Posts Tagged ‘Sociology Job Market’

Across the country, prospective job candidates are beginning to put vague ideas into Microsoft Word that will be shaped into cover letter templates, teaching statements, writing samples, and research statements over the next few months.  Since January I have written a lot about the sociology job market and my experiences with it, but I think that a general compilation of things I’ve come across in the past year or so will be helpful to those who are gearing up for an intense autumn.

As a sociologist, you may want to start with the ASA’s job market resources, although they cost  money, so you may be better served by reading blogs and going to the various “how to get a job” sessions in San Fransisco.

Beyond this, I think that it is helpful to read about the experiences of others who have gone on the market.  By seeing both the good and the bad, you’ll have a better sense of what you’re getting yourself into.  For this, the Chronicle of Higher Education is a good resource.

For general job market advice, Wicked Anomie has a great post and some good things are available from the Sociologists for Women in Society (there is also some good information in the advice column section of their site).  Finally, the Tomorrow’s Professor newsletter has a number of job-related posts.

After you’ve hardened yourself in preparation for the road ahead with general information, you can consider your first opportunity to interact with potential employers at the ASA employment service.  As noted before, this has been discussed at Scatterplot and on this blog.

Before applying for jobs, you will likely want to check out the rankings, keeping in mind that rankings aren’t everything.  The US News grad school rankings are here and general undergrad rankings are here.

Beyond the rankings, a sense of whether a school is likely to pay enough for you to live on Long Island or in Claremont, CA is obviously important.  You can search the AAUP’s faculty salary survey here.

Once you have applied, you will hopefully be invited to interviews where these tips from Wicked Anomie and these reflections from Pitse1eh will come in handy.  You can also prepare answers to frequently asked questions and be prepared to ask some questions yourself.

If you can stomach it, there is also the job market message board, which replaces the job market blog for 09-10.

I think that the most important thing to remember about the job market is that it is a long, difficult time during which most things are out of your control.  Once you’ve mailed an application, you have done all that you can, so make sure that your applications are as good as they can be and try not to think about them once they are out of your hands.  With luck, by this time next year you’ll be writing a blog giving people advice about the job market.

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When entering graduate school a lot of students probably dream of working at high-ranking R1s or liberal arts schools.  I’ve already discussed the overlooked middle option, but I think it is also important to consider careers at community colleges.  While community college life is not for everybody (neither is R1 life!), I taught a few classes as an adjunct at a small commuter college in a department with only one tenure-track sociologist and found it to be a rewarding experience.  It was helpful to teach sociology to a group of students who had seen some of the negative effects of social structures firsthand.  I also liked the mix of ages and backgrounds, which provided a lot of interesting anecdotes when I asked students to illustrate class concepts.

Although this has been debated recently, another potential benefit of working at a community college is that you don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to do so.  If teaching is what you love and want to do, you may be able to start your career much sooner than those who earn a Ph.D.  While I only have a few experiences with schools such as these, another recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education gives an interesting look at life at a community college, and the useful life experiences the author gained in lieu of a Ph.D.:

My job: Carry a 5/5/4 teaching load with three preps, sometimes four. Be ready to get three different courses into shape on four days’ notice. Be ready to teach composition, Homer, research skills, Mark Twain, a little public speaking, Dante, computer skills, T.S. Eliot, grammar, Hemingway, critical reading, Voltaire, business writing, Emily Dickinson, basic prosody, Flannery O’Connor, basic literary analysis, and whatever else needs teaching, off the top of my head if necessary (and yes, I’ve taught all of those in one academic year). Advise 50 students, 48 of whom are the first in their families to set foot on a college campus, 35 of whom are the first to finish high school. Serve on committees. Tutor students. Do whatever community-relations work the boss needs me to do. Endure enough professional-development activities to keep my superiors happy. Take care of all my own typing and most of my copying. Help students deal with the bureaucracy and our baffling computer systems.

Sometimes I counsel students in nonacademic matters. Sometimes I just listen to them. Some say things like “I’m just a dumb redneck” and “I know I’m too stupid to do this.” They apologize for asking for help. The mothers — and half of my students are mothers — never tire of talking about kids and their problems. Sometimes I wonder how the hell a 20-year-old single woman who has a baby and cancer manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less come to class. I’ve held babies so that students could rummage in diaper bags to find the essays they wanted me to critique.

