An Interview

I recently interviewed for a tenure-track job at a campus within commuting distance of NYC. This is not the job that my advisor encouraged me to apply for after I had already declined to do so. This is another position for which I applied earlier this year, on a freakish whim, after I got my tax bill for 2011. I owe a lot of money to the IRS for various reasons. So, lucky me, now the student loan mafia and the IRS have me by the balls (even though I don’t have any balls). When I saw the amount I owe to Uncle Sam, I immediately launched into a desperate, vodka-fueled job application frenzy.

I applied to be a Barista at a certain well-known coffee company. I applied to work at Megabookstore for less than $8.00/hour. And, yes, I threw my hat in the ring for a couple of academic jobs posted late in the hiring season.  I have no idea why this college is interested in me. The fact that I am qualified doesn’t count. I have applied for many jobs for which I was qualified. Many times I didn’t even get a receipt of application. I simply never heard from them again. The fact that this hiring committee actually invited me to interview makes me kind of suspicious about them. Like that old Groucho Marx joke, do I want to work there if they want to hire me?

Nothing makes any sense.

What makes even less sense is the fact that only half of the hiring committee bothered to show up for my interview. I don’t know if that means they are just assholes in general, or if they don’t care who gets hired. Which is worse? The people who did attend were all perfectly pleasant. I even caught myself thinking, “Wow, it might be nice to work with these friendly folks!” I wish I could say more about the job, though, because the stuff they were saying is pretty wacked out, if you ask me.

Basically, they are in desperate need of someone who can make cheese. They’ve all wanted a cheesemaker for a very long time, but have never hired one, for reasons that remain unclear. The problem is, they haven’t had a cheesemaker for so long that they have a lot of cheesemaking duties that have piled up. At this point, it’s not just that they need cheese. They needs various kinds of cheese, like easy-to-make American cheese, along with other varieties of cheese that take a bit longer to age into the kind of fromage that deserves the name.

The committee would also like to hire someone who can teach other people to make cheese. Some of the people are interested in learning to make cheese, but they don’t know how. Others scoff at the idea of cheesemaking, but (I am told) they must be brought into the cheesemaking fold somehow, for the sake of all the other cheesemakers who can’t possibly be expected to make all the cheese by themselves.

Would I be the person, they want to know, to lead the cheesemakers?

In addition to the making of the cheese, this department would also like a cheesemaker who knows something about how to package and brand the cheese. This is very important to the administration. What kind of container is best for cheese? How should it be labeled? Will people enjoy the cheese, or will they be turned off by how it is sold to them, as something they must eat whether they want it or not?

How would I, as Head Cheesemaker, deal with people who don’t care that much about whether the cheese is any good, as long as important people like it?

Finally, everyone knows that cheese is delicious on its own, but better on crackers. It is obvious, from my cv, that I know how to make cheese, but can I also make crackers? This is what the committee really wants to know: would I be willing to teach, research, publish, make cheese, teach potentially recalcitrant others to make cheese, brand and market the cheese, and also make reasonably good crackers to go along with the cheese?

Mostly, I think the question is: Will we have someone else to blame, down the line, if the cheese rots?

I’m not saying these requests were made explicitly in the interview. But the implication was clear. I don’t think these lovely people are trying to be insane. Since they’ve never made cheese themselves, they don’t know how ridiculous their request sounds. If I get a second interview, do I tell them?

Is my loyalty to them, to the truth, or to the cheese?

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7 Responses to An Interview

  1. AE says:

    Loyalty to the crackers he he but seriously be careful with these cheese makers, they seem to me that they are behind of a blood-mobile inside the headquarters of the cheese factory.

  2. recent Ph.D. says:

    Your loyalty should be to yourself. Given all the factors you have to consider, if you think being Head Cheesemaker would be the best thing for you, be loyal to that goal if you are invited for a second interview. However, if you decide you don’t want to be Head Cheesemaker and they invite you for a second interview, enjoy telling them just exactly why you are declining invitation.

    (Hell, this is the kind of crazy shit that made everyone believe my April Fool’s post!)

  3. Currer Bell says:

    Hmmm, this position sounds no gouda…

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    Despite my lame, lame, lame pun I agree with recent PhD. After all your soul-searching and hard work, you should be loyal to yourself. That being said, I realize that some of those factors–like owing money, paying bills, having shelter–can trump your inclination to be “true” and to not be Head Cheesemaker.

    I hope another offer presents itself and you feel like you have more readily available choice. Good luck!

  4. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this what all tenure-track positions are about? They want to add to their arsenal in an area they are not well-versed in, but may have interesting implications. I am not sure why this kind of request is absurd. I would assume a new position would require complementary work but also not in the specific fields that the department is already grounded in. Maybe I missed the point.

    Of course, if you consider the apparent ‘relaxed’ attitude of the interviewers as a prediction of things to come, then maybe you don’t want to work there, in addition to your desire to sever ties with the academy. In that case, no tenure-track job would be sufficient. But, if it is just a job…

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