Friday, December 6, 2013

First Interview for a Position in Japan

On Friday, I had my first interview for a position in Japan. I applied via JREC to this position, but I was also recommended to apply by a foreigner who is friend and gainfully employed (tenured) at the institution presently (though she will be changing to a different university with tenure. Here, I want to briefly explain how the process went.

A week and a half prior to the interview I was called by the 委員長 who suggested three changes to my documents that I had sent. First, he had me move a book chapter that I had put as a 学術論文 to the category of 著書 and then include the authors of the text in the list. Second, he had me add some numbering to the document. Third, he had me move presentations from one place to the list of publications under the category その他 (which did not agree with the directions but who am I to argue with the paperwork expectations of the interview committee chair?) At the time, he asked whether I would be available for an interview the next week if hypothetically such an interview were to be requested. I indicated I could do either of the days he suggested but indicated which I preferred.

Later that week, he called me to ask me to come into an interview for this week, indicating that I should arrive 15 minutes early and where to go on campus. One difference between the American system and the Japanese system is that the e-mail with the details arrived the night before the interview. He also provided some instructions for how to get to the campus.

The interview was conducted by the 委員会. This was five Japanese professors in the English education faculty at the university. The interview was conducted primarily in Japanese though I was told I could answer questions in either Japanese or English. I primarily conducted myself in Japanese doing my best to use 敬語. The questions I received were roughly as follows.

First, the 委員長 asked me questions about the documents I submitted. Here, they confirmed receipt of  the PhD, my current age (32), the fact that I received the PhD in question earlier this year, my current employment, and the status of my publications. Regarding one of my publications, which was published in a relatively minor journal and whether it could be consider national or international (to which I answered I did not think it merited that level of consideration). Compared to a US interview, the emphasis on rating my publications was different than what I expected. I think this matters because it determines ranking and salary in the Japanese system. They count the PhD thesis as a refereed journal article for these purposes, giving me two national-level refereed items and a book publication. Clearly, this is somewhat different from how an American university would assess things.

There were also several questions about which classes would be of interest to me to teach. This position involves me teaching as many as 8 courses in a semester which is no small feat. Moreover, I would be expected to proofread 10 or so 20-page senior theses. This sounds like a lot of work. But there are several mitigating considerations. The expectations for a college course in Japan are somewhat different than for courses in America. First, each course meets only 1x/week for 90 minutes. Second, many of the courses are such that I can work from a textbook and stick to that (or at least I expect to do so to reduce the preparation load). Second, the courses are more practical than some of what I might teach in America. Nevertheless, its hard to imagine how I will be able to get much research done at the same time.

This can also be thought of in a very different light: compare this with other work available in Japan. For foreigners, the primary types of work that are available are English teaching and translation (the latter only if you are good enough at Japanese). Some English teaching requires preparation and other English-teaching does not. Looking at the preparation kind, it pays maybe 3000 to 4000 Yen for one hour of face-time. University teaching pays significantly more (approximately 10000) for 90 minutes of face-time. So if I taught 8 lessons of this kind a week, I would be working almost as much as the college-level job (assuming 8 preps) for much less money. Adjusting for the preps and the time, I'd probably be working as much as 4 college classes for 8 lessons of English working out to a salary of 32000 Yen / week. All things considered teaching English at the university-level is a significantly better deal.

Since my major is not ESL. One question was how I could work together with faculty. I didn't initially understand the question since the way it was formulated was a little hard for me to follow. Here, I shared several of my interests in teaching about culture, but also the questions I have about bilingualism, whether specialists in English education (among foreigners) do lead to better learning outcomes, and about differences between Japanese students and others. I think I answered their question successfully by integrating some of my experiences here teaching English.

This particular university also has a requirement to live nearby, and I was asked whether I understood this. I think they were greatly relieved that the interview could be mostly in Japanese, so it was beneficial to be able to speak. There were no questions about my research content per se, just a comment at one point listing Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard.

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