Since our maintenance department might lose a race with a tranquilized slug, I also fix things. Thanks to me, the door of the faculty men’s room closes. I made the campus-safety department a better tool for opening vehicle doors when students lock their keys in their cars. When the wheels of our housekeeper’s cart begin to squeal so loudly that I can hear them over the Led Zeppelin playing in my office, I oil the bearings to get her through another few months. I fixed the office labelmaker. When the paper cutter stopped cutting, I brought the blade home and sharpened it with my Dremel tool.

I’ve changed flat tires for students, jump-started their cars, cleaned and tightened battery terminals, diagnosed c-v joint problems, spliced broken wires, and added most of the important fluids to their vehicles. Some students have no one — or at least no one competent — to help them with such things. So besides teaching them the right punctuation to use with conjunctive adverbs, I also teach them that Toyotas and Hondas don’t take the same power-steering fluid and that GM and Chrysler products need different kinds of transmission fluid.

Welcome to community-college teaching.

Incidentally, the Chronicle has an entire series of articles on “The Two-Year Track,” and candidates interested in applying for these sorts of jobs might also want to check out this advice for interviewing at a community college.

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In Monday’s post I highlighted a few of my thoughts on the ASA’s employment service.  The short version is that I think it is worthwhile and that, like the job market in general, a sort of confident detachment is extremely helpful.  Other people’s opinions can be found within last year’s Scatterplot discussion of the topic and New Soc Prof’s post from last summer (see point 5).

Perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the experience is courtesy of Pitse1eh’s “ASA Speed Dating” post.  To this list I would add that you should sign up for the employment service as soon as possible and begin requesting meetings with the schools that interest you most.  I ended up with fewer meetings than I intended last year because I waited until just before ASA to start scheduling them and, by that time, many school’s schedules were full.  I assume the situation will be similar this year with candidates hoping to get ahead in a tough market.  Also, once you have scheduled a meeting, you can see who the interviewers are scheduled to be and jot down a few notes about the school, department, and faculty that will be useful during the interview.  As an aside, you should be aware that until ASA ends there are two lists of job postings that are updated independently – one for the job bank and one for the employment service.  Schools that list their postings on one will not necessarily list them on the other, so you should watch both lists for postings and deadlines.

My final (for now) thoughts on the employment service are related to preparation.  As I said in Monday’s post, you need to be prepared to answer questions about your teaching and research in short, coherent statements, making this a good time to start practicing responses to these frequently asked questions.  Along these lines it may also be worthwhile to spend 20 or 30 minutes sitting in the employment service staging area covertly listening to the questions that are asked at the nearby tables.  I ended up having a free block of time between two other meetings last year during which I overheard a school ask a candidate which five classes she would most like to teach and which book had most influenced her sociological thinking.  Because of this, I wasn’t surprised by these questions when I met with that school.  Also regarding questions, New Soc Prof points out in her post that you will be doing a lot more of the asking than you might expect.  This is in line with my own experience and my view of the employment service as a fact-finding mission.  For these purposes, these questions to ask might come in handy.  I imagine that bombing an employment service interview doesn’t have the same emotional impact as bombing a phone or campus interview, but you will still probably want to avoid responding to a question like, “What can we tell you about our school?” with “Blllluuuuuuuuhhhh…”

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As of today, there is one month remaining to preregister for the San Francisco ASA conference.  If you’re planning to go on the job market this year, you also have a month to register for the ASA’s employment service.  There is a perennial debate about whether the employment service is worthwhile, which has already started over at the new job market forum (I’ve shared some of my feelings on the job market blog/forum before), and there are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether or not to participate.

First, high-ranking R1s almost never participate in the employment service.  If you want to meet with people from these schools it is probably best to have an advisor arrange an informal meeting for you (though I suppose you could also scrutinize everybody’s ASA nametag looking for big names and high-ranking institutions and then strike up an awkward conversation in the hallway of the Hilton).  Even if you have your sights set on this type of job, there are plenty of reasons to participate in the employment service.  One is the ability to get some practice answering questions and talking about your teaching and research in short, coherent statements.  Another is the fact that many people who want jobs at high-ranking R1s interview and accept jobs elsewhere, so this is an opportunity to find out more about the types of schools where you haven’t spent the past 5-10 years.

Second, some people argue that you cannot get a job at the employment service but you can lose one, so it isn’t worth the risk.  Their argument rests on the belief that the entire department is not represented by those interviewing at the employment service, so if somebody at the employment service doesn’t like your personality or your condescending attitude and you officially apply for this job later, the few people who met you at the employment service will speak up and prevent you from being invited for a campus interview.  If you hadn’t gone to the employment service, however, they argue that your impeccable record would have spoken for itself and the school would have interviewed you, giving the full department a chance to decide for themselves about your personality and attitude.

These people are overlooking two things: 1) No matter how many publications you have, you will not get invited to interviews by a vast majority of the schools to which you apply, so it is nearly impossible to isolate the effect of an employment service interview among the noise that is job market and 2) if your personality or condescending attitude is so abrasive that you cannot spend 20 minutes with people without effectively taking yourself out of the running for a position at their school, you have bigger job market problems than deciding whether or not to participate in the employment service.  For what it’s worth, there is at least a small possibility that a candidate can make a favorable impression on a school during the employment service meeting.  I was told at one of my interviews last fall that I had been called for a phone interview because I had seemed genuinely excited about their program at the employment service.

Another important thing to remember about the employment service is that it is bizarre.  Yes, there is a waiting area near the front where you will likely sit with other candidates.  Yes, there is a bell that rings to warn you when your time with a particular school is nearly up and again when it is up.  Yes, it takes place in a large room with numbered tables.  Yes, you will likely pass candidates interested in the same schools as you on your way to and from these tables.  The employment service is an experience unlike any you have likely had or will have again, assuming you get a job this year.  It isn’t going to do you any good to complain or fret about these things.  The employment service is the same for everybody and you are a sociologist, so sit back and enjoy the interesting social interactions that occur when nobody has a proper social script.

Next up is the employment service’s reputation as a “meat market.”  From my experience with the employment service last year, I think that others tend to project their own feelings onto the other employment service candidates.  You may hear others talk about how nervous the participants were, how they wouldn’t look each other in the eye or talk to each other because they were all competitors, and how socially awkward everybody appeared (see the first comment here).  Maybe I just didn’t spend enough time in the employment service area, but I didn’t see anybody who resembled these stereotypes.  Personally, I was slightly nervous about meeting strangers but I was also confident in my record and recognized that the likelihood of being invited for a campus interview at the same school as any of the other candidates I saw was extremely small.  If anything, the fact that we were all sharing the same bizarre experience gave us a sort of camaraderie.

This brings me to what is perhaps the most important aspect of the employment service: your approach.  I think that you will have a much better view of the experience overall if you treat it like a fact-finding mission.  This is also true for phone and campus interviews, but at the employment service you have more power than at any other stage in the process because you have the power to apply or not apply based on your impressions of the department and your potential colleagues.  This is your chance to ask about the teaching load, the publication expectations, and the local farmer’s markets.  Take detailed notes during your meetings and sprinkle details of your conversations into the cover letters of the schools to which you decide to apply.  Viewing the process as a fact-finding mission, the only way you can lose is if you refuse to participate.

Update: See the follow-up to this post here.

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An article from the spring issue of Contexts has just been posted on The Contexts Blog examining rankings of colleges and graduate schools (they’ve also posted a free link to the PDF version of the article).  Because of the importance many place on rankings, this is a fitting beginning for those embarking on the summer-long journey of preparing for the job market.  For some of us, the ranking of our graduate department will influence how we are viewed on the market.  Candidates from highly-ranked programs may be more likely to be considered for jobs in other highly-ranked programs.  On the other side of the coin, candidates may believe that the rankings say something about the experience of working at a particular school.  If it is highly ranked, there will likely be more pressure to publish and fewer rewards for excellent teaching.  If not, there may be less pressure to publish but also lower pay or a higher teaching load.

