One element of RPPF-Mini mentioned by alumni repeatedly is the “Interview with the Dean.” This opportunity to demystify the interview process and learn-by-doing helps our participants gain confidence and skill in representing themselves verbally. Why is it so important? Let’s ask our 2020 RPPF-Mini faculty! Karen Bryan (Director, School of Music, University of South Florida) and James Douthit (Dean, Hayes School of Music, Appalachian State University) took some time this week to share their thoughts:
The music world seems to grow more and more competitive. What are some challenges new or prospective faculty face?
BRYAN: The greatest challenge is that there are simply too many applicants for the number of positions open in any given year. It is not an easy task to find something in your first time out. You may need to consider a visiting or temporary position or be willing to piece together several options to make things work until you find that one full time position that is meant for you. It is also a challenge to prepare yourself to be more marketable in this hiring environment. It is best if you have secondary areas of expertise that will allow you to offer more to potential employers.
DOUTHIT: The skills that are covered in degree programs in higher education seem to have grown exponentially. Added to that growth, is the complication that as pianists, much of our education and career preparation is still focused on 19th-century pedagogy and practices. Almost all of our degree programs assess students in live performances and ignore other vital supporting skills, assuming that students can “figure that out.” As piano graduates move out into the world of work, they need to carefully and critically examine their skills and be prepared to discuss what they do with multiple audiences. Their interviews and job applications should be as developed and personalized as their playing and teaching.
In your role as Dean or Director, what do you expect or hope for when you conduct interviews with various candidates?
BRYAN: I do not want to have conversations where the prospective faculty member is obviously adjusting their answers to what they think I want to hear. I would rather have an open conversation in which I get to see some glimpse of the individual who will possibly be joining our faculty. I want to see if they do have that flexibility and adaptability, if they have the ability to think creatively and spontaneously, and if they can imagine themselves in the position and as a colleague. I also like to see candidates that have obviously done their homework and exhibit an interest in this specific institution and department. I want to hear what they feel they can bring to the unit, and how their contribution will be important to us.
DOUTHIT: Students are often eager to discover how to fit themselves into a mold that will prepare them for a teaching position in higher education. My message to them is simple. There is no mold, it is about being an authentic musician, teacher, and artist. It is about being the best version of you that you can be, and focusing with intention on that goal, as opposed to guessing what Deans and search committees might want to hear in an interview, or how a committee might read a resume or cover letter. While those are important elements to getting a job, it is much more important to own your identity as a musician and teacher; and thereby, differentiating yourself from others in the applicant pool.
Dr. Bryan, what is some advice or encouragement you would offer to RPPF-Mini applicants or anyone in the midst of a new job search?
BRYAN: Breathe deeply and do not panic! This is a marathon, and rarely do you find anything in the first round of applications. Be realistic about the jobs for which you are applying. Do not apply for positions for which you do not have the training or experience, just because it is a potential job. Think carefully about what type of institution works best for you (teaching, research intensive, research I, etc.), whether there are geographic considerations, etc. Be sure to do the background work on the department and university, then craft your letter to that specific institution. Generic form letters will not work. Also, be prepared to think of other routes and other possibilities—rarely is there just one position or one solution to this process. RPPF-Mini can help graduate students think more clearly about strategy. The program also works to build confidence and give students an idea of what to expect. And, it is interesting to see how they adapt and grow in the course of the workshop.
This is your third year with RPPF-Mini, Dr. Douthit. What brings you back or what do you find to be uniquely valuable in this program?
DOUTHIT: One of the most exciting times of the year, is the time that I spend at RPPF-Mini. Our “Interview with the Dean” offers participants the chance to look behind the curtain. After I complete each mock interview, I save time to review the interview with the participants. It is a remarkable time of learning for those who attend. Likewise, as a Dean, I also get some new ideas from the talented individuals that I get to interview. This exchange of ideas allows our art of performance and teaching to grow. I am dedicated to this work, to help pianists continue to advance the art of playing and teaching the piano, so that new generations can express themselves through the music and instrument we know and love.