Questions and answers on developing a college teaching career (and big websites)


Recently a group of questions came in from John Robinson, a trombone performance major at the University of Iowa enrolled in the horn pedagogy class taught by Jeffrey Agrell. One of their assignments is an interview assignment, and I believe my answers will be of general interest to Horn Matters readers. Thank you to John for asking these timely questions, mostly focused on applying for college teaching positions, but with a first one related to Horn Matters.

When and why did you decide to start the hornmatters website?

When is easy. The site launched almost ten years ago, on August 30, 2009. More than a generation of players has not known a world without Horn Matters.

Why will take a longer answer. The short version is I had an idea that if I combined my blog content with that of the Horndog Blog of Bruce Hembd it would make a great website. My Horn Notes Blog content dates back to June of 2004, with the underlying site that started it for me being my Horn Articles Online site, launched over twenty years ago in August of 1998. Bruce and I had known each other at Eastman and we had developed our own individual websites, and also Bruce created the original IHS website. Then Jeff Snedeker brought me onboard there to help as website editor, and Bruce and I developed a good working relationship. After a number of years though there came a time that the IHS seemed to want a lot of changes and it occurred to us that it might be time to move on. We did our own sites then on our own for a couple years, and then we developed Horn Matters.

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What is your advice for an aspiring college music professor?

I just chaired a search committee, and I have a lot of thoughts very fresh in my mind.

If I had just one thing to recommend to anyone who aspires to teach at the college level it would be to look at several job openings very carefully and really think about do you have the required qualifications? How many of the desired qualifications? The required qualifications are non-negotiable and you need to have them to be considered for your dream job. Nobody will have every desired qualification, but you want to develop yourself in as many ways as you can and check off as many boxes as possible so to speak.

Is there anything that you wish you knew before you started applying for collegiate teaching positions?

The big one is I look back at old versions of my resume and cringe. I don’t know why I did not do such an obvious thing, but I should have shown it to multiple mentors before I sent out those first applications. The reason this is so huge is one thing a committee wants to feel certain is that you are tenurable at that institution. This is something you largely communicate to the committee in the CV. If it has sloppy or odd content and organization, you really don’t have much hope.

Is there anything that you wish you knew before starting your first semester as a collegiate professor?

In a sense no. Not that I knew everything, but my dad was a chemistry professor and I was also a TA during my Doctoral studies, so I had an idea how things worked.

If I was to say what I think people outside the profession don’t know, though, there would be two big things. One is that it is that it really is a busy job with much more to do than just teach lessons, and professors are considered “exempt employees,” there is no overtime, you just have a job to do and however long it takes is how long it takes. The other is just how high the bar is for tenure and to achieve the rank of full professor at a Research One university, you have to be a motivated, steady worker to make it in the field.

Please list any recommendations on things to include on your CV or not include on your CV when applying for teaching jobs?

The CV is an interesting document in that there are things people really want to see, but there is no one formula how to show those things, especially in the context of a job application.

My best advice is to look at some sample CVs from mentors (preferably early in their career), and also to look at collegiate job openings closely for the required and desired qualifications. Whatever those things are, make those things easy to find, as the CV is the document that shows how you are unique and uniquely qualified.

What are the best secondary areas to have?

Looking broadly at brass, the number one secondary area to show skill in for a studio trumpet or trombone teacher would certainly have to be jazz. On horn (or tuba/euphonium), I’m not sure there is a single best one, which in a way is good for us. You should develop something. In my own case, I developed a deep interest in the horn in the 19th century, with a related interest in the history of horn pedagogy. There are many directions you could go, just make sure it is something that interests you and is related to your field.

Advice for interviewing for a collegiate job?

I have too much advice! Seriously though, I’m much too close to this topic, having just had candidates to campus for a position here at ASU, so I probably should not comment, those candidates could read this and read too much into my words.

The biggest general advice would be talk to your mentors at your own school, they will all have stories and advice, and if you get the opportunity to go to a campus interview prepare for it with mock interviews.

Advice for getting into the final group that is invited to campus?

This I will answer a bit more specifically as this will have more general application to Horn Matters readers, the same advice would apply to preparing for any phone or video interview.

The final group invited to interview on campus will be selected from a round of Skype (or similar) video interviews. For these I have several suggestions.

A first one is to actually practice this interview with someone. Mentors will know typical questions and can run you through your paces, it will lead to a better outcome.

A second point is to be aware that the questions you are asked in this interview are almost certainly scripted. Each candidate is asked the same questions, and the person asking may not actually be interested in that question, it just came to be the one that they asked.

A third point is to listen to the questions and answer concisely. If it can be answered in two or three sentences, answer it in two or three sentences. Don’t ramble.

The final tip would be that the last question of the Skype interview will likely be “do you have any questions for the committee?,” and the correct answer is to ask a couple questions to the committee. Be ready for this one; it is not a trick question and should not be a surprise.

Any advice on making recordings for pre-screenings?

The main one I would throw out there very generally for a college application would be that if they ask for recent, live recordings, then submit recent, live recordings.

Which is also to say, keep performing frequently and make good recordings of everything. For a college application, in my opinion, it is not so much what you play as how you play it.

Is there is anything else that you would like to add that you think would be helpful to know?

The biggest final item related to college applications is the cover letter. Read the job opening and adjust your letter to address the actual job opening at that school. Don’t ever send a generic cover letter, even if well written and the tone of it presents you well. In the letter address specifically how you meet the required qualifications of the job opening and as many desired qualifications as you can. Show it to several mentors before sending it. You will be judged by your words, and attention to detail will pay off.

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