When deciding where to apply for jobs, rankings will likely be a consideration but it is important to remember that there is a lot more to a school than its ranking.  As I started my job search last summer, rankings were a primary concern.  I knew that I wanted a liberal arts job, but I also wanted a good liberal arts job, which I arbitrarily considered to be a school in the top 50 of the US News rankings.  That way, I figured that when I told friends and family members where I would be employed and they had never heard of it, I could at least say “It is one of the top liberal arts schools in the country” and they would be impressed.

Early in my search I also viewed rankings as an important marker of my graduate school success.  My graduate program is well-regarded among those who rank such things, so I figured that if I could get a job in a highly-ranked department the graduate students with visions of R1s would have to recognize that I had done well in my chosen area.  Similarly, I figured that professors would need to respect my accomplishments, regardless of how they had perceived me in the past and the department could proudly display my position on the web page so that students considering our program for the future could see that it is possible to graduate and get highly-ranked liberal arts jobs.

Over time, my opinion of the importance of rankings changed.  It would be easy to attribute this to the fact that the job market sucks and candidates should be happy to take anything they can get if I hadn’t, in fact, declined my first offer.  The experience that had the largest impact on my attitude about the rankings was actually looking up the mid-major I attended as an undergraduate and finding that it was categorized as a “Tier 4 National University.”  Tier 4! From the perspective of my job market self I had attended a terrible school, yet nobody bothered to tell this to my undergraduate self or any of my friends or family members.  At this terrible school I also had excellent professors and research opportunities that allowed me to get into a highly-ranked graduate program.

After this, the way I considered the rankings changed.  Yes, the rankings might reveal some underlying differences in resources or teaching loads, but I interviewed at a top-50 school and a Tier 3 school and, other than the size of the endowments (try not to giggle if a faculty member tells you his institution is “well endowed”) the differences in resources were negligible.  Because of this, the geographic location and student body of each school made the lower-ranked school equally compelling.  In the end, I didn’t get a job offer from the top-50 school and I’m not sure what I would have done if I had.  Maybe I would have accepted the offer that came with more prestige but a less desirable location and student body.  Regardless, I realized through this process that rankings are important for those who seek status above all else and much less so for those who seek a stable, enjoyable job with good pay and benefits.  For the record, nobody in my family had heard of either school.

Use at your own risk:

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Business CardsDo you need business cards if you are not a businessperson?  Last spring, in anticipation of the upcoming job market, I thought that it might be helpful to have something for others to remember me by.  I imagined giving business cards to prospective employers that I happened to run into in the hallways of the ASA hotels, leaving business cards with those I met for the employment service, and giving business cards to friends and faculty members who would be eager to distribute them on my behalf.  While I would probably have been content with 50, official departmental business cards could only be ordered in quantities of 500.  Nevertheless, it seemed like a worthwhile purchase.

It turns out that I had no business ordering business cards.  I did give one to individuals from a particular school (to which I decided not to apply) at the employment service and another to somebody else I met at the conference.  I still have the rest.  Now that their intended purpose is of no use to me I suppose that I can use them in the place of scraps of paper to jot down notes and grocery lists.  I would have been better served to give people scraps of paper with my name and e-mail address.  Of course, in the fall I will happily accept business cards with my new institutional affiliation.  At least this time I’ll have six years or so before their expiration date.

*The soundtrack for this post is available here.

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One of the bizarre aspects of the job market is that everybody wants to be everybody else’s first choice.  Sure, candidates want to be a department’s first choice, but departments also want to be the first choice of candidates.  Because members of a department typically don’t know to whom an offer will be extended, they need to be nice to everybody to increase the chances that they are their first choice’s first choice.  Thus, departments and candidates alike may sugar coat certain things during a campus interview, leaving the reality for subsequent interactions.

I recently had the first of those subsequent interactions during a trip to look for housing.  On my trip I visited campus again, stopped by the provost’s office, met with HR and had dinner with a faculty member.  Each of these interactions held the possibility for some of the sheen of my successful candidacy and their successful sales pitches for the school and department to wear away.  Second impressions of the school centered on the effects of the current economy.  Compared to a number of other schools, things are not particularly bleak, but faculty members will not be receiving cost-of-living raises this year.  I can’t be sure of their second impressions of me, but they may have noticed that I’m more of a sarcastic asshole than they originally anticipated.

