I’ve spent about 10 hours in the last week interviewing and preparing for interviews with 5th Year Scholars candidates. They have been uniformly thoughtful, professional, and edifying. In the process of interviewing and reviewing applications, I have probably learned more about myself and my values than I have in any two weeks of my philosophy classes. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- I respect research. Candidates propose community development projects, and while they were for the most part exciting and had great potential, the applicants who earned my voice did it by knowing every trouble-spot, every connection, and every unknown in their issue. Several applicants had to patiently put up with me grilling them on the logistics and technologies they planned to use. They showed great patience.
- Grades don’t count. As part of their application, candidates turn in their transcripts and list their GPAs for each semester they’ve been a student with us. I always look through them, but because I have no idea what was going on in that class or their life that semester, the grades themselves don’t mean much to me. Likewise, because GPAs vary so much between colleges (a 3.0 is respectable for engineers, a sign of trouble for Art majors), I’m almost completely discounting them from my process.
- Spin matters. This is tied to the first point. We never asked a candidate about a rough semester of grades, but that’s because they often brought it up themselves. A good reason for a slump in productivity just shows they’re human, and if they can convince us they learned from the experience, it can be a positive.
- Involvement over ideas. I found myself much harder on candidates with big ideas but no experience in implementing them. 5th Year Scholars are expected to change our campus, work between conflicting departments, finding and capturing scarce resources. All of those take practice, and if the candidate has reached their junior year without acquiring those skills, I am dubious they will do so in their remaining time.
- The network matters. You could easily append “(to me)” to each of the lessons learned above. Doubly so for this last point. I believe change happens because people decide to make it happen, and no one person has all the skills she needs to fix a problem big enough to matter. I don’t like smarmy name-dropping, but I did try to find out if the candidates had formed the kinds of relationships you need in a university community to get work done.
Throughout the interview process, I was conscious that the things I value–research, spin, experience, networks, not so much grades–are not necessarily the things which make a great candidate. I tried to be open to candidates who had deep experience in their departments, or projects which were big helium ideas floating without the lead weights of tough questions answered. I also tried to let the candidates surprise me with their different approaches to old problems, without dropping my experiences on their heads.
I look forward to the debates between the scholars during what remains of the selection process. To whomever we choose: thank you. You rocked.
“From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson