Have you applied for a position as an academic department chair at a college or university and have been invited to an interview? Congratulations – you have already successfully passed the first hurdle. But what exactly do you have to be prepared for at this appointment and how do you best prepare yourself? We explain to you what is important.
1. Why Are You Interested In This Role?
Naturally, those who decide to pursue an academic career have a great interest in their subject – so great that they want to devote their entire career to research in this specific field – but also an interest in teaching. That’s also the case with me. Becoming an academic department chair also means combining academic research activities with teaching students to pass on your knowledge and the latest knowledge from your own field to them.
It is undoubtedly a very intellectually stimulating and inspiring work, with the opportunity to delve into interesting topics and engage with students and colleagues in a spirit of dialogue and constructive discussion.
2. What Are The Roles Of An Academic Department Chair?
in this function, the academic department chairprimarilycarries out tasks in research, teaching, and further education. The tasks in teaching often also include administrative activities such as study counseling or curriculum planning. In addition, participation in conferences and publications is expected in many areas.
The main tasks of the academic department chair consist of the teaching and research of their department. They have to prepare lectures and seminars and create materials for the evaluation (follow-up of the course). They use student feedback to better design future events. They also set up tests and correct them afterward. Away from everyday work, they write scientific publications and devote themselves to research. They also plan conferences and seminars. However, the tasks of an academic department chair go far beyond scientific research and teaching.
There is also committee work. Since important decisions by various committees also affect the chairs directly, academic department chairs should not lose their say. The employees of one’s chair must also be managed, as well as the results of scientific research. Factual and financial reports or funding applications can also end up on an academic department chair’s desk – because not every task can be taken on by the secretariat.
3. What Are The Qualities That An Academic Department Chair Need To Be Successful?
An academic department chair must demonstrate excellent skills and in-depth knowledge of their subject area. They must be able to apply and communicate methods safely. In the area of pedagogy and didactics, in particular, there is a need for interdisciplinary teachers. In this context, communication skills and empathy are important qualities in this professional field.
An academic department chair needs a certain level of self-confidence to be able to present and assert oneself to a large audience. A broad vocabulary and a subject-specific language are also prerequisites for the job. Furthermore, a high degree of organization, self-discipline, and personal responsibility is required to be able to work flawlessly under pressure. They should have a high degree of organization and personal responsibility as well as leadership skills.
4. What Major Challenges Did You Face During Your Last Role? How Did You Manage Them?
Becoming a professor was not easy, also because the university environment is highly competitive. Embarking on an academic career is a demanding choice that requires a great deal of determination and confidence in one’s abilities. However, once I have achieved the goal of a professorshipprestige beckoned, along with excellent opportunities for self-realization.
5. Describe Your Daily Routine As An Academic Department Chair?
During lectures, as an academic department chair, I would explain concepts clearly and understandably, try to keep students’ attention and interest alive and provide competent answers to questions and comments. Depending on the course or chair, different courses can be planned: there are basic courses and compulsory lectures in which hundreds of students take part, but also in-depth seminars for small groups of students. In the first case, it is often difficult for the teacher to know all the students personally, whereas in the smaller groups it is easier to develop a personal relationship with the students. I will be available to provide students with more information, explanations, and advice: for example during office hours, via e-mail, or on the university intranet.
At the end of the course, I would assess the students’ knowledge and the acquisition of specific skills and competencies. This is done using homework, exams, exercises, and oral and practical exams. However, I would also assign project and group work to the students during the semester, which will be taken into account in the final assessment. But my duties would not end there:
Universities are places of research, innovation, and technological knowledge transfer. I would continually engage in deepening the knowledge of the subject and participate in research projects to promote progress and broaden the knowledge base of the scientific community and society in general.
I would further be an active member of the academic community: participate in committees (faculty council, study advisory board, examination board…) and commissions within the faculty, participate in decisions on university policy and faculty management, propose ideas and make recommendations for the development of the chair, etc.
