Saturday, June 23, 2007

six figures, no interview necessary

Originally I included this in a comment to my last post, but now I'm thinking about it more. Most top sociology programs now offer 4 or 5 year guaranteed funding packages to incoming students, often including some summer money. Not even counting the tuition remissions, this can bring the value of these guaranteed packages upwards of a $100,000 committment. Yet, to my knowledge, no sociology department conducts any kind of interview with applicants prior to admitting them. Am I right about this? If I am, why not? A one-year postdoc is less money, and still people conduct interviews for those. In-person interviews would be too expensive, but why not phone interviews?

One hears stories about admitted students coming on their campus visit and everyone realizing the person isn't what they looked like on paper and then the place tries to subtly get the admitted student to decline their offer. One even hears of stories where this effort fails and the person comes to a department that doesn't want them. Moreover, one never hears a story where this happens and there is a happy ending, which would suggest that interviews may be more than just in the department's interest.

It's made all the more remarkable because people on graduate admissions committees repeatedly complain about how little information they have to go on, as grades are hard to compare across institutions and letters of recommendation tend to vary little and when they do it's unclear if it says more about the applicant or the writer.


lwade said...

I suspect the reason that departments do not do interviews is because no one wants to take the time out of their desperately busy lives to do something that holds so little reward or recognition. This would count as "service" right? When was the last time anyone got tenure for that?

Libby Love said...

Ok, ok, let me get this straight ... most top programs offer 4 or 5 years of guaranteed funding to incoming students totaling upwards of $100,000?? You mean, instead of scraping for a job every semester (or every year if you're really lucky) and wondering whether or not I'd be able to pay rent (and go to school) AND coming out upwards of $100,000 IN DEBT, I could have had what ... some semblance of security?? Ohhh, but what fun would that have been??

Well anyway ... yes, admission interviews, a very interesting question. You know, the interview is an integral part of the medical school admission process and, by the way, everyone pays their way in medical school, none of this guaranteed who-ha. Soooo, perhaps the logic (in part) is that it's a more exclusive and consequential club that one is entering because well, after all, when's the last time your mother bragged, "Oh yes, and my daugher SHE'S a sociologist ... you should meet her." But I digress. So, a bit of early gatekeeping going on. And sociologists, well, we keep above that fray by blinding ourselves to the big three (race, class, gender) in admissions or at least that's the explanation I've heard for the "no interview" policy (minority recruitment efforts notwithstanding). Of course, we do our own version of gatekeeping, as you point out, there may be efforts after the fact to steer an admitted student in some other direction because visit day comes and suddenly no one wants them (for some reason). Sooo, see no evil, there's no evil, right? If you do interviews you certainly open yourself up to claims of bias, prejudice and, downright discrimination. I think the post-doc situation, because it's considered more like an actual job, because now you're no longer a student and since an interview is unavoidable as a practice in and through which someone does being a "non student" applying for a paid position, then it makes sense that post-docs, like candidates for faculty positions can be, accountably, interviewed.

So yeah, that's what I'm thinking ... HEY!! Welcome back to the midwest!! Let's go for chocolate malt martinis soon (I'm dying to know where you get such a thing!).

Ang said...

I'm not sure, but I think my, lwade, and libby love's institution doles out guarantees based on GRE scores, no? I guess it's supposed to predict success in grad school or something. Does it? Does anyone know? I suppose it would vary wildly by institution.

christopher uggen said...

i've given this a little thought. my colleagues in a neuro program at the minnversity hold their visiting weekend (and de facto interviews) prior to making offers. they pay for the trips, of course, but treat it as sort of a mutual blind-date checking-out visit. they can get away with this, i think, because they are at or near the top of their discipline. a top-ranked soc program (such as wisconsin) or a department in a position to make market-crushing offers could likely prosper with such a strategy.

jeremy said...

Princeton is certainly making big enough offers financially that it could do this if it wanted. I'm presuming Harvard offers enough it could do this as well.

Trust me, Wisconsin has enough trouble recruiting among the students it gives funding guarantees that it could not be a first mover on this.

jessica said...

I interviewed at Emory as an incoming grad student. Instead of a "prospective student weekend," they fly everyone they're interested in out for an "interview weekend," and the poor students have to be "on" for two days straight. I think it was a couple weeks later that I found out I was accepted.

MetalPhil said...

I was under the impression that most departments did informal interviews of some kind.

In fact, I wish more would do interviews because I'm the kind of guy that pretty much gets everything I interview for. I'm way better in person than I am on paper. So let's hope wherever I apply has a sudden change of heart.

eszter said...

My department - Communication Studies at Northwestern - does do this. We pay for people in the US to come out _before_ we make offers. Several faculty members conduct telephone interviews with each candidate abroad whom we cannot afford to fly out.

I have found this to be a very helpful process and I think Jeremy is right that given the type of commitment a department makes to a student, it is a good use of time and resources.

At least as important as the $100K investment is the time and effort faculty commit to when admitting a student. So while LWade questions why one would take time out of one's schedule for this, I think it's worth seeing as an investment in protecting one's own time in the long run. After all, in addition to eating up lots of $$s, students also require a ton of time and effort, a commodity that's just as scarce in academia.