Largely, my second impressions reinforced my first impressions:  the school seems to be on solid financial footing;  the sense of community that was conveyed during my interview remained;  and my future coworker was friendly and gave me good advice about navigating the transition from graduate student to junior faculty member.  He may regret this in the fall when the sarcastic asshole down the hall won’t stop asking him questions.

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Nearly everybody with a Ph.D. in sociology earned that degree at a Research 1 institution (RU/H and RU/VH just don’t have the same ring to them).  As a result, nearly all of the faculty members we interact with in our graduate programs can tell us about publication expectations at an R1, hiring practices at an R1, tenure and promotion at an R1, teaching at an R1, etc., but most of them don’t have much experience with other types of schools.  Thankfully, many faculty members have recognized that different types of institutions reward different types of letters and applications.  Unfortunately, this recognition is often viewed as a dichotomy – do you want a research job (at an R1) or a teaching job (at a liberal arts school)?

Between these extremes lies another type of school:  the masters-granting institution.  In athletics, many of these schools fall into the “mid-major” category.  In academics, large numbers of professors work happily at these schools and large numbers of students earn degrees and go on to successful careers.  Some go on to earn Ph.D.s at R1s and then get jobs at liberal arts schools in order to cover as many types of institutions as possible.

Perhaps their location in the middle of the academic continuum is the reason that these schools do not receive the attention that seems to be warranted by the numbers of faculty they employ.  Because they fall in the middle, faculty need to be better at balancing research and teaching, as demands for both can be high relative to schools with a narrower focus.  In general, it seems that teaching loads are higher at mid-majors than at R1s and class sizes are larger than at liberal arts schools.  While there are sometimes graduate programs, faculty members are less likely to have graduate assistants to help with grading.  Fewer graduate students also means that faculty have fewer chances to coauthor with others who can do a large share of the work, despite having higher publication expectations than their peers at liberal arts schools.

I have often thought of a career at a mid-major as the worst of both worlds.  Higher expectations for publishing coupled with higher teaching loads and higher class sizes seem less than ideal.  It is possible that my attitudes toward life at a mid-major would be different if I had had the opportunity to learn more about working at one during conference panels and did not have to rely on my observations as an undergraduate.  Hopefully those who accept positions at these schools are able to find out enough about them while visiting campuses for interviews to make informed choices about job offers.  For those in graduate school, however, it would be nice if there were more opportunities to learn about the full range of academic jobs.

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(I’m not sure what the average lifespan of a Beatles song on YouTube is, but enjoy this post’s soundtrack while it lasts.)

In “Getting Better” by the Beatles the most comforting aspect may be that “it can’t get no worse.”  Unfortunately, this is not the case for the sociology job market.  The April issue of Footnotes highlights what anybody who knows someone on the job market this year can tell you: the job market sucks.  Beyond the problems associated with the ASA’s previous assessment of the job market (for example, it looked at raw numbers without considering the preferred institutional type and geographic location of candidates), the new report finds that the number of posted jobs has declined in each of the two years since 2006, stating “there was a 36-percent decline in listings between 2006 and 2007, and another 17-percent decline between 2007 and 2008.”  Overall, there was a 39.3% decline in listings for assistant professor positions between 2006 and 2008.  The complete comparison is below:

The Footnotes article notes that these numbers do not take the number of canceled jobs into account, so it is likely that the complete story is even bleaker.  Comparing the job market wikis from 2007 and 2008 there were over twice as many cancellations reported in 2008 (39 vs. 17 in 2007).  While the wikis are far from perfect, they do provide a rough estimate of what the ASA is likely to find when it surveys sociology departments about canceled searches.

At this point, lots of people have likely accepted that they are not going to have a job for the fall of 2009, so the question quickly becomes how the 2009 job market will shape up.  Spending freezes have been reported at schools across the country, which suggests that the number of jobs posted this fall will be even lower.  A slightly positive side effect may be that schools will wait until they know a position has funding before posting, so the numbers of cancellations may be down, saving some of the time and money that candidates put into cancelled positions last year.  When it can’t get no worse, it will get better.  Unfortunately, it can still get worse.

