To handle this problem, I arranged a meeting with the previous co-organizer to run me through the process. While most of the issues we discussed at that meeting were logistical, I had a concern. How should I handle a faculty candidate whose expertise was in an area where I knew nothing?
His answer was in some of the advice he gave me. “My favorite question to ask is what they consider important research questions over the next ten years. The answers are usually pretty interesting. Plus, it works on any candidate, regardless of how much you know about their work.”
Armed with this advice, I began interviewing prospective faculty. The list of interviewees ranged from graduate students wrapping up their dissertations to senior faculty at other universities, one of whom was considered a contender for the Nobel Prize. While there were some logistical headaches, the interview experience itself was a positive one. It gave me a window into research outside my direct area of interest and gave me perspective on larger questions in electrical engineering.
Why stop at electrical engineering? The intent of this blog is to summarize conversations with graduate students, faculty, and others about their fields of interest. Since faculty candidate interviews are confidential, I will have to look elsewhere for content. Hopefully my summer at the Broad Institute, where the focus is on biomedical research, will prove to be a useful starting point.