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

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mocking for Success

Last night was the annual English Department event we call Mock Interviews. Organized by our indefatigable Placement Officer Justine Murison, the mock interviews give our graduate students an opportunity to hone their interviewing skills—and receive instant feedback—in advance of the annual Modern Language Association Convention. Various pairs of faculty sit in their offices, pretending they’re in some anonymous convention hotel, and the students circulate among us, so that they get a chance to have at least two different practice interviews.

These days more and more interviews are taking place via Skype and the interviewing season has become earlier and earlier, but MLA is still one of the primary components of the job search in English. This year’s convention will take place in early January and will be conveniently located in Chicago. I’m looking forward to seeing our job candidates there as well as many colleagues and friends.

Although most search committees (including some of our own!) are still in the process of making their way through applications, I have been pleased to hear that a number of our job candidates have already received calls for interviews.

I have to admit that each year I have the same experience with the mock interviews. In the run-up to the event, I’m always a bit peeved. Who wants to return to the office at 7:00 pm for two more hours of work? But every time it turns out the same: mock interviews are fun! They’re fun because we get to see our wonderful graduate students in action and hear what they have been working on. As in the past, I was really impressed by the great dissertation projects our students have and by their creative ideas for teaching (some of which I will surely steal!). It’s also always a pleasure to be paired with a colleague you might not otherwise work closely with—this year I was lucky to mock with Melissa Littlefield and I learned a lot from her questions.

This year’s mock interviews took place against a dramatic backdrop. With temperatures dropping and the weather forecast promising snow, we learned late in the afternoon that Facilities and Services would be turning off the heat in part of our building because of an unspecified emergency! This was really not what Justine and I wanted to hear a few hours before the interviews. In the end, though, the snow never materialized and the venerable English Building seemed to stay pretty warm (maybe because of all of those circulating, nervous bodies!). From my perspective, the event seemed to go off without a hitch. Thanks to Justine and all the faculty who participated!

The most important message, however, is this. If you happen to be reading this as a search committee member at another school, we’ve got some terrific, professional, and brilliant candidates for your jobs: hire them!

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