6. Describe Briefly About Your Experience?
I’m a chemist and I teach. I have been released from my teaching position for three years so that I could hold the position full-time – which is also necessary due to the amount of time involved. The office is very complex and has a high proportion of administrative law – especially in the many appointment negotiations – which is why I attended various training courses beforehand. First and foremost, I was happy that I can try something new and saw it as an exciting challenge. I enjoy the work. But I knew that in advance. I had already worked as Vice Dean and Dean of Studies and was therefore very familiar with committee work. I also looked over my predecessor’s shoulder a lot and last year worked as a “dean trainee”, so to speak. That made it incredibly easy for me to get started.
7. What Kind Of Strategies And Mindset Are Required For This Role?
First of all, the task of the academic department chair is to maintain and improve the quality of teaching. For this reason, they are the central contact person for the students in all general questions of study and teaching. This requires professional quality, international positioning, and development potential which are characteristics that the academic department chair must possess. The evaluation of the faculty requires extensive self-reflection, especially on the part of the scientific staff. Such self-reflection is necessary from time to time in order not to simply fall into a routine. You should be aware that as an academic chair you are still a scientist, but you also have other, more extensive tasks and responsibilities: You have to keep an eye on the entire department and its staff. You are responsible for linking the strategies of the department with those of the university.
8. What Is The Biggest Challenge You Foresee In This Job?
Being an academic department chair comes with a great deal of responsibility. For example, planning with the faculty board and the faculty council in which direction the faculty should develop, both scientifically and in terms of personnel. The appointments of professors play a central role. In addition, some departments may require change. This is an exciting process that also needs to be shaped. After all, as the dean, I would have a responsibility toward the employees and it is important to me that everyone feels comfortable on the faculty.
9. How Do You Stay Motivated At Work?
I like the diversity that the job presents. I invest a lot of time in the appointment process for future professors. For example, I chair appointments committees or listen to presentations by applicants. I am also responsible for the equipment at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, work on various committees such as the Faculty Council of the Faculty Board, represent the Faculty at public events, and act as a link between the university management and the individual departments. In summary, one can say that I exchange ideas with many people to promote the interests of the faculty.
10. Describe A Time You Failed In This Role And The Lesson You Learned?
When I first got the job, I tried to do everything. I revised every single document, was present at every meeting, even the ones that were not directly concerning me, and tried to be everywhere at once. You just can’t handle that amount of work. No person can do it all. I learned in time, to let go of control, prioritize and delegate. You don’t have to know every process or sign off on every email or document. It is better when the employees have the freedom to act independently.
11. Why Do You Feel You Are Qualified For This Role?
To start, I have many years of experience as part of more professorships in the field of chemistry. I also have a high scientific reputation. My prior academic department chair experience has resulted in extensive managerial experience. I am well familiar with performing tasks of academic self-administration. I also have experience in structuring university facilities, as well as proven management and leadership skills.
12. Share With Us Your Greatest Achievement
I am very proud that I was very close with my colleagues. I try to respond to the individual and even the personal situation of employees. One is an early riser, the other a night person, one needs a longer lunch break, the other none at all. The organization of scientific work is flexible enough to respond to such preferences. Automatic working time controls are poison in science management: they do not prevent the few from committing abuses, but drive away from the motivation of the many.
I also conduct regular employee and management interviews. Administrative colleagues also have career expectations. Fulfilling them is not always possible and especially difficult in the scientific institutions, which to this day have not been able to free themselves from the state job plans. But for the legitimacy and ultimate realization of career expectations, it is important to hold target agreement talks with the individual employees, and that leads to greater satisfaction and fulfillment at work.
13. What Will You Do In The First 100 Days After You Start Work?
The first 100 days are a crucial phase that can positively influence the start of the new management position. During this time I would lay the foundation for future cooperation with the team. I would define the goals and areas of responsibility and provide new impetus to the department. I would use the first few days (starting phase) to orientate myself in the department/team. I would focus on getting to know and understanding the new environment and my area of responsibility – this also includes building relationships with the team and setting up communication structures.