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Unlike Candide or The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not an allegory for academe.  (This is a good thing, since most people would not want to be strung along during hiring or tenure like Jim is in the end of the book.)  Rather, Teresa Magnum at Inside Higher Ed uses an excerpt to convey that, to a candidate, communication is everything.  She has a number of suggestions for search committees that most, if not all, candidates would welcome given the mysterious nature of the market:

First, departments should think carefully about the materials they request in their advertisements. Initial decisions require a letter and a resume. Trees and postage saved. In the early stages of a search, applicants need to know two things. Did materials arrive? What next? A quick e-mail acknowledgment and a timeline surveying the next steps in the search are deeply reassuring. When an ad attracts 400 candidates, notification requires real effort, but so did applying.

All of the candidates with whom I’ve spoken along with those on the wiki sincerely wish departments would let them know when they are no longer being considered. My warmest memory from my own job search is, ironically, a rejection letter. A faculty member from the University of Pennsylvania wrote an unusually compassionate letter, including one sentence that complimented my writing sample with enough detail to suggest she had actually read it. I kept that letter for years and to this day I send out a bless-your-heart whenever it comes to mind. Timely response is all the more important now that those who do get invited for interviews are likely to post that information on one of the wikis. A quick appreciative e-mail to those who didn’t make the first cut ought to be manageable, and if you have the resources to insert even one personal comment, you will have done a very, very good thing. If the next step in your search is a conference interview, you might also help an unsuccessful candidate avoid wasting a fortune on a plane ticket and hotel.

Whether the first personal contact with candidates will be by phone, at a conference, or on campus, the interview will be more productive and less stressful for everyone involved if candidates know what to anticipate and how to prepare. Who will be present and what are their areas of expertise? (Yes, I know that should be on the Web, but it often isn’t.) What cell phone number can the candidate call in case of disaster? What can you tell candidates about the interview? Will any committee member need to arrive late or leave early?

An interview shouldn’t feel like a round of whack-a-mole. What can you tell candidates about the interview in advance? Will it last 30 minutes, 45 minutes? If you want candidates to speak thoughtfully about their ability to meet a specific need in your department, why not ask them to ponder the topic in advance?

It’s well worth a small loss of time to be sure appointments are scheduled at intervals that will neither leave candidates waiting in the hall nor force them to meet face to face. Think about the interview space, too. Try sitting where you plan to place the candidate. A large, deep chair puts a short person at a disadvantage. You simply can’t sit in such a chair wearing certain kinds of skirts. Three committee members once sat facing me with their backs to a bright window. All I could see were silhouettes. To this day, I have no idea who they were.

No one should have to say so, but committee members should introduce themselves and provide water. They should not eat, doze, complain about exhaustion, check e-mail on a Blackberry, or leave a cell phone ringer in action. They should be welcoming even if this is the 15th candidate in two days. Apparently the question — “Why would anyone want to work on this topic?” — is a frequent opening gambit at interviews. Surely rigorous doesn’t have to be rude.

For those who interview at conferences, I can’t resist sharing a pet peeve. What would possess a department to invite all the people they’ve interviewed to the same party? Misery really doesn’t love company (and probably the last thing Misery needs is a free drink). Candidates wryly glad-handing strangers — faculty members? competitors? alumni? — at such parties must assume they’ve been lured to some dreadful version of an academic reality show just before being voted off to oblivion.

Finally, at the end of the interview, offer an updated timeline. Why subject someone to slow torture when you can explain that no decision will be made about the next stage of the search for two weeks or a month? Once you do decide whom to bring to campus, the other candidates would appreciate being told they are no longer being considered so that they can move on to other hopes and dreams.

To this list, I would add that faculty should not make offers that candidates will be reluctant to refuse.  On one of my campus visits I had an hour or so between my meetings and dinner that I was going to spend trying to regain my sense of time and place until the faculty member who was dropping me off at my hotel said that he was going to spend the intervening time getting coffee and asked if I would like to join him.  Because I was in “please everybody” mode, I accepted although I was really looking forward to some time that I didn’t have to spend being “on.”  After I accepted he said that if he were a candidate he would have chosen to spend the time alone!  While I’m sure his intentions were good, I wish he would have recognized this fact beforehand and resisted the invitation.

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