Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mock interviews

This past Thursday, we held our annual evening of mock interviews for new and recent PhDs who are on the academic job market. Mock-a-palooza, shall we call it?

For those not in the know, the vast majority of English departments looking to hire new faculty members do so via a process that involves, as a penultimate stage, a 30-45 minute interview with a faculty search committee in December or early January. These interviews are--and I speak from experience here--somewhat terrifying. So much rides on them, and success or failure in them has only a tangential relationship to one's real ability to thrive as a faculty member. It is one thing to teach well and quite another to be able to speak glibly about teaching when asked unexpected questions by potential future colleagues; it is one thing to be a brilliant research scholar and another to be able to chat about your scholarship in a clear, thoughtful way in some hotel room somewhere while amped up on adrenaline.

Because the job interview is not really like what most of us do most of the time, even very well-trained scholar-teachers need to prepare themselves in advance. And since there are some predictable aspects of the interview process, we--like many departments--try to help our students prepare by staging role-played mock interviews. It is a very useful kind of practice.

I mention this here, though, because I always think of the evening of the mock interviews as an example of our department at its very best. Faculty participate out of a real commitment to the well-being of our graduate students, and I have never failed to be impressed by the colleagues I am paired up with or by the graduate students (in all sub-fields) whose work I learn about in this odd, stylized interaction. Almost half of our faculty participate in any given year, and that means reading candidate materials, coming up with interview-style questions, and then participating in several different mock interviews over the span of several hours late on a Thursday evening. Teams of two are located throughout the English building and job seekers go from room to appointed room. Each of them has a couple of mock interviews so that they can compare feedback, and because so many department members are in and around the building the whole thing winds up having a semi-festive feel to it.

As we head into the interviewing season, I want to wish all of this year's job-seeing grad students the best of luck. You are among the smartest and best-prepared scholars and teachers on the job market and any department that hires one of ours will be extremely well-served. I hope you take that knowledge, and the confidence it should impart, with you into your real interviews.

Also, I'd like to thank our Director of Graduate Studies, Tony Pollock, and our Placement Officer, Vicki Mahaffey, for all the work they do arranging this event and generally helping our job-seeking graduate students prepare themselves. Above all, and on behalf of the graduate students and the department, I'd like to thank all of the many, many faculty members who volunteered to participate in these interviews at what is of course a very busy time of year. I'm pleased and proud to have such terrific colleagues.

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