In the subsequent evaluation phase, I would structure the collected information for myself. What are the problems of the department? Now I would set goals and create a battle plan for the coming months. In the final step (implementation phase), I would take the appropriate measures to put plans into action. It is also important to get feedback from colleagues regularly.
14. How Do You Criticize Your Employees As An Academic Department Chair?
Employees need to be clear about things that are going well (then give the team the credit they deserve) and things that aren’t going so well. I would provide timely feedback – in private, of course. Such a conversation may not be pleasant, but I always remain professional and relate only to the facts and not to the employee. I usually start with something positive. After I have made my points of criticism clear, I explain specifically what I expect from the employee in the future. During the conversation I communicate precisely and directly – this is not about beating around the bush. I would say clearly what needs to change and address possible solutions. Nevertheless, I would show my colleague that I value them as an employee despite the mistake.
15. Should An Academic Department Chair Be Loved Or Feared?
It’s not about being loved by everyone – that’s also utopian. A trusting relationship with employees based on mutual respect is important. Today, the choleric boss is just a relic from Hollywood productions. What employees would be motivated if they are always bossed around and brushed down for the slightest mistake? I know that a good working atmosphere has a positive effect on the atmosphere in the team – and thus on its performance. For this reason, I rely on a good, but professional and respectful relationship with employees.
16. What Are The Advantages Of Working At The University?
I feel the greatest advantage is in the work itself: Even if this is not necessarily evident in the description of the tasks, you get an insight into many interesting aspects of research and teaching, and you can grab interesting and important content practically on the side up, which can also give you a great advantage. You can participate in all meetings, discussions, and events of the working and management groups, and learn so many fascinating things outside of university events. Of course, you also form close ties both with students and colleagues.
17. Are There Any Disadvantages?
Nothing immediately comes to mind. Of course, working with students can sometimes be challenging, but that is true for every job where different personalities collide.
18. As An Academic Department Chair How Would You Describe Your Management Style?
I attach great importance to the independence of my employees. A trusting relationship and working on an equal footing are important to me, as these aspects promote motivated and happy employees in the long term. Here the working atmosphere should not be based on fear and mistakes should serve as an opportunity for improvement.
19. What Type Of Class Management Structure Would You Implement If You Were Hired?
I take a proactive approach to classroom management, modeling positive behaviors for my students and encouraging supportive peer-to-peer communication. I also identify what triggers stress in individual students and am ready to support them with any challenges that arise.
20. What Approach Or Strategy Do You Use To Learn New Information?
I find the best way to learn new material is to take notes while reading or listening to someone present. Writing down the important details works in two ways: first, it helps me absorb and think carefully about the new information, and second, my notes serve as a study guide that I can refer to in the future.
21. How Do You Balance Your Work?
Since I will be spending a lot of time at my desk as part of my desired position, sport and time in nature offer the perfect balance. I enjoy going for a walk with my dog in my free time to switch off.
22. How Do You Feel About Overtime?
Basically, I try to work as efficiently as possible and complete my tasks within the allotted time. However, if I should not be able to do this or if there is a lot to do, I can also imagine working overtime.
23. How Do You Organize Yourself?
I like to use calendars and appointment tools to bring structure to my everyday work and to get an overview of all my tasks. I sort my tasks into a daily and weekly list according to their urgency so that I don’t miss any important deadlines.
24. What Is More Important To You, Your Career Or The Work-Life Balance?
A career standstill would demotivate me a lot. I’ve set myself a few goals that I want to achieve. I am willing to invest time and energy for this – but I also set myself limits. Losing my private life just to climb the corporate ladder would be out of the question for me. I think with good time management you can also have a career and still have a good work-life balance.
25. What Are Your Hobbies?
I’ve been an active member of the regional football club since my youth and have been coaching the U12 team myself for two years. I also like to cook with friends, where I can express my creativity.”
Now you know some typical application questions for the academic department chair and can prepare for them in advance. We wish you every success with